Wednesday, May 13, 2015
High – 77
Low – 55
* Slept in (4:30 am)
* Paddled through first lock
* Didn’t die
* Paddled a long way
* Stopped for the night
Well, that’s how I would summarize our day. However, when LaNae said I had to write the journal entry for today she told me I needed to expound beyond simple bullet points. So, here goes.
As mentioned before, we did indeed sleep in until 4:30 am today. That was probably a good thing since LaNae said she had trouble sleeping after midnight. There had been some barge traffic in the early morning hours and the vibrato hum of the tug twin diesels woke her up.
Likewise, we also stopped for the night. Tonight’s camp site is by far our most industrial. We are just below (River speak for “downstream”) the I-45 bridge near Paducah, Kentucky, where we are close enough to hear the steady whine of tires rolling over the steel grate roadway. In addition to the automobile traffic, the barges are lined up no more than 15 yards from our shore front, as they stage for entering lock 52, which is about another three miles downstream. When we pulled up on the beach we immediately noticed the strong stench of dead and decaying fish. Most are large (10-20 lb. Asian Carp). I’m assuming their propensity (Use big word. Check.) to jump into moving boats has proven quite hazardous. Fortunately we are uphill from the beach and are able to avoid most of that stink. We also noticed quite a bit of trash up the bank, including an old water heater that washed up not too far behind our tent. According to Bob from Birdsville Campground, the water heater is one of the most common items that “accidentally” get into the rivers. Also behind out tent we noticed the massive head of a dead carp. However, using the chopstick skills I learned working with the Japanese, I was able to successfully extract the head from the premises.
Between waking and stopping there were quite a bit of other interesting happenings as well. We had been on the river about three miles when I radioed ahead to Smithland Lock to be sure we were cleared to enter and let them know we were lock virgins so they could help step us through the process. The lock master told us to proceed to the land-side chamber and he would open the gates for us. Sure enough, as we approached, the two massive gates swung open and LaNae and I paddled in. The lock master (Chad) then appeared on the wall looking down on us from our port side and pointed out the slide pins positioned periodically along the chamber walls. He told us to either throw a line over the pins or simply hold on. We chose the latter. As we held on, the ominous sounds of banging metal and rushing water began. However, the movement of water was only felt slightly as we smoothly dropped the 20 feet necessary to put us in line with the downriver side. Then the downriver doors began to swing open, Chad wished us well, the exit horn sounded and we paddled on our way. Nobody died.
As we neared Paducah, Kentucky we encountered the most tug and barge traffic thus far. There was a lot of fleeting (staging/stacking of barges) along the right bank, even though the charts did not indicate fleeting in this area. I’m sure that can be explained by the fact that the Jerry Hay Riverlorian charts (priceless asset) are nearly five years old. Regardless, we made radio contact with potential threats, including the tugs Terry C., Edwin Kennedy, Tom Busser, and Tom Frazier, alerting them of our presence. Once we communicated our intent and desire to stay out of their way, they graciously directed us to the best route, once even allowing us to squeeze between the shoreline and the barges, which sat less than ten yards away. Cool. (?)
Now it’s time for dinner of black bean stew (with garlic croutons) and apple pie, and a good sleep here on “dead fish shore” (as we have christened it) as we prepare for lock # 52 in the morning.
In closing, I’d like to mention a little about birds and the omens they seem to represent. Today we saw five graceful and glorious Bald Eagles. The fifth even rose from his perch on a dead tree to fly ahead of us and over the entrance to the lock chamber, seemingly guiding and blessing our approach. Conversely, as we settle in for the night a hoard of noisy Black Vultures is settling into the tree overlooking our tent. Hmmm.