Thursday, May 19, 2011

Red triangles, green squares

The rain started gentle enough last night to make me think it would pass over and not be a problem. Boy, was I wrong! Put a paddle in my hand and point me down river and it was a sure bet it would pour all day long. Not to worry, though, the wind took away what little resistance to misery I had left in me. At one point the wind was blowing so hard that white caps were forming on 1-2 foot waves blowing upstream on a current running about 8 miles and hour.

Actually, it was a very nice morning of eating breakfast and packing to leave. Just as I was finished and ready to load the canoe a huge barge appeared at my "doorstep." It was quite the site and a real contrast with my little yacht. I gave it a wide berth as I started down river. It seems nearly everyone I've run into on this river has some story about a person getting sucked under a barge or dock and spit out the other side. Those are wonderful conversations for a guy in a canoe in a rapid current.

My goal for today was mile 377 and English Park Landing, just shy of 42 miles total. Today was my day to pull out and take a rester and repack and review my options for traveling downstream. Brian had been following my progress on my SPOT tracking map and was there to meet me just as I pulled into the landing. Later, he showed me the track map on his computer and it has enough detail to show when I switch from one side of the river to the other. Pretty cool.

Navigation on the Missouri River is pretty easy. I have the maps from the Corps of Engineers on my iPad and I look at my daily mileage goal and then determine what landings are in that general area on the river. The river is mapped from the confluence in St. Louis and the actual river miles are tallied upstream. Thus, when you pass a day beacon you know it will have a river mileage on it and how much further to St. Louis. That comes in handy when determining how much further until your destination. As I get closer to that day's goal I switch to the side of the river where I'll pull out and start looking ahead to the landing and how I'll make the final maneuver.

The Corps has a mandate to provide a navigable channel that is 9 feet deep along the entire river course from Montana down to St. Louis. To do so they use wing dikes to divert water into a narrower channel. Since the river bends and twists the navigation channel switches from one bank to another. When the channel is going to change to another side you will see either a red diamond (left side of river heading downstream) or green diamond (right side of the river) telling you to cross over. A red triangle means continue on the left side of the river and a green square means stay to the right bank.

All of this isn't real important at this high flow stage. The water is high enough over the wing dikes that I don't have to worry about staying in the navigation channel. The problem is that as water passes over the dikes it "piles up" and creates what I call roilers of swirling water that threaten to tip over the canoe. The other big issue is that the Missouri is so high that every time I pass a large eddy the water at the downstream exit is also roiling. The same is happening where rivers and creeks meet the main river. At those places the water is actually flowing up the tributaries.

All of the above reminds me of running the fast rivers in Alaska when I was in college working for the BLM. This water is pretty smooth in comparison and doesn't demand any high level of paddling skill but there are a few of the big roilers that I've paddled across the channel to avoid which takes some anticipation because of how fast my canoe is moving.

Actually, the biggest threat today was about five minutes from my landing. As I was paddling in the eddy approaching English Landing I was nearly knocked out of the boat by an Asian Carp. They are an invasive species that gets over a foot long and hates noise in the river. Every time I dipped my paddle in the river the damn things jumped over the canoe. One smacked me hard and for a second I thought he wanted me to join the other fish.

We've been looking at stream gauges down river and it's clear this is a Nebraska to St. Louis Canoe Quest 2011. My final mileage will be about 600 miles, about half of what I was hoping. On the up side, I'm sitting in a warm and dry house sipping a cold beer after a great ride down from Nebraska City. I won't fret much, however, as the world is supposed to come to an end in two days and I wouldn't have made my final goal anyhow!



Sent from Jerry Bricker's iPad. Oooooh!

1 comment:

  1. Bummer dude. So we won't be seeing ya huh? I've enjoyed reading about your trip. It's been lots of fun on my end!