Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Today was a very good and productive day

Collin Fletcher wrote the Backpacker's Companion back in the 1970s. He once said that every time he left on a trip he got what he called the Fletcherisms. The blues from what you will be missing, what you don't know what's to come, and the transition between. He said it always surprised him when it happened and should have been of a different mindset. Well, I get the Fletchers every time I leave on a trip too, this is just the first time I've blogged about the experience. The good thing is by day three things are looking up and you move into a new groove and I got mine today.

I woke to blasting trains at 4:17 a.m. and then dozed for 30 minutes the rest of the night, just the exact time a train took to reach my location. I did get up for good at 6:30 a.m. I checked email (this still amazes me) and posted a notice to the MR360 website, a site dedicated to racing the Missouri River from KC to St. Looo-eee. I got a tip that if anyone could give me a solid answer about the likelihood of continuing on from St. Louis up the Mississippi that group could. I haven't checked the message board yet but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I ate and packed as fast as I could but it was still 9:00 a.m. by the time I departed from Nodaway Island landing. That was a barren site if there ever was one. The one good part was a nearly abandoned vacation home next door that I borrowed their pier and water supply to sit and watch the river and replenish my stock. The stretch of river down to St. Joseph, MO was very pretty. About fifteen minutes into the day I saw a strange site, two deer swimming across the river. The current was pretty strong but they made it easily. I knew deer did such crossings but it was my first eyewitness account. About 500 years down the river I came across two more deer that had done the same but they had come ashore at a site with 6 foot banks and they were exhausted from trying to climb over the edge.

It was a quick trip down to St. Joe, my first major river town. It is clear that the city turned its back on the river at some point as nothing is happening along the shores except dredging and heavy industry. I was hoping for something more appealing but I guess that's life. I did stop for lunch at Jenteel Brees, a Lewis and Clark site for lunch. There were two college aged chaps there staring at me as I was trying to find a good foothold in the big muck at the landing. It was like they had never seen anyone in a canoe. It became clear that I had interrupted a black market deal in action. The had arrived in separate cars and had the trunk open and where speaking in hushed tones. Needless to say, I ate quickly and headed back on the river.

The water below St. Jo got very bellicose and lazy and I didn't make very good time down to Atchinson, Kansas, my goal for the day. When I arrived in Atchinson it was clear the city had turned its attention back to the river. They have a beautiful new river park but the downside is no place to camp. The river rats in Rulo had told me Atchinson was a boater friendly town but that's evidently changed. I stopped in a bar and grill just up from the landing and asked about camping. Of course, I asked the wrong person, a gal that didn't know what canoeing or camping was about. She did call the City Clerk for me (she looked up the number on one of those plastic covers on the small phone book, ah I remember small town life!) and was told no camping in town, send him down river. Great, I could either get thrown in the clink for loitering or I could paddle another three hours with no hope of finding a camping site.

My only hope was a park on the map two miles downstream. After I had paddled three miles it was clear it didn't exist or had no river access. I was in a foul mood when the most beautiful of camping sites appeared. It's a fishing camp that hasn't seen use this season, and yes I'm a squatter, but it's my home for the evening. I'll be out of here in the morning and no one should be the wiser.

This site has me thinking about the energy I've seen expended to live on the river. I've passed house after house and many mobile homes that were destroyed by flooding, most likely in the last few years. There is so much debris in the river it's hard to believe. I actually saw a block of styrofoam today with seedlings growing out of it. I don't know where the foam is coming from but I've come across probably 100 of them, some blocks as long as 4 feet. I guess it will float to New Orleans and then out to the ocean to join the Texas size plastic zone in the Pacific Ocean.

Oh well, not much else to report. I'm a day ahead and I expect to be able to meet the Vacca's tomorrow evening. I hope they get my messages that I'm ahead of schedule.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I look good!

On the river

white cloud, Kanasa!

Day 3 on the river

I have to make this quick as my battery life is dwindling on this iPad and I want to have some life left in it for tomorrow.

I got another late start due to dealing with a poor cell tower signal and trying to send emails. I did put in about 36 miles today which was good. It was a very fast day and I saw lots of pretty country. Two bald eagles with one holding a fish in its talons. Pretty sweet.

The Missouri is one big tree lined ditch. I never realized how altered this river was until I floated down it. I did pull off and walk up to one of the dikes to look around. It ran both directions as far as the eye can see. It got me thinking about what hope do we have when we treat a mighty river as an enemy that has to be subdued? I understand the whole flood control and commerce argument for having tamed the river but, wow, it's totally controlled for the 563 miles I'll travel it and it's that way all the way to Montana. That's a lot of effort on our part.

I'm getting into the paddling grove and my body feels pretty good. I'm realizing that this stretch down to Kansas City is basically my shakedown trip. I got the canoe so late that I had no time to test what works and doesn't in regards to packing, etc. I'll be stopping in Kansas City for a day at Becky's brother's place and I'll go through my stuff and toss what I don't need.

I was really in a depressed mood Sunday and yesterday. I knew a long trip would be tough psychologically but I thought that would happen weeks into the trip. It was tough leaving Becky and the boys and I'm having real questions about whether I can paddle upstream on the Mississippi from St. Louis. That kinda made the blues as I've been thinking 563 miles is failure. Today I paddled my ass off and just enjoyed each mile, something I had been forgetting to do.

From what I can gather it looks like I'll have to stop in St. Louis. If that's the case then I'll just enjoy the little time on the water I've had.

One last item. I didn't realize the railroad always runs along the river. The trains pass every 30 minutes or so. Not good for a tired body wanting to sleep!


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Monday, May 16, 2011

Five hundred miles to Saint Loo-ee!

Day two was half good and then the rest of the story...

It was uber cold here in Nebraska last night. I woke several times to the sound of some beast I've never heard before wailing away and then the same scream from up river. I got up at about 6:00 a.m. and got a slow start eating breakfast and packing the canoe. It was a quick run down to Indian Cave State Park where I arrived at 11:30 a.m. Just as I was pulling up to the park two older gents in a Park truck stopped to ask what I was up to. Two minutes later I had convinced them to drive me to get water at the pump about a mile away. Ron and Lenny are both retired and working at the park for the summer and were nice to talk to after being alone for two days.

I continued down river to Rulo, NE, where I'm sitting at the riverside park typing this and thinking about dinner. When I got to town I stopped at the first house where I could put in and asked for directions to the park. The old gent directed my past the bridge and "I couldn't miss it, just look for my wife and daughter and a red pickup truck." They had been there fishing (and drinking beer!) all afternoon. Seems the entire town converges here, many in golf carts, to fish, drink, and socialize. I was the subject of attention for a few hours.

One local did stop by and talk to me about the river situation. We are 2 feet above flood stage and he indicated if we get rain as predicted it will crest and be a real mess. The Corps of Engineers is expected to release water from the dam in South Dakota and tha could flood me out. I'm having little trouble navigating mid channel but it's a battle when I come to shore. After I added the water at lunch I could barely turn into the current and paddle up stream when making a landing. The water is flowing at 93,000 cfs here at Rulo. When I get to St. Louis it will be running at 250,000 cfs. I just can't imagine paddling upstream in that for any distance and it doesn't look like conditions will improve in a week and a half when I arrive.

So, the rest of the story is what to do. I talked to Becky today about the possibility of terminating the trip in St. Louis. Her advice was wait a few days to decide what I will do. I still have 500 miles to travel to the Mississippi River but I'm heavily loaded and the high water levels have put me in a foul mood.

Randy, my newfound friend here in Rulo put it best "you picked the worst time of the year in the worst year to make your trip. Too bad it isn't September. Oh well, it is a beautiful evening on the river so I'll worry about my troubles tomorrow.


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