Wednesday, June 1, 2011


A day's worth of dried goo...

Funny, those pants were a lot cleaner and tighter when I left home!

The James Caird prior to the last full day of paddling

I held off choosing an official name for my boat until the end of the trip (I didn't want to jinx things!). If you're not familiar with the name reference I suggest you Google it. It's quite a story and I hope my gal lives up to her namesake.

It takes a team to do a solo trip!

Well, the last full day of my trip has arrived. Last night was buggy and humid so I dove in the tent and waited until the temperature to drop to a comfortable level. The low was in the 60s and actually quite nice sleeping weather.

Before bed a scouted where I would launch today. One thing that grinds on my mind when I'm working through each day is the small stuff. Where to land, where to camp, where to get water, where to charge electronics, where to launch. It may not seem like they are big deals but one's level of comfort depends on how well those little factors go. Fortunately, I've been pretty lucky in solving those necessities. Since the water has been so high I've had to rely exclusively on established boat launches. All in all, those have worked pretty well.

The launch this morning did go well and I got off without getting too gooed up with muck. I thought that the rising river was a bad thing as I was thinking only of safety during my paddling and camping. What I didn't factor in was that when the river falls it leaves a layer of thick muck over everything. Trying to land or launch in that's not fun as I found out when I pull over for lunch. I thought I had found a firm spot and took one sept out of the boat and sunk up to my knee. "Big Muddy" just doesn't do justice to describe this muck pit!

I floated down to St. Charles without too much fuss. The bluffs along the river were gorgeous and I was in awe at the mansions perched high over the river. I wasn't in any real hurry and actually thought I wasn't paddling much and the river had slowed as it widened as we approached St. Louis. Surprisingly, I quickly crossed under the Highway 340 bridge and could see the Ameristar Casino and the I-70 bridge ahead. I really hate those big bridges in this high water. The supports are dangerous with the water churning behind them and the driftwood piled up. The Ameristar sits into the river and my landing was just beyond and the entire stretch was filled with huge logs. I've only had my heart beating fast a few times on this trip and that landing was was one of them. To make matters worse, a barge was coming upstream and I had to negotiate around it. Fun, fun.

When I did land I found a nice sand bar right in front of the Boathouse & Nature Center. I've been communicating with Dan Hansen, a friend of Dale Benham's from work, about where to stay and a river pickup in St. Louis. Dan had spoken to Franky here at the Boathouse about me camping out back of the building and using their shower. With all the debris at the landing I chose the sandbar only to be stranded on an island surrounded by muck. I figured no problem, just get back in the boat and go down further to pull out. Turns out the waves created by that barge lashed the beach for a good 15 minutes preventing me from going anywhere. I heard they had a travel restriction on the barges due to the high water and the soaked levees. I just didn't understand until today how much force the waves from those boats produce!

When I did land I had to drag the canoe through a foot of goo for a good 20 feet, I unloaded and carried my gear to where I set up camp behind the Boathouse. The entire time a couple in an SUV sat with the engine running and the AC on watching me. One of my pet peeves in life is idiots that sit in their car while burning gas to keep cool (or warm). After 17 days of living on muscle power to propel me through life it kinda bugged me even more. Oh well, one gets that way when they hit a certain age.

I did set up camp fast because I wanted to take advantage of that shower before Franky and the maintenance staff left for the day. Of course, I kept smelling something that stunk like death and was thinking this would be a great night for sleeping. I looked over and saw a 5 pound carp basting in the fly encrusted sun. I now know why I carry a spare paddle, they make great scooper picker uppers!

After my shower in the maintenance guy's bathroom I took some photos of the replicas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition boats stored in the boathouse. I can't believe how big they were! I never understood how big of an undertaking their expedition was until I spent a few weeks on this river and saw their vessels. Wow, those were some tough guys to haul a 12,000 pound vessel up this river.

The rest of my day was touring the educational display at the Boathouse (where I dropped $60 on books) and then dinner at the brew pub in old town St. Charles. My dinner companion was a gal that works in "maps." She tries to convince city officials (including Lincoln, NE) of the value of having detailed maps of their city and private structures. She said her latest work was in Joplin, MO, providing 3 meter mapping assistance from flights over the city after the tornado. The cityscape from before is referenced to what it is now so workers can search for the missing as well as start the cleanup effort.

After dinner I walked the old St. Charles riverfront merchant district. This has got to be one of most beautiful old cities I've seen west of the Mississippi. There are shops and outdoor cafes and a very genteel feel to the place. I wish I had more time just to hang out and explore. Part of me wishes I had stayed at the bed and breakfast across from where I ate dinner. That would have put a nice cap on the trip.

As the last day winds down I'm thinking of all the people who've helped me on this trip. My thoughts go out to Chrish and Howard Gould who were so excited when I was planning that they sent a check to help with purchasing the boat to people like Doulg and Betty Gilg who rode along to the put in, Brian and Lora Vacca, Joe Wilson, Bruce Rogers and Kathy Carew, Dan Hansen (my ride home), the guys here at the maintenence shop at the Boathouse, and everyone along the way. The kind words of strangers on the river and people following me online have meant more than I can say. When I started this I thought I'd go off by myself on a float trip. What I didn't know is that to do so would take a group of people helping me every step of the way. That's probably my biggest take away message: "no man is an island" (wow, I should publish that, I know it's never been said before!)

So, thanks to all of you that have been so kind. I'll be on my way back to Lincoln in two days and life will be back to normal soon. I do intend to post a summary update about what I've learned. That will mostly be for my own benefit so I know what to pack and not pack for the next trip. And yes, there will be a next trip!


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Keeping tabs on the weather

The Augusta, MO, landing

Celebrating 500 miles milestone

500 down and less than 60 to go

500 miles and counting!

I've hit that magical milestone of 500 miles paddled for this trip. Not a bad tally for 14 days of actually being on the river. Doing the math, I've averaged 36 miles per day. I tried to put it in perspective and Mapquested a route across Nebraska and it turns out that I've paddled the distance from Omaha, NE, to Cheyenne, WY. Fortunately, the scenery on this trip is much better than that of the I-80 corridor!

I piddled around this morning at the New Haven waterfront and didn't get on the river until a little after 9:00 a.m. One chap stopped and talked to me about river conditions and how things have been coming down from Jefferson City. He's waiting on a group of paddlers to come through in the next 24 hours and stop for lunch before continuing on to Washington, MO. That's the second rumor I've heard of other paddlers being on the river behind me but I've yet to encounter anyone else using muscle power to drive their boat. In fact, I've only seen two barges on the river and a few dozen motor boaters, mostly people fishing. It's been a real secluded stretch of water the last few weeks and I'm not complaining.

Today's paddling was a real contrast with yesterday. The water dropped about 2.5 feet overnight and I had trouble putting in as the landing at New Haven was covered with about a foot of thick, slimy silt. I hauled my boat and gear down to another location to make a bank launch and was just about to shove off when the city dozer came to clean up the mess. Timing never seems to be on my side.

That water was as smooth as a mirror and little wind so I made good time down to Augusta. There's a nice campground for bikers on the Katy Trail here but it turns out that it's about a mile from the landing. Not real useful to us paddlers and nothing new in terms of being ignored when the powers that be were planning these landings and camp areas. People tell me all the time the location of different facilities and all I can say is that if it's not 50 feet from shore it's useless to a paddler.

When I got to the Augusta landing the ramp was clogged with silt and debris. Some yahoo designed this one with the landing facing into the current. It is choked and useless as a boat ramp until the State comes and clears it. I paddled up and down the shore and eddy to find a way to pull out and ended up hauling my canoe and gear up a 10 foot bank. One good thing about paddling 4-5 hours a day for two weeks straight, the arms don't lack for strength when tossing a 30 or 40 pound bag.

Since there's nothing here I'm just chilling and watching the day go by. I have two more days of paddling and one more night of camping. Where did the time go?