We left Vicksburg two weeks ago with sunny weather coming our way and, to our surprise, someone as crazy as we are! Our new friend Layne Logue wanted to jump on board and paddle upstream for a couple of days with us. He brought beer, venison sausage, Shipley's breakfast sandwiches (just as amazing as their donuts), music, fresh fruit, and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, his incredible personality to liven things up. He managed around forty gritty miles upstream before heading back home, and we continued up the Mississippi towards resupply #2 in Memphis.
As I mentioned before, the weather really made the past two weeks fly by. There was only one wet day, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Camping that soaked night and trying to figure out what to do about moving the next day should the conditions continue to be miserable, Adam grumpily reminded us that "there wouldn't be a laundromat to bail us out if we ran out of dry layers this time." Turns out, he was wrong. We decided not to move the next day, and while some members rested through the morning, Jarrad, Luke and I walked randomly along four-wheeler trails, turn after random turn, before coming upon John Denton at his hunting cabin. He fed us lunch and dinner, let us take showers, wash and dry clothes, and still got us back to our tents in order for us to depart early the next morning. What a guy.
Our luck did not run out there. A few days later, we were welcomed in Helena, Arkansas by John Ruskey and Doug Friedlander. They picked up our crew at the riverbank with a bus and gave us a tour through town before treating us to T-Mac's Catfish Cabin and Delta BBQ, where we put a little south in the mouth, as they say. Before getting back on the river that afternoon, we stopped at some historical sites and also Ruskey's Quapaw Canoe Company, the spot that includes the North America mural in the photo gallery. We raved about Laura Reading's care packages, complete with pot pies and homemade cookies, the rest of the night.
Then it was a short four days to Memphis where we sit now, quite comfortably, enjoying the hospitality of the famous River Angel Dale Sanders, who has us occupying the basement of his home, despite the dirty clothes, muddy boots, and meager hygiene. Vaughn and Kristin Scribner are also here, since they were more than gracious enough to hold onto our boxes of food, pick-up some equipment along the way, AND deliver it all across state lines. High times.
I guess I should say a few things about what we do every day for ten hours--that is, paddle up the Mississippi River. We cover around 20 - 25 miles a day, which equates to anywhere from two bends in the river on a slow day to four or five bends on faster days. That metric really doesn't help the day fly by, you know? What does, however, are the rock dikes, which can span several feet from shore to hundreds of feet, produce severe eddy lines and challenging current, or hardly a trickle. But they make life interesting, and provide something to focus on besides an ever-expanding horizon or a digital clock.
The wilderness, and our preconceptions of it, is something we discuss often as well. Coming into the trip, we all expected the Mississippi River to be toxic, devoid of life in water and on land, and occupied by the extended cast of the movie Deliverance. Turns out, none of these things are even remotely true. The river water may not be able to compete with Fiji, but you can make coffee with it, and it washes away dirt and aches like water everywhere else. We see deer running the banks, beavers hopping down off shore and slapping loudly in the water, Asian carp jumping beside the boat, and birds everywhere. People are few and far between, forced away from the river by the prospect of floods, and those who stay build houses on stilts and welcome upstream paddlers as family and friends (although John Denton did his best Deliverance impersonation within minutes of meeting him).
With all that has happened this past month, it is hard to imagine what the next eight have in store for us. Gotta be good things.