I say semi-charmed rather than charmed not to reference the classic 90s band Third Eye Blind (which, of course, we all love), but rather because it seems to fit our crew just right. The most recent anecdotal evidence to support this would be our present circumstances here in Cape Girardeau. We arrived Sunday afternoon around 1:00 pm on the heels of what they are now calling Winter Storm Octavia; our infrequent weather checks prior didn't show much until that morning. The subtleties of decisions these past fourteen days to keep paddling late, sleep-in, layover, etc all coalesced into an arrival six hours before twelve inches of snow started falling on a southern town not well-known for their ability to handle it. That arrival also included logistics arranged by Patti Delano for the Parks and Rec Department meeting us at the boat landing with truck, trailer, and van to transport us and store boats (a gratis) eventually landing at the Auburn Place Hotel and Suites. They gave us a steal on the rates, and are complete with hot tub, pool, and laundry facilities. In fact, we sipped cocktails in the hot tub last night as our laundry dried inside and the snow fell outside. So, completely charmed, yes? No, I'm afraid not. There was a birthday party hosted in the pool area for a 10-year-old and we think he invited his whole class, which didn't have school Monday (President's Day) and was spending the night. I guess we'll settle for semi-charmed.
But I digress...Back to Memphis and the fourteen days since. We left the incredible hospitality of Dale Sanders after a Sunday evening spent watching the Seahawks decide to skip Beast Mode and give Tom Brady some more hand gear. We didn't leave without signing Dale's famous wall, and Mary Long helped Dan design a cool logo near our signatures.
The weather did not greet us kindly. It was cold. And windy. And the revetment we paddled on the east side of Memphis heading north was heavily currented, the wing dikes sharply defined by water and wind. But we had Mary Long and Emily Doll with Little Caesar's Hot and Readies waiting for us twenty miles upstream to keep us motivated. We camped the night with them, and then cut the cord early the next morning, prepared to push on to Cape Girardeau and the next resupply. Hannah at the State Park made sure we did not lack for anything, and allowed us to camp right near the landing.
Overall, we had quite the sampler pack of conditions these past two weeks. There were days we paddled without shirts, coupled with nights we didn't venture far from fires, and who could forget afternoons scraping newly formed ice off of boats, gloves, and paddles? We've known winter would come for us eventually, but it was easy to neglect that fact until the snow flew, the frost formed, and paddle-able hours were no longer dictated by wind, but rather by our ability to stay warm.
We also said goodbye to the Lower Mississippi last Friday as the Ohio River passed by on our right and the Upper Mississippi continued on our left. So far, the Upper's current is noticeably easier and the trajectory straighter; hopefully this begins to equate to longer mileage totals
Let's get back to the semi-charmed kinda life, though, right? Yes, the weather is trending cold. But we had our share of help along the way again. Several trucks offered help the day we portaged Bessy's Bend, most notably Sheriff Shelby Baker, who gave us access to water, and Raymond Posey, who was kind enough to give us a lift into town, share a meal, visit the smallest and oldest liquor store in the state of Tennessee, and deliver us back to the river in time to steal a few more miles on the day. Clinton Pettiet was kind enough to give us access to water, but wouldn't let Paco deliver it via quad across a rock dike (probably a good call). The most MIND BLOWING of all, however, had to be the benevolent barges (never happens, FYI). Throughout the trip, barges and their crews have ranged from disinterested to disdainful to downright hostile. But the White Feather and crew actually engined-up, pulled away from shore so we didn't paddle faster current around the outside of them, and wished us a safe journey. I almost fell out of the boat. AND THEN, the crew of Jason Luhr, albeit with little warmth, gave us a couple gallons of drinking water when they didn't have much to spare. Lastly, Mark and Barb Whitaker made the long haul over from Auburn, Kansas to deliver the resupply they had held onto from a few months back. Sadly, they had to turn right around and head back west in order to avoid the road conditions likely the next day. Semi-charmed.
I'll end this blog post answering some logistical questions we've been asked a lot lately. We started this trip early; arguably, much too early to avoid ice and winter. But that was the thought. Paddle what water we could until there was ice - get ahead and be prepared for the pace to slow, knowing that we might need to hunker down at spots. And that is exactly what we're doing. We're excited to spend more time with folks along the river, sharing time and stories, waiting for windows to paddle. So if you're along the Upper Mississippi and don't mind hosting river bums, shoot us a line, because waiting out winter is boring business, and we're social creatures. Here is to warmer weather and calmer winds, but we all know what we're gonna get...