Homecoming Part One: Iowa

It seems like forever since the last blog post. I'll be honest, it has been quite the roller coaster on this end. A roller coaster that started cold, windy, and white but finished warm, calm, and green. It also came complete with photo evidence (complimentary in this case!).

So let's go back one month to a time when six guys were sitting-out a winter storm all warm and cozy in Cape Girardeau. It was difficult pulling-off the band-aid over biscuits and gravy, bagels, juice, and coffee, but we all agreed that we needed to get back on the water no matter how much snow had fallen or what was coming next. We met the local news network at the boat ramp north of town, answered some questions, and stylishly sled the boats down the snow covered decline back into the river. It was sunny with relatively low winds and a high of 25 degrees; all in all, a promising day.

We didn't have far to travel in the short-term. The three-day forecast called for lows in the single digits and even below zero, and our goal was to make it 30 miles north and sit-out the weather again with Rocky Leimer, a local paddler we met while in Cape. We stayed a couple days, watching TV and playing cards, before braving the cold again. The day we left Rocky's hospitality was cloudy and windy with a temperature after windchill right around 11 degrees. 

But we got used to it; the ten-day forecast consistently forced us to. Looking back, you have to laugh about getting excited for temperatures to get back above freezing. The expected two-week stretch from Cape Girardeau, MO to Quincy, IL quickly became the ten day stretch to Saint Louis, MO, about half the planned distance around the same time span. Ice flows became more and more dense as we approached Saint Louis, but we were still excited to be moving despite the conditions. And, as usual, we arrived in Saint Louis during the afternoon beginnings of fresh snow forecasted to be around 7 - 9 inches; definitely the winter storm event of the year in the Lou. 

Like always, it seems, we were lucky enough to have Mike "Big Muddy" Clark to host us at his Kanu House near the famous Chain of Rocks. The anticipated two-day layover turned into five, as ice reports above the lock and dams became more grim. Nights playing Pictionary and days spent touring the city made waiting slightly less nerve-racking. We knew every hour off the water was more miles we'd have to make-up later.

So we had a choice - wait longer in Saint Louis for the promising forecast to make travel worthwhile and break-up the ice or paddle up the Missouri River (sans ice) and portage BACK onto the Mississippi River (hopefully) clear of ice past lock and dam 26. It was a route that did not shave-off any miles, but could circumnavigate the ice-clogged dam fifteen miles north. Or just be a slightly longer paddle with a two mile portage (and, seriously, who likes portaging?). We still chose the latter, and even slept underneath a freeway bridge to seal the deal! Very loud.

And what a great choice it was! Thank you, Scott Mandrell. We only had to drag canoes on ice about 500 feet before we saw open water! Smiles visible all around, we left the world of unmanaged river behind us for the pool system ahead. The pools, as we were told and now have experienced, promised to be quite the treat compared to the wing-diked current on the Lower Mississippi.          

And it wasn't just the the current that was improving. The weather shifted as well. The 10-day forecast after it bottomed-out around March 7th didn't have a day below 50 degrees and had several days over 70 degrees! It was hard to even imagine what that would feel like. And paddling without every layer I had? Preposterous. 

It kinda sounds like the heavens parted all at once. Spoiler alert - they didn't.

We still had the ice. Part of the pool system appeal (only minor current) also created a problem for us in that it allowed for significant ice to form. But, nothing we hadn't navigated before. So we put our paddles away and dug out the webbing, cinched the hiking boots tight, and started dragging boats along the shoreline. As we moved north, the distance we needed to travel in each pool to reach water diminished, from ten miles above lock and dam 26, to eight miles above lock and dam 25, until there was none by lock and dam 21, and we were back to business as usual. Paddling.

And now we're here, in Keokuk, Iowa, having just arrived on a 65 degree day with no wind, into the loving arms of the Moores, Kimmes, and the Keokuk Yacht Club. We had a great family dinner here in town last night, and are spending the day lounging before heading out bright and early tomorrow morning. The forecast looks great, and we're excited to make-up for lost time on the wide-open pools. We have one homecoming down, with one more to go. Minnesota, see you soon.