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.
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...
Somehow, it's that time again. These past two weeks flew by fast, powered by great weather, hard work, and new friends. Here are some details to fill in the gaps.
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.
Hey, John Keaveny here! Well, we made it to the first resupply! And even a bit ahead of schedule. A crazy start and bad weather weren't enough to trump hard work, long days, and southern hospitality that just won’t quit. Here are a few photos to add some context to the story, and we will be without a video due to the lack of IMovie. BUT, we have the Vicksburg Public Library, which will have to do. It has also been great to take our first layover day to repack food and rest bodies after thirteen days on the river. Below are more details on what we have encountered so far on our travels.
We stayed with Tom Candies and Becky Truxillo before leaving January 1st after putting the final touches on gear and enjoying their generous hospitality. We camped out at Burns Point Park on the Gulf of Mexico the night of January 1st and arose the morning of January 2nd to calm water on the Gulf to start the expedition. We paddled eight miles along the shoreline of the Gulf through some heavy fog and swampy waters needing some guidance; eventually from Reid Miller (thank God), a local hunter, who appeared with perfect timing to get us unlost and find the mouth of the Atchafalaya River Drainage connected to the Intercoastal Highway. The thick fog did not allow us to see much of the Gulf but we were able to spot a few gators as we navigated congested channels that led us to the Atchafalaya. We paddled up the Intercoastal another fifteen miles into the night. A barge gave a little warning horn as we paddled a water intersection right before our campsite at a boat landing where our new friend Lester offered a place to set up tents and get out of the rain.
It has been a quick learning curve as we passed barges and local fisherman asking if we need help and reminding us that we were paddling upstream. They think we’re crazy. Day two we were blessed with a strong tail wind and we were able to put the Wind Paddle sails to use covering about ten miles in some rolling waves before we shut it down for the afternoon when the river turned and the winds were no longer in our favor; an eventful start of the trip to say the least.
We paddled the Atchafalaya River for the next six days, up manageable current. Fishermen and hunters chatted with us as they passed by and we paddled the banks seeing old fishing lines and hunting camps. The camping was manageable as we became accustomed to 5 am wakeup calls and 7 am paddles usually lasting until 4 pm or 5 pm as the sunset approaches. We portaged and camped at the water control dam on north end of the Atchafalaya River near mile 320 of the Mississippi on the night of January 9th with the anticipation of what the Mississippi River currents had in store for us.
The Mississippi has been wide and we share the river with large barges instead of small fishing boats. They stick to the deep dredged current in the middle and we paddle the banks of the river hopping eddy lines and pushing through current around wing dikes. We spent one evening in Vidalia, LA at an RV campground where we greatly appreciated the extra help from Joe Coutermarsh, who was a huge boost to our spirits given the conditions. He helped move our gear and boats off the river from the landing ramp to a secure spot at the park, where we blew up the laundry room with our drenched cloths and ordered pizza while the dryers spun. It was an awesome night.
We have been able to move upriver at the pace we hoped for (around twenty miles per day) and are on track at our first resupply. The weather has been cold the past week; we have paddling with temperatures in the 30s and 40s during the day and had a couple frosty mornings where the temp has dipped in the 20s. One morning, our stuff was all completely frosted-over. Gear is holding up, though, and keeping us warm but we are excited about better week weather-wise that is supposed to roll through starting Friday.
Matt Hendrix is our Vicksburg, Mississippi resupply contact; a Mississippi River Angel indeed. He has been very gracious, opening up his home and allowing us to leave our food with him, as well as sleep, eat and relax at his house. Matt and Layne Logue, another Angel, met us at the river takeout with cold beverages and incredible knowledge and passion for paddling and the river. We loaded our boats and gear into their trucks and headed to Matt’s house where we ate some chicken spaghetti that his wife had prepared and spent the evening inside talking about the amazing network of people they are connected with along the river and learning a lot about life on the Mississippi. We are spending today updating our blog, responding to emails from followers new and old, getting our gear dialed-in, and food repacked to return to the river tomorrow. We hope to check out some of the history of Vicksburg this afternoon, prepare a meal and spend some more time with Matt and Layne learning about the river and the incredible people that enjoy it.
One last disclaimer: Please do not be offended if it takes a little while for us to respond to emails and the website via the contact page. Our only time-frame for returning all the emails are these resupply days, so don’t lose hope! We will be in touch, eventually.
I think this video says it all... Can't say enough about southern hospitality,
So, I'll be totally honest here. There is simply too much to say, too much to do, and the way we've decided to manage this is to use images and the spoken word. This is not because the written word is inadequate or antiquated, but simply (slightly) more time consuming at this point. Below is a slideshow showcasing the work done by Dan and Mary on the crew's paddles. Above (or the next post), is a blog video we put together down here in the Bayou. To everyone who has supported this crazy idea and following along, our deepest thanks and hope for a happy new year. We hope it is unseasonably warm, and with winds predominantly out of the south.
I'll preface this post with the following disclaimer: Dan is the brains behind the editing scene, but every composer needs an understudy. This is a compilation of the bulk of the interviews left out of the Canoe and Kayak blog that I thought I'd play around with. Check it out!
For those of you looking here for updates on the trip, we apologize in advance. This installment is a bit more indulgent on our part with regards to an annual pastime we all share and look forward to like others do Christmas, the Superbowl, season premieres, etc. As you can tell from the gallery below, fun was not in short supply (but deer certainly were).
Yes, another year of deer hunting is in the books, but before we move forward and touch on a couple recent trip developments, we also have to bring everyone's attention to a huge accomplishment by one of the crew members.
Winchell Delano shot a deceptively-large five point buck, won this year's Leaf River Big Buck Contest, and, most impressively, completed a three-peat, having now won the contest in 2012, 2013, and 2014. He really does join some elite company. In fact, a recent survey* provides some useful context on where this feat ranks among other three-peats in history:
Chicago Bulls (1993)
Winchell Delano Big Buck Contest (2014)
Chicago Bulls (1998)
New York Islanders (1982)
Shaun White Superpipe (2010)
New York Yankees (2000)
So, back to the point at hand. This canoe trip from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. It has been a refreshing hiatus for the Minnesota contingent, but now we're back to work. The canoes are all outfitted with knee pads, spray decks, and requisite patches. Our food resupplies need only bars and final touches before they are ready to be sealed-up. Next week we'll gather and pack all the kettles and group gear, and compile the final order list. Our fellow Iowans will join us the second week in December to pack personal packs, finish food resupplies, and make sure we're ready to go well before the holidays are upon us.
Oh, and what is this charming guy standing next to? All Bulk Food departments in every Cash Wise store will have one of these stands promoting the trip. Make sure to check us out next time you're shopping there!
Lastly, look for us appearing in an upcoming Canoe and Kayak magazine near you with an article on the upcoming trip, as well as a presentation for the Saint Cloud Times in Saint Cloud, Minnesota (date and time TBD).
*The term 'survey' here refers to the author's most accurate guess at what the results of a real survey would be while saving the valuable time and money a real survey would cost.