Canoeing the Mississippi - Day 105
In the brutal US Winter of 2012/2013, Kev canoed The Mississippi River from it's source to the Gulf of Mexico over 146 days. Here's a blog from one of his days:
Day 105. Sunday, December 29th, 2012.
Mile 845 - Mile 803
I woke up to hear my tarp being pelted with rain. I checked my watch and it felt like Christmas Day when I read 03.15, I didn't have to get up for two hours and drifted back into a deep sleep. When the alarm went off at 5am, the rain had thankfully stopped. I got out of the tent and everything was soaked. Pools of water had collected on the tarp and there was no chance of relighting the fire. One good thing about the fact that it had rained - it isn't cold enough to snow. The temperature fluctuates so much that I need to enjoy these days without ice over everything. I loaded Orca at first light then slopped around in the mud to push off on the mighty Mississippi once again.
The wind was dead calm and my paddle cut through the water with ease. This afternoon was forecast for a tailwind so I should be able to make some good headway towards Memphis for New Year's Eve. But then the inevitable happened, a southeasterly headwind. It seems every time I get my hopes up, Mother Nature teaches me a little lesson. It became so fierce I hunkered down into the bottom of the canoe (for aerodynamics/laziness) and slowly floated to the coming bend in the river. I sat up and began eating an apple when I saw a barge coming up behind me. I can judge their pace pretty well now and knew I had time to cross the channel to the inside before he came. So I nonchalantly continued chomping on my apple. I turned back shortly after and found him closer than expected. The wind must have slowed me more than I thought. Not wanting to get caught on the outside of a bend risking the wheelwash, I began paddling into the middle. The tow-boat was coming up much faster than I anticipated and began honking a loud horn at me. The wind and current were making my crossing far too slow, I was never going to make it. I made the decision to double back and head for the bank taking the lesson on the chin: act early, eat apples later.
After three hours I spotted a ramp into a huge grain industrial plant and pulled up for a stretch. There was a man sat on a chair with five fishing poles rigged up in front of him. He had a thick southern accent and introduced himself as 'Petey'. He was fishing for catfish, they feed on the fallen grain and can grow to huge sizes. He told me he once caught a 70 pounder with a head ‘This big!’ Classic fisherman tales. As I paddled back out in the river he shouted "Be safe now. This river ain't for playin'!" So I called back "Don't worry. I ain't playin', I'm working!" It actually felt like work today. After another hour’s paddling, I'd had enough. I wasn't tired or in pain or hungry or thirsty. I just didn't want to paddle. I put Ol' Painless in the bottom of the canoe and just leant on my knees staring at the water. I felt empty. This went on for a few minutes before I snapped myself out of it. I picked the paddle up and focused on Memphis, only fifty or so hours away. Short term goals yield long term results.
The huge flooded bends continued, one after another. Huge wide open expanses of water, fully exposed to gusts of wind, flanked by monstrous barges. It's an unforgiving environment. The rough water made for a rocky ride but I needed to keep Orca on a true course from buoy to buoy. Rarely do I fight a strong wind anymore, but when it is trying to blow me backwards into the path of a 1500ft steel boat, I'll decide to make a stand. The boat rocked side to side violently and I felt like I was on a mechanical bull, but I didn't have a mattress to fall onto. I had coffee coloured water which would give me hypothermia within 10 minutes. I just focused on the buoy ahead. As soon as I exited the bend, the heavy water disturbance stopped and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I needed another short break but I was making bad time. I wanted forty miles for the day and I was cutting it too close to make it before sunset. I pushed on, obsessively checking the map for my distance. I finally hit forty miles twenty minutes before sunset and allowed myself to look for a camp spot. The high water level had covered all sandbars so I was left looking in between trees for a piece of land, but it was all flooded. I paddled around a drowned forest for fifteen minutes before spotting a gap when a small beach lay. It was perfectly sheltered from tonight's northerly wind with driftwood scattered everywhere. I checked the map to find I'd covered forty-two miles today. My biggest mileage ever. I built a fire and set up camp with a sense of satisfaction glowing inside me. After eating a huge pan of ricey-sludge, I climbed straight into bed. It must have been 7.30pm at the latest, but I needed sleep. By 8pm I was firmly in a coma with forty more miles planned for tomorrow. Today had been tough. I heaped pressure of time and distance on myself and achieved my goal. In the grand scheme of things it's a drop in the ocean, but these completely personal victories are the memories that will carry me through another day when it gets really tough.
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