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 54. Thursday, November 7th 2012.
Big Soupbone Island - Princeton
I was sat in an inflatable ring and paddling hard, slowly making my way up a huge water slide. It was getting harder and harder the closer to the top I came. When I was within a few feet, a woman shouted out "you shouldn't be here now!" I came to a halt despite paddling as hard as I could and began descending. I ran out of steam and let go of the paddle. I felt the speed picking up and turned to face down the slide. Within a few seconds I was at a dangerously fast pace, but began enjoying it. The slide flicked up and shot me out into the air, I soared and landed on another slide keeping the same frightening speed. After three jumps I saw in the distance there were no more slides, only stairs, concrete and escalators with people everywhere. The final jump sent me flying over hundreds of people and I could see a metal escalator coming toward me. I landed hard and bounced numerous times but felt no pain. I stood up next to a young boy and we stared at my mangled, bloody body on the escalator. My eyes wide open. I said to him "I feel bad for my family, what can I do now?" He looked at me and replied very flatly, "there's not a lot to do now." And walked off.
I woke up with my head still inside the sleeping bag, nicely warm and instantly began analysing the dream. I saw it as anxiety. I'm frequently told that when I reach St. Louis and get past the last lock and dam, the river becomes wild and moves quickly. Although I'm looking forward to it and the mileage assistance it will bring, I'm still very aware of my lack of experience and expertise. I'm constantly asking questions of people who have canoed the river and collect nuggets of information. I can only hope I continue to learn and adapt as I have done over the past fifty-three days.
I popped my head out and felt the -4C temperature air. I quickly pressed snooze and ducked back underneath giggling and bringing my extra layers in with me to warm them up. After 30 minutes of snoozing and mental preparation I made the fast movement of getting out of the sleeping bag and dressed. When I unzipped the tent there was the faint start of dawn in the clear sky. Everything was covered in frost: my bags, boots, map, and the tent had a very thick layer. The temperature made for a long morning preparation, especially with anything that required finger dexterity. My gloves are too large for the tent clips so I had to do it bare handed. The cold damage to my fingers of recent weeks has left them very vulnerable and at first exposure they are rendered useless. I bent down and undid the last clip with my teeth. By the time I was ready to go the sun was rising over the calm water giving out a touch of warmth.
After an hour of paddling I noticed some hunters in a motor boat. Sometimes their camouflages are quite elaborate. This boat was completely covered in leaves and foliage making in unrecognisable. It reminded me of ‘The Shaggin’ Wagon’ from Dumb & Dumber. There was a strong crosswind due today and I began to feel the onset by 9am. Cross winds not only slow your progress but they stop the ability to choose which side to paddle on. I could end up spending hours only using one side of my body. I studied the maps and I was very exposed on the shipping lane that the buoys follow, but I noticed a route through a cluster of islands that may provide shelter. The main problem with this is that there is no maintenance or current. It may be too shallow, or cut off by fallen trees etc. But I deemed it worth the risk. From 10am to midday I meandered through the islands which were shallow at times but I was well out of the wind. I could see the yellow tree tops high on the bluff taking the brunt of the breeze. Upon exiting the island channels, I had five miles of complete exposure to lock 13 across the widest part of the Mississippi River, five miles wide.
The further I paddled out, the bigger the waves became. Some waves came over the side of Orca and I needed to bail out. If I tried to paddle directly towards the lock, which was diagonally across the waves, the boat became too unsteady and I feared falling out. I tied the marine radio to my life vest in case I needed to call for help. I varied between paddling side-on to the waves, bobbing violently but somewhat predictably and with the direction of the waves which sat me up a few feet higher and was much smoother. I zigzagged like this for nearly two hours. The paddling was as intense as the conditions and controlling Orca was very difficult. The last half mile to the lock was without waves, but the water chopped just as heavily for no rhyme or reason. The surface looked like many spiked mountains rising and falling. As I neared the gates, the two lock keepers came out to greet me. One informed me that these conditions are common for this lock due to its position on the river and that in worse wind the waves can be huge. I held on to the rope in the lock but Orca kept clattering into the wall so I dropped it to float out in the middle. When the gates opened the other side I was met by calm waters and a gentle cross wind. Two more miles to Clinton and I would take a decent break that my body needed.
The first jetty I saw had two people stood on it, so I paddled towards them. The man shouted out to me as I arrived "Hey, how ya doin?". "Pretty good," I replied "is there a bar, cafe or restaurant around here?" I needed some internet to check the hourly wind conditions, the radio told me that tomorrow would bring unpaddleable headwinds. I had another 37 miles to Davenport where a bed awaited me, a perfect place to be wind-bound. "Nothing near here, but I could give you a ride to my shop? I got wifi, coffee and a fire burning." Terry Krause was a welder working on the jetty and was just about finished for the day. My timing was impeccable. We entered his workshop and I took my waterproofs off to allow the warmth in. He brewed a pot of coffee and put a stool and a chair in front of his furnace so I could warm my feet. I went through the wind conditions and my maps. I was now working out the direction of river vs. direction of wind down to 1/16. It looked as if by 8am tomorrow I wouldn't be able to paddle for nearly 48 hours. I paddled 37 miles yesterday and 22 today, not nearly enough to maintain target average. I spent nearly two hours in Terry's shop drinking coffee and then his apprentice gave me a lift back to Orca. Before I left, Terry gave me a sticker for my boat and a $20 donation. Top bloke.
It was 5pm and starting to get dark. I had 37 miles ahead of me and 15 hours to do it in before the wind hit. I felt quite apprehensive about it as my body was fatigueing, but I had to try. I paddled out amongst the illuminating city lights and tried not to think about the distance. I paddled for over an hour feeling better and better, setting my mindset for the long night ahead. The river out of Clinton flows directly south for a few miles then turns 90 degree west. As I rouned this corner I was hit by a headwind. 'Just a gust.' I told myself. It didn't die down. It was constant and I felt destroyed. I think I recall at one point screaming "This just isn't cricket!" The town of Camanche was 6 miles into the headwind, I would stop there, find some internet and check this wind forecast again. After two more hours of hell I pulled up at a dark landing. I walked up the bank and saw nothing but houses. I knocked on a door to ask if there was anything in the area and a woman directed me to a gas station a mile up the road. I jogged there to keep warm. The women behind the counter gave me a coffee to warm me up and a truck driver talked me through the night's wind. I found that basically, the wind wouldn’t change. I actually felt better knowing this information - I just had to get on with it. I jogged back down to Orca and set off again into the windy darkness.
As every hour passed I put 1200 paddle strokes through the river of treacle. My body was deteriorating badly, numerous muscular pains were cropping up and I feared injury. I surprisingly didn't feel sleepy, having been up for 19 hours. At midnight I noticed a layer of frost over everything in my boat. The cold started to penetrate into my core as I couldn't paddle at a high enough rate to generate warmth. I just felt like I was causing myself damage. I ate a curry, carrots and some trail mix hoping the calories would stop the shivers, which within 10 minutes, they did. Wether it was a placebo effect or not I didn't know, but that was irrelevant. By 1am I felt destroyed and there was no way I could paddle another 7 hours or 20 miles like this. I would break myself. I had to stop. I could see the lights of Princeton up ahead on my right and made a beeline. My paddle strokes and technique were failing badly. The first lights came from houses that I wouldn't dare disturb at this time, then I spotted a marina. I pulled Orca up to a jetty, tied off and clambered onto the boardwalk. I walked up the steps to a building praying for shelter, I was so cold, setting up and sleeping in the tent really wasn’t appealing. I walked around to the front and saw a crack of light under the toilet door. I turned the handle, pushed and a flood of warmth hit my face. A small toilet with just enough room for a sleeping bag. Jackpot!
I skipped back to the canoe, fetched my backpack, sleeping bag and headed back up to my ready made bedroom. I washed and brushed my teeth in a sink, went to toilet in a toilet then hung my hat over the bright white light. The small room was now filled with a soft blue glow. I crawled inside both of my sleeping bags and didn't even set the alarm, I couldn't do anymore paddling before 8am and the wind wouldn't allow me after. I had come 41 miles today (mostly in cross and headwind), and 78 in two days. Over three days worth of miles which ensured I only lost a day to the wind instead of two. I just hoped that all the pains I were feeling could heal before I began paddling again.
16 hours. 41 miles.