Day 41: 30 Miles
We had a good breakfast at the hotel this morning and then walked to the grocery store to resupply. When we had googled grocery stores in Hannibal, we were given only two choices, one of which was a Family Dollar. Well, the other option was basically a glorified dollar store. Terrible selection and lacking in many healthy food options. Needless to say, it was a pretty sad resupply. We got back to motel, packed and then took a taxi with our gear back to the marina. It worked out pretty good and we were on the river shortly after 11am. The river was really quiet and pretty calm all day. We stayed a ways off shore to avoid the flying fish. We only had to wait about 15 minutes for our next lock to be ready. We got to go in front of a barge that was waiting to lock through…good timing again. After the lock we hemmed and hawed about whether to take a more direct route through a slough and risk the fish, or go the longer navigation channel and be more likely to avoid the fish. We decided on the slough, but paddled very softly so we wouldn’t get the fish riled up. There were some fish that jumped at the beginning of the slough, but most of the time it was quiet. We decided to paddle a bit later today since it was really nice on the water. Unfortunately, that put us in situation of not being able to find a good campsite before dark. We even came to several signed island campsites, but they were all overgrown with poison ivy. The site we ended up going with has a bunch of poison ivy as well, but we knew we had no choice but to make it work as dusk was settling in. As we checked out multiple potential campsites, that was when the fish would get bad…as we paddled into shallow waters. We tried to just glide more than paddle when we got into shallow water, which seemed to help some. We had plenty of fish jumping, but they didn’t hit us or the canoe. We ended up setting up our hammocks in the dark and cooking in the dark…not the way we like it. It felt like we didn’t get to enjoy the usual evening relaxation. It is nice now to be hanging in our hammocks listening to coyotes across the river going crazy.
Day 42: 35 Miles
Starting just after 5am, we got quite a bit of thunder, lightning and rain. Luckily it was done by the time we were getting up. Things felt so calm and still as we headed out on the water. It was still grey and overcast, and we were expecting the whole day to be rainy. We had just a few miles to our lock for the day. As luck would have it, a barge was just finishing locking through, so we only had to wait a few minutes for them to get the water level back up in the lock and then we were able to get through. It feels like we have started to get a bit of a current the last few days…perhaps all the rain in MN and WI is filling up the river where we are. In any case, it has been nice to have a bit faster pace. Around 11am, with no warning, we saw lightning and heard thunder right away. Needless to say, we booked it to the nearest shore and got out of the boats. We all put on our ponchos and waited for the rain to come. It ended up hammering on us for about 40 minutes with continued thunder and lightning. We couldn’t remember being in rain that hard since hiking the AT in Maine. There wasn’t anywhere to really take shelter, since the bank had a lot of poison ivy, so we just sat curled up with our ponchos on waiting for the rain to stop. It eventually did and we scooped the gallons of water (30-40) out of our canoes and then ate lunch. Once the rain passed, it was calm on the river again. A lot of the afternoon was spent in sloughs, trying to paddle softly enough so the fish didn’t jump. It we could tell that the fish were perking up, we would stop paddling…that seemed to work pretty good to keep the fish from jumping. This afternoon we passed by a tiny turtle swimming in the river. It was about the size of a silver dollar. Not sure where it was headed, but the river would look like an ocean to something that small. All day, the banks of the river have been overgrown and often full of poison ivy. Over the course of the day, we saw maybe two spots that would look like good camping. So, we started to look for a camp spot early, especially because we have a lock coming in a few miles and we wanted to camp before the lock. The spot we found has a good amount of poison ivy, but some clear spots for tents. We ended up walking a ways back looking for hang spots and found a great spot. It was pretty windy on the water when we finished for the day, so this spot gives us some protection from the wind. It looked like a storm was brewing, so we ended up cooking dinner near our hammocks instead of near the other guys. And now the rain has come.
Day 43: 39 Miles
It was still grey and overcast in the morning and quite chilly. The water was nice and calm as we headed out. We had seen a barge leaving the lock as we were packing the canoe, so we were hopeful that the lock would be free when we arrived. Luckily it was and we were able to just paddle in. We were all feeling rather chilly, so our breaks were kept pretty short in the morning. We seemed to encounter more asian carp today than we have in a bit. At one point this morning, we seemed to paddle into an area that was heavily populated. At first a few jumped near us, then all of a sudden we had fish coming from all over. It was so crazy…Beardoh got hit in the head twice by fish and another fish fell into the canoe at his feet and he had to throw it out. We have all adopted a protection stance when fish start jumping of holding the paddle in front of our faces…not sure if it would do anything, but it’s something. Mid-morning, we were paddling along when a guy onshore called out to us and asked us if we wanted lunch. We said Sure! and parked our canoes in his yard. Stew was a very friendly and funny guy who lives in St Louis, and has this second home along the river. We built a fire outside which felt so good since we were all chilled from our constantly damp clothes and the cool temperatures. He made us brats and grilled cheese sandwiches. It was great to take a break and get to know Stew a bit. That has been one of the best things about this trip…meeting kind and interesting people along the river. We spent about 2 hours there and then headed back onto the river. A few miles further and the Illinois River joined the Mississippi River. We paddled until 5pm and then found a place to camp that was near an abandoned building. Even though there is poison ivy around, we have all managed to find good places to set up. Tomorrow will be a big day…our final lock! Yeah! We have been looking forward to this, mostly because we believe the current gets faster once the locks are no longer holding back the water. Hopefully it will be as good as we have imagined.
Even though we didn’t leave until camp until 7am, the heavy clouds made it feel so dark. We only had four miles to go before our final lock. As we approached it, we could see a barge behind us a mile or so. When we called the lock, the guy was super unhelpful and unclear. At first he said we needed to wait until the barge behind us locked through…then he said we could lock ourselves through?!? We ended up going to the smaller of the two locks and when we pulled the cord to let them know we were there, we all heard someone say “go right” over the intercom. So, we paddled over to the main lock which was on the right. The gates were open, so we paddled in and greeted the workers on the edge. We hung out for about 15 minutes with the gates still open before anyone came to talk to us (very unusual…usually the gates close right behind us). Eventually the assistant lock master came down to say we weren’t supposed to be in that lock and that there were trying to stop the barge which was supposed to be entering. He said we could stay and that they would be letting in several recreational boaters since we were already there. It was just such a weird and frustrating process. In the end, the locking process ended up taking us well over an hour. It just made us extra glad to be done with locks. Also, as we were exiting and dealing with the very big swells bouncing off the lock’s approach wall, one of the recreational boats that had been in the lock with us passed us at a speed that created a wake we had to deal with in addition to the already choppy water…totally lame. But, once we were on our way we got to enjoy the faster current we have been dreaming of. We passed the point where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi River…it was definitely not a big deal like we expected…but you could see even more current coming out of the Missouri. We got to the portage point for the Chain of Rocks just before 11am. The river was low enough that going over the rapids (which are called The Chain of Rocks) was not feasible, so a portage was our answer. But we only took our boats out of the water, and then we hung out at the parking lot for over three hours while we waited for a river angel, Mike, to pick us up. We kept ourselves occupied playing cards and getting Dominos pizza delivery in the parking lot. Once Mike picked us up, he brought us to his place. We got to shower, do laundry and resupply. He made us a delicious dinner and entertained us with his stories from the Mississippi River. Another example of the kindness of strangers on the river.
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