Day 45: 45 Miles
We decided to pass on Mike’s offer of breakfast this morning because we wanted to get out on the river earlier. We had to go through the St. Louis Harbor today and we were all a bit anxious about it, as we have heard of the heavy boat traffic and the Coast Guard that was patrolling the area. We headed out on the water around 8:20am (all wearing our life vests for probably the first time on this trip) and immediately noticed the strong headwind. It did have a few stretches of calm, but mostly we had the strong headwind all day. As we reached the downtown area of St. Louis, we passed really close to the big arch. It was cool to see it from so many angles as we went down the river. We had been advised against stopping in the area to go check out the arch, so we just kept paddling. The harbor was definitely something we don’t want to experience again. Besides the collection of weird smells (toast, BBQ sauce and poop) and the large amount of tree debris in the river (including big logs we had to weave around) there was quite a lot of barge traffic, barges parked on the sides of the river and tugboats zipping around. The swells in that stretch were really big and erratic…a mix of wind, wake from the passing barges and wake bouncing off of the parked barges. It was rather nerve wracking, but we knew that we just needed to keep paddling to get through it. At one point, we went through some really big and close swells and Daisy (Qball and Safety’s canoe) took on a lot of water and started to feel like it was listing. The canoe naturally has a low profile, but it was pretty scary for them when they felt like they couldn’t control the canoe. They yelled to us for our bucket to get the water out, and we tried to help hold and stabilize the boat while they bailed it. It all turned out ok, but was not a good experience for them. Luckily, we had planned to paddle close together through the harbor (we often paddle a distance apart), and luckily we were near the end of the busy section of the harbor when that happened. We were all glad when we got through and stopped for lunch…we could breathe a sigh of relief. It was good that the current is now quite strong, so we were able to get through the 21 mile stretch is just over 3 hours. The rest of the afternoon was amazingly quiet. We had expected to be seeing a lot more barge traffic, but we saw only one all afternoon. The strong current has made us quite happy today. With our late start and early end (we stopped for the day at 4:45pm), we were psyched to have done 45 miles! It seems like doing 50 miles on a regular day will be no problem.
Day 46: 43 Miles
The day started our really nice with a light headwind and a quick current. The barge traffic has noticeably picked up, but they are still pretty easy to share the river with. The hard part often is knowing exactly where the navigation channel is. There are buoys which define the channel (red pointy ones and green flat ones), but the problem can be that they are not frequent enough. Sometimes we can paddle for 20 minutes or more without seeing a buoy. It can make it difficult to know where to go when we see a barge coming, because we’re not sure what path they will be taking. The morning miles came fast, doing 18 miles in 2 1/2 hours. We were pretty psyched with the fast pace. Then the wind really started to pick up and slowed down our progress. The wind would create really big swells to paddle through which were not fun at all. We noticed a spot with picnic tables which we stopped at for lunch. We are always drawn to spots with picnic tables because it is just more comfortable to eat at than sitting on the ground. When we were paddling from our lunch spot, and in shallow waters, we were greeted by the flying fish again. One hit the boat, but luckily none hit us. The wind for the afternoon was pretty ferocious and we decided to call it a day. We were disappointed with the miles we had done, which is a little silly considering that it was our second highest daily miles of the trip so far. We are just ready for big mile days and continue to be frustrated when the wind doesn’t allow that.
Day 47: 47 Miles
Qball’s theme for this trip has become “there’s always something,” meaning there is always something to contend with, that slows us down. Today the weather was it. It was raining pretty hard when we normally get up, so we decided to wait an hour until it was suppose to let up. So, we were all packed and ready to go at 8am, but were pretty wary of the intense wind that had come up. It felt like it was blowing as hard as the day we had to sit things out in the privy playing cards. The only difference today was the direction of the wind…instead of being more of a headwind, it was more of a tailwind. We decided to try it for 20 minutes and see how we felt. After that time, we ended up pulling up on shore because Qball felt like he couldn’t control the boat in the wind. It was pretty chilly and starting to rain again, so after 40 minutes of hanging out on the shore, we considered just setting up camp and waiting it out for the rest of the day, since the weather app showed the wind only getting stronger during the day. Qball decided he wanted to try again, just sticking close to shore in case we needed to stop. So, we headed back out and luckily, the wind dropped a notch after about 15 minutes. Depending on the turn of the river, we either had a crosswind or a tailwind. The wind was pretty erratic for the rest of the day, at times being strong and other times it was really calm. It felt like we had the river to ourselves for most of the day, seeing only one barge. The river has changed a lot in the past few days, with a lot fewer towns along the river. Today we only saw a campground, but no towns. Tonight we are camped just outside of a town on the MO side. We have a nice sandy beach where we all had our dinner. We ended up looking around for about 30 minutes for hang sites, since most of the trees here have poison ivy vines growing up them. Qball is dealing with his second bout of really bad poison ivy on his hands. Unfortunately it seems to be near impossible to find a campsite without any poison ivy and he seems to be extra sensitive to it. Tomorrow morning we are going into town to resupply. Hopefully we’ll get some breakfast in town tomorrow as well.
Day 48: 38 Miles
It was quite cold last night and SweetPea woke up with feet that were still cold. We all had extra layers on when we started on the river. We only had a mile and a half to go before we arrived at Cape Girardeau. There was only one public boat landing which was on the north end of town. We were able to leave our boats in a spot so that they were not visible to anyone walking or driving by. One thing about paddling is that we don’t like to leave any valuables in the boat when we park them in towns. So, we each carry our waterproof bag and our waterproof tote. It ends up feeling like we are carrying so much. And today was pretty annoying with all of our stuff because we had to walk so far to get to a breakfast place and a grocery store. Today we also carried our empty water jugs with us so we could fill them up in town. We had breakfast, which was just ok and then walked to the nearest grocery store, which was the dreaded Save A Lot…the same place we resupplied at in Hannibal. We were able to fill up our water jugs at a nearby park and then we called a taxi to get us back to the boat landing. When all was said and done, we were ready to go again at 11am. We’re not really sure how we took so long, but walking all over town was certainly a big part. Cape Girardeau was interesting in that it had a flood wall between it and the river. They had painted a lot of murals on the interior side of the wall which were quite nice. As we headed out of town, there were a lot of parked barges and tugboats moving around. It felt busy and we were glad when we were past it. There was a fair bit of barge traffic today, but we felt like we were able to stay out of their way pretty easily. We were pretty excited this afternoon to see one of the Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessels. As we were coming upon it, we couldn’t figure out what it was, but once we realized it was an Army Corps vessel, we realized it was a dredger. The arm on it was so long! It was pretty cool to see. The river was quite twisty today. It seems that the twisty-ness is going to continue for a bit. The wind was pretty indecisive today…sometimes a headwind, sometimes a crosswind, and sometimes super calm. We got to camp around 5pm and we had a really quick time of finding hang spots. We had a nice beach for eating dinner and it was good to just hang out and chat. It looks like we’ll have another cold night tonight.
Day 49: 59 Miles
One of the things we enjoy on the river is the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Today was no exception. We had another chilly night last night and it was 37 degrees in the morning. We were all pretty frozen when we started out, but the beautiful sunrise still caught our attention. It was pretty foggy on the river and we probably didn’t realize just how foggy it was, but we all agreed later that it probably wasn’t very safe for us to be on the river in the fog. Luckily we didn’t see any barges in the morning, as it took at least 40 minutes before the fog started to lift. We made good time and arrived at the confluence of the Ohio River around 9:30am. We believe this is the widest point on the river, at around four miles wide where the rivers join. There was quite a few barges parked along the shores for several miles. We were lucky in that the weather was beautiful and the wind was not an issue today. Sometimes in wide areas on the river, the wind can kick up some intense swells. It seemed that we lost some current after the two rivers joined. We took some measurements on our smart phones to see what the pace of the current was and to see what our paddling speed was. It seemed like it came down a bit, but not as much as we had feared. Most likely, the current was less because the river had gotten a lot wider. But, we’re still able to make good miles, so it’s not really an issue. There was quite a bit of trash in the river today. In addition to the tree debris, there was more actual trash than we have seen before. The most interesting things we saw were a football, a softball, a car tire, and a button. We got to camp after checking out two other possible sites. The evening was still and cool and we had a great sunset as we ate dinner on the sandy beach. Two milestones today…1. We have a new state on our left. After being in IL for quite awhile, we now have KY on our left. 2. We finally finished the Upper Mississippi and are now in the Lower Mississippi. Most likely the Army Corps of Engineers created the distinction that everything north of the Ohio River is the Upper MS and everything below is the Lower MS. For us, the main thing has been the miles. When we started this trip at Lake Itasca in MN, we were actually at mile 1,342 of the Upper MS. Since then, we have been working down the miles and this morning we finally got to 0. But as soon as we got to 0 for the Upper MS, the miles reset to 953 for the Lower MS. A bit confusing, but it is good to see the miles coming down.
The morning was so still and quiet when we headed out…the water even looked like glass for a bit. The river continues to wind around like continuous horseshoes, one after another. There was steady barge traffic, but it seemed like barges going in opposite directions will stop and wait for one to get through a big twist before going through themselves. So we saw almost as many parked barges as moving barges. We took a few breaks and still made it to New Madrid by 11am. Once we got to the landing, we were greeted by the friend, Chuck, of the River Angel, Jerry. Jerry was still on the river fishing, so Chuck brought us and our gear to a local restaurant where Jerry was going to meet us. Chuck went into the restaurant to let the owner know that Jerry was going to be paying for our lunch. It was really kind of both of them to help us and go out of their way for us. Jerry joined us as we were finishing up our lunch and it was nice chatting with him. He is such a friendly and sweet person, it was a real pleasure to spend time with him. He brought us to the grocery store and Chuck helped us get our water jugs filled up. They dropped us off at a park next the landing where we can camp tonight. Qball isn’t feeling too good today. A cold has been making the rounds of our group with Qball and Beardoh the current lucky ones. It will be nice to have an afternoon to just relax and chill out.