Logistically speaking yesterday was the toughest day-first off, the Sanitary Canal, being what it is, a narrow, bulkheaded, chock full of barges and working boats is NOT an ideal recreational waterway except for the downtown Chicago area. That little stretch was pretty cool-it made me think of a maxed out version of the Rancocas Creek in Mt.Holly, a favorite paddling spot of my friend, John Anderson. You paddle by while the rest of the city strolls over bridges, busy with their day, completely oblivious to the water and you below. It’s like sneaking through a city, invisible in broad daylight.
Then there is the name “Sanitary Canal.” That name alone should tell you that it will be anything but sanitary. It is also why Listerine (a kick ass antiseptic) and triple antibiotic ointment are my best friends right now. It’ll be a relief when my raw rubs turn into callouses, not attractive for sure but no one’s gonna be looking THERE.
Perhaps I should have taken a picture of the many panty liners, tampon applicators, and condoms I passed by, but I just couldn’t bring myself to document that level of grossness. I’m sure there was raw sewage in the mix as well. Rio is not the only country to have water issues! How the Sanitary Canal can be such an open sewer is directly related to the fact no one is looking, no one is there to say, “Hey, this shit, this mess, this shouldn’t be.” It is a horrible abuse of the people’s resources. It also makes me wonder, how clean can the downstream rivers really be with Chicago’s poo and other waste flowing nonstop upstream.
Also in the Sanitary Canal is the Army Corps of Engineering’s series of electrified fish fences. There are three, and it is illegal and potentially deadly to paddle over them. This is something I accidentally found out about at the River Rally, when more than one person told me I should change my route because of the fish fence and narrowness of that busy waterway. I had been in touch with the USCG, ACoE, and Fish & Wildlife, who was running tests on the fish fence for the first twelve days of August. This actually helped with the barge traffic as that stretch of waterway was closed from 9-5 with a two hour window in the middle.
But still, the issue was me getting over the fish fence. It was strongly suggested to me to contact Romeoville FD. I dragged my heals on that one-hoping to find a boater that would take me across so I wouldn’t hafta bother the guys at the FD. When nothing panned out I finally called them up, an hour left of the business day, and magic occurred. They were willing to give me a lift!
So at a little before 4pm, I paddled up to the FD boat to Brandon and Mike who helped me load my boat in. I’d also, in the mad rush to get out the door, forgotten to eat breakfast. I did have a small peanut butter sandwich, but in the heat, between not filling up my water bag all the way and the added miles on to the day, I was pretty spent. Fortunately the guys had ice cold water on board and granola bars-bliss! After hanging out with them for an hour we transited across the fish fences and I was on my way, where the barge traffic picked up, keeping me on high alert with the noise of marine radio static in my ears. There is no room to mess around in that canal, and you can literally find yourself in a very bad situation if two tugs with two barges abreast go thru that canal. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to safely navigate that canal if Fish and Wildlife folks were not closing that section of the canal.
At the ACoE lock I radioed and radioed until a crusty annoyed voice crackled back at me that the lock masters were on channel 14, not 16. Oops. Definitely had success on 14 except the lock master couldn’t see me-I was too small and low for his cameras. When I got close enough for him to see that, indeed I WAS at his lock, he crackled over the radio, “Are you in a CANOE?” Affirmative. Fortunately as luck would also have it, I had the lock to myself. And going down is vastly vastly easier than going up. When I paddled out the barges I’d heard we’re still approaching the lock when I was in there were waiting on the other side. Some of the guys were really friendly, others appeared a little annoyed and pissed off, despite that I made sure to stay out of their way. But I get it. That canal is a dangerous place to be when you are in a 20 foot long splinter, as my mom calls her.
Sorry for the length of this blog-but already Chelsea and I are benefiting from “trail magic.” Mike, one of the firemen on the boat that took me over the fish fence, offered his wonderful home to us. We got there to his house incredibly late because of course with barge & lock hold ups and added mileage, it was a near dusk end. At the boat ramp we met a guy, Loren, who is a beer truck driver as well as a hunter of invasive species. So we got the run down of the various carp including the Asian Silver carp that, if you spook them, will leap out of the water and knock you out. I’ve had little fish leap into my canoe at home and had a bluefish or something make a gorgeous show off leap across my bow at the Schinnecock canal, so I’m totally taking this threat seriously.
Both Mike, with whom we stayed, and Loren, who treated us to beers and gave me a spare hammock he had, are outdoor watermen. Mike runs charters and has had some amazing stories of near misses of disaster at sea. Chelsea and I were both sad to leave them and their equally adventurous wives/girlfriends. This is perhaps the hardest challenge of all-leaving these folks and their stories and goodness.
Both Mike and Loren provided me with valuable information about the lay of the waterways ahead. Mike has taken boats all over the place, and has a familiar with and an infectious appreciation for the Tenn-Tom that makes me happy, again, to have chosen this route. Today I’ll be looking out for a landmark Loren told us about, “Starve Rock.”
Crazy late start in high heat, I’d love to push it and knock off miles from tomorrow’s long paddle, especially since storms are in the forecast, but I really want my butt to have more healing time.