I’m lying here on my sleeping pad listening to the rain as it comes down increasingly harder. Apparently this is the system that totally whacked Louisiana. I left so late in the summer because, 1) I didn’t want to hit Alabama and the Gulf at the peak of heat and 2) I counted on July being the rainy month, as past experience has taught me. So much for trying to predict the weather. If the rain keeps the winds down and the river flowing that’s a good thing, but with high water comes big debris washing downstream, as Chelsea’s uncle told her. No way do I want to paddle at night again, as I’ve already run into one tree, already going off-channel in the dark and with flooding waters there’s no guarantee of debris-free passage even in the channels.
Yesterday I shared a lock with two pleasure boats, including a fellow “looper,” which I guess is what I’ll be after (and if-always an IF cause there are never any guarantees) I get to New Orleans. The Great American Loop is the Easter Seaboard, into the Great Lakes, down to New Orleans, and east along the Gulf to one’s starting point. Basically, and without intending to do it, I’ve been doing “the Loop” in sections.
I had a hold up of about an hour or more at the lock, which wasn’t too bad except at first the guys told me they don’t take canoes and they don’t have portage options. News to me! I remember reading a book about a guy who did the loop in a row boat, plus, you do have a right to navigate this country’s waterways. Anyway, things got sorted out and I was granted permission to enter. Perhaps I’ll identify myself as a “southbound pleasure craft” instead of a “southbound canoe.”
Hanging around gave me opportunity to talk to one of the guys who worked at the lock, who was concerned that I might wash into the intake. Mike, the Romeoville firefighter, had told me about how he’d lost friends at these things-with the water high they can really suck you in.
The lock guy, whose name escapes me now, and I chatted a bit about the stupid things people sometimes do-I told him about watching power boats cutting it close to downstream going tankers on the Hudson (doesn’t even matter, upstream, downstream, cargo vessels take 1/4 mile to stop at minimum), and he told me about a power boat that killed four people when it tried to cut across the bow of a barge under tow. Crazy.
After finally getting out of the lock, I managed to pass the really slow barge that was in the lock before me as it inched it’s way to a bridge. The barges take their turns wide, and usually slow down a good deal for them. They are pushing a lot of weight so the slowing takes place well in advance.
I had put some good distance on between us when I came up to some folks from Pekin, a cute little town from the looks of it along he river-lots of RV parks and things. A guy named Brian offered me a beer, and never one to turn down a beer and meeting new people I paddled in and hung out with him and his friends from Pekin Boat Club, I think it was. That cold beer was the most refreshing thing on a hot day.
When I saw the barge I had passed inching around the bend, I figured I’d better head out, so off I went. This stretch of the river is surround by a wildlife refuge, tho I didn’t see as many birds there as I had in the more polluted northern waters. It was pleasant and pretty but after miles and miles of nothing but trees and river it can get a little boring-especially on the straight of ways.
On one such straight section I saw a barge going downstream. Great-something to race, a challenge to wake me up. It’s a tricky thing to pass a barge-you want to pass when you have a straight section enough to give you time to get around him before he sets himself up for his next curve. I figured if I passed him and there was another bend in the river with not enough time for me to get out in front and safely cross his bow line then I’d just fall back and try his other side. As luck would have it I was able to pass and then give myself enough space as he had to slow down for his next bend so I could shoot over. After I finally got to my destination and took the gear off my canoe, showered and grabbed a pizza, the barge went rumbling by.
Chelsea and I are guests at Tall Timbers Campground and Marina. It is a perfect little oasis here with the sweetest little portopot bathrooms and “food, fuel, & spirits.” Kinda sad to leave this little quiet spot on the river but I got 50 miles with one lock and rain. As long as the thunder storms stay away I’ll be happy.
Please sign my petition for clean water.