Day 13 – The Most Dangerous Stretch to Date

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I’m so glad I got the heads up about the Port of St. Louis from Mike & Janet Moreland. Mike has racked up the miles doing major expeditions and Janet just completed another “source to sea” expedition, this last one being the Mississippi (headwaters in MN to the Gulf).  (Google her, this lady is one of the nicest ass kickers you will ever meet, done so much-expedition adventurer of the year for Canoe & Kayak and humble as pie) I really cannot say how it was such a stroke of luck to fall into their company. Local knowledge IS everything, ESPECIALLY when it’s coming from folks who are intimately tied to their waterways and who paddle the scary parts on a regular basis.

Suffice to say if you paddle thru the Port of SL, you are a complete idiot if you do it without a VHF-marine radio. The water operators monitor channel 13, and they are constantly giving each other heads up as to where their location is and their direction of travel. And so should you. I kept my radio on for the whole stretch and was glad I did. Those waterway operators showed a ton of patience with me. At one point I had to paddle back upstream to stay out of the way of a tow boat parking about 15 barges alongside another mass of barges.

Barges are parked in the middle of the river, tows are moving around shuttling barges, and upstream barges, going faster than you think when you are right up alongside of them appear to barely move at a distance. I had initially been keeping river right, but the tow captains told me to get out in the middle, where they could see me; they were seriously on after the deaths of a couple of kayakers about a month ago. I’d call ahead to see which side of their vessel they wanted me to pass or I’d tell them of my intent to pass a certain way and they’d radio back “I’d rather have you on my starboard side” so I’d hop to it. When you are in that stretch the tow captains are the boss, you just stay out of their way and maintain radio contact.

On guy could tell I was a little confused, “stay in the middle” is a little tough to figure out when the barges are parked in the middle, so one, the Porter, radioed for me to just follow him. Definitely a hairy stretch, and I was glad to get below the JB Bridge. When I radioed “southbound canoe approaching the big bridge past where the barges are all parked” a guy radioed back, “that’s JB bridge and watch the current doesn’t pull you into the fleet.”  That current, by the way, is so strong you CAN hit stationary objects, like buoys and parked barges if you don’t fully appreciate how fast you are going and how the current works. Even with my late start I did 64 miles in a crazy time. Think I started close to 10 and ended up finishing st 6:30p. I’m a slow paddler in a fast boat and that current has me flying. I’m going to feel extra slow slogging up the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, but for now I’ll enjoy and make use of the speed, hoping to hit Cape Girardeau today, which is 72 miles away.

Oh! The owl just hooted. I’m sure he’s annoyed we’re in his space. Birds are easily annoyed. Blue herons, especially, have expressed great annoyance with me. Squawking angrily at me and taking flight despite me being nowhere near them. I guess being able to fly gives them a bossy sense of indignation whenever things don’t go their way.

Currently Chelsea and I have her hammock and my tent pitched by the ferry ramp, next to the railroad tracks. Think three trains came by last night. They blow and blow as they approach the section before they cross the road. In fact, here comes one now. It is ungodly loud. But I do love trains so it is kinda cool to hear that blast and the rumble and the squeaks as rolls on by, creating its own cacophonous symphony. This one is a pretty long one.

The owl nearby is not an owl I’ve ever heard back at home, it almost sounded like a hound baying, a deep throaty drawn out single “whoooo.” The moon is still up and I’m going to crawl out of my little awesome sleeping bag into the chill (it went down to 62!) and the moonlight and dawning day, the first glimmers of light allowing me to do breakfast without a light. It’s about time! The guys working the ferry, or somethings down by the water, have been at it since 4:30, and the first ferry customer just drove up.

Chelsea and I will enjoy the chill for now, it won’t last, that’s for sure.

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