Day 14 – Navigating the Barges


Gotta love the Mississippi. Especially being a slow gal in a fast boat. Chelsea and I have now pretty much gotten back on schedule, at the moment, anyway. Today’s paddle will be my last on the Mississippi as I turn my bow up the Ohio River and paddle to the Tenn-Tom waterway.
I’m enjoying the Mississippi more than I thought I would. I’ve been using my VHF-marine radio more than I ever have, keeping it running so I can monitor the tow boats and communicate with them. One tow boat captain thanked me for being in contact with them, so they would know to look out for me. When I said I didn’t want to be a bow ornament he said the paperwork to fill out was too onerous, so it was not something he wanted, either!

These guys have enough on their hands pushing all that weight up and down the river without having to worry about folks not paying attention. I heard, over the radio, about a drunken kayaker out on the water as well. One of the captains radioed back, in my query about his location (I wanted to avoid him, too!), that he was mostly on the riverbank yelling at people. This must have been the kayaker that a recreational boater had warned me about the day before, that the guy was “certifiable.”

The biggest problem with my VHF is charging it. It has a wall plug, and it needs a lot of juice. The rental car we have actually has a wall outlet, but the car needs to be running for it to charge. Am hoping that Carl can find a power source-either solar or something the car can charge, because this piece of equipment is crucial.

I’m glad I keep the VHF running, although today I might not keep it on all day, since we still hafta figure out how to charge it. But I hate to miss stuff. I radioed to one northbound tow and then he radioed to folks coming southbound behind me that I was “in the middle of the channel.” That I felt needed correcting, so I radioed back “southbound canoe here, I’m on the Illinois side of the red buoys.” It was nice that he also radioed back that correction-I certainly don’t want folks thinking I’m an idiot out in the middle of the channel with heavy tow traffic. Another captain, piloting a tow boat with no barges, radioed back, “I heard you mention canoe and I thought I was losing my mind.”

It’s gotta be a lonely job sometimes, to be a tow captain. Northbound tows hafta make way for the southbound guys, so they can get hung up for hours at the parts of the river that have been narrowed by sand bars. These stretches are super tight so it is definitely good to call ahead and let the poor waiting northbound tows know if you are paddling behind another barge so they don’t come out. They have limited visibility if you run close to them and they have even less maneuverability.

So today I leave the fast fun whirlpools on the Mississippi and slog uphill on the Ohio. I’m kind of sad to leave this awesome, mighty river with the baddest ass water of any river I’ve paddled to date. I’ll miss being able to do 70 miles on the back of a 64 mile day. From now on it’s shorter distances and locks. Who knows how that’s going to work, will they have ropes? Decent portages if not? And I’ll be going up, a lot more challenging than going down. All of it part of the adventure for our water.

Other things: Yesterday I saw my first dead creature floating down the Mississippi, some poor dog. I couldn’t imagine how he ended up in the river. Was it an accident? Or did someone toss him in?

Chelsea and I are camping at a public park. This has been an adventure in itself. Folks come here after hours to fish and chill out, so far, everyone has been pretty nice, including two guys who came to deflate from their day by the water. Really nice folks here, and a pleasant spot even if the bathrooms are the oddest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. They have mesh fences for doors, and are pit potties. I might just head for the woods, as last night a flood of mosquitos came out of the toilet. I’ve never seen such a mess of mosquitos, they just didn’t stop.

Time to rise and shine-for our rivers, for our ocean!


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