83 days, about 1,920 miles, 2 rivers, 10 states, 4 bottles of whiskey, 5 rain coats, 5 pairs of sunglasses, 6 air mattresses, 1 bear, 8 gators and approximately 800 mosquito bites later, our adventure is over. We paddled into our final destination, Morgan City, LA, at noon today.
It’s a tough call but we’re going to stop canoeing the Mississippi River. That’s not to say our trip is over. Instead of New Orleans, our new destination is the Gulf of Mexico, via the Atchafalaya River.
Ever since we crossed the Mason-Dixon line, we’ve had to turn down numerous offers of fresh caught fish because we lacked any decent tools to filet and cook them. Finally after the nth time fishermen pulled over to our canoe and offered us their catch, we said what the hell and packed four large tripe into our cooler. Don’t ask me why we turned down the catfish we had been offered earlier in the trip for a much less tasty fish. In any case, here are the steps you should not take when cooking a fish caught in the Mississippi River.
1. Don’t pack a plastic bag overstuffed with ice and tripe into your cooler, infusing your food with fish smell.
When we started planning this trip, lots of people had one of two reactions. One was to say something about Deliverance. The second, less common response was to say something like “Yikes, you’re going to be going through the South.”
As accessible towns on the river can be scarce in the Delta, we decided to page through the Lower River maps to get a better sense of what towns are close to the water. It was December when we did this. 12-12-12, specifically. Hurricane Sandy had just happened and we had the 12 12 12 concert for Sandy relief streaming live in the background. I flipped the map over to chart 35, which shows the town of Rosedale. “Rosedale!” Dave said, “That’s where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil!”
That second, I mean that second, Eric Clapton played the opening riff to his version of Crossroad Blues onstage at Madison Square. I’m not particularly superstitious, but I think I had to put the maps down for a few minutes. I’m still not sure what to take away from the whole thing, but we decided we had to get to the Crossroads.
Right now I’m sitting by the pool on the 8th floor of the Econolodge hotel/parking garage in downtown Memphis, waiting for the chicken and waffles lunch to settle, and life is good.
Earlier this week, with a few long days of paddling in tough winds, we finally decided to have a new mindset about the trip, mostly that we gots to chill more. Although we did almost immediately break this rule by racing to Memphis (we were excited for barbecue and blues, so can you blame us?), but from now on we plan to take things easier and, you know, go with the flow.
According to some people we’ve talked to, the main thing that stops people from canoeing the river is fear. Fear of quitting a job, fear of losing income, fear of the river. What I haven’t heard anyone talk about is fear while you’re doing it.
There are no easy miles on the Lower River, Mike of Big Muddy Adventures warned us as we left St. Louis. So, fittingly, just as we approached the confluence of the Ohio River at Cairo, IL (kay-row), an unexpected windstorm picked up and grounded us for several minutes. We finally entered the Lower River and immediately three men on a camouflage fishing boat approached us. At first we were hesitant — were they going to try and convince us to get off the river? — but before asking us where we were headed or where we came from, they offered us ice cold water, cans of Coke and a catfish. Welcome to southern hospitality.
Of course, right after they left a thunderstorm picked up and we were soon surrounded by bolts of lightening on almost all sides.
Hey remember that elbow injury? I wish the reason I stopped mentioning it on the blog was because it went away. That’s not the case. I stopped mentioning it because it hadn’t gotten better, and that’s a downer. So my elbow is still messed up. I know. I know, I know. Yes, I’m taking care of it as best I can. I pretty much just sit there while Dave paddles. And I agonize about it plenty, too, I promise.
On a canoe trip you expect to, you know, paddle, and I haven’t been. Which has been a pretty big disappointment, to be totally honest, even though I’m trying to stay upbeat about it. So I talked Dave into taking 6 days off in St Louis. The hope is that the days off, plus river guide Mike Clark giving us pointers on paddling technique, will help get me back on track building my arm back up again. Maybe you’re wondering why we took a week off in St Louis instead of in Davenport when we could have waited out the flooding. So am I! Who knows!
Enough about that! We stayed at Dave’s friend
Jason’s Fitz’s apartment for the week. They have two kittens!
We decided to make a 170 mile portage from the Quad Cities to Hannibal, MO. It was a really hard decision. We could have paid for a hotel for a week waiting and hoping for the marginally improved conditions NOAA claimed are coming. And we could have just pressed onward, portaging up and down rock levees around closed locks and trying to find dry land in flooded woods to sleep on. Instead, since we have awesome friends who were free the last two days, we skipped part of the river.