Sunday, April 23, 2017

Huck Finn... I know why they were naked.

I have been traveling down the Mississippi for a few weeks now.  The Mississippi and the Missouri though branches on the same tree, are hugely different rivers.  

The Missouri you get the sense is a sort of captured wild She-Wolf that is kept in a fenced in back yard.  Sure it appears to be just a big dog... but an night she still stands the hair on everyone's neck with her howl... and you and she both know that she is going to be wild again. They have her in the yard for flood control and barge navigation... but it still floods, and the only barge traffic is Corp of Engineer barges building banks for more CoE barges.  I guess sometimes there are just jerks that like thinking they possess something wild.

The Mississippi from an overlooking bluff.  Barge heading up-river.

The Mississippi on the other hand... is beat, channeled, and used... you don't get the same sense of wild heart.  The Mississippi feels like a huge man laboring in chains.  Like a strong proud slave held in check by a little jerk with a horse and a whip, that both the slave and master know that his subjugation is only because the slave lets it stand for now.  The entire length of the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans is banked in by 20' leavies on both sides, (40' around the towns.)  The maps show all the former bows that have been cut off over the last hundred and fifty years... and even old living bargemen remember the river as a much wider and slower river. 

The usual barge set up.  6-8 wide X 8 barges long.

The wake coming off these things will bounce you 15 feet up and down for a mile down the river.

That said, there are still just enough islands and towheads left where I can find a place out of the barge wakes to anchor and spend the night, usually hidden well enough that the searchlights from the barges don't spot me.  So, sleeping on towheads, and working my way down the Mississippi, you can't help but think about Huck Finn and Jim working their way down the same stretch of earth a hundred and fifty years ago.  

Sunset anchored behind a towhead on the Mississippi

This is not lost on all the people when i tell them about what I was doing on this river...  People always mention old Huckleberry Finn.  (I just re-read the book... to have a better opinion their comments about their memories from having read it in middle school.)  People seem to be all over the place about this book.  Some mention that this book is about hidden homosexuality, or Man-boy love, or even just how it's kind of weird how they spent so much time naked.  Well, having basically drifted down the exact same river... in the same time of year... I know exactly why they lounged around naked for days. The answer, so simple... it is just really freaking hot.  (and humid)

For a rough estimate, imagine sitting outside on the hood of your car in a parking lot in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana... etc all day everyday for a few months of August.  There is no wind, the sun comes up and the world turns into a sun-blasted sauna for 16 hours.  Humid, not a breath of wind, any cloths you bother wearing are salt crusted in sweat.  I will admit that I did wear my boxers most of the time, but that was mostly because I was trying to keep my junk from getting sunburned and it seemed inappropriate putting sunblock on down there.  

Plus... every once in a while, I had an audience. 

Also, in the book, they were were looking for the town of Cairo, Illinois.  It is the town at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio River and supposedly where you could take a river boat up to freedom in the north.  I was actually really looking forward to seeing Cairo even though everyone along the river had told me to stay clear of there.  It was supposedly dangerous and home of a cult of people that worship Egyptian gods.  Supposedly, only blacks lived there, and no whites were welcome/allowed. Well, people had also told me to stay clear of Indians, and downtown Kansas City for similar reasons and those places turned out to be friendly and interesting.  So... I figured my luck would continue. 


After landing, I walked about ten minutes into town... realized it was no place for me... turned around went straight back to my boat.  As I walked back, I saw a car racing towards my boat.  I got there a few moments after the car.  When I walked up, the car immediately drove off.  This was the first time someone had looked at the boat, looked at me, and not wanted to talk. It felt like they were about to rob the boat and I scared them off.  The whole town had sort of a sinister, desperate feel to it that I have never felt in a whole town before even in Afghanistan or Somalia. I cannot recommend anyone of any race ever visit that town.  Probably the people that live there should leave too. It felt like a town that had devoured itself with a pollution of hatred.

So, I went across the Ohio River to Wickiffe, Kentucky.  My first night in Kentucky... a new state is always fun for some reason!  As I pulled behind a tug boat pier to get out of the barge wakes, there was an 18 story steel cross overlooking the town.  I hadn't been in a town for a week or so, so was interested in food resupply and a beer.  

Turns out, this was a dry county in Kentucky.  The nearest place to get a beer is Cairo, Illinois.  (Sad trombones.)

Also, I am pretty sure why Huck and Jim missed Cairo as they floated down the Mississippi.  Mainly because Cairo is really on the Ohio River.  From the Mississippi, it just looks like more levies and trees.  Looking at old maps, that aspect of it seems not to have changed in 200 years. 

Obligatory corn cob pipe.  Still remarkably easy to get ahold of in this part of the country.

These are two dudes I met on the bank as I was getting out of a Thunderstorm. They were just sitting there drinking Natty Ice.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Power Plants... probably Super villain/hero fortresses

First of all, I would like to apologize to all my regular readers... I know this has been a huge break... I have been back from this trip for about 7 months.  I hope I remember half the stories for the next month and a half after I got to St Louis... and went all the way to Florida in the boat.  I guess we will see if I did. I did take some notes, and still have a most of the pictures, but the real problems was that a few weeks after my last post I got robbed in Greenville Mississippi... (technically boat burgled) but without a computer or camera for the rest of the trip, you can imagine how hard it was to blog.

(A pretty picture... though I was actually stuck in the mud walking around trying to find deeper water when I took this.)

My plan is to catch you all up on the rest of the trip, then tell you about my continuing adventure plans. (Hint: I am building an even more absurd impractical mode of transportation in my new garage in Albuquerque!)

Anyways, I'll ease you back into readership and myself back into writership by discussing the superhero and super-villain lairs that I passed along the river.  As crazy as it is, the whole Missouri River is damned up with hydroelectric dams... yet, along the whole way, there are also coal plants.  The argument being, the dams are in the middle of no where where no one uses the electricity, and the coal plants need a lot of water anyways, so close to the people they build coal plants and use the water for cooling.  Though they could transport the electricity over high tension wires but instead build even more coal pants... also in the middle of no where?  I smell something fishy!  (Asian Carp)

This sounds as likely as that gourmet popcorn store that was in the Nickles Arcade in Ann Arbor being a viable business.  Come on!  You are going to tell me that students are buying enough gourmet popcorn to support a store in the most expensive real estate on campus?  Instead of Greek Mobsters laundering money with popcorn, all these coal power plants are obviously lairs for super people.  I took a few pictures... I am sure you will agree by the end.

For starters, look at this place!  Obviously a good guy lives here.  Loot at the high stone window arches from which this super hero can brood overlooking the majesty of the Missouri River!

This one, obviously a super villain.  You can just tell.

This one... Well, I think I was just impressed at the size of this smoke stack.  

Hmmm.... well, shoot.  Now that I look at my pictures, I apparently don't have nearly the pictures of all the incredible super people power plant lairs that I thought I had.  The post is already written so you are going to have to trust me on this.  They no doubt also all have submarine pens, that they access the river and thus the world!  It all just makes to much sense not to be true.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

MO to St. Louis

So... Just because I made it through the Missouri River... and theoretically St Louis is at the confluence... does not mean it is a reasonable task to get from the Mo to the waterfront of St Louis.  After 14 damns, I was about to meet my first set of Locks... and first Canal.  This is mostly a picture post.  It took me a full day to get from my make shift pier of sunken barges around St Louis to the waterfront.

The Confluence of The MO and the Miss.  You can even tell that the Miss is so much more a commercial river even at this point. So many barges and boats on the Mississippi only trees and eagles on the Missouri.

The first thing you will see upon entering the Miss is that the whole of the river flows to the right... but this sign tells you that all boats must go left down this canal.  On the right is what's called "Chain of Rocks."  Basically the left overs of a dam.  Of the people I talked to, it was about 50/50 if I could get down the chain of rocks with the Mermaid...  I was kind of excited to go through a lock too...  This is the last Lock on the Mississippi.  So, I went down the canal into the lock.

Like... freaking 9 miles of canal...

Yep... Miles of still straight water.

Eventually you get to this lock at the end of it.  I was a little nervous to be honest.  It really feels like a place you shouldn't be with a little rowboat. Eventually the lock dude came out... said "Don't bother tying up..." Like it was a totally normal thing for me to be there.

And down we go.

Back into the Mississippi just north of St Louis.  First time I see the Arch!

This bridge just north of downtown St Louis is absolutely the most beautiful bridge on the whole system. Iron and Concrete configured in a piece of architecture you could look at for hours and see new things the whole time. 

We're here.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Out of the Mo into the Miss:

AUGUST 20, 2016 (Give or take)

What can I say… 2300 miles of grueling beauty and splendid hardship.  

I don’t think anyone who has ever traveled the length of the Missouri River would ever say they have beaten or conquered or even “haha” bested the river.  The most you can say is that you made it, this time.  This time, you learned fast enough, you made few enough mistakes, and you got lucky enough when it counted that you made it.  You don’t complete it and feel like a bigger man for it… you complete it and feel humbler.

This is the last moments I spent on the Missouri River.  Just about to enter the confluence of the Mo and Miss.

The End of he Missouri.  Over my right shoulder, you see the Missouri river... over my left, you see the Mississippi.  

(The keen observer will spot the Mermaid pulled up on the river bank.)

At this point... I am 2300 miles into the trip.  The entire length of the Missouri River traveled... I am ahead of schedule, so I plan to travel all the way back to my place in Florida.  I now have the rest of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico ahead of me.  1500 Miles to go!  Even though I have come so far... 1500 miles isn't nothing!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cousin's... so many babies.

On the passage few days of KC to St Louis… the current is fast, the engineered levies are not particularly interesting, but the miles are tantalizingly low numbers!

I did stop in Jefferson City to visit with one of Dave the Kayaker’s friends Cecil and Joe the park builder

… who fist fights anyone who abuses dogs.  (There is not even a boat launch in the capital of Missouri… There is one on the other side of the river though.)

I stopped in a few towns… but was excited to get to St Louis, where my Aunt and Uncle happened to be visiting my cousin to diddle around to long.  Like I said, the river is not appreciated this whole section, though I did find a park in St Charles, Mo.  In the Park there are several sunken barges piled on top of each other.  I tied the boat off to one of the sunken barges.  (I hope maritime luck doesn’t rub off… because the Mermaid was hanging out with those sunken unlucky vessels for several days.)

Usually my family is a bunch of shudder bugs, but these are the only real pictures I have from that visit.  

My cousin has twin 1.5 year olds. I was sleeping on the couch.  About 6am the boy wakes up and starts playing in the living room.  

Suddenly!  He sees a crazy looking bearded stranger laying on the couch watching him!  Reasonably his first reaction was to run behind my cousin and peak out tentatively.  After a few minutes of my not eating him, he decided I was a welcome addition to the living room and starts demonstrating his ability to dump over boxes of toys and laugh.  

The girl woke up and laid in her crib singing until my cousin brought her out into the living room too. No hesitation on her part at all. 

“Sweet!  A new “adult” to read me books.”  About thirty seconds after meeting me we were discussing the merits of bananas being yellow and the fact that this is a circle. Being our first meeting and being family we stayed away from the politics and drama of Micky’s clubhouse but I think we would have agree that Minny really should be the one running things at the clubhouse. 

An Asian Carp that jumped into the boat.

This is Churchill Clark.  The Great Great.... grandson of William Clark!  Still lives along the Missouri and spends his time making dug out canoes.  I don't know how I managed not to take a picture of one of his dug out canoes... You can find his work HERE.

KC... Good BBQ and bad boat ramps

So, the last city on the Missouri River that loves the river is Atchison, Kansas.  Home town of Amelia Earhart!  (Turns out no planes downtown or anything… just her house.) When I say it is the last city on the Missouri that loves the river, I mean that it has a park along the river, docks for visiting boaters, overlooks… you know… incorporates the fact that one of the great rivers of the world flows through it. There really is a beautiful park and cool downtown.  

But, you didn’t come here for travel information… You came for the seemingly impossible adventures of Notorious!

I got to Kansas City. KC does not love the river.  They have walled it off, hidden it, and are mostly afraid that it will make a mess of their train town!  For a city of about half a million people, there is only one mediocre little boat launch on the far end of town that doesn’t even have a dock.  Kipling, Michigan has more water front facilities than the half a million people city of Kansas City!  INCREDIBLE!

Well, I guess when the trains came to town, KC stopped being a town devoted to the steamboat, and started being a FRN Train Town.

To KC’s credit, they have beautifully restored their old Union Station.  

It is really impressive actually!

While New York has torn down their beautiful station, and Detroit’s is effectively modern ancient ruins.  So… there is something…  but not friendly to the river.

I found what looks like an old steam boat terminal and tied The Mermaid up to it.  There is a set of stairways that lead up the thirty foot rock embankment into the city.  I tied up the boat, and as has been effective so far, trusted luck and people to be good.  So far so good.

I wanted to explore the city, so I got a room, took a shower, and explored.  Visit the Arabia Steam Boat Museum.  It will inspire treasure hunter in anyone.

In the morning I came back to the boat.  Not particularly used waterfront… no person had bothered the boat.

So, here is where I hid the boat...  Can you see it?

Down the hill... what the?!?!  

 This is not good... It was floating in six feet of water when I left yesterday!

About here is where I realized that I had totally wasted taking a shower.  The boat is almost tumbling down the bank into the water... held from rolling off by the now guitar taunt mooring lines.

The GOPRO walleye vision is odd here, but the boat is about two feet above the water on some rocks and an I beam. I had tied it up the afternoon before at about the level where you see the lines on the poles.  The thing was perched so that if the mooring lines weren't holding it, it would roll right down on it's side into the river. Now I couldn't slide it out or untie the lines...  Some hard corp practical problem solving about to happen.

Several hours and not at all clean anymore, the boat was finally back in the water.  It had been pearched up on this steel thing.  The keel was resting in the poky part of the I beam... so I couldn't even slide it down. 

As far as I could tell, no holes punched in the bottom from this operation.  Though totally luck on that.  The mooring lines luckily held it from rolling off down the bank into the river on its side.  All my stuff would have been in Arkansas if they hadn't.  

Smoke that Prop!

So…  last time I tuned in for an update, I was talking about how I was having a bit of hipster moment in Omaha rebuilding a propeller in a coffee shop.  I am going to have to back up a moment now to just above Souix City, Iowa.

Just before Sioux City, there is the last wild stretch of the Missouri River before it becomes “channelized” or “engineered.” Read that as a big gutter that flushes the water of the Missouri as fast and deep as possible down to the Mississippi.

As I was puttering along, kind of zoning out… I was suddenly surrounded by a squadron of local kayakers! (They always come out of the sun at you!) I didn’t realize kayaks could go that fast!

Dave... crazy fast kayaker that caught me!

Then they caught up with me again at the Ponca State Park


Little did I know it, but this kayaker would be my rescuer a few days later!

This bunch were paddling sixty miles that weekend of the MNRR 100… or, the last wild 100 miles of the Missouri are designated a special park.  If you paddle them, you have completed the MNRR 100.  On accident I happened to do this.  Dave, the leader of this band, added me into the award ceremony at Ponca State Park.  

Instantly going into “shake, take, salute” mode, he assumed I must have been a politician.  I assured him I wasn’t but that there is a massive database of pictures held by the United States Air Force.  Every award, honor, or attaboy ever given by the USAF is photographed mid-handshake as the award is passed.  Probably for posterity or something… No one has ever in the history of the Air Force ever EVER wanted to see one of these pictures. (Leave a comment in the bottom if you have ever even seen one of these photos after it was taken…)

The First Shake Take Salute picture ever actually published:

I exchange information with some of the kayakers and and let them know about a really old tree that I had seen there in Ponca State Park.  Being that Kayakers and sail boaters are all cut from about the same level of nerdyness, they were also excited about an old ass tree and all went up the hill and looked at the it too.

Here it is.  This oak tree was born in 1644.  Think about that for a while...

Anyways. Remember that propeller?  Literally the first day out of Omaha, just south of a place called Nebraska City. (Home of the Ely Windmill Factory Museum) I smoked the crap out of that rebuilt propeller.  I hit a submerged rock dike so hard I am sure there were seismologists jumping out of their rolling chairs thinking this was going to be the big one!  

The Ely Windmill Factory Museum… note this is a museum of windmill factories… NOT a Museum of Windmills!  Making it even more notable don’t you think!?

I managed to shred the entire inside of that propeller… It was a clean sweep.  My repair… shattered, the remaining structure of the propeller… shattered, and even the shear pin… well it was fine.  Probably reused that. (cut down high tensil drill bits are the same as shear pins right?!?)  No better propeller salesmen in the world than the Army Corp of Engineers!

Luckily one of the kayakers who lived just up the road in Omaha came to the rescue!  There was a marine store in Omaha that could get the propeller.  Who would have known that it would be such an odd ball part.  No one carries it in stock. I think they only sold two in the history of Mercury Outboard. Apparently, if you are going to buy an outboard motor, no one ever goes for the 2.5 horse… except apparently my dad. Probably went down like this:

Outboard Salesman:  So… you got your 2.5, your 5, and your 10 horsepower outboards.  All weigh the same and cost the same.  

Dad: I’ll take the 2.5.

Outboard Salesman: Ummm… Ok… you putting this on a canoe or something?

Dad: No, I have an old row boat that I like to drive really slowly in.

Outboard Salesman: Like for trolling?

Dad: No… my family has a fishing curse and can’t catch fish. Hmmm… do you make a 1.5 horse?

Now, I have never done Heroin or crack, or any other famously addictive drugs… but I do know for sure that they are nowhere near as addicting as an outboard motor!  You see, you try to do the right thing.  You try to row… but there you are… facing the back of the boat looking right at the damn thing.  Each stroke you think, this could be a lot better… well, maybe just for an hour or so… this is like a headwind… it counts… right?… I did row some today, I deserve this…


Well It would be like trying to get off coke but leaving a big scarface mound of it right there in the middle of your kitchen table all the time.  

In addition, I had made a decision about this trip that made the motor imperative to have in working order.

So… Rescued by a generous kayaker, who also also happens to be a chef.  Needless to say, I ate better than I have in months!