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.