Rolling down the river with friends

Sunday, September 11, 2005

DAY 29: Left Andalusia, Ill. at 6:30 a.m. expecting to camp on the river bank alone since there were no towns close to my 30-mile goal for the day.

After mile 32, there was only a narrow strip of sand on the Illinois side just big enough for my tent, so I crossed over to the Iowa side, where there were a few cabins. One had a group of people outside and I decided to ask if someone would let me camp in a corner of the yard.

I couldn't have picked a better place. The cabin is owned by the Purdys and they were hosting a monthly get-together of adults from their church. They not only let me camp, but let me use their shower and insisted I eat with them. I hope someday I can repay their kindness, if not to them, then pass it on to someone else.

DAY 30: Camped on Otter Island a mile below Lock/Dam No. 18. Today was hot and humid after 10 a.m. As I was making my last six miles, I had to keep wetting my bandana in the river and putting it on the back of my neck.

I would also dip my big white hat in the river and put it on. I stopped at Kiethsberg, Ill. for my first break and talked to two young men who were cleaning catfish. To my surprise they already knew about my trip. I guess word travels down river ahead of me.

Several people at the church potluck I crashed yesterday asked me what made me decide to take a trip like this.

I believe it was a combination of things. As a native of Southeast Missouri, this river has been an integral part of my life. I was born in Mississippi County and can remember hearing flood stories as a child.

Twenty-three years later I came back to Mississippi County as a telephone installer/repairman and spent the spring of 1973 re-splicing buried phone cable terminals that had been covered by years of floods.

We removed people's phones when they moved out of high water and replaced them when they could move back in. I've fished the river (actually I just drowned worms). I've attended family picnics on its sand bars, got stuck in its muddy banks and have friends and family who make their living from the river.

In Southeast Missouri, if someone mentioned "the river" we don't have to ask which river, we know.

When I see little streams in other places called rivers, I say to myself, "You call THAT a river? Let me show you a river."

So it's a part of me.

DAY 31: I thought of another reason for this trip: because we live in a country where we can pursue our dreams.

I think it falls under "the pursuit of happiness."

It's 10:30 p.m. and I just finished my bath and started today's journal entry. I'm running late because the people in this little town of Montrose, Iowa are friendly.

I paddled 34 miles today and arrived here at 5 p.m. I went straight to the Double Dipper burger/ice cream shop/laundromat/video store all in one. I had a burger while my clothes were washing.

As usual, the local customers asked where I was traveling. They were interested and we talked for a long time.

When I was leaving they asked if I needed any supplies they could donate. Aren't small towns great?

This morning when I was breaking camp went to turn the kayak over (I turn it bottom up at night to keep little paws and claws out) I found it was covered in thousands of little light-tan colored winged insects.

They were so thick it looked they had been sprayed on. I tried washing them off with a tub full of river water, but they wouldn't budge. They had to be wiped off by hand. I had a late start thanks to those critters.

DAY 32: I now have 1,050 miles down and 297 to go. The west bank changed from Iowa to Missouri today at 1:37 p.m. Good to be back in Missouri.

I camped on the Missouri side of the river tonight. It feels more like home.

I had to wait two hours at lock No. 19 this morning, so I only made 25 miles today. I'm camped on a Corps of Engineers sand island tonight. The biting flies are bad here.

I've picked up some new traveling companions in the past week. They are buzzards and I see them throughout the day. They give me a good looking over and seem very concerned about my condition.

DAY 33: My sunglasses broke as I was making camp tonight. I'll have to find some tomorrow. The glare off the water is blinding. Hannibal, Mo. and Marion, Mo. are the only towns I'll see tomorrow. Hope I can get some glasses before the sun gets too intense.

DAY 34: I made 30.5 miles today and camped on a big sandbar 16 miles below Hannibal.

From all the coyote tracks here I think I'll have visitors tonight. May have to crank up my radio to rock music I can't understand the words to. It works on most night visitors.

I stopped in Hannibal for some biscuits and gravy. I asked a waitress where I could buy some sunglasses and she said there was no place within walking distance. Another waitress checked the lost and found box and presto! New sunglasses, free!

Walking back to the river I was struck with most lonesome feeling I've had so far. It dawned on me why. This is where Marla and I spent our honeymoon weekend.

When I started this adventure the main focus was the river. I've seen it grow from a child's wading stream to a huge river, four and five miles wide. In four more days, I'll see it change again, from a slow-moving lake river to a free running river.

All of this will give me years of memories, but the best memories will be the people I've met.

The river is neither good nor bad; it's just a river. People are different. We have a choice to be good to others or not. People who have no particular reason to be have been good to me, my unkempt appearance not withstanding.

I look very much like some of those hitchhikers we speed past on Interstate 55. They made the choice to help and I'll always remember them for it.

DAY 35: I must be enjoying the luck of my "Irish" daughter Erin Kathleen. When I reached my 31-mile mark today I had my choice of four sandy beaches for camping. The best luck was a group of friendly beach party folks who invited me to join them for a cookout.

Once again I got to meet a wonderful group of outgoing, kind and generous people. People who have made this trip alone worth while.

DAY 36: Got on the water at 5:30 a.m. Nice and cool and the water is smooth, but it was almost too dark. I made Lock No. 25 at Winfield, Mo. at 11 a.m.

I paddled an extra five miles today so I'd get to Grafton, Ill. sooner in the morning, where my dad and Marla are waiting for me.

I'm camped just nine miles up river and should be there by 9:30 a.m.

People at the Cedar Hill Restaurant in Winfield today wanted to see my arms. I guess they thought they would look like Popeye's. I'm afraid they were disappointed. I've lost weight everywhere, including my arms.

Bonnie, one of the women at the beach cookout last night, called Marla for me to let her know where I was and that everything was okay since I didn't have a cell signal.

There is a line from "Rolling on the River" about how "people on the river know how to give." It really is true.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: