Around the bend: Cape to Memphis, Part II

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Note: Dave Hardesty continues a day-by-day account of his Mississippi River kayaking trip, an adventure shared with his friend Danny Rees.

Day two: Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007

We made camp across the river from Hickman, Ky., at mile 921.5. Paddled 39 miles today with a strong headwind from 10 a.m. on. As planned, we made it to Columbus, Ky., for lunch after meeting the Delta Queen on her way north just below Wycliff, Ky.

At the Columbus boat ramp, we met Jim Kerr, a local man who was doing some river watching that morning. He offered us a ride up the mile-long hill to town. On the way to the cafe, he gave us a tour of Columbus, starting with the old hotel building for sale that overlooks a bend in the river. What a view! Next he took us to see Columbus-Belmont State Park, where a section of hand-forged chain that was used to block the river during the Civil War is on display. A cemetery next to the park dates back to the early 1800s and is the resting place of many of Jim's ancestor's. His family has been in the Columbus area since 1820 and he still owns the family farm. Being a history buff myself, I was glad we had Jim for our guide. After the tour, he dropped us off at the only cafe in town and offered to help us out any way he could while we were there. Aren't small towns great?

At the cafe, Danny and I chowed down on cheeseburgers and tater wedges. I washed mine down with a whole pitcher of lemonade. Paddling is thirsty work!

A man at the table next to ours had pointed us out to the locals as river rats when we walked in. He said he knew by our clothes and the fact that we were on foot. He was probably too polite to mention the most obvious clue, the distinct odor of our "Old Man River" cologne. His name was Jim Dyhouse. He was dressed much like we were, baggy cargo shorts, sun worn shirt, beat up straw hat and sandals. With tanned weathered face and shaggy white hair, he looked to be somewhere between 60 and 80 years young. Like us, he was also a river rat. We had seen his canoe near where we had tied up our kayaks. It was surrounded by several large plastic storage tubs and assorted camping gear. Jim told us he was on his seventh (he thinks) solo trip down the Mississippi! He has also done the Ohio and the Missouri along with several smaller rivers. I think he said he was from Minnesota. When his wife died several years ago, he started canoeing the big rivers solo and is on his fifth canoe now. He takes his time, no rush, stops for a while (a few hours, or days) when he needs to rest or finds something or someone interesting along the way. That is the way to make this trip, but Danny and I both have a few more obligations than Jim, namely wives who expect us to be in Memphis by next Saturday. He shared a few river stories with us and he and I compared memories of the beauty of the upper Mississippi River. He was going to spend another night camped near the Columbus boat ramp before moving on.

Jim told us about his recent stop at the river front in Cape Girardeau. He stopped to do laundry and have lunch. He called the police department to ask if we had a taxi service. They told him we did and gave him the number and told him the cheapest ride was the designated driver service for $10. He wondered if they thought he was a drunk needing a ride. He told them he was wanting to do laundry not go drinking. For $12, our city-run cab service took him from the river to the Laundromat on Pacific near Broadway. While his clothes were in the wash, he enjoyed the biggest burrito he had ever seen next door at Burrito-Ville. With his clothes clean and his stomach full, he told the Laundromat manager he really couldn't afford another $12 to get back to the river so he guessed he would walk. The manager gave him a free ride himself. I was glad to hear folks in my hometown can be as good to river rats as so many were to me on my trip from Minnesota to Cape two years ago. So Jim was impressed with Cape for giant burritos and friendly people.

We finally had to shake hands and say goodbye to Jim Dyhouse. He is a true master river rat and we wished him many more safe miles on the rivers.

I tried singing today to help keep my paddling cadence. That doesn't work as well as whistling for two reasons. One: it makes me too thirsty. Two: I don't know all the words to hardly any song and humming doesn't work. I can't whistle like I normally do because I recently lost all my front teeth for the second time since April! In April, I bit down on a roll in a Bubba Gump restaurant at the Mall of America and the front teeth broke off my partial! The day before Dad and I left on a trip through Mississippi and Louisiana, I had them repaired. Two days before leaving on this trip I broke them again! I was on a training run for an upcoming marathon and bit down on a cold power bar, snap, no front teeth again! So here I am paddling down the Mississippi, almost toothless and can't whistle worth a hoot!

Today was interesting not only for meeting the two Jims but we also got to watch a dredge operation up close. The Corp of Engineers is dredging out the harbor at Hickman. We had to dodge the dredge as it moved back and forth across the inlet leading into Hickman. Because of the dredging, the water in the Hickman harbor is thick with sediment and is like thin mud. The boat ramp was busy with boaters lined up waiting to load their various crafts onto trailers. Danny found a spot of hard sand to land and motioned me in next to his kayak. The spot where I landed looked the same as his but it wasn't. I started sinking as soon as I stepped out of TPII. Before I could get to solid ground, I was knee deep in stinking, sucking mud. To add insult to injury, a pleasure boater came roaring past and his wake threatened to fill my cockpit with the silty, muddy water. I had to keep the kayak lined up to take the waves stern-first using hand lines I keep attached to the bow and stern while sinking in the mud. After securing our kayaks, I washed off the mud as best as I could with the muddy river water. Now I smelled like fish! Jim Dyhouse would be proud of me now.

We had been told there was a good place to eat here in Hickman not far from the boat ramp. We didn't find it, which is just as well since my river bath would have probably left me eating out back anyway. I have learned not to put too much faith in distance estimates made by people who rarely travel under their own power. That five-minute walk with no hills to a good place to eat usually turns into five miles up a long hill! We did find a convenience store with a pretty good barbecue sandwich.

After filling our stomachs we walked back to the kayaks and mud. I managed to pull TPII to a better launch site and got back on the water without much trouble. Danny didn't fare quite as well. He met with a fate which (so he says) was much worse than getting stuck in the mud. He discovered that somehow during the landing or launch, his precious jaw breakers had gotten soaked in the muddy river water and were ruined. He was as disappointed as I would have been if I had lost my stash of chocolate oatmeal cookies. Some things just make life a little more bearable.

We hope to make it to New Madrid, Mo., tomorrow for a late lunch and then push on another five or 10 miles before making camp. It is supposed to start raining Monday evening and on through Wednesday. I'm not looking forward to that, but the weather is part of the adventure on a trip like this.

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