Around the bend: Part V

Monday, June 7, 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 seven, Friday, 09-28-07

We slept late this morning. It was 0830 when we finally pushed away from the bank.

There was lots of barge traffic last night from the time we made camp at 1500 until well into the night. In fact, three barges stopped right across the river from our campsite and just sat there until sometime in the night. That is normal when they have to wait for on coming barges to get through narrow bends. This time they were still sitting there after several barges had made it through the bend above them. Danny and I wondered if they were on a schedule like buses and had to kill time so as not to get ahead of their schedule.

Danny had a special interest in their close proximity to our camp. The shake he drank from his MRE was sending him in search of a tree to hide behind. There were no trees close enough to get to in time and no hills, either. Nature has a way of overriding inhibitions in situations like that, and it did for Danny last evening and me this morning.

We enjoyed our last night on the sandbar though. I had a beef enchilada MRE and Danny had chicken teriyaki. MREs have gone hi-tech since I was in the Army. They now come with a chemically activated heating pouch for warming up the food. What a deal! Besides the hot meal, we had a good campfire, a full moon and music provided by the coyotes. It doesn't get much better than that.

The mosquitoes finally drove us into our tents and we settled in for our last night sleeping beside the river. We had paddled 35 miles, our shortest day so far and only had 29 miles to go today.

Our last day of paddling was clear and calm with no excitement until we were about two miles from the marina. We had an encounter with a northbound barge. We were staying on the outside of the last bend since we needed to be on that side to get to the marina entrance. I was running right on the line of red buoys and Danny was running about 10 feet inside them. That is normally well out of the way of any barge. As usual, Danny was quite a bit ahead and to me it looked like the barge was headed straight for both of us. Danny must have thought the same thing because he made a hard turn to port (left) and started paddling harder than he had been to get outside the buoys. He made it safely out of the way in plenty of time. We both remarked later that we had never seen a barge have to get that close to the buoys unless they were meeting another barge, which this one wasn't. We think the pilot was just showing us who owned the road. As if we didn't know! In a game of chicken between a 70-pound kayak and a multiton barge, it isn't hard to guess who will win every time. Besides, there isn't anything interesting to see under a barge, anyway.

We met one more barge without any trouble before we reached the marina. The Wolf River empties into the Mississippi just above the I-40 bridge. It was very low and muddy. A family was picnicking in a park along the river as we passed. The kids yelled and waved at us. They ran along the bank with us and we slowed down and visited with them and their family as we drifted by. Their fried chicken smelled really good, much better than the smell coming from a large discharge pipe spewing sewer water that we had just passed. After seven days on the water, this was the first time I was worried about the kayak flipping over. I sure didn't want to take an unexpected swim in that stinking water.

We had a good tail wind as we came into Memphis the last few miles. That was the first time the wind had been at our backs since the first day.

TPII nosed onto the marina ramp at 1330 and we carried our kayaks well up out of the way. After securing our kayaks, we asked Jim Whittington at the marina about leaving them there while we went looking for some hot food. From the fifth floor of the Mud Island building we crossed over Wolf River Shoot to downtown Memphis. We were on a mission looking for a hot meal with lots of vegetables.

As we were crossing a street, a man who had just crossed to our side turned and started walking with us. I had a feeling we were about to be panhandled and I was right. We asked where we might find vegetables on the menu and he led us to a decent looking Chinese restaurant. After we thanked him, he gave us his pitch saying he needed six bucks for bus fare to West Memphis. Both of us are easy touches, which I'm sure he had already suspected, and we gave him three bucks apiece. I noticed a lady cop watching the three of us from across the street. As we walked away six bucks lighter, she gave a little smile and shook her head. I guess she figured that was just two more old country boys being shook down. Maybe so.

The late lunch was very good and the veggies really hit the spot. After eating, we returned to Mud Island where we found some ice cream for dessert. Back at the marina, we settled down on the dock listening to the local boaters. A 30-foot yacht next to the dock was having some repairs made. The owner was from Louisiana and had been through hurricane Katrina in 2005. He told us about the devastation and the progress on restoration, or lack of it, since.

Getting tired of sitting, we started unloading the kayaks around 1815 and the girls arrived before we were finished. By 1915 we were loaded and on our way home, we thought. The girls said we owed them dinner for driving down to get us. That was a fair trade so we started trying to get to the Shoney's in West Memphis. We finally got there after the third try. After our second big meal in less than four hours we were finally on our way back to Cape. Getting back on I-40/55 was very confusing but thanks to a friendly lady truck driver's good directions, we managed it on the first try. Staying on course is a lot easier in a kayak on a river that only flows in one direction!

At 10:30 p.m. we pulled into the Cape Walmart parking lot where Danny and Colleen's truck was waiting. It was almost midnight before Marla and I got to bed.

It was a great trip with good company. I look forward to doing another week next fall from Memphis to Vicksburg.

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