Around the bend: Memphis to Vicksburg, Part I

Tuesday, July 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.

Memphis, Tenn., to Vicksburg, Miss.

Day one

Oct. 18, 2008

Today I dedicate this entire adventure to my Dad, Bud Milligan, who passed away this summer on July 23. Yesterday would have been his 79th birthday. I love you, Dad, and know you are still with me on this river tonight as you have been from the beginning.


We arrived at the Mud Island public boat ramp in Memphis this morning at 0730. Marla and Colleen carried gear to us from the Blazer as Danny and I loaded it all into the kayaks. To make more room in the rear hatch, I decided to leave half of the clean clothes I had brought along. I hope I don't regret it.

Several fishermen launched their boats while we were getting loaded up. They all shared the same opinion of our mental condition for traveling on this big river in kayaks. We're used to that opinion by now.

After a prayer and hugs, we said goodbye to our wives and pushed off at 0830.

The wind was at our backs all day, so we still made 40 miles even with such a late start. We stopped after 20 miles for a stretch/lunch break at 1300. Later, at 1630, we made camp for the night on the Arkansas bank. We are a mile below two casinos on the opposite bank in Tunica, Miss. We can see the casinos from our tents. One is a high-rise building with "Goldstrike" reflecting in the setting sun on its south side. The other is built like a castle, but we can't see a name on it. A steamboat replica excursion boat is docked near the castle. We had seen it out on the river earlier today. We had heard a concert going on as we passed the casinos and can still hear music and people shouting and having a good time tonight.

It is good to be back on the river and doing another leg of our Mississippi adventure. This summer has been too much work and not enough outdoor time. New hardwood floors at home required a lot of prep work, which finished off June. We took our granddaughter, Anisa, on a week's vacation with us through western Missouri from north to south and back to Joplin. After doing the Tornado Alley 110-mile bike tour there, we returned home and began building a set of bunk beds for our grandsons, Elliott and Ben. That project took way too long due my lack of experience, and in the middle of it, we lost Dad.

Saying goodbye to Dad was and is still very tough. He was my "hanging out buddy" as well as a great Dad. Needless to say, I have been looking forward to this trip.

I had some misgivings about my physical conditioning for our trip this time. Until last week, I hadn't been in the kayak since we finished the Cape to Memphis leg last year. I did finally get in a couple short training runs last week. My right hip and hamstring have been giving me trouble since the 110-mile bike tour in Joplin. The 140 miles we did on the MS150 bike tour in September didn't make it any better, either. Per the advice of my friend and therapist, Bob Sherrill, I have been massaging and stretching, which seems to be doing some good. I sat in the kayak for about eight and one half hours today with no real problems.

The river continues to get wider as we go farther south. It has certainly grown up from the little stream I started walking in while pulling TPII behind me up in Minnesota three years ago. Some of the bends squeeze this big river down to half its size and the current really picks up then.

We hope to make Vicksburg, Miss., by next Saturday. That would be eight days. It is 302 miles from Memphis and we plan to make at least 37 miles each day. With our 40 miles today, we are three miles ahead of schedule tonight.

We are camped very close to the water's edge but out of reach from the passing barges' wakes. I guess we were just too tired to notice how close we were until we had set up camp. The river is falling so we will be farther away from the water in the morning than we are now.

The coyotes just started their evening concert. They rarely come very close but I'm sure we will hear them again before daylight. We saw some deer drinking at the river's edge this morning and some pelicans. A big flock flew over us as we were making camp.

Tomorrow's weather is supposed to be just like today's was. I hope we have a north wind again. A low of 49 degrees is predicted for tonight so I am sleeping in my Gore-Tex running suit, polypro long sleeve undershirt and polypro socks. I am using the same lightweight thermal blanket I took with me on the first leg from Minnesota to Cape, so I should be warm enough.

Our goal tomorrow is mile 660 or 658 which will put us at Helena, Ark.

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