Around the bend Vicksburg, Miss., to Mile Zero

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day one -- Sept. 20, 2009

After a poor night's sleep at the Vicksburg Super 8, one of the worst we have ever stayed in, Marla, Danny, Colleen and I had a good breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I, of course, had my favorite pecan pancakes. Danny tried them for the first time. I think he may be hooked, too. By 0730 we were loading up our kayaks at the public boat ramp at the foot of Clay Street. Following a prayer and our goodbyes, we were on the water by 0850. A mile paddle down the Yahzoo Shoot and we were back on the Mississippi River beginning the last leg of our adventure down the length of Ole Man River.

The weather forecast for today through Thursday sounds like a broken record. Scattered showers and thunderstorms throughout the day. We left Vicksburg expecting the worst. The temperature was mid 70s, humid and overcast, but dry. No wind to speak of. Overall it turned out to be a good day for paddling -- flat water all day and only three barges! Despite the threatening forecast, we only had two brief showers and no storms. We saw several showers cross the river ahead of us and one big thunderstorm, but we missed them. I doubt we'll be that lucky every day.

We are camped on Bondurant Towhead (island) at mile 393. We are 45 miles from the Vicksburg boat ramp. That is five more miles than we planned for the day, a good start.

I'm back. I had to stop writing long enough to kill the mosquitoes that were trying to share my tent tonight.

From Vicksburg to Mile Zero is 437 miles, and then 10 miles back up to Venice, La. That is the last town on the river that can be driven to. My brother, Steve, and sister-in-law, Susie, will pick us up there. They helped me start this adventure four years ago when they dropped me off at Lake Itasca, Minn. If we can average 40 miles per day, we should make it in 11 or 12 days. Forty-plus mile days like we had today will help.

On this last leg of our trip, we will see the Mississippi change itself again. I don't expect to see it increase in size much more than what we saw last year. Marla and I made a scouting trip down to Venice this past July. The river there didn't appear to be any wider than some places we have already seen. It is much deeper, though, and that depth will accommodate the next big change. From Baton Rouge on south, we will be encountering oceangoing freighters, tankers and cruise ships! These will be in addition to the normal river barges. We have been told to expect heavy river traffic through Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In anticipation of this, Danny and I have painted the tops of our kayaks blaze orange. I will be wearing a blaze orange hat and vest and Danny will be wearing a bright lime green hat. I had been told by some river pilot friends that it is next to impossible to make something as small as our kayaks show up on their radar. They said our best bet was to be as visible as possible and use our marine radio to let the commercial traffic know we are in the area. Needless to say I'll be glad to get past New Orleans. As with all the river miles we have covered so far, we will just take it carefully one day at a time.

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