Around the bend Vicksburg, Miss., to Mile Zero: Days three and four

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

Day three (continued from the August issue of TBY)

Our camp tonight is at mile 304, just above the ferryboat that serves the employees of Louisiana's Angola State Prison Farm. After we made camp and finished eating supper, Danny got restless and paddled down to the landing. He came back with some good river information from the ferryboat operator and prison guards. They also told us where to eat in St. Francisville, La., the town we will get to tomorrow. One of the guards offered to bring us some food, but we didn't need it. Just behind our tents, the sand and weeds are all torn up and rooted out. We thought it must have been wild hogs. We were right; the guards confirmed it. He said they are thick around here. It could be an interesting night!

With the 37 miles we made today, we have paddled 132.5 miles, with 305.5 to go and 10 back up.

It's 2005 and time to call home before lights out.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

Day four

It's 2139 and I'm in my tent listening to the steady drumming of rain coming down again. Inside our tents are the only places at this campsite that aren't a slick, deep, muddy quagmire! This day started out so much better.

Daybreak revealed a sky that looked like it could open up at any moment and rain. We quickly ate and packed up to beat the expected rain. By 0800 we were back on the river. I had on clean, dry clothes. Knowing we would soon be soaked again, I took my shirt off and stuffed it into my deck bag. The spray skirt would keep my shorts dry when the rains came. But the rain didn't come! By 1130 I had to put my shirt back on to protect my lily white skin. Today was the most sun we have seen since leaving Vicksburg, Miss. When there was no breeze it was very hot and humid. We were looking forward to drying out all our gear when we made camp at St. Francisville today, but that was not to be.

I reached St. Francisville at 1730; Danny arrived 30 minutes earlier. That was the beginning of the problem. I had crossed over the river five miles above St. Francisville to take pictures of a house made from two metal grain bins. Danny had continued on downriver. We had been told St. Francisville was right on the river. Not so! Danny had gone past the ferryboat landing, looking for a public boat ramp and the town. As I got closer, I could see from the chart that he was passing up the town completely. I tried to call his cellphone but got no answer. We got even farther apart because I had to wait for the ferryboat to dock, unload, reload and leave again. By the time I found a landing place past the ferryboat, Danny was barely visible downriver. To make matters worse, a huge dark thunderstorm was quickly closing in on us. I stood on the highest ground I could find, waving my paddle overhead trying to signal Danny after he didn't answer my calls. I couldn't tell if he saw me or not. The storm was bearing down with strong winds. I tried the cellphone again and found I had missed a call from him. Once again I tried to call him, with no answer. I left a message telling him where I was and for him to take cover there if he didn't think he could make it back to my location. I then hurried to a nearby gravel road and flagged down a couple good Samaritans who offered me a ride into town, which was four miles off the river. I told them I wouldn't leave without Danny and they agreed to wait. They said they had seen him and he was heading back this way. By the time I got back to my kayak, Danny was pulling his out of the river and making it ready for the storm, which was now on top of us with high winds, thunder and lightning all around. We grabbed our valuables and high-tailed back to the waiting ride.

The good Samaritans, Brad and Brian, dropped us off in the center of St. Francisville and recommended the Eight Sisters Restaurant. We enjoyed a delicious meal as we watched the storm rage outside and move on. After eating, we visited the convenience store next door, bought a few supplies and then hitched a ride back to the river with a fellow named David. He was in the store and overheard us asking the clerk if she knew of anyone who might give us ride, and he volunteered. Small towns are great! I have seen that over and over again as I have traveled down this river.

When we got back to our kayaks, the dirt ramp and the field around it had been turned into a slippery, muddy mess. Getting packed tomorrow morning without having everything covered in mud is going to be a challenge. Oh, well, if this was going to be easy, everybody would be doing it!

We left the state of Mississippi behind this morning shortly after leaving camp. From here on we will be in Louisiana.

Around 1300 yesterday, we passed the Old River Control Structures. That is where the Atchafalaya River takes water from the Mississippi River. If the Corps of Engineers didn't control this area, towns like Baton Rouge and New Orleans could have been left sitting miles from the river long ago if the entire Mississippi had followed the Atchafalaya Basin to the gulf.

Other towns above here that were once riverfront towns are no longer due to the rerouting of the river from erosion and flooding. In "Life on the Mississippi," Mark Twain writes about towns and plantations that had river frontage when he was a young steamboat pilot in the 1850s. These same places were no longer on the river in 1882 when he was back on the Mississippi gathering material for his book.

We came across three fishermen where we stopped for lunch today. They weren't very talkative or friendly. While we were eating, we saw how they were fishing, which may have accounted for their lack of conversation. They were using seine nets with one end anchored on the bank while the other was tied to a float and weight in the river. Danny said that is illegal in Missouri and probably in Louisiana, too. We just ate our lunch, moved on and minded our own business. We have come too far to wind up as alligator bait like Amos Moses!

The house I took pictures of above St. Francisville was unique. It was made from two large metal grain bins side-by-side with a two-story screened porch facing the river and a two-story deck on the back. Windows had been added to the grain bins and window AC units installed. It was huge, and the lower part of one bin was cut away for a two-story covered deck. It appeared to be more of a weekend or party house than a full-time residence.

When we finally found the town of St. Francisville, we were impressed. It is a beautiful old Southern town with lots of large and small old homes and live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. We just wish they had put a sign at the ferryboat landing for paddlers stating that was the closest access to town.

We made our 40 miles today. Forty more tomorrow will put us below Baton Rouge. That means we will have our first encounters with oceangoing ships! That and the busy barge fleeting traffic has me nervous just thinking about it. I called John of Quapaw Canoe Co. this evening for tips about getting through safely and finding campsites. He said to stay together, stay focused and keep our wits about us. He also said to monitor channel 67 on the marine radio and expect to hear lots of negative comments about us being in their waters. I'll sure be glad when Baton Rouge and New Orleans are behind us.

It is almost 2300 and I guess all the sweet tea I had with my red beans and rice, catfish, collard greens and sweet potato pie is keeping me awake -- that and thinking about tomorrow.

173.5 miles down, 265.5 to go and 10 miles back up!

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