Around the bend Vicksburg, Miss., to Mile Zero: Day five

Monday, October 3, 2011

Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009

Today was as good as yesterday was bad.

The morning started with the usual low ominous clouds we had seen every day. By 1000 the sky had cleared and the sun came out. We had no wind, so it was quite hot. We made good time today, thanks to shortcuts behind two islands, or "towheads" as they are sometimes called on the COE charts. We had gone 20 miles by 1100 in only three hours! Around 1700 we found a good sandy campsite five miles below Baton Rouge, La. Taking advantage of the remaining daylight, we washed all our wet muddy gear and hung them on tree limbs to dry. Loading up this morning at the muddy St. Francisville, La., campsite left everything, including us, muddy. It was the thick gumbo mud, which doesn't come off easily.

As we came out from behind Profit Island this morning, we saw a ragtag campsite on the west bank. At first we thought it might be a fellow river rat we met a couple times before named Jim Dyehouse, but it wasn't. It was a free spirit named Ronnie. Paddling various rivers and then hitch hiking to his next destination is all he does. He travels in patched up boats, canoes or whatever he can get for free and then sells or gives them away at the end of each trip. The only schedule he keeps it attending a "Rainbow Meeting" of like-minded people once each year out west somewhere.

Most of Ronnie's gear came from items he has found along the way. His current trip started in August 2008 and will probably go on into this fall. He started in Denver, on the South Platte River, which he took to the North Platte and then to the Missouri River. The Missouri iced up too much while he was camped at Boonville, Mo., so he wintered over there and continued in the spring down to the Mississippi above St. Louis and has been here on the sand bar where we found him for a month. What a life! An interesting character, to say the least.

We reached Baton Rouge at 1430 today and passed through the busy waterfront and fleeting area with no real problems. Five ships were docked there and one, the "Chemtran Sun," passed our campsite heading south just as we got off the water. I had heard on the radio that it was about ready to head south as we were passing through Baton Rouge. I had never looked back to check on its progress and was surprised to see it so close behind us. The ships make the river barges look miniature in comparison and they make almost no noise moving through the water. It is almost eerie to see these gargantuan forms moving silently and swiftly past you as you look up from your tiny little kayak. We'll be dealing with them and the usual river barges for the rest of this trip.

I called my young friend Tyzhon today. He is a fourth-grader in Mrs. Herzog's class back at Blanchard Elementary School, where I am privileged to be one of the volunteers. Tyzhon has been following my trip down this river since the start back in 2005. He wanted to know if we had seen any alligators or sharks yet. I assured him we hadn't and told him about the wildlife we have seen, such as beavers, raccoons, herons, pelicans and the ever-present jumping carp.

A good night's sleep may be hard to come by tonight. The COE has a dredge boat set up here in Red Man Bend just across the river from our campsite. They are very noisy and run 24/7.

213.5 down, 225.5 to go and 10 back up.

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