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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Friday, Sept. 25, 2009

Today was another almost completely rain-free day. A passing thunderstorm around 1530 blocked the hot sun and brought a welcomed cooling breeze with a few strong gusts. A light rain fell long enough to cool us but not soak us.

On the advice of some barge workers we met today, we stopped for lunch at Plaquemine, La. The ferryboat landing made a good place to get our kayaks out of the river and it was a short walk over the levee to town. A Popeye's restaurant was our first stop for some hot food while we charged up our cellphones. At a nearby convenience store I stocked up on sport drinks and splurged on some cookies. Among other things, Danny bought some bar soap. He lost the one bar we had when he dropped it in the river while bathing on our first night out. (Note to self: Only pack soap that floats.) Bathing in the Mississippi River may not sound too inviting, and it isn't. But after paddling eight to 10 hours in the heat and humidity, our personal "aura" is much worse than the river smell. Who knows? After 10 days of Mississippi River baths, I may regrow a full head of dark red hair again or, more likely, a few extra toes or fingers in odd places.

As we prepared to push off from the ferryboat landing, the ferryboat pilot signaled that he was about to leave, too. We sat in our kayaks waiting for him to pull out first. He waved at us from the pilot house, so I knew he saw us between him and the bank. He then proceeded to swing the bow of his boat toward us and the bank until we were practically under his bow! We jumped out of the kayaks and onto the bank, thinking we were about to be crushed. When I saw him looking at us, I held both arms out with palms up as if to ask, "What the heck are you doing?" He just laughed and waved as he swung the ferryboat out into the river away from us. Ha, ha, very funny!

We are camped at mile 180, which puts us approximately 80 miles north of New Orleans. We made 45 miles today, hoping to get to a good sandbar we had been told to look for. Running out of daylight, we had to stop about two miles short. Our camp is just above Smoke Bend beside a huge ship-to-barge transfer facility. I'm sure I've seen it used in a "Star Wars" movie!

A commercial boat dock is just upriver from our camp. That is where we met Darrell. After assuring us we could camp here, he told us he would bring us a hot catfish dinner later this evening. Darrell and his buddy would be checking their river nets and, if successful, fry the fish up on their boat. That was at 1845 and it is 2130 now. Come on, Darrell! We both have been waiting for the fish rather than eating our regular camp meals. We're very hungry by now, but neither of us wants to run the mosquito gauntlet to get food from our kayaks.

We saw more barges today than any day so far, and ships as well. I have to wonder how much the current economic situation has to do with the lack of river traffic we have observed on this trip. I sure don't wish hard times on anyone, but I'm glad the traffic hasn't been nearly as bad as we were told to expect. The ships move with no noise, like colossal giant ghosts. We have to keep a close watch behind us, since we can't hear them coming. Surely the river traffic will increase as we get closer to New Orleans.

Bankside fishing is popular down here. We saw several folks along the river today fishing for catfish. I got a picture of one of them as he was pulling in a good one.

As Danny and I were taking a floating break this morning, we were talking about the progress of a trio of well-sponsored young kayakers who left Lake Itasca, Minn., on July 20 heading for New Orleans. They are raising money for water quality awareness (www.whataboutblue.org). They are supposed to arrive in our hometown of Cape Girardeau this weekend. Our friend Gail Lowrance will be their host while they are there. She texted us saying that the local media has already done stories about them and will be interviewing them when they get there. She plans to take them to Lambert's, a well-known restaurant in Sikeston, Mo. The annual Cape music festival will be going on when they are there, too. We decided that compared to them, we are the Rodney Dangerfields of river kayakers! No sponsorship, no Lambert's, no press and no music for our return home. So it goes.

Well, it is almost 2200, Darrell, and my fatigue is winning out over my hunger. From the snoring I hear coming from Danny's tent, his has, too.

We are over halfway to our goal tonight -- 258.5 miles down, 180.5 to go and 10 back up.

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