Around the Bend Vicksburg, Miss., to Mile Zero: Day seven

Monday, December 5, 2011

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009

Just before my alarm went off this morning I heard some noise near the kayaks. Peeking out from my tent, I could barely make out the silhouette of a man setting up his fishing poles along the bank. His name was Thomas Sanders, a carpenter by trade, a dedicated catfisherman by choice. He was supposed to join some friends here at daybreak to spend this Saturday fishing. He told us about catching catfish so big that men from passing crew boats would stop and help him get them up on the bank. We visited as Danny and I ate breakfast and broke camp, talking about anything and everything. He caught a keeper catfish before we left.

Thomas asked if there was anything we needed or if he could help us in any way. I asked him for help with a problem that had been growing bigger and heavier in my kayak since leaving Vicksburg, Miss. My wet and smelly dirty clothes were accumulating in my rear hatch and getting heavier with each change. We never stay in one spot long enough for me to let them dry out in the sun -- when we have sun, that is. So I asked him if he would deposit all my dirty clothes in the first Dumpster he came to. I put them in the back of his truck and warned him not to open the bag or get them near any open flames. They were rank! I will wear what I have on until the last morning and then change into my last clean outfit.

The clothing problem is because everything I brought is cotton. Not a good choice for such a rainy trip. I know to never wear cotton on my winter camping trips because it holds moisture so well, but I have never seen as much rain on any of my previous summer trips as I have on this one. In 2005, in the 41 days from Lake Itasca, Minn., back to Cape Girardeau, I was rained on during the day only two times! Years 2007 and 2008 were relatively dry, too. A lesson learned.

We are camped just over the levee from Reserve, La. We know that because we walked over the levee to find a store and some hot food. A nice Cajun lady named Bird and her nephew gave us a ride in their golf cart. She said Reserve got its name because the man who founded it liked this spot when he first saw it and told others to "reserve it" until he got back.

Today was a 42-mile day. Our campsite is a tiny strip of sand just barely big enough for both our tents and to get the kayaks out of the river. If the river comes up too much tonight, we may have waves at the tent doors. I have looped the bow line from my kayak to Danny's and then tied it to a pole of my tent. If they start floating away, I'll know it.

This site also looks like a perfect place to meet alligators. The scrub willows and weeds come up to the back of the tents and we are almost under a huge ship loading dock. I half expect someone from the dock to tell us we can't camp here.

The river is so industrialized from Baton Rouge on that it's hard to see the bank, let alone find a good campsite. I don't expect it to get any better the rest of the trip. We will be camping in New Orleans tomorrow night and hope to find a sandbar we have been told about.

We never did get the catfish dinner we had been promised last night. We had both given up and gone to sleep when I heard Darrell's boat come back in around 2330. I guess it was the thought that counts.

The first half of today was dry and hot with an occasional light breeze. The rest of the day was just hot with no breeze and lots of ships to gawk at. Most of them were anchored just out of the channel waiting for a load, I guess. One ship was being loaded with grain from a multistoried grain terminal. Everything is big down here -- everything but us, that is.

Just above the Sunshine Bridge we stopped and visited a few minutes with a family catfishing from the bank. With all the grain terminals around, I bet there are some whopper Flatheads to be caught.

The Sunshine Bridge, like all the bridges from the I-10 bridge at Baton Rouge on south, are very high. They have to be to let the ships pass under. This bridge and the Huey P. Long bridge at New Orleans are named for former Louisiana governors. The Sunshine Bridge is named for the singing governor Jimmie Davis. He was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and recorded his hit "You Are My Sunshine" in 1940.

We passed a long row of those massive "Star Wars"-looking ship loading facilities today, also. I wonder if George Lucas might have seen these and turned them into futuristic giant walking war machines in his movies? You tend to wonder/think about a lot of things when you spend all day cranking on a paddle. It helps the time and miles pass.

After 21 miles, we stopped for lunch at noon. We walked over the levee to check out the town of Convent. We didn't really need anything; it was just an excuse to stretch our legs. Nothing was open within walking distance so we returned to our kayaks to eat lunch. As we were packing up to leave, a truck stopped on the levee right above us and the driver came down to where we were. Again, I expected to get run off some company-owned property. I think both sides of the river down here are owned by one company or another! I was wrong this time. He was just looking for a place where his family could fish without standing in mud. They were the Weaver family from Baton Rouge. He asked us to hang around while he went back to the truck to get his wife and two daughters. He said they would like to meet us (translation: I want them to see two crazy kayakers). The girls asked a few questions and we asked them if they would like to kayak down the river someday. They didn't seem to be so inclined and their parents didn't seem too disappointed about it. We told them to follow their own dreams, whatever they turned out to be. Mrs. Weaver took our pictures, probably so they could always show the girls what kind of people to avoid. They were very friendly and it was a good visit.

About an hour before we stopped to make camp, we passed a group of teenagers having a wild time on four-wheelers. It was one of the few nonindustrialized sections of river bank we have seen lately. In fact, it would have been a good campsite except for four-wheelers running like crazy everywhere. There were two girls on one machine and they were just as good at it as the guys were. When they saw me taking pictures, they really started showing off.

The river traffic is still much lighter than we expected. The pilot of one of the small harbor boats came out on his catwalk and talked with us today as we were taking a floating break. He said the river industry is still struggling from the recent economic downturn. His own company had recently cut most of its hours. I hope the economy picks up for them as well as for all of us, but for now the decrease in river traffic is a blessing for Danny and me.

Tomorrow, New Orleans! That is the stopping point for most trans-Mississippi River adventures. A lot of people think the river ends there. I don't think I ever considered stopping there. If you are going to start at the start, shouldn't you end at the end?

300.5 miles down, 138.5 to go and 10 back up.

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