Around the bend Vicksburg, Miss., to Mile Zero

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009

Well, we didn't meet any alligators last night, but I did take a mental inventory of all the logs laying around our tents before turning in. Each time I got up during the night, I took notice of the number and location of the logs before stepping out of the tent. This ol' Missouri boy didn't come all this way to wind up seeing the end of this river from inside a gator's belly!

Danny didn't have any trouble with gators, either, but he did have a raccoon standing up on its hind legs and scratching on the side of his tent. I'm sure the remains of my bedtime snack that I pitched in that direction had nothing to do with it.

What a difference 43 miles makes in campsites! Last night we were on a narrow, trashy sand bank squeezed between the legs of a ship-loading dock and thick vegetation. Tonight we are in an open grassy field with a postcard view of the New Orleans skyline. We're not sure if our campsite is legal, but dark was catching us and we were getting desperate. This may be a case where it was easier to hope for forgiveness than to get permission.

The "good" sandbar we were told to look for never appeared. After passing under the Huey P. Long Bridge, the only open river bank we saw was a waterfront park, and it offered no good places for paddlers to pull out. Past that was a three mile-long wharf on the left and rows of barges on the right -- no bank to get to. We pushed on to the Jackson Street ferryboat landing, expecting to find a pullout spot there. No such luck. Unlike the ferry boats we had seen upriver, this "landing" was above the surface of the river, so there was no ramp at our level.

By now we were almost to the concrete downtown riverfront, and there were certainly no camping spots there. Across the river was the ferry landing; next to that was an amphitheater and next to that was an open, grassy field with one small break in the riprap. We would have to negotiate between the barge fleeting operations to get to it, but we agreed it was our best choice. After waiting for a ship to pass, we started across. As we reached midriver, a towboat with a string of barges started backing downriver between us and the spot we were headed for. Danny, being the "hare" on this team, was fast enough to make it around before he was cut off. That left me, the "tortoise," backpaddling in midchannel waiting to get around. After he passed me I started to go around but he started back upriver again! After a couple unanswered attempts to talk to the pilot via my radio, I just went for it and made it to the bank where Danny had been watching the unequal standoff.

We are actually in Gretna, La., on this side of the river, and it appears we missed some kind of festival by a few hours. The tents are still being taken down on the other side of the levee. That is just as well; we have enough people checking us out already. The top of the levee behind us is a paved trail and it is busy with walkers, runners and bikers. As we were setting up our tents, a truck drove down this side of the levee in our direction. I told Danny this may be our eviction notice and it was too dark to get back on the river. It just turned out to be a couple guys looking for a place to fish. They didn't stay.

At the break in the riprap where we pulled out, four men were fishing. We apologized for interrupting but told them we had to get off the river and this was the only spot we saw. I gave them all a bottle of Gatorade to smooth things over. They didn't seem too upset. Three of them were Vietnamese, the other a local good ol' boy. We tried visiting with them, but the Vietnamese guys weren't very talkative. The other guy more than made up for all of them! He gave us all the scoop on the number of muggings, murders and rapes that had occurred in this metro area lately. He told us to keep a close watch tonight. Just what we wanted to hear.

Later, a woman named Rose walked down to visit and find out what we were up to. I usually take pictures of people we meet but she didn't want hers taken. We asked if there was a place to get a hot breakfast nearby. There was, but she was unable to give us the directions, so she offered to lead us there on foot. I told Danny he could go and I'd stay and keep an eye on things here. They left and it wasn't long before Danny came back alone, saying the cafe didn't look like much and it didn't open until 0700. We are planning to be long gone by then.

We were chilling in front of our tents, enjoying the low mosquito population and a beautiful sunset, when Rose showed up again. Danny and I looked at each other thinking the same thing: This is way too much attention. She had more questions to ask. What time do we usually get up? How long are we staying here? What time do we plan to leave? What do we carry in our kayaks? Do we carry a weapon? We didn't answer any of her questions and she soon left. I don't think we will be getting much sleep tonight.

Today was the second day with no rain. The heat and humidity really drains your energy by the end of the day -- not that I'm complaining, Lord! I'll take this sunny weather over those thunderstorms anytime.

We have also been exchanging greetings with crew members on some of the anchored ships we pass by. They wave and yell in response to us. We can't understand what they are saying but when it is followed with finger pointing, laughing and shaking of their heads, we have a pretty good idea. The captain of one of the small ship tender boats made sure we had no doubt what he said. As he approached, he slowed almost to a stop, came out of the pilot house onto the catwalk, leaned way over the railing and yelled at the top of his voice. I won't repeat what he said, but we came away knowing that he thinks kayakers sit on their low IQ.

The 43 miles we made today leaves us with 85.5 miles to Venice, La. Our plan is to do about 43 miles Monday and Tuesday. That will put us in Venice Tuesday afternoon, where we plan to camp and make our final push the last 10 miles early Wednesday morning. If we have enough time and energy left, we hope to visit Pilottown, La., on our way back upriver to Venice.

343.5 miles down, 95.5 to go and 10 back up!

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