By far one of the highlights of this trip was meeting so many genuinely nice people. It seems like our lifestyles keep us on the interstates while real America is happening on the periphery. Nearly every town that I stopped in to get gas or supplies had people willing to stop and give me a lift. Once I gave them my spiel, most were enraptured. I think a trip like this can invite the imagination to run wild. I probably recounted my story a hundred times throughout this trip. Each time I repeated it, I was convinced this was a good thing to do. Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya,……. I absolutely fell in love with the 95 yo shopkeeper who gave me directions in New Cumberland, WV. I told her my story as I bought a soda. She told me to wait a minute as she shuffled around the counter and gave me a huge hug. I could have gone home right then and there and been a happy man! My neighbors across the street were also early converts. Although I think they were fascinated by the thought of a slow moving trainwreck happening-all the while encouraging me to go forward! I say that in jest as Lee helped me with this website and any other things that I needed. Sometimes a good laugh will take you a long way! I stopped at a marina in West Point, KY and rented a slip from Joe and Pam while Leanne visited for the weekend. Salt of the earth people. There are many others whose names I forget but whose encouragement I treasure. Truly the best part of the trip.
The wildlife on the river was way too cool. A constant on the entire trip were asian carp. These are an invasive species that are the scourge of sport fisherman. They have a habit of jumping high out of the water. I saw three foot long fish nearly everyday. I never had one jump in the boat but probably at least 20 jump within five feet of the boat. I never ceased to enjoy them jumping around me. On the downside, they eat alot of the sportfish babies. My encounter with the beavers was very neat. Seeing them trying to invade my boat was a little unnerving. I’m glad their reach wasn’t long enough to reach my deck! Their tails are a work of art. I guess I’ve never seen them closeup enough to remember this. It must be made of muscle because they use it for everything. The raccoons were a trip. Unfortunately, their curiosity kept me up all night. When I was a youngster growing up in Missouri, we had a pet raccoon. It used to scurry across the living room floor and drink my dad’s beer out of a glass. Like any young man, he would get nasty when he got drunk and we would have to throw him outside. So I have many good memories of raccoons and these raccoons were no different. On the flip side, they can be very vicious. Knowing this, I kept my guard up. I would scare them off only to have them return even bolder. The last time they invaded, one made it to my bedroll. I took my push stick and whacked it into the water and they never returned. I should have done that from the getgo but instead I put up with these pests all night long-it was a long night! There were too many blue herons to count along the way. They seem to be somewhat skittish birds as they would fly away before I could get near any of them. I was awoken one morning by several of them dive bombing my boat. They were coming within feet of me. I never thought about it but I may have been near their nesting grounds. All I do know is that they made a racket and they were putting on a grand show until I left. Bravo! My pelican encounter was something out of a safari. Whoda thunk there would be pelicans in Illinois? I passed through about a hundred of them. I oared close to them and they just stood their ground. Then one flew, then another, then all of them. I was right in the middle of them and it was wild. They were all white with yellow and black heads. Not the dirty gray ones you see in southern California. That was a thrill. I continued to see them until the end of my trip. I saw the remaining cast of characters-deer, wood chucks, possums, etc.-the entire length of the trip. Cool stuff.
I had a few very close calls on this trip. The first was on the Ohio near Marrieta, WV. There were three paddle wheelers racing up river for the Labor Day festival. They were three abreast and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Along the banks of the Ohio, it is common practice to scuttle old barges on the shores of the river to help prevent erosion(I assume). I was caught between the paddle wheelers and the barges. The wake and waves from the three boats and the water bouncing off the sides of the barges almost did me in. Water was crashing in from everywhere. I ended up bailing half of a canoe full of water that time-UGH! I thought I was going under on that one. My next fateful encounter happened on the MR. The river divided around an island and I took the smaller of the two divisions. That was unfortunatly the shipping channel. A tow boat with only one barge caught me from behind and left me with a series of six foot waves to deal with. They were just doing their job and I was in the wrong place. These waves were sweeping me to the very rocky shore. I knew I was going to get dashed onto the rocks so I just held on. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything but hold on. I was trying to use the motor to steer into and out of these waves. I remember seeing the propeller out of the water so using it to help control things was useless. The front of my craft would go under water and then pop up. After a series of seven or eight of these waves, I was able to regain control mere feet from the rock wall. That was a close one. The MR gave me my last heartstopper also. I was going along minding my own business when I hit a set of waves worthy of some of the whitewater rivers I have rafted. I know this canoe is not designed for Class Fives but I am here telling you that I survived them. Of course, I had to bail out the canoe again but I made it through. I would have loved to have taken a picture of these events but I was a little busy during each of these encounters! That’s why I pulled the plug a hundred miles into the MR. It is not for a small rec boat! C’est la vie!
My decision to end the trip in the boothill of Missouri was a very easy one to make. The trip was taking an ominous turn due to the low water levels in the MR. There simply wasn’t enough water in the river for everybody to play in. I was getting a little paranoid the entire time I was on the MR. The trip started to turn into a game of russian roulette and I am not much of a gambler. The waters of the MR seemed to be a little unstable and at times I felt as though I was boating on marbles with zero control. I was talking with a crew of underwater welders at one of the boat ramps and they said the exact same thing. Only they had a 35′ heavy duty boat with dual 150 HP outboards! If they were helpless at times, I knew I was up the creek! The Army Corps of Engineers have built a series of jetties all along the MR. They are supposed to shunt the water into the shipping lanes. These jetties were twenty feet tall. What I learned later on was they were supposed to be underwater! They created lots of turbulence but they were great places to stop at night as the jetties offered protection from the barge waves.
So I guess the question begs, would I do this again? Initially, I thought no as I have already done it. But the last couple of days sees me changing my tune. I would do it again on a home made craft only I would go with a small group of like minded people. The camaraderie would be great! Is this a trip of a lifetime? I don’t know about that as there are many trips of a lifetime. I hope to make a few more! It is certainly a trip with many highlights and it does capture the imagination. There were highlights, lowlights, and many middlelights. All is all, a truly memorable and great trip.
So where do I go from here? I hear doing a perimeter bike ride around the states is a cool thing-what do you think?