Mississippi River Quest - Page 10
My first day on the lower Mississippi went well. I paddled into Hicksville, Kentucky first
thing this morning. I met a nice gentleman at the boat ramp who directed me to a café
in town where I could get breakfast.
After a heaping omelet and an order of biscuits and gravy, I was fully fueled and ready
for a day of paddling. The river here is big, nearly a mile wide in spots. The current,
although moving along quite nicely, is calm and easy to paddle. The water is fairly low
right now with many of the boat ramps ending three feet before the river. I am glad the
water is low. I don’t think I’d want to be out here in a flood, and from the looks of the
banks, it’s not uncommon for the river to rise eight to ten feet above its current stage.
Later in the afternoon, a fishing boat pulled up beside me. Joe and Vicki were just out
cruising the river when they saw me and wondered where I was going. I told them my
story and Joe told me he dreamed of taking his boat to New Orleans. I told him he
should. Before they left, they gave me three grocery sacks full of junk food. I have been
impressed with how nice southern people have been to me, and now I have a few days
worth of snacks.
It’s been hot today and it still is. I am sweating just laying in my tent. The flies and
mosquitoes seem to enjoy this weather, which makes it even more miserable. The
high tomorrow is supposed to be in the upper nineties. It’s hard to believe when I
started this trip I woke up to frost.
I spent most of the night I learned my dad was dieing sitting outside chain smoking and
drinking beer. I decided God couldn’t possibly exist. A loving God would never take
both my parents from me and let someone like my dad’s girlfriend live. I had never truly
believed in God, but I at least thought it possible He could exist until that night. In
hindsight, I can see that a great deal of good did come from this tragedy, and have
decided that some things can only be attributed to divine love.
I went to visit my dad the next day. He was outside. It was a beautiful day. He asked if I
had heard he was sick. I said yes.
I only have a year to live.
I should have hugged him and told him I loved him and cried with him, but I didn’t. I was
scared of him. Scared he might judge me, or think I was weak or stupid, so I just stood
there in the awkward silence. I was weak and stupid.
I stayed the rest of the afternoon. We talked, but only small talk. I have never been able
to have a serious conversation with my dad.
That night I went home and sat outside, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
It was miserably hot again today. I expect it to stay that way for the remainder of the trip,
so rather than bitch about the heat daily I will lat the reader assume it’s hot unless I say
I stopped in Caruthersville, Missouri this morning for breakfast. I had to settle for gas
station food, but it was better than nothing. I also had to get some supplies. There’s
nothing quite like filling your water bag in a gas station restroom and buying toilet paper
and bug spray to make a person feel like a bum.
camping gear lying all around it. I had to check it out. Just inside the tree line I found a
guy about my age that was also traveling the river. I had put in up in Wisconsin in the I
got back in my boat and 100 yards downstream I saw a kayak on the bank with camping
gear lying all around it. I had to check it out. Just inside the tree line I found a guy about
my age that was also traveling the river. I had put in up in Wisconsin in the beginning of
April. He had been partying his way down the river, stopping at every town and bar
along the way and not worrying about miles. He was planning to take the inter coastal
waterway into Lake Ponchetrane at some point, but for now it was 10:00 AM and he was
working on a beer. He had a much different river dream than me, but at least he was
I have a wonderful swimming hole in front of my campsite tonight. It’s deep, calm, and
cool with a sandy bottom. For the last week I have been camping where the current was
to swift to swim and I had to sit on the bottom and let the sand find its way into every
crack and crevice in my body. The chaffing is inevitable. Nothing feels better after a day
of paddling in the hundred-degree heat than a good long skinny dip. I think I’ll take
another in the morning.
I wish I could spend more time outside the tent at night. The cool breeze would feel
nice, but the mosquitoes are vicious down here. All night long I hear the buzz of
hundreds of mosquitoes trying to get into my tent, not to mention the ones already
inside, and if I lean against the mesh door in the night, they stick their pointy little
mouths through the holes and bite me.
Each morning the cockpit of my boat is filled with daddy long leg spiders, mosquitoes,
and from time to time, cockroaches. Each morning it takes several miles of traveling
before I am able to evict all my guests. Several times in the early hours of my trip I will
feel something crawling on or biting my leg and have to pop my spray skirt and throw
some nasty thing overboard.
I am still enjoying my trip. Even if it does mean living in harmony with the insect world
and having sand in places sand was never meant to be. Each night I am excited for
what the next day will bring and extremely proud of what I have accomplished so far.
I continued working full time, but without the weekends until fall. I went to visit my dad
whenever possible. He had decided to paint the house. The place needed it, but with
his days numbered as they were, scraping and painting was strange goal. Still I
enjoyed spending the time with him. He was very critical of the way I painted. He was
always critical of the way I did everything, but this was no time to argue, so I just agreed
that I was getting too much paint on the brush and wasn't’t getting even coverage.
Once, I got a drop of paint on the shingles and I thought it might kill him.
My whole family came over to help on a few occasions. I found someplace else to be. I
have found that is always the best policy when my family is around.
The painting probably took two months, although it seemed like two years. First the
house needed scraped, then one coat of primer, two finish coats, and the final
inspection and touch up by my dad. I was glad to be done with it. The place did look
good when we finished.
That fall I took a job at a seed dealership three miles from my dad's house and moved
Another scorcher of a day. I woke up sweating at six this morning. It was dead calm
outside and extremely humid. My sweat-drenched body was completely covered in
sand by the time I broke camp, and the flies had bitten my ankles enough to draw
blood. I took a quick dip in the river to cool off and started paddling.
I soon decided this was a morning better suited for floating than paddling. I would
paddle for a few minutes, then float for a while with my arms and legs dangling in the
By mid-morning, a breeze picked up from the south. It was hot, but at least the air was
moving, and I was able to start moving.
I came to the town of New Madrid, Missouri, where in the early 1800’s, a massive
earthquake caused the Mississippi to flow backwards.
I walked into town to refill my water bags and find some groceries. I talked to some
people on the levee that were taking pictures of the river. They asked about my boat
and I told them of my journey. People down here are so much more excited about my
journey than they were in the Northern states. It makes me feel good to know people
are interested in what I’m doing. I have received several emails from people I don’t
know wishing me luck and this also helps. I need all the support I can get to make it
through this heat.
I found a grocery store in town. Unfortunately, they had almost no groceries. I filled my
water and bought some cookies. I decided to try the family dollar store and was
pleased to find everything I needed there. I packed my boat and headed downstream.
I dropped my cell phone in the river yesterday and have had it on the deck of my boat
drying out since. I tried it this afternoon and was pleased to find that it still works. The
only thing wrong with it is there is condensation on the screen and I can’t see what it
says. At least it works.
Tonight it is dead calm and hot again. The forecast calls for a low of 77 degrees. I
hope it cools off a little soon, at least at night, but I expect it to stay hot for the most part.
The thing I remember most about seeing my father after I found out he was dieing is he
didn’t look like someone who was dieing. He was a bit hunched over and moving a bit
slower as the cancer began to tighten its grip on the nerves in his shoulder, but in no
way did he look like someone who was terminally ill.
I was scared of the journey that lay ahead. I can’t imagine how terrified he must have
been. I often have trouble sleeping because I might drown, I might get sick, or I might
have an accident at work. He had just been told he would be dead in a year. In the
mean time, he would go through the unimaginable pain and horror of his body slowly
shutting down. This is a common struggle that thousands of people deal with every
day. I don’t know how they do it.
I spent the weekend with him and his girlfriend. She would cook meals for herself and
my father. I was expected to bring my own food if I intended to eat.
On Monday I returned to work and told my boss I would be quitting to move back home
to help my dad before winter. He didn’t want me to leave, but understood the situation.