June 23, 24, 25
Mississippi Trek

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Mississippi River Quest - Page 12
6.23.06
It rained all night and into the morning.  I was startled from sleep several times
throughout the night by loud crashes of thunder.  Along with the rain came cooler
weather, and since it rained until 10:30 this morning, I got to sleep in.

After the rain stopped, I packed up and hit the river.  Two hours later I was paddling
through Memphis, which I learned on the radio has had eighty six murders this year if
you count the two last night.  I needed water, but didn't want to leave the boat
unattended.  I came to a tour boat docked along the shore.  I asked the people working
there for some water.  They obliged, although I think it was only so I would leave.

I was rounding a bend in the river after I had left town.  I always take the inside of the
curve to save miles, and because the barges always swing wide and it might get hairy
being between a barge and the bank.

I met an oncoming barge.  Instead of staying on the outside of the curve where he
belonged, he started moving towards me.  I moved outside of the channel, missing the
buoys by only a few feet.  I held my ground as he began to pass only fifty feet from my
boat.

When I was halfway down the line of barges, the towboat cut its engines.  I thought I
was going to get yelled at for being so close, but when I got beside the boat they told me
they had seen me a few times up river and just wondered where I was going.  I told
them what I was doing and that from a kayak it's kind of scary when a barge turns
toward you.

There was a beautiful sunset tonight and now I can see lightning in the distance.  I don't
mind the rain as long as it's not severe.

Tonight I am going to bed in Mississippi.  My next and final state will be Louisiana.  
When I think back on the little creek I started out on in Minnesota, it's hard to believe
what I've accomplished.

After returning home I continued to work at the seed dealership through the winter.  It
was miserable work.  I spent the winter in an unheated warehouse with coworkers who
frequently showed up drunk.  I would have quit, but I knew it meant a lot to my dad to
have me nearby.

Every time I was away, my dad's girlfriend would search my room.  I would close the
door when I left and it would always be open when I returned.  Things were often moved
around.  She searched my room almost daily.  Of all the things she did, I hated the
snooping the most.  She couldn't leave my shit alone when I was a kid and she still
couldn't even after I had grown up.
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6.25.06
I walked over the levee into Helena this morning.  I found myself in the main street
district.  The streets were deserted.  There were no people or cars anywhere.  The
streets were littered with empty beer bottles and trash.  It was as though some giant
party had ended and no one had cleaned up yet.

I walked down the street.  Most of the stores along the way were abandoned, their
insides filled with construction debris.  Those that appeared to still be doing business
had signs on the door reading
no public restroom, or store has no money or beer.  
Everywhere there were barred up windows and signs warning of security alarms.

After several blocks, a pack of eight mangy dogs began to follow me.  It was too creepy
for me.  I returned to the boat, dogs close behind.  When I got to the water they began to
fight over a dead fish.  The whole thing was like a scene from a horror movie.  Helena
may have a good part of town, but I wasn't in it, and I was glad to get out of there.

My morning wasn't a total loss.  There was a casino across the river with an all you can
eat breakfast buffet.  I got my money's worth and waddled back to the river.

Several miles down from Helena, as a towboat was passing, I heard someone yell,
Hey!  I looked over to see four guys standing on the deck mooning me.  I figured the
best course of action here was to ignore them, lest they turn around.

This evening as I was thinking about stopping for supper, a group of boaters called me
over to the sandbar where they were having a barbecue.  They were about my age and
thought what I was doing was neat.  They shared their burgers with me and made sure I
had beer and burgers to take with me.

It's over 100 miles to the next town and it was nice to meet some good people before I
go into the woods for a few days.  I still needed to get groceries soon.  I probably have
two weeks worth of food in the boat, but with so few towns between here and New
Orleans, I would like to stock up.

It is a beautiful night tonight.  There is a cool breeze blowing off the river, and with a
sandbar nearly a mile wide between me and the trees, the mosquitoes aren't bad at all.  
I think I'll just sit out here and enjoy the evening for a bit.  Perhaps I'll even be lucky
enough to have the mosquitoes stay at bay long enough to look at the stars for a while.
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6.24.06
I woke up this morning to more rain, though only sprinkles.  I packed my things in the
mist and took off.

I had expected to make Helana, Arkansas this afternoon.  My map didn't show any
towns in between.  About twenty miles into my day, I could see the outline of a giant
building on the left bank.  Neither my GPS or my map showed anything there, but it
looked as though it might be a giant hotel in the middle of nowhere.  As I drew nearer I
saw that it was a casino.

I don't like casinos; the noise, smoke and people bother me.  I do, however, like
all you
can eat
buffets.  I decided to go in and chow down.  My meal cost nine dollars, but the
food was quite good.

After dinner I called my friend, Kent, to wish him luck.  He's getting married today and I
would have been a groomsman if I were home.  I'm glad I didn't have to wear a tux.  It
seems that lately everyone I know is getting married.  I would have like to have been at
the wedding, but Kent has his dream and I have mine.  Unfortunately, they are both
happening at the same time.  I'm glad he understood.

I came to Helena tonight with plans of buying groceries.  My plans, however, were
thwarted when I hiked over the levee only to find a canal between me and the town.  As it
was getting late, I decided to camp and try to negotiate the canal in the morning.

The only place to camp nearby was a small island with a very big sign that read
keep
out
.  I decided to throw caution to the wind and hide my campsite in the trees.  There
weren't any footprints around, and I'll be gone first thing in the morning anyway.

My dad's health decreased somewhat over the winter, but he was still able to get
around.  I continued my daily routine of cops at lunch and eating my separate dinner as
they ate theirs.

Then came the snowy late winter day that would forever change my life.  I came home
for lunch to find my dad gone and a note from his girlfriend saying she had taken him to
the hospital with severe stomach pains.

When I called the hospital they were just admitting him and didn't really know what was
wrong yet.  I took the rest of the day off to go to the hospital.

This was the first of many trips for me to the fifth floor, the oncology unit.  The doctors
had found he had diverticulitis, an infection of the colon probably brought on by the
chemo.  It could kill him.

He was put on antibiotics.  The doctors said if that didn't work they would have to
remove a section of his colon and give him a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.  He
said he would rather die.  I don't blame him.

His condition seemed stable when I went home late that night, but his girlfriend called
me in the middle of the night to say he was slipping away.  I called Kent and we went to
the hospital together.  All through the night my dad would stop breathing and I or his
girlfriend would have to tell him to take another breath.

I spent much of the night in an office talking to Kent.  I'm glad he was there for me.  I
needed someone on my side.

The next day my father started to show improvement.  I spent most of the day with him.  I
had to leave several times to avoid the stream of relatives coming and going from his
tiny room.

A week later he was back home.  He brought with him an oxygen bottle and an oxygen
generator to help him sleep.  I said the incident in the hospital changed my life forever
because when I looked at him half dead in that hospital bed I saw me in twenty years.  I
was seventy pounds overweight and smoked a pack a day.

When I returned from the hospital after the night my dad almost died, I stood naked in
front of the bathroom mirror.  I looked at all the excess me.  I'd never been skinny, but I
had gotten really fat and I had smoked a pack a day for the last eight years.  It was time
for a change.
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