Mississippi River Quest - Page 13
I stayed up late last night to enjoy the cool breeze and the stars. I threw out a line and
found that the catfish were biting. It was one of the nicest evenings of my trip.
I paddled all day today and didn't see any other people. Only the occasional barge
broke the silence.
I am starting to get bored with the scenery. There are no tall bluffs here. For the last five
hundred miles, the river has meandered through land as flat as that in Minnesota. The
outside of the curves are lined with rock, and on the inside there is a giant sandbar,
often over a mile wide. Every turn is the same.
Tonight my campsite is on a sandbar across from a housing development. I have seen
very few houses lately and this cluster of cookie cutter houses strikes me as extremely
ugly. Even with the hand of man evident everywhere I look, on the river I have been able
to feel as though I am in the wilderness. That feeling is hard to get when I am in plain
view of so many SUV driving soccer moms.
Tomorrow I will continue my quest for groceries in Greenville, Mississippi. It's a pretty
big town and I imagine the grocery store is far from the river. If nothing else, I'll get a
While my dad was still in the hospital, I went home and threw away all my cigarettes. My
next stop was the grocery store to buy some healthier food than the frozen pizzas I had
been living on.
Every night after work, I would paddle my kayak three miles down the nearby Skunk
River and run back to my pickup on the hiking trail that ran next to the river. After three
months I had lost nearly fifty pounds and felt better than I ever had.
As I got into shape, I realized I could do anything I wanted. All it took was work. It was
early in my skinny days that I began to wonder if I could paddle the entire Mississippi. I
used this dream as my motivation to keep getting in shape, even though at the time I
never thought I would ever actually do it.
I talked to a few fishermen today about getting groceries in Greenville. All I have heard
is that it's a rough neighborhood, especially by the river. To get into town I would have to
paddle five miles up a canal, then turn around and paddle five miles back to the river.
That's pretty far out of the way just to get shot, so I decided to try to get groceries in
Vicksburg in a couple of days.
I stopped on a sandbar for lunch and saw the tracks of an extremely large snake in the
sand. Later, when I was back on the river, a barge pulled up beside me. The guy said
he had seen a four foot rattlesnake earlier today. I hadn't even told him about the tracks
in the sand. I will have to be careful about walking in tall grass down here. Pretty soon,
I'll have to watch for alligators, too. I will admit I'd like to get a picture of one. Especially
since I didn't get to see a moose up north.
I was kept up most of the night by a pack of dogs roaming my sandbar. I would awaken
to the sound of them barking and fighting nearby and yell at them. They would leave for
a bit and then come back. This morning I saw dog tracks within twenty feet of my tent.
I stopped in the town of Mayersville today hoping to get some groceries. They didn't
have a grocery store, but they did have a gas station. I was able to refill my water and
pick up a little junk food. At least it wasn't a total loss.
Tonight I am eating catfish in an effort to conserve what food I have left. I don't mind
eating fish; it just takes a long time to catch and clean them. I often find myself still
setting up camp well after dark on days when I fish. I really never thought getting
groceries would be such an issue down here.
I have more I would like to write, but it is getting dark and the batteries are dead in my
flashlight. I was unable to find any batteries in Mayersville.
One thing I would like to make note of about Mayersville is that it has a prison. I know
this because they have the prisoners out unsupervised in their striped jumpsuits doing
yard work and cleaning up around town. I found this a little creepy.
I looked at my map this morning and saw that there was a public boat ramp with several
commercial docks nearby about fifteen miles downstream. I thought this would be a
nice place to stop to refill my water. When I got there the boat ramp didn't exist and the
only dock belonged to a gravel quarry. Probably not a good place to wander around
looking for water.
As I paddled by I said, God, I wish someone would just drive me to the grocery store.
It had been almost two days since I had seen another boat on the river, aside from the
barges. Less than twenty minutes after passing the dock, a jon boat pulled up next to
me. In the boat I met Bruce Reid. He works for the Audubon Society in Mississippi. He
told me that he had through hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1980. His wife made me
I asked about a grocery store in Vicksburg which was about twenty miles down river. He
said there wasn't anything near the river, but gave me his phone number and offered me
a ride when I got to town.
When I reached Vicksburg, I called Bruce. He picked me up at the boat ramp and took
me back to his office where I was able to look at my website and check my email. The
site looks great. Good job, Alan!
From there, it was off to the grocery store. It was several miles into town and I would
have surely gotten lost walking. Bruce told me about the history of the town and the river.
It was nice to talk with someone who cared so deeply about preserving the river. The
Audubon Society is doing some great work in this area and I would encourage anyone
who can to donate. www.msaudubon.org
After the grocery store we returned to the boat. I couldn't thank Bruce enough for helping
me out. In two days I would have been out of groceries.
I have found that the lower Mississippi River is nothing like I have been told it would be.
During high water, the current would be dangerous, but now it is calm and easy going.
The barges do kick up some massive waves, but only directly behind them. The
pleasure boat wakes were much worse up north. The shorelines are undeveloped and
often beautiful, and although the water is somewhat polluted, it isn't the cesspool I was
told it would be. There are rivers in Iowa in worse shape than the Mississippi. The
lower river has been by far the easiest paddling of the whole trip.
After I got in shape I decided to give the Mississippi a try. I bought my Dagger Magellan,
the same boat I am taking on this trip, and paddled and camped as much as I could. I
got involved with a local paddling group, the Skunk River Paddlers, and not only learned
a lot of new skills, but made a lot of friends. Everyone there has been a huge help with
all the crap I've been through.
I planned a solo trip for nine days in the middle of June. I would take the upper Iowa
River down to the Mississippi, then go about one hundred miles on the Mississippi to
Dubuque. Everyone was against me going alone. The same people that were so glad
to hear I would be going over two thousand miles solo a year later were sure I would be
killed on my nine day trip.
I was weary about going on the Mississippi myself. When I got onto the big river, the first
thing I met was a barge. I pictured massive waves crashing over my boat. The wake
wasn't that bad.
When I came to my first lock, I didn't know what the hell to do. I walked up to ask if a
kayak was even allowed in. Fortunately, the man I talked to was really nice and
explained everything to me. I have to admit that locking through for the first time was
really cool, even though I am thoroughly sick of it now.
I stopped at a bookstore in Guttenberg and bought a book about someone who had
paddled the whole river. I read it in two days and knew I had to do the same.
I reluctantly returned home. When I got my film developed, I sat between my dad and his
girlfriend on the couch to show off my pictures. My dad was truly proud of what I had
done. His girlfriend filed her nails and watched TV making sure not to catch a glimpse
of my accomplishment. I am sure my current trip is much the same. Had I failed, she
would have been right there with an I told you so.