June 5, 6, 7, 8
Mississippi Trek

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Mississippi River Quest - Page 6
I didn't get a good night's sleep last night because only after I had set up camp did I
realize how close I was to the railroad tracks, and train traffic was heavy.  Tonight I have
an island that appears to be quite peaceful and I'm thankful for that.

I fought a strong headwind all day today but managed to make it through Davenport with
plenty of daylight left.  I really didn't want to spend another night in town.

At lock and dam 15 I was given a key chain courtesy of the corps of engineers.  It floats
and you can put stuff inside it.  What could be better than that!

The river now is almost a half mile wide and I have been out for three weeks and 875
miles.  It seems like Itasca was only yesterday, yet an eternity ago.  I'm not sure I'm
looking forward to this trip ending and going home.  Sure, I miss my friends and my
dog, but the river has become a way of life for me as well as a reprieve from all my

Whatever happens out here, good or bad, is only temporary and tomorrow is always a
fresh start.  Out here I move fast enough the past can't catch me.  Back home is a
different story.

It's supposed to rain tonight, so I need to seal up everything in my boat.  I should do that
every night.  Some morning I just might wake up to wet stuff.

For once the forecast was right.  It rained all through the night and into the morning.  I
slept in until 9:30, which is quite late considering I'm usually up by six.  I sat in the tent
and read until 11:00 when the storm finally blew over.  I was glad to get back on the
water.  There's not a lot to do in a three by eight foot tent.

Once on the water, I was greeted by my old friend, the South wind.  More than rain or
cold, I hate paddling into the wind.  It's like driving around with the parking brake on.  I
find my spirits getting a bit low after three days of head wind.  I had hoped to be in
Missouri by now, and it's still 75 miles away.

I went through lock 16 today in the rain.  I pulled my boat into the lock chamber and the
lock master asked where I put in.  I said,

He shook his head and said,
There's something seriously wrong with you, and walked
away. He didn't even bother to ask where I was headed.

Now that I've set up camp, I'm enjoying the breeze.  I have all my things hanging up to
dry from the morning rain, and the mosquitoes aren't too bad.  The sky is a beautiful
cloudless blue, just starting to turn pink as the sun sets and a towboat pushing fifteen
barges lumbers by.  The guys on the deck are having a barbecue and I wave as they
pass.  I'm cooking chili and that's not bad either.

The year or so between my mother's death and the time I met Brian, and through him,
Dave, Donna, and Casey, was definitely a low point in my life.  To say things were bad at
home was an understatement.

The week days were fine, just me and my dad.  In the summer, we would go fishing.  I
would give anything in this world to go fishing with my dad one more time.

On the weekends, his girlfriend would come over and all hell would break loose.  My
dad would never take sides in any of our arguments, but it was as though he didn't
really love me when she was around.  Not like he did when it was just the two of us.

It was in that year that my thoughts often turned to suicide.  I needed a break from all the
turmoil.  There was more than one occasion I put a loaded gun to my head and thought
what if.

I promised my mom I'd be all right before she died and I can honestly say it was that
promise that kept me from doing anything profoundly stupid.  Later, through Boy Scouts,
I would make friends that would let me realize life was worth living and there is peace in
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Another windy day.  At least today it was mostly a tail wind, but usually quartering so
that I had to constantly struggle to keep the boat straight.

I had to through two locks  today and as I got to the first one, I saw that a barge was just
pulling up to lock through downstream.  This can take over an hour, so I portaged the
dam.  Downstream I stopped for dinner and the same barge went by.  I followed him to
the next dam where I had to portage again.

I was excited to pass the confluence of the Skunk River today as it runs very close to my
house.  I had visions of a grand river dumping into the Mississippi, but was somewhat
disappointed to see it really doesn't get much bigger between my house and the big

Tonight I set up camp on an island and paddled into Dallas City, Illinois as I was told
there was a bar there with all you can eat chicken for $4.99.  This was far too good a
deal to pass up.

A drunk at the end of the bar stared at me throughout my meal.  I finished eating, tipped
the waitress and got up to leave.  The drunk staggered out after me.  As soon as we
were out the door, he started swearing at me because apparently I was looking at him.  
I ignored him and kept on walking.

He got in his truck and started following me.  He still didn't have anything very nice to
say.  After a block he pulled up on the sidewalk and said,
Hey, I'm talking to you, stupid!

I put my hand in my pocket and walked up to his window.  I very calmly said, I have a
loaded .357 magnum in my pocket and I really don't have much to lose.  I suggest you
keep driving.
 My bluff worked.

He got a really stupid look on his face and said,
Fuck you and drove away.  This is why
drunks make me nervous.  Most are friendly or stupid at the worst, but there are the
small minority of violent assholes.  I returned to my boat and paddled back to camp.

The big news of today is that I'm in Missouri.  I'm nowhere near New Orleans yet, but
I'm in the South.  This also means I am getting near St. Louis, something I'm not
looking forward to.

I locked through in Keokuk this afternoon and the lock chamber there is 1200 feet long
instead of 600 like the ones I've been through before.  It was quite impressive.

Right now I'm trying to get ahold of my friend, Brian.  He and his girlfriend are coming to
meet me tomorrow.  I am looking forward to this as I feel a bit out of place in Missouri.

After high school I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I decided to go to
community college and be a diesel mechanic because that's what Brian did after
school and I looked up to him.

Shortly after starting school, I got a job at a large truck shop.  They paid well and I was
learning more on the job than I was at school so I dropped out of college.

I worked there for three and a half years.  I went from rebuilding engines to rebuilding
automatic transmissions.  After a year in the transmission shop, I became allergic to
transmission fluid and had to return to engines.

In the time I worked there I bought a car and a house, and I took on a part time job at a
small trucking company near my house.

Even with all these things I felt like a failure.  My dad's girlfriend had called me
worthless for long enough, I truly believed I was.  When the small trucking company I
was working for part time went under I bought their building.  I thought if I could be rich
and successful or even have people believe I was, I could be happy.

I wasn't.
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