Mississippi River Quest - Page 8
I checked my maps last night and found that I was 74 miles out of St. Louis. That would
be a marathon paddle even if there weren't any locks in the way. Commercial traffic is
getting heavy and it's not uncommon for me to spend an hour and a half waiting to lock
through. With two locks in the way, I decided to take it easy and have a two day leisure
paddle into town.
The weather today was beautiful for a change, mostly sunny skies and a high of 72
degrees. After an hour wait to lock through, I stopped in Clarksville, Missouri for
breakfast. I spent the rest of the day listening to talk radio out of St. Louis and enjoying
the beautiful day. I covered more miles than I intended and will only have 25 miles to
cover tomorrow, but what the heck. There are a few small towns along the way to waste
time at, and I still have one lock to get through.
As I got deeper into debt, it soon became clear that I was going to lose everything, and
just in case I didn't know, I had collectors calling every day to remind me. I was turning
into the failure she had always wanted me to be. Worse yet, I was proving to my dad
that his girlfriend was right. I was a worthless piece of shit.
Soon I gave up on ever getting caught up and lost the house and the shop. It was the
beginning of winter and I only had my Dodge Neon to live in. I got a few crappy jobs, but
never held on to them for long. At night I would start the car and turn the heat on full
blast. When I woke up sweating, I'd turn it off. When I woke up freezing, I'd repeat the
cycle. One thing I learned is that it's quite hard to find a place to sleep in your car where
the cops will leave you alone. There was nothing worse than the flashlight knock on the
side window at 3:00 AM.
I had fallen into the depression that was my enemy through school. I felt worthless,
therefore I was worthless. I started drinking too much, a bad idea when you live in your
car. Luckily, I never got caught.
Today was an easy paddle -- 25 miles to go and all day to get there. I found a
restaurant that served excellent fried catfish for lunch. After my meal, I leisurely paddled
to the Mel Price lock and dam and locked through. This lock and the one after it run two
lock chambers. One 600 foot for smaller boats like me, and one 1200 foot for the big
tow boats. I got right through. Because of the fast friendly service, I have decided to lock
through at the chain of rocks dam rather than portage it which I've heard can be risky.
I am really looking forward to paddling under the arch tomorrow. That has been one of
the milestones I have dreamt about for the last year and a half. I am half way done with
my trip and with no locks to slow me down, I am excited to see what kind of daily miles I
I used to spend my nights driving around the country on gravel roads listening to the
radio and downing a twelve pack. This wasn't a cry for help. I didn't want to get caught
or have a close call that would cause me to turn my life around. I wanted to crash and
die. I felt like the worthless piece of shit she said I was. One night I blew through a
railroad crossing and was almost hit by a train. I was disappointed it missed.
This downward spiral went on for several months before I was fired from my job and
went on unemployment. With nothing to pass my days, I knew I had to find a place to
live. It was the beginning of summer when I moved into the trailer with Kent and Dustin.
The couch was a major improvement over my Neon.
Once at the trailer, I quit my drunken tours of the countryside. I spent a lot of time at the
river fishing. The river has always been my therapy.
Had Kent and Dustin not let me move in, I'm sure something bad would have happened
to me. Ether an OUI or worse.
After six months of doing basically nothing, my unemployment ran out. I was faced with
the reality of rejoining the work force. I was unable to find a job as a mechanic and
ended up driving a truck over the road.
I was on the water at 6:00 AM this morning with the hopes of beating traffic at the lock.
After the Missouri River dumps into the Mississippi, the big river makes a bend. The
Army Corps of Engineers has built a dam across the river and a twelve mile long canal
that cuts off the bend. Inside the canal is the lock.
I had to choose between portaging the dam or locking through. I chose the canal. It
was a terribly boring paddle to get to the lock - 11 miles of straight channel with rip rap
and levees on each side. Because of the lock there was no current in the channel to
push me along.
When I got to the lock I was informed it would be a three hour wait to get through, but
they squeezed me through after only half an hour.
I was under the impression that the St. Louis arch actually went over the river. I have
even been in it when I was little. This isn't the case. It sits next to the river. This was a
bit of a let down, but still exciting.
After down town I came to the industrial area. I have never seen so many barges and
towboats in one place. It was quite difficult to discern which ones were moving and
which ones were stopped. I felt uncomfortable about being there, but didn't have any
Once out of town, I found the scenery to be quite beautiful. The river is lined with tall
limestone bluffs and white sand beaches. The water is much dirtier after the Missouri
joined the journey to the gulf and there are also quite a few trees floating in the water.
I pulled up to a sand bar to camp tonight and when I got out of the boat the sand
vibrated as it settled beneath my feet. When I slide my foot or hand across it, it sounds
like car tires squealing. I have never felt sand like this before, but I like it.
My truck driving career only lasted about six months. It turns out I hated driving a truck. I
would be out two weeks and home two days. I always had to go East. I would get so
mad sitting in traffic in Chicago or New York that I was afraid I might rupture something.
I didn't mind driving out in the country. In fact, I kind of liked it, but the stress of being in
cities was too much for me. I was a good driver. I made my deliveries on time and
never hit anything, but I hated the stress. It was obvious that I wasn't going to make fifty
thousand dollars my first year like I was promised.
I started looking for a new job and accepted a position as an equipment operator and
mechanic at a small gravel quarry. I parted ways with the trucking company content
with the knowledge that there are few jobs that could suck more than the one I left.
When I woke up this morning it was hot and windy. As the day wore on it only got hotter
and windier. I hate paddling into the wind, and there have been far more windy days on
this trip than calm ones.
I was looking forward to arriving in Chester, Illinois, this afternoon, as it has been
several days since I have eaten out and I was just about out of water. I landed under
the bridge into town, grabbed my water bags and proceeded to trudge up the hill into
town. I got to the main road where the speed limit was 35 and there was a lot of traffic.
Surely I would come to a gas station or restaurant before long. Wrong! I walked for a
mile in the oppressive heat past several busy intersections and two signs pointing to
the business district. I never did see any signs of commerce and gave up.
I returned to my boat and headed down river where I spotted a small bar. It was almost
3:00 PM. Surely I could fill my water bags and get a burger there. Wrong! I walked up
the hill and was greeted with a For Sale sign in the front window. There was a water
spigot on the back of the building, but it had a padlock on it.
There was a small church across the street and next to it, a hospitality house. From the
sign out front I learned that this house was provided by the church as a place to stop for
newly released inmates from the state penitentiary in Chester. The sign on the door
said closed, but I rang the doorbell anyway. When no one answered, I helped myself to
the garden hose.
I found another sand bar to camp at with squeaky sand. I love walking on it.
The wind has died down, but it's still hot. It will be uncomfortable sleeping weather
tonight, and according to the forecast, for the next few days.
Today is June 15th. I have been on the river for one month and over 1200 miles now. I
have been through five hundred miles of the headwaters with its brutal portages, thirty
locks and dams, and five states. In two days, I'll be on the lower Mississippi. I am
proud of what I've accomplished so far.
My father died six months ago today. It seems like it has been much longer. After his
death his girlfriend and two sisters put me through hell. It wasn't until this trip that I truly
had an opportunity to grieve for him.
Before my journey, I cried because of the hatred and greed others showed towards me.
Now I can cry because I miss my dad. He would have loved it out here.
Six months since I saw him smile when I walked into his hospital room. Six months
since I hugged him and told him I loved him. Six months seems both forever and no
time at all.
Every time I see a dad taking his son fishing out here I wish it was me and my dad.
I never got to spend any time alone with my dad when he was really sick, but out here I
can tell him whatever I want whenever I want, and I do.