June 16, 17, 18
Mississippi Trek

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Mississippi River Quest - Page 9
6.16.06
I woke up this morning and paddled into Grand Tower, Illinois, with food on my mind.  It
had been several days of eating out of the boat and I was ready for some real food.  I
stopped at the post office to mail off some letters and inquired about restaurants in
town.  The lady told me there was a gas station eight blocks away and that was all
Grand Tower had to offer.

I walked to the gas station and had to settle for a pre-made sandwich, a bag of chips,
and a Pepsi.  Still, it was better than nothing.

A bit further down river, I met a small group of paddlers.  I haven't met another paddler
since Minnesota, so this was kind of a big deal for me.  It was a couple of local folks in a
canoe and two retired folks in kayaks who were just passing through in their motor
homes.  They had gotten together and decided to take a trip on the big river.  We chatted
for a bit before I picked up the pace and moved on.

I had hoped to stop in Cape Girardeau for groceries, but the town is sealed off from the
river by a giant wall.  Apparently they don't like trash like me drifting into their city from the
river, so I moved on.

About 4:00 this afternoon, the south wind really started to pick up.  I listened to my
weather radio and it called for more stiff winds and thunderstorms through the
weekend.  There certainly has been a lot of wind this year.

Outside of the wind, things have been going quite well for me.  I have met a lot of
interesting people and have seen some beautiful places.  My journey hasn't always
been easy, but it's always been rewarding.

6.17.06
I had hoped to make it to Cairo, Illinois and begin the Lower Mississippi today, but the
weather had other plans.  The forecast called for thunderstorms in the afternoon, so I
got up early hoping to make it the 35 miles to Cairo before they hit.  I made it to within
ten miles of town when the wind picked up and thunder started crashing.  I set up camp
under some willow trees on a sand bar to wait out the weather.

It was 6:00 by the time the rain stopped and the wind died down.  Since I already had
set up camp, I decided to call it a day.  Tomorrow's forecast calls for more of the same.  
Hopefully there will be enough of a break in the weather to make some miles.  I need
the rest, but I hate sitting.  I can't control the weather, so whatever happens, happens.  I
just have to make the best of it.

Things in my life finally started to take a turn for the better with my new job at the gravel
quarry.  My personal life was still a mess, but at least I enjoyed my job.  I worked all the
hours I could.  I took pride in my work and enjoyed the respect I was finally getting for a
job well done.  I saved up some money and bought my first kayak.  It was a twelve foot
recreational boat, but enough to start my dreaming.  I spent much of my free time
paddling my new boat on the nearby Des Moines River.

Kent and Dustin moved into a house and I stayed in the trailer.  It was lonely there alone
and I didn't like it.  I didn't have any furniture to speak of, and the neighbors were always
noisy.  Still, it beat sleeping in my car.

I would work six or seven days a week and didn't see my dad nearly as much as I
should have.  Sometimes my friends would tell me they had seen him and he asked
about me.  He was happy for me, but he missed me.  I wish I had spent more time with
him than working.

I had worked at the quarry for almost a year and it was nearing fall.  I didn't have a
telephone.  I was at Kent's house when his phone rang.  He said it was for me.  It was
my dad's girlfriend.  She said my dad had terminal lung cancer and wanted to see me
tomorrow.  The doctors gave him less than a year to live.  Kent called my boss and told
him I would be taking the rest of the week off.  My dad wanted to be left alone for the
night and I wanted to get drunk.
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6.18.06
I woke up to a thunderstorm this morning.  The foul weather lasted until noon.  I packed
up my things and was about ready to head out when a new round of storms rolled in.  I
quickly set up my tent and waited out the rain.  An hour later I was on the water pushing
into a fierce headwind.  I would have given up for the day, but I really wanted to make it to
the mouth of the Ohio River and the beginning of the Lower Mississippi.

It took me over two hours to make it eight miles to the Ohio, and I had to scramble to set
up camp before the next round of storms.  There is a town two miles down river from my
campsite.  Hopefully, tomorrow will bring good weather and a good breakfast.

After the storm passed this evening, it cooled off and the weather is beautiful, although it
looks like I may be blessed with a little more rain.  Living outdoors is a lot less fun in the
rain.

Today is Father's Day and I have been thinking about how to celebrate it.  I have decided
to write a letter to my dad.

Dear Dad,
You've been gone six months now.  I miss you more than I ever imagined possible and
I think about you every day.  I know I didn't always live up to your expectations, or
anyone else's for that matter, but I am trying.

I wish I had the opportunity to be alone with you for a while in your last days.  There were
some things I would have liked to tell you without prying ears nearby.  I wish I could
have called you "Dad" before you died.  The first time I called you "Dad was at your
funeral.  I'm sorry for that.

Remember when you, me and your friend, Tim, took the canoe up to Minnesota to camp
and fish on that little lake who's name I'll never be able to remember?  I think that was
the best vacation we ever had.  Remember hiking along the Des Moines River, fishing
at Deception Hollow, and riding around in the old boat?  You could bake one hell of a
pie.

I wish I had listened to your advice over the years.  I could have saved myself a lot of
trouble.

When I came to see you for the first time after you knew you were dieing, I should have
hugged you, but I didn't.  I was scared to.  That was selfish of me.  You had just found out
you were dieing and I was worried about embarrass myself.  I am afraid I may have
seemed distant as your body slipped away.  This wasn't my intention.  I was just scared
and didn't know what to do.

Remember when I brought your dog, Sammy, to see you at the hospital?  It made you
so happy to see her, and it made me happy to see joy in your face.  It was the last time
you saw her.  I wish I had brought her over again.

I'm glad I got the chance to tell you I love you and to hug you.  I'm sorry it took such a
tragedy to finally get me to do it.  After you died, your girlfriend and your sisters
descended on my like vultures.  For a while I placed some of the blame for this on you.  
That's why it took me so long to visit your grave.  I know now you didn't expect them to
act the way they did.  I don't think you ever knew how much they hated me.  I'm sure you
never would have wanted your sister to steal the tractor from me in the middle of winter
when I planned on staying at the farm.

I have been doing a lot of work to the house.  I think you would really like what I've done
with the place.  Sammy is happy and doing fine.

Your death made me realise the value of my own life.  You had to have noticed the
profound change for the better that your sickness brought about in me.  I take care of
myself now and want to live.  In a way, you died so that I might live.  That is a very noble
thing.

As I write this letter I am living out my dream.  I know you would be proud of me for what
I am doing.  I still have a lot of problems in my life, but I am working on them.  I will get
out of the hole I've dug for myself.

Please know that I love you.  I have always loved you.  I miss you and would give
anything to have you back.  You touched a lot of lives in a positive way, and I'm sure
your in a better place now.

I meant what I said at your funeral.  "In the movies, heroes never die.  This isn't the
movies and my hero is gone, but you'll always be my hero."

Love Always,
Your son, Adam
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