Spectacular Views, Last Lock and Dam, and St. Louis Harbor

9/24/2016

Right now we are sailing towards the Afton Lock and Dam which is our second to last lock, yay! We took a zero day in Grafton, Illinois yesterday and it was an absolutely wonderful impromptu decision. We stopped into Grafton on the 22nd to pick up some packages my parents sent to the post office. For some reason only one package showed up so we had to wait until the following morning for the second. After spending our afternoon at a bar right on the river using Internet, we rowed directly across the river to a sandbar to spend the night. There we met Jim and his dog Gypsy. We hung out with them for a couple hours as the sunset. It was a great time, thanks for the company and cold drinks Jim! Kyle and I spent our evening under the stars around the fire. We could hear live music in the distance from a bar across the river. Our sandbar was pretty unique because it was right on the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. So technically Grafton is on the Illinois River, but it connects with the Mississippi River right by our sand bar. Anyway, after making breakfast and packing up we headed to the post office before continuing south. On the walk to the post office I was mentioning how much I loved the town and wished we would have explored it more. That was it, the decision was made- we would spend the day doing just that. Being tourists and wandering around on intuition and instinct, rather than any sort of plan. And since we had found out that we didn’t want to be stopping in St. Louis, we decided to celebrate my birthday in Grafton as well and go out to dinner that evening.

Solvi was safe pulled up on some grass in front of a nearby restaurant, so we were free to do whatever we pleased all day. The day was spent walking around the town, meeting all the local people, window shopping, having lunch in a park, and stopping in at a couple bars to cool down in the AC over a cold drink. At one point we saw a really awesome motorcycle with a side car and wandered around until we found the owner to ask him about it. Another time we ended up in a clock repair shop and spent over an hour talking with the kind owners. It’s a rare thing these days, to spend an entire day with absolutely no intentions other than finding food for dinner. I felt I was really living, not just existing. We were so present in every interaction and encounter. There wasn’t any side chatter going on in my head. It was extremely relaxing and evoked a sense of mindfulness in everything I did throughout the day. During one of our retreats from the heat of the day we met a guy who told us, “If you do anything in this town, you need to go up the hill.” He then went on to explain that just a quarter mile, straight up, was what they call “the best view in the Midwest”. He informed us about a free trolley that will drive us up there and said at the top is a winery with a restaurant where you can sit out and look over the entire river valley. Kyle and I weren’t feeling like making any definite decisions, but we kept it in mind. When the temperature finally started dropping as the day turned to evening, we headed back to Solvi to check on her and to change clothes. Twenty minutes later we were standing at the trolley stop with our thumbs sticking out. The driver got a kick out of our hitchhiking joke and picked us up with a big grin. He then told us about the winery and the area we were headed. The trolley ride was only about 10 minutes, but it was straight up. The view kept getting better and better as we increased in height, until we reached the top of the bluff and the view was absolutely spectacular. We jumped off the trolley and spent some time walking around before heading into the restaurant. We came to a viewing spot and both just started roaring with laughter. Down below, probably 500 feet down, was little Solvi. She was the tiniest little speck on the river’s edge, but we both knew it was her. How fun to be able to not only see the river from a different perspective, but also Solvi. After finding a perfect spot on the patio overlooking the river valley, we ordered some drinks and an appetizer. There we spent our evening- in what we call our “fancy clothes” because we usually only where them in town, drinking red wine and Guiness beer, overlooking miles and miles of the river we have come to find our home. Taking the trolley and being so high up really made me feel like I was far away in some distant place. It made the entire experience special. We laughed, cheers’d, and held hands while eating fresh spinach and pita bread. It was a lovely and romantic evening filled with love, a spectacular view, and the company of my best friend. A birthday I will never forget! A huge thanks to my parents for dinner and for their constant support 🙂

9/24/2016

We made it through the last lock and dam this evening! It has been an extremely long day. 30 miles of rowing and about 4 of sailing. Two locks and one 8 mile stretch of a man made canal where the current was against us. Extremely exhausted and a bit anxious about the St. Louis Harbor tomorrow morning. Good day overall though, beautiful sunshine and fun singing sea shanties.

9/25/2016

Well we made it through St. Louis Harbor! I am feeling quite relieved because it was a big ordeal leading up to the passage. As a whole the passage really wasn’t that bad. It was definitely intense and nothing to be taken lightly, but it went well, quick, and smooth. St. Louis Harbor is supposedly the busiest place on the entire Mississippi River and the river through the area is absolutely smothered in commercial traffic. Tugs and barges in all directions, lots of bridges, heavy current, and a busy channel way. We knew before we even started this journey that the river is a bit different after the last lock and dam and that it becomes more industrial and the ships get bigger. We have both been fully prepared for this change, and had done sufficient research and planning to make the transition as smooth and safe as possible. I wasn’t feeling very worried about the area due to that research, but a few people along the way really got me worrying. When we first arrived in Grafton a bar tender informed us about a kayaker that had been killed two months prior while trying to kayak through St. Louis. A few other people in the area also warned us to either be careful, or to not go at all. Then, to top it off, when we arrived at the Afton Lock and Dam, the lock master looked right at us and said, “I have lived in this area my whole life and I would never go through St. Louis in a boat like that.” He then went on to explain all the reasons why: 9 knots of current, driftwood, logs, commercial traffic so bad that you can’t maneuver, bridges funneling water causing the boat to turn…and that’s when I stopped listening. I am completely fine with people giving their advice, their opinions, and making some suggestions; the way the lock master went about it I found a bit unprofessional. He really scared me, without giving any suggestions or encouragement. Anyway after leaving that lock we were about 10 miles from the start of St. Louis Harbor. Because I had gotten so scared we pulled off on an island and did some more research. We fortunately had 4G service so were able to use google and make phone calls. After about an hour of checking weather, the Army Corps website, and reading encounters from other small boats who have made the passage, we came up with a game plan. We downloaded an application that shows us where all the tugs and barges are and where they are headed. We checked the weather forecast pretty extensively, and studied our chart carefully. After doing all that I felt much better and we continued for the day. Last night we stopped right at the mouth of the harbor and spent the night on a small sandy area in order to get an early start and get through the harbor as quickly as possible.

We left this morning around 8am and headed South towards the city. Before leaving we ate a big breakfast, took our time making sure we felt prepared and the boat was ready, and had a conversation about how to approach the day. We turned the radio on, had the application for tracking barges, and our chart book next to us. Kyle made a good point and we made the agreement that we were going to have a good and fun day, and that while going through the harbor we would remain calm and communicate with each other about what was going on. And away we rowed! Three big bridges all in a row greeted us first. We went under them, being very careful with the eddies and driftwood. Next we saw the craziness of the harbor. Barges, tugs, docks, everything around us, massive. We had a tug and barge heading towards us, so we rowed close to the Missouri side of the river. He passed with no issue, and we continued on. Soon we encountered our first really big tug and barge. On the Upper Mississippi the tugs push max 15 barges. Here in St. Louis, they push up to 40. Staying close to the Missouri side of the river, but not getting too close to the docked barges, we rowed along side the massive push. A couple guys on the back of a docked tug waved at us. A couple minutes later over the radio we heard the same guys talking to an oncoming barge. “Capt, just wanted to let you know you have a row boat coming down river Southbound.” The Captain replied “Thanks for the heads up, appreciate it.” Kyle then got on the radio and said, “Morning fellas, this is the row boat. Let us know if there is anything we can do to stay out of your way.” One of the guys replied, “We just really appreciate that you guys have a radio aboard!” He sounded a bit surprised. And slowly I started to relax. The tugs in the area knew we were out on the water, and not only that but we could communicate with each other. Many canoes and kayaks that do this trip don’t carry a radio, and while I have no doubt it can be completed just fine without it, I can’t express enough how important I feel it is. It is just such a simple device that allows a small craft to communicate with the huge ships that might otherwise not see a small craft.

The morning continued on, a constant battle of avoiding driftwood and maneuvering out of tugs way, but as a whole went smoothly. And before I knew it, the river started to open back up and on the shore I saw trees and sand, not barges and docks. Kyle and I both, for the first time all morning let our oars go and breathed a sigh of relief. We checked the chart and found out that we had just completed 16 miles in 2 hours, meaning we were traveling 8mph- that is really fast for little Solvi! We started laughing because neither of us realized how exhausted we were. I don’t think either of us knew how hard we were pushing it to get through that area as quickly as possible until it was over. Being that today is my actual birthday (25 on the 25th!) and that we had such a long day yesterday and a bit of an intense morning, when we saw our first sandy spot outside of the busy area, we looked at each other and quickly turned Solvi to head straight for it. It’s about 3pm and we have been on this sand bar since about 11am. It’s been a wonderfully relaxing afternoon. We are both feeling so excited to be past St. Louis, and past the last lock and dam. In front of us is open river! No stopping every 20 miles to go through locks. It feels that we have reached the next section of our journey and while I know for a fact it will provide its own challenges, I am filled with anticipation and excitement about what is to come.

After spending the afternoon contemplating on the St. Louis passage I have come to realize that I can learn a lot from this particular situation. Kyle and I have noticed a pattern as we travel down this mighty river. It seems that everywhere we go, the people all tell us the same thing, “This area is beautiful, but as soon as you get 20 miles down stream it gets real dangerous.” Or “Just after that next lock and dam you better be careful, you might want to skip that section.” It seems as though a lot of people are scared of what lies ahead, scared of the unknown. It has taken a lot of courage and internal development for me to push past the fear that these people have shared with me. While Kyle and I both really appreciate all the local knowledge, information, and advice, it is very important to remember to take it all with a grain of salt, as the saying goes. That when someone says the current is 9knots, it’s probably only 5 or 6. That when a man tells us the lock doesn’t like small craft, that maybe he went there on a bad day. When the woman who has never left the small Illinois town tells us that the river is a really dangerous scary place, that to her, it probably is. But Kyle and I have come prepared. We did our research, we go about our days as carefully and cautiously as possible. We check the weather, wind, and water conditions. We are patient when the conditions aren’t right, and we communicate with other boaters on the river. For some reason I really let people get to me regarding St. Louis. I let other people’s fear feed my own fear. Fortunately Kyle didn’t react this same way. Instead, he listened intently to what everyone said, but he interpreted it as data, as information. Not as a fear. Therefore his head was clear, he used the warnings to develop a plan, and because of that we had a safe, successful, and somewhat fun passage. While I would never go paddling through St. Louis for fun, it is completely doable when doing the entirety of the Mississippi River. We were able to take some pictures and enjoy the beauty the city had to provide as we rowed quickly by. I am feeling so thankful that we pushed through, that we didn’t give up or try to find a way around. It was a great experience for me as it instilled deep within that we are capable of whatever we put our mind to if we are smart and careful about it. So as the wind picks up and I see some afternoon storm clouds on the horizon, I smile as my toes are in the sand and I am safe on a beautiful sandy beach. I am blossoming out here on this journey down the river, and I am grateful to the St. Louis Harbor for providing a challenge and a growing experience.

Temporary Art Forms and Sick Days on the Boat

9/18/2016

Kyle is on shift behind me. We are sailing in a gentle breeze, but the current is so strong and fast that we are moving along quite well. Snacking on white cheddar crackers and drinking what remains of my now cold coffee, I observe the railroad bridge a couple miles up river. This morning was a peaceful one. We rowed along quite quickly due to the current. Kyle took some time and played his harmonica while I rowed us along. I love mornings like this. Conditions calm enough where I am happy to row by myself. The harmonica filling the air as we travel along the shore, passing some old river towns and houses along the way. I don’t know if life could get much more raw and simple as this. The breeze picked up and now we are sailing. It’s going to be a good day, I can feel it in the world around us 🙂

9/19/2016

My feelings were accurate yesterday, it was a great day! The breeze continued through the day and besides when going through locks and under lift bridges we sailed the majority of the day. We have both been pleasantly surprised about how much we sail on this journey. Many people told us that we’d be rowing much more often than sailing, but it’s been the opposite so far. We estimated that we spend 30% of our time rowing and 70% of our time sailing. Solvi is just such and efficient sail boat that we are much more effective when sailing than rowing, even into the wind. For example today the river has been narrow and the wind is strong right on our nose. We started out rowing but rowing into the wind gets tiring so we raised the sail. While tedious, we are making much better time. To those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “short tack” it is a sailing maneuver for sailing into the wind in tight spaces. The sails of a boat powered by the wind need the air to pass across it. If you point the sail directly into the wind it flaps and flogs like a flag and will not take you anywhere. But not only do you need the sail to stay full of wind, it needs enough of it to carry Solvi against it. So when we sail, if our intended destination is directly into the direction the wind is coming from, we need to sail at an angle to the wind in order to keep our sail full. If we sail too close to the wind’s direction and the sail flaps like a flag- we stop. So if the wind is coming directly up river, we have to sail aiming our bow at the shore. When we get into shallow water near shore, we turn the boat around towards the other shore, past the direction of the wind; this is called short tacking. We make progress towards our destination in small triangular chunks instead of all at once. If the distance between the two sides of the river is small, that means Solvi has only a short time to cover ground before we have to turn around again- a short tack. Now the person on the tiller (the device that steers the boat) doesn’t have to move during these maneuvers. They sit at the stern of the boat and just handle the steering and the tension of the sail with the main sheet. But due to Solvi’s small size, the person not on shift has to move their body weight every time the boat tacks back and forth. For example, I am sitting on the windward side of Solvi (meaning the wind is coming across me and onto the sail) and helping to balance out the boat with my body weight. When Kyle tacks, I have to move to the other side. This can be tedious for the person not sailing because sometimes every two minutes they have to move from one side to the other.

Anyway, after completing 30 miles yesterday we found a nice sand bar across from the town of Hannibal, Missouri. We hadn’t seen much sand all day so despite there being about 6 powerboats pulled up on the beach, we quickly rowed right over. As seems to be the theme this week, we received more River Magic just minutes after pulling up on the sandbar. The friendly folks of Hannibal came right over to introduce themselves, ask questions, compliment the boat, offered cold beer, and a few people even offered to go into town and get us anything we might need! As usual I was blown away by the kindness and we spent our evening chatting, laughing, and sharing stories. I learned that the town of Hannibal has lots of river history including that of Mark Twain and Huck Finn. I appreciated learning about it and the time people took to share their town’s history. I was also informed that the city council is threatening to fill in the harbor at the town and shut down the marina. The people of Hannibal are putting up a fight and if any of you are reading this right now, Kyle and I are rooting for you and feel you will win! Thank you to the people of Hannibal for sharing your stories and kindness with us!

After all the powerboats left it was just Kyle and I on the nice sandbar. We played games and cooked dinner over the fire. I watched as the sun went down over the town and as the sky turned from a light blue to a deep blue sprinkled with luminous balls of gas- stars. Although the city of Hannibal was rather lit up and shining artificial light on our campsite, I didn’t mind it. After having met all the nice people of the town and learning about its history, I enjoyed the light it was emitting. A reminder that this journey wouldn’t be the same without the river towns and river people along the way.

Today has been yet another peaceful day sailing down the river. We started out rowing down a slough, which is always enjoyable because it provides a change of pace from the channel markers and tug boats. It was a magical morning. We rowed slowly, gently. Talking with each other about dreams of the future, big and small. We talked about sailing in the tropics, brainstormed titles for my book I will write, made plans for a house built into a cliff on a mountain side. We encouraged each other to pursue these dreams and laughed and contemplated about what it will be like when they do come true. We rounded a corner and saw the sky creating art with all sorts of colors and patterns. The sun was rising, the fog was lifting, and there was pink, blue, orange, and white clouds smeared all about. After observing for a while Kyle noticed some birds flying high above the bluffs to our left. Suddenly there were hundreds and hundreds of birds flying in unison high in the sky. They were quite literally creating different forms, patterns, shapes. They flew so well together it was as though they had practiced over and over. We let Solvi drift slowly in the current as we intently watched the birds and sky creating art right in front of our eyes. As all things do, the birds left and the colors passed, but the image is still in my mind. I smiled because I realized that the sun sets, rises, birds, colors, water, all the colors and textures around us are temporary art forms. Forever changing and forming into new forms of art. Thank you Universe for providing us such a lovely display of art this morning.

The wind picked up a little while later and we raised the sail. Despite the wind being a bit frustrating and the sailing being tedious after a while, it truly was a good day. Completing 30 miles in a day has become the norm, the comfortable amount. Whereas about 2 weeks ago 20 was the norm. I guess all aspects, including river miles, of this expedition are getting easier, smoother, rhythmic. The river is much higher than usual in this area, we were told almost 10 feet in some places. This has its drawbacks and its positives. On a positive note the river is so high that we don’t have to worry about wing dams under the water. This makes sailing much easier and doable because we aren’t confined to the marked channel. The drawback is that finding camping can be difficult. We know that farther south we are going to have to sleep aboard the boat much more often, so right now we are trying to take advantage of our tent and level ground. When the river is this high the level shores and sandy areas are completely submerged, leaving steep haggard shore lines filled with driftwood and roots. Tonight for example we were surrounded by islands that would normally be great for camping, but due to the high water were not accessible. Fortunately after about an hour of looking we found a levee. While not the most ideal camp spot, we made it work and it was actually quite beautiful. We pulled Solvi up to a small sandy spot but the shore was too steep to pull her up dry so we tied her up in the shallow. After Kyle leveled a nice area for our tent we climbed on top of the levee. The view and sunset we saw from being above the river was spectacular. I found myself standing there, mouth slightly open as though in shock, about how insanely vivid the colors were. Art all around.

9/21/2016

Well yesterday was by the far the most difficult day I have had thus far on this journey. I haven’t been feeling very well and have been trying to fight off a cold, but it finally got to me. We awoke at our camp spot on the levee and initially I didn’t feel super great. Headache, body ache, congested, ear ache. But after walking around a bit and drinking some fluids I started to feel better. Because the levee really wasn’t a great spot to spend a zero day, I decided we should continue on and that I would try to sweat it out while rowing. While it seemed like a good idea in theory, it wasn’t. Out of all the days we have had on this journey, yesterday was seriously the calmest, hottest, muggiest day. There was not even the slightest stitch of wind to provide any relief from the scorching sun. Not even one little puffy cloud to cover the sun, even if just for a moment. The morning started out okay, I was comfortably able to row about 8 miles until we got to the Lock and Dam. Once through the Lock and Dam it really started to hit me. My body ached, my ear ached, I felt like the sun was pounding down on me. I didn’t know if I had a fever or if I just couldn’t find any relief from the sun. Kyle is so wonderful and told me to stow my oars, lay down, and rest. We wanted to find a spot to pull off for the day so I could just sleep in the shade of some trees and the tent, but there was literally no where to pull off. The water was so high in the area we were in, we just couldn’t find anywhere. As the day continued Kyle kept on rowing in the heat. I tried to lay down but couldn’t find any relief because the sun was just intensifying my ill feeling. I finally broke down and cried and moaned a little and it actually helped a bit, ha! Kyle being so sweet figured out a way to rig the sail as a sun shade. So there we sat, in the middle of the Mississippi, the sail pulled up just the slightest bit, me laying down sprawled out on our little boat, while Kyle rowed us along. I wish we would have gotten a photo because I must have looked a bit ridiculous. Various pieces of clothing and our sheet covering me from the sun, the sail hiding me, and a pail of water next to me to keep wetting my bandana. After about an hour of laying down in the shade of the sail I started to feel a bit better. I chugged a bunch of water and took some medicine out of our first aid kit. I tried rowing a bit more, but was useless. We were so excited because from a few miles away it looked like we had found the most perfect sandy spot to stop for the day. In reality, it was a gravel covered boat launch that had muddy ground, lots of people, and no shade. We pulled off anyway because we were going to try to make it work, and that’s when a powerboat pulled up to talk to us. At first I was dreading trying to be social, but it actually proved to be a great distraction from the discomfort of the day. Two couples and two dogs spent a half hour or so talking with us, asking about our journey, giving local knowledge, and gave Kyle some cold beer. (Shows how awful I felt, I turned down a cold beer on the hottest day!) It really was a nice break and we both enjoyed the company, thank you to the folks who live off Kelly Island, it was great talking with you! Anyway, after they left we decided to continue on a mile or so to find a less public camp spot. Due to me not feeling well and Kyle being exhausted from rowing 15 miles in the heat on his own, we settled on a spot that we probably wouldn’t have normally chosen. The water level was really high and was supposed to get a bit higher that evening, but we found the smallest area of sand surrounded by low grass. We set the tent up on the driest area of sand we could, trying to plan ahead if the water level rose where the best spot for the tent would be. After a quick dinner we got in the tent early and I was asleep before the sun went down. I awoke a few times in the night to find that the water level was rising, but that the tent was still mostly dry. This morning when I woke up, I felt a bit better, not 100% but way better than the day before. I got up, did some stretches, took my medicine, drank hot coffee, and laughed at how ridiculous our camp spot was. Besides the square of our tent, pretty much everything else was under water. Only an inch or so, but still, I stepped out of the tent into water and then cooked breakfast while standing in water. It was pretty funny, I enjoyed it.

We left in the early morning fog and rowed for just a couple minutes before realizing there was a breeze and have been sailing ever since. I just spent the last hour doing laundry aboard the boat which has become my favorite way to do it. As I explained in a previous post, we had to short tack most of the day because of the wind direction. Therefore, every time Kyle tacked the boat I had to switch to the other side of the boat. So while doing laundry I would dip the garment in the water, add soap, and then he’d call out the tack and I’d have to move to the other side, trying not to drip soapy water all over the boat, and continue with the garment. While it might sound tedious, I actually really enjoy it. I am not sure why, but something about doing laundry on a small boat in the middle of the river is romantic. My favorite part is when it is time to rinse the soap and I get to hold the garment over the side of the boat while the water rushes over it due to Solvi’s sailing speed. I love hearing the water rush by and seeing the biodegradable soap bubbles leave a trail in the distance. Temporary art forms in the water.

We made 30 miles today and have stopped just outside of Grafton, Illinois where my parents have sent a package for my birthday. Clearly feeling better and finding a burst of motivation, I spent the afternoon on our sandy shore cleaning Solvi inside and out, cleaning our sleeping pads, bag, and tent, and then showering in the river. It felt really good to get everything so clean and organized; one of my favorite feelings crawling into a clean tent, bag, and being clean myself- just what I need to help fight this flu/cold. So as the sun sets over the river providing endlessly changing colors and reflections, I blow my nose over and over again (poor Kyle), and think positive thoughts that tomorrow I will be completely healthy and ready to go!

9/22/2016

We are currently in Grafton Illinois and will be heading out tomorrow. By the time this is posted we will be south of St. Louis where we are hoping to celebrate my birthday on  Saturday. We will also be past our last Lock and Dam and onto the fast current industrial part of the river. After 23 locks and dams we are rather excited to be done with them. Onward!

 

River Magic and Finding a Rhythm

9/15/16

We rowed a few miles into Ft. Madison today in order to resupply, fill up on water, and try to find some wifi. We landed at Riverview Marina and pulled up to a dock labeled courtesy dock. Within minutes it was clear that the marina was a bit abandoned and that despite it being the middle of a work day, no one was to be found. Kyle walked around a bit trying to find someone to ask directions to a grocery store as we did not have phone service. He came back to the boat and let me know that a very nice man, Paul, had offered to drive us to the grocery store as it was over two miles away. It turns out that Paul is retired and had some spare time on his hands, and on top of that, he loves row boats. He came over to see the boat and after talking for a while we discovered he has made model row boats and airplanes and all sorts of cool hobbies. One thing led to another and Kyle and I hopped in Paul’s car and headed to his house in order to use fast wifi and to see his models. It was fun driving around Ft. Madison. It’s a rather abandoned town and very old, I enjoyed hearing what Paul had to say about it. Kyle and Paul chatted and walked around for over an hour looking at all his cool hobbies, meanwhile I worked on Internet stuff. After hanging out for a bit we headed to the grocery store. Paul was such a great sport and walked around the store with us, laughing and chatting all the while. He then took us back to the boat where we took him on a row! Actually, he and Kyle took me on a row 🙂 I very happily sat on the foredeck and guided them while they rowed along. It was fun having someone on board and he seemed to enjoy himself as well. After finding some water and saying our goodbyes, Kyle and I headed for a nearby island to camp for the evening. We have officially named the island “Cricket Island” as there were no mosquitos which was amazing, but there were green crickets everywhere. At one point we had 18 crickets on top of our tent. It was quite entertaining and we started naming them. Tom was one of the crickets and he was hanging out on our mast, he hung around for a while before hopping off to find something new to do. The moon is full, sunset is spectacular, the crickets are chirping, and I can hear one lone toad off in the distance. Lovely.img_3029img_3001

9/17/2016

Yesterday was another day filled of River Magic and River Angels. We departed from our cricket island around 9am after waiting out some thunderstorms in the AM. We stood around for quite some time observing the clouds and wind direction trying to decide if we should embark for the day or take a zero day hiding from potential thunderstorms. The final decision was to head out, but to fully expect rain, waves, and wind against us. I am very glad we had anticipated rough conditions because instead of making the day arduous, it was an exciting challenge. We rowed about 10-12 miles directly into the wind. We rounded at a corner at one point and the waves were about 3-4 feet max and 2-3 feet average. I must say, it was exhilarating! Because we were rowing and not sailing we stayed completely dry, always a moral booster. The waves were biggest when we crossed directly across the river to seek some refuge in the lee shore. Solvi bobbed up and down, but otherwise handled quite well. Kyle and I sang sea shanties to stay motivated and made it across in about 30 minutes.

We hugged the lee shore and rowed real close to the railroad and houses along the river’s edge. Eventually the river turned again and we were able to set the sail. We were headed for Lock and Dam 19, which was 4 miles away. The sailing was going quite well as the wind had calmed and thus the waves lessened in height. Just as we were about to tack over and head for the dam, we saw some pretty intense storm clouds moving quickly in our direction. Clouds- black, dark gray, and various shades of dark blue were quickly engulfing our blue sky. Areas of rain fall could be seen on the horizon. After debating back and forth we made the decision to run back up river and head to the Keokuk Yacht Club we had just passed moments before. Being that it was a yacht club I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Would we be allowed to tie up to a dock to wait for the storm to pass? As soon as we began our approach to the transient dock we were greeted by some very kind folks. They said we could definitely stay for the storm and offered to buy us a drink. Soon after that a nice man who is a chairman at the yacht club offered for us to stay the night, use their showers, laundry, and if we wanted to we could set up our pads inside for the night. We had originally planned to head for the Lock and Dam after the thunderstorm passed, but hot showers, pizza, and cold drinks were too hard to pass up. So there, at the Keokuk Yacht Club we spent our afternoon and evening. The people there were all so generous to us. Drinks, information, rides, were all offered. One man named Wes went above and beyond. He took us on a tour in his van through Keokuk. We then went to his liquor store that he owns to lock up for the night before heading to Walgreens. Before locking up the store he gave us a bottle of wine to save for my birthday on Sunday. I love Cab and this is a red Zifondel which is supposed to be similar and quite good. We then got to go on a little delivery with him to a nearby restaurant and bar. On our way back to the yacht club we stopped at Walgreens to get some soap for my poison ivy. Thank you Wes, words can not explain the relief I have found from the poison ivy soap. My favorite part of our hour adventure with Wes was when we parked and walked down to look over the Lock and Dam. It was awesome to see it from above. Once back at the Yacht Club we set up camp on some grass, took hot showers, and chatted with some more people. Overall it was an awesome experience. The River Magic blew us away. Thank you, so incredibly much to all the River Angels: Wes, Mark, Tim who took Kyle to get coffee, Jim, the Yacht Club Chairman, Meg, and many others. Kyle and I had the most wonderful stay and feel grateful for the hospitality.

This morning after packing up and doing some last minute Internet research, we said our goodbyes and headed for the Keokuk Lock and Dam 19. This dam is much different than all the other dams on the river. Not only is it the second largest (biggest for Kyle and I since we didn’t go through St. Paul) but it is a hydroelectric dam. On top of that it dropped us 32 feet! Usually we only drop about 5 feet but today we went down over 30. Kyle, Solvi, and I were the only ones in the massive dam, it was pretty comical how little we were and how big it was. I loved dropping down so far. By the time we went down the 32 feet, I could hardly see the people above. The lock master was a kind guy who joked around with us and then wished us well.

As I write it is now about 2pm. We have already made 20 miles today and have been sailing ever since the dam. It’s another one of those beautiful days filled with sunshine, blue sky, and some white puffy clouds. I am really enjoying this section of the river. Lots of islands lush with green trees and sandy shores. No other boats and only one tug and barge. The wind is abeam and the current is swift so we are cruising along quite nicely. This is my second break from my tiller and main sheet shift and I find myself quite toasty from the sun but very much enjoying its warmth. I am really starting to find the rhythm of life out here. The days don’t seems as long and arduous. Simple things like making lunch aboard and setting up camp are becoming natural parts of my routine. img_3112 Observing the water’s surface while sailing I have learned to see when the gusts are coming and how to keep Solvi sailing to her best ability. The idea that we live in a small boat along the Mississippi River and that islands and shorelines are our home is no longer strange. I enjoy my days so deeply and intently, I didn’t even know life could provide such constant joy and diversity. It’s a hard thing to articulate, the rhythm we have found out here on the river, but the world ‘home’ comes to mind. I don’t feel displaced. I don’t find our life style strange or different. The river has become home and all the people along the way family. Pushing Solvi off a sandy shore and then quickly hopping in the boat while Kyle guides us back into the river has become as familiar as starting my car every morning. Checking the chart book and planning our mileage for the day reminds me of making lists and checking them off. Cleaning Solvi’s varnished floors and benches like dusting and vacuuming. It took about 30 days, but I am very happily settling into life on the river.

After sailing about 26 miles we found a place to pull off for the night. It was a fairly unique spot. There was a small learning in the trees on the shoreline where we were able to pull Solvi up on her roller and tie her to a tree. The shoreline was somewhat flat but then suddenly inclined straight up. The hill was small but steep and covered with eroding brush, sand, and plants. Once climbing up the hill we were greeted with a massive open sandy area. The contrast from the river’s edge was interesting. That flat sandy area almost reminded me or a miniature dessert. Sand with small gatherings of dry grass strewn about. One lone tree that I enjoyed looking at. After hiking up and down the hill to transfer our camp gear a dozen times, Kyle got a nice fire going. He uses the teepee method and leans the wood up against iteslf making a tall teepee. I enjoy the way he does it because the forest always start quick and are tall and warm. He made hobo dinners over the hot coals while I set up camp. When I went to take our rainfly out of its bag I found a green cricket! He looks like the ones from Cricket Island and I named him Willy. Poor Willy was stuck in the tent bag in the stern locker all day- he must have been miserable. Willy seemed a bit lethargic but slowly hopped away. It wasn’t 20 minutes later when he landed on my camp chair. I was watching him try to bite the black fabric on my chair and figured he must be starving from being stuck in the locker all day. Kyle cut him a small piece of onion. He let me pretty much hand it to him and I kid you not, Willy ate the entire piece of onion! Who knew crickets liked onions?! I moved him onto our frisbee and tried to give him some water and cabbage. The onion must have done him well though because after eating the entire piece he started hopping as though he had energy again. I was sad to see him go, but he gallantly hopped towards the tree line where the symphony of his family members could be heard.

Stillness

9/13/2016

It’s about 9:30 and we are on day 29 of our venture south. My nose is sniffly from the cold I am fighting and my coffee mug is warm in my hands. On the left side of the river the sky is covered with light clouds and the sun is trying to poke through. On the right side the sky is threatening some rain so we have everything put away and the hatches secured. The temperature has dropped so I am assuming the dark gray whispy clouds I see to the west might bring some rain. It’s a chilly and gray morning. No one else is out on the river and the feeling I get is one of stillness and tranquility. Nothing about it is negative, in fact, my sniffly nose, the hot coffee, the blanket wrapped around my legs, and the gloomy sky are all rather fitting. I feel cozy- like I feel during an afternoon thunderstorm curled up by a window with hot tea and a book. It brings a nostalgic feeling, contemplative and quiet. Kyle is on shift and we aren’t exchanging many words. It is so incredibly calm and still that words aren’t needed. We both seem to be enjoying the solitude, not wanting to taint it with spoken words. We feel like we are in a jungle. Crazy tree roots, dark green forest, unknown bird callings. No one around. No development. Just us, floating down the glassy water, smelling the distant rain in the air. I look to the right and see a tree with no leaves. There, perched very still, is an eagle looking down at the river below. I wonder what he thinks as our little boat goes by. He must not feel threatened as he doesn’t move, just sits there observing his surroundings. I could learn from that Eagle. Learn to sit still, quiet, and observe my surroundings. Small sparrows skim the water’s surface, catching bugs in their small mouths. The water is so still that I can seem them flying on the surface.

10:30am: The rain came just as anticipated. It was delightful. The slightest amount- just a drizzle. I watched as each drop landed on the smooth water, creating a tiny ripple effect. I could hear the drops landing on my gore-tex rain jacket before being repelled off. The sky was awash in different shades of white, gray, blue, and then small areas where the sun rays were shining through. As the droplets fell into the river, I imagined them heading downstream just as we are. They say it takes 90 days for a droplet to travel from the start of the river to the Gulf. I wonder if we will arrive at the Gulf around the same time as these droplets falling from the sky. Just as gently as it arrived, the rain stopped. So gradually that I couldn’t exactly determine when the last droplet fell. We are rowing now as the wind left with the rain. Kyle and I both are enjoying the rowing since it is so calm and serene. Our new friends in their canoe are close by. We keep accidentally running into them. We have gone through two locks together and will randomly meet up floating down the river. It’s quite nice having some friends doing the same journey.

Kyle spent some time writing down his thoughts on the journey thus far, I will share them below:

**As our adventure continues and we become more accustomed to life in a small boat, I find myself beset by a new way of living. I say living because it seems the best word but when I read it, it’s a bit hollow in its meaning, presumably due to the lack of descriptive depth. I feel I have found much of what I was personally seeking when we began planning this expedition. Challenge is found in nearly every moment of my day. Gone are the banal tasks attributed to my old job. Constantly changing environment erased the majority of the repetition I felt in my old routine as well, despite my day being primarily confined to the progress of our small craft. The constant demand to meet the needs of necessity concerning food, water, shelter, have replaced any interest in the drama of the world. I find myself not interested in what’s happening outside our river highway, but more interested in what the people around me are interested in. Curiosity it seems has shrank inward to my immediate environment. I concern myself for hours on ideas and concepts that I would certainly have dismissed during the lifestyle I was living while in the planning stages of this journey. These opportunities for reflection and at times introspection are very enjoyable. Although sometimes there are questions involving the validity of my reasoning for the isolation and effort involved in such an expedition as ours. Life out here in the raw environment is not easy and I think that is what makes it addictive, because generally speaking, when things go right, you earned it and certainly notice. This leaves me with a strong sense of positive reinforcement and satisfaction not easily found in the common routine I held during our planning stage. Hard earned accomplishments are often glossed over and forgotten by those around you or even your own personal self, perhaps due to over stimulation, perhaps in the constant race to get ahead. When I now look back upon the memories of that lifestyle, I see small ways it could have been improved, but they would almost certainly be seen as strange by the people around me. But I digress, right now my lifestyle is raw and dirty. My days filled with challenge and satisfaction of small victories. My favorite parts of this journey is waking up knowing my only job is to stay happy and go sailing. Life is good.**

9/14/2016

The rest of our day yesterday was quite satisfying. We travelled about 24 miles before finding a nice sandy spot and deciding to stop for the evening. Leading up to our camp site we explored an old sunken barge and let the river’s current carry us down stream while eating lunch.

 

Our friends in the canoe caught up and we spent some time drifting down stream together. They passed by our campsite later on and stopped for a few minutes. After they left Kyle and I discussed how interesting the relationship is that has developed between the four of us. We have only known each other for a total of 3 days, yet it feels much longer. Our random meetings are spent laughing and sharing life stories. There is no need for small talk or asking if we have similar interests. Something about living on the river like we are breaks down all the barriers and unknowns that might exist elsewhere. It takes a certain type of person to live so ruggedly out here on the mighty river. So the friendship that is being developed is very raw and pure, centralized on a similar journey and similar mind set. I have really enjoyed the random meetings and friendly faces. They are both musicians, and often we can hear them traveling down river long before we see them. Too far away to make out what it is they are singing or playing, but knowing that they are living just as freely as we are. It makes me smile inside. Anyway, today has been absolutely enjoyable. We travelled 36 miles today, all of which were under sail and happened in 8 hours. We could have continued on, but have stopped right outside of Fort Madison, Iowa where we will be heading tomorrow to resupply and find Internet. As I write I am sitting on a sandy beach on a small island. Our laundry is strung in all directions drying in the light breeze and setting sun. Kyle is making “hobo” dinners over the campfire: potatoes, peas, carrots, cabbages, spices, and oil in tin foil. Someone has left a picnic table on this island and it’s funny how excited I got over having a table. The river is wider up ahead and I squint as I look towards the bridge which marks the town of Fort Madison.

Stillness seems to be the theme of the past few days, and tonight is no different. For years I have dreamed of living a simpler life. A life in which my days consist of being outdoors in the element. A world that revolves around the sun’s cycle and the sky above. For the past 31 days that dream has become a reality and I can’t begin to explain how thrilled I am that we still have 100 plus days to go.

A Day Full of Kindness

9/11/2016

Well I guess I spoke too soon yesterday! Right after I finished my journal entry the waves got much larger and we decided to turn back. It is always such a tough decision to turn back and head north, but the waves were just too big and the wind too strong to be comfortable. We were both getting soaked with spray and after checking the chart it was clear we’d be beating into it for hours. I must say though, I am rather proud of myself. The conditions were less intense, but rather similar to those on our first Lake Pepin try. But this time, I didn’t have fear. I trusted Solvi and Kyle and I’s ability much more. I giggled when I would get splashed, not cringed. I think the biggest thing was just that I changed my perspective. I observed the conditions, saw they were intense but not dangerous, and decided to give it a try. Even though in the end we turned back and found refuge on an island, the exposure to a situation that caused a little uneasiness and discomfort was important. It’s those situations which I feel cause the most growth. Challenging myself to find comfort outside of my comfort zone. Anyway, we turned back and headed north for a couple miles before finding a nice camping spot out of the wind and waves. Getting Solvi up on the beach was a bit challenging because the beach was narrow, but thanks to our rollers we made it work (Thank you AIRE and Dan! This trip would be very different and difficult without our rollers). We spent the afternoon drying stuff out, reading, setting up camp, and reflecting on the day.

Kyle has really seemed to have found a rhythm with this trip. He doesn’t worry about miles, time, distance, the end goal, etc. To me it seems he is really thriving in our “no schedule and no rush” goal. I, on the other hand, am still adjusting. I found myself bummed yesterday when we had to turn back and lose the 8 miles south we had made. I sometimes worry we aren’t making enough miles or need to spend more time on the water. But fortunately with Kyle on my side and my eagerness to truly and fully let go, I am moving past it. Because in reality, none of that matters. We are still on schedule to make it south, and I have no doubt we will, but most importantly it’s okay if for some reason we don’t. Like I mentioned in a previous entry that’s not the point of this travel. It’s a goal, a direction, but it’s not the journey. The journey isn’t to get from point A to point B. It is to enjoy every moment. To live in the moment. To grow, learn, and be joyful. And as I write this we are currently sailing under a bridge just north of the Quad Cities. We are past the point we turned back yesterday. The water is calm, the breeze is just enough to keep us moving comfortably, and the sun is shining tall and bright. I have deep feeling of ease and happiness. I don’t care how far we go today. I am smiling because I can hear Kyle singing silly songs behind me and I can hear the rushing of water under Solvi’s hull. I feel as though I am almost free of my expectations, barriers, and concerns. Until then, I will treat them with love and patience and continue onward.

10am: Distant church bells sound to my left, filling my mind with images of stained glass and beautiful steeples. Kyle is behind me talking to the wind about how beautiful her gusts are and how wonderfully we are flying along. The sun reflects on the water’s surface, causing me to squint when I look at it. A small reminder of the sun’s strength. A water taxi just passed by, creating a heavy wake and I grin as Solvi bobs up and down, her sail and boom banging against the the mast for just a moment. I lift my head from my journal and observe as the water taxi’s wake makes it’s way to the river’s edge; causing splashing and noises that remind me of our home near the ocean. The leaves are still beginning to change. Majority of them green, but more and more each day beginning their transformation. Soon we will be rowing due to a change in the river’s direction. But that’s okay, because for the first time in a while, the wind is calm and gentle. Just a slight breeze bringing burst of reprieve from the hot sun shining down.

1:20pm: Kyle just relieved me from my hour shift on the sheet and tiller. I have our seats set up in a way that allows me to lay out flat in Solvi’s small interior. The clouds above me are so white and puffy, and the way the sun shines on them, they are glowing. There are so many scattered in what seems to be an even couple of layers. The sky behind the clouds is the purest of blues. Black birds fly in front of the white clouds and blue sky, causing their depth of color to be even more striking. What’s crazy is that the sky isn’t actually blue. That is just how we perceive it. I ponder this for a moment which leads me to contemplate the idea of perception vs. reality. I stare up, past the clouds, past the birds flying 20,000 feet above me where the air is thinner. And I know that beyond all that, the stars are shining, I just can’t seem them right now. It make me think of the Flaming Lips song, “Do you Realize?” We are in an 11 miles slough that runs parallel to the main channel. All the trees are full and the deep forest green color. We have sailed about 17 miles today and it’s only about 1:30. It’s been a special day, one full of light heartedness, laughter, sunshine, and a feeling of being free. We both seem to be thriving today. Life is good, I can see it and feel it all around.

2pm: I am laying flat on my back on the windward side of Solvi as a ballast. I can feel the hard fiberglass covered cedar against my back bones. The sun is shining so bright and warm my tanned skin. Whenever Kyle tells me we are tacking, I have figured out a way to slide my body across to the other side without getting up. It’s quite relaxing. I am really enjoying these 1 hour shifts. They break up the day and allow much more time for reading, napping, writing, and contemplating.image

9/12/2016

Wow well I am still quite speechless from yesterday. Not only did we make 30 miles, 21 of which were under sail, and the 9 under oar were actually quite fun because we were cruising along so fast, but we also received the most amazing river magic. It all started when we dropped the sail due to lack of wind. A red power boat pulled up and asked some questions about our journey. They then suggested a beach 5 miles down river for camping and said we might run into them there later in the evening. With a sandy beach as motivation we continued rowing. We rounded a corner when a group of people in a run about called us over. We rowed over and were greeted by really kind folks who provided laughter, local information, quite a few cold drinks to take with us, and a nice little break from our day. Cassie and her friends and family from Bluegrass, Iowa- your kindness will not be forgotten. The smiles and fun you provided were a huge moral booster and something we will remember as we venture onward. Thank you!! After saying our goodbyes and taking some photos we left the slough and headed for the main channel to find the beach that had been suggested.

We were greeted by Paul, his wife, and kids in the red power boat; they suggested a place for us to pull up, and that’s when it all began. There is a group of beautifully kind people also from the Bluegrass Iowa area that spend their Sundays on an awesome sandy beach along the river. They were all there when we arrived and within minutes of pulling Solvi up on the beach they all made their way over to us. There, in a group of about 10-15 people we spent the next couple of hours. The conversation and laughter was endless. Never have I felt so welcomed and comfortable around what started as complete strangers but became fast friends. Not only were they all so nice and encouraging of Kyle and I and our adventure, but they gave us so many goodies. Chicken, cookies, gardettos, beer, ice, fresh peppers, bbq chips, and bottled water. More things were offered but our little boat can only hold so much 🙂 I wish I could remember everyone’s names, but that’s neither here nor there. If any of you are reading this right now, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts. All of you together lifted our spirits, motivated us to continue, and showed the most genuine kindness. You are all amazing folks. And so fun! Keep up your Sunday tradition on the river. Kyle and I will forever be grateful for the kindness we received yesterday.

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Our very friendly new friends! Thanks for the photo and all the fun! 

After we said our goodbyes to our new friends, Kyle and I were left standing on the beach alone. We hugged and smiled and thanked the universe for all the magic she provided during the day. Just as we were about to cook dinner, with the sun setting behind the island and the mosquitos starting in on their nightly symphony, we received another surprise. Two people paddling a canoe paddled by and stopped at the end of the beach. Claudia and Adam- a couple about our age that are canoeing down the river, playing music at venues along the way. We had a wonderful evening chatting with them, sharing some the kindness we had received earlier, and laughing about similar river stories.

Yesterday was just one of those days that makes the hardships and ridiculousness of this journey worth it. One of those days that restores our faith in humanity and society as a whole. A full day of reminders of how great this life is and how living your dreams pays off. Thank you to all the people who shared their light and stories with us.

Thunderstorms on Islands and Head Winds

9/7/2016

Raindrops fall heavy and consistent against our rainfly. The wind brings gusts that fill the rainfly and tent, causing it to temporarily cave in a bit on the windward side. I peek through the air vent within the vestibule at Solvi. Her boom tent is experiencing a similar sensation as our rainfly, but no one is inside to observe that perspective. I see some rain getting in her boom tent, but she looks mostly dry; this makes me happy because tomorrow morning will be easier not having to bail so much water. I observe the sky, smeared rain clouds of different shades ranging from dark gray to such a light white that I can almost see the blue sky behind. The sky has changed so many times today, bringing many different moods, activities, and experiences. We rowed away from the tree we were tied up to last night around 7am. The rain started at 6:30 but by 7 there was a small break. Heading down river with a beach that had been suggested to us by the friendly people in Savanna in mind, we set out with rain jackets and gear tucked away. We didn’t experience any rain during the 4 miles we rowed down river, but as soon as Solvi was pulled up on the beach it began. Starting with light raindrops, then suddenly a torrential downpour, then back to light raindrops. During the less intense rainfall we would move quickly to set up our tent, the boom tent, and get everything we would need in case we had to spend the day in the tent. Once camp was set up as dry as we could make it, we decided to take advantage of the fresh water falling from the sky and shower. It was so refreshing to have fresh rain water to rinse with. I felt like I was taking an actual shower! The raindrops were so big and so often that they soaked us within minutes. I observed all the drops falling on the river. Each individual drop landing on the water’s surface and causing a tiny splash. We caught one more break in the rain and threw the frisbee on the massive beach we had all to ourselves. When the pouring started again we sought refuge in the tent and made some coffee and overdue breakfast. By the time the coffee was steeped I could tell that it was lighter outside. I peeked out the vestibule and it was clear that the sunshine would soon be out and drying our beach. I absolutely loved watching the storm pass by. Within 10 minutes the idea of what our day would be like changed completely. The sky had been so dark and the rain so heavy we expected to stay in the tent the entire day. But as all things do, the storm passed and provided the most magical day we have had thus far. When the sun came out, it came blasting through the clouds. It was such a contrast that we both found ourselves looking out over a quarter mile of beach, hands sprawled behind us like a bird flying in the wind, faces towards the sun, smiling, yelling, and quite literally soaking up the sun with our entire beings.

Kyle spent some time cleaning out the tent from all the rain and sand that had accumulated during the first storm, and I spent my afternoon fiddling with Solvi, doing laundry, making designs in the sand, listening to music real loud, singing, and dancing. Marvelous is an understatement. I probably spent about 2-3 hours washing clothes. We don’t even have that many clothes, but I was just having such a good time. I hung lines up in all directions. From Solvi’s mast to a nearby log, and then across Solvi’s length. I would wash the garment in the water, soap it up, and then go out farther where the water was clearer and rinse. I took my time to splash in the water, spin in circles while dragging a shirt through the water’s surface watching it’s ripple effect. I would then hang the clothes up on the clothes lines and take my time to change their positions, turn them over, and move them around as the sun and wind dried certain areas. In between doing laundry I cleaned Solvi, ran up and down the beach, and took photos. I must mention something very important and special about the day- from 7am until most likely tomorrow, Kyle and I saw absolutely no one. No boats, no people. We are on a huge sandy beach and completely alone. I look down river and see islands, bluffs, and more water for miles and miles. I look up river and can make out the slightest shapes of what is probably a small river town. If I didn’t know better I would think it was just us in the world. We played tag, ran the length of the island, splashed in the shallows, and climbed on top of driftwood and yelled at the top of our lungs for no reason. I have never in my life felt as free as I have felt today. Never have I let go so deeply, so fully. I now understand something I don’t think I fully understood before. I now understand that this is it. It doesn’t matter how far we make it, how much money we have, how many miles we make a day. None of that matters. This is what matters. Revolving our entire day and its activities on the weather and the sunshine. Staring at each other in disbelief of how absolutely wonderful the day has turned out to be. I promise you there is so much to life. There is so much to do, see, explore, and to feel. We must embrace our time here.

Just since I have been writing this the weather has changed yet again. The storm that came this afternoon that we had taken the time to prepare for has already passed, just like the one this morning. Because of that, I have just opened one of the vestibule doors to let the wind in and to look at the sky. The view from the open vestibule door provides two islands, the western shore of the river, the sand of the beach we are on, and some driftwood that has washed up on shore. The sky ranges in colors, to the far East it is a steady gray-blue shade. It then fades to a lighter white, until slowly the clouds open up to a small opening of blue sky. The sun is shining through the clouds to the right of the blue sky, and it creates a glowing within the cloud coverage. The water is mostly calm, but has ripples caused by the current and the wind fighting each other. Just this morning the water was so calm that it was resistant to give way to waves, but this afternoon it is alive with small ripples traveling in all directions. I wonder where everyone is. I don’t think we’ve ever had a day with no boats. The isolation and solitude that has been experienced today causes me to be grateful. The level of isolation we have experienced is part of what caused me to act so freely today. I spent the entire day going on instincts. I was in the middle of making lunch and had an urge to run down the beach to look at a bird. I left the knife I had halfway through a block of Swiss cheese and skipped down the beach to the white egret that was hanging out on a log. After he flew away I went back to making lunch, but there were lots of moments through the day that I acted a bit sporadic and random, simply because I could. I danced and sang to the Beatles’, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and laughed real hard when the line “Picture yourself in a boat on the river!” came out of my mouth. How fitting.

9/8/2016

Didn’t have much motivation to write on this day, so just took some notes:

21 miles today. Most of which were under sail, got some reaching in, but mostly pointing to weather. Had a real fun day though- laughter and light heartedness. Got to a railroad bridge that wasn’t marked for height. Chart said 18’ feet so we thought we could make it, but the mast hit. Good thing we were prepared and were going so slow. No damage of any kind. Called the R.R. Bridge on the radio and they opened for us. Bridge built in 1909- really cool and old. At campsite on Illinois side. On an island and there is a table connected to a tree that Kyle was really excited about- perfect length for cooking without having to bend down. He cooked while I set up camp. Easy going and care free evening. Potatoes and peas- garlic mashed with sweet potato- so incredibly good. Kyle burned garbage and I tidied up Solvi. Sun setting lower and lower behind clouds during the evening. Kyle standing on tip of driftwood playing harmonica in the sunset. Water lapping on shore. Sun bright on the water’s surface. Focusing on doing dishes in the sand bottom river. Harmonica beautiful. Wood burning fills my nose with warm aroma. Bliss. Joy. Easy. Simple. Normal. In the moment. Got in the tent early. Watching sunset through vestibule. Blue sky- baby blue with pink, pink clouds. Some purple, some orange. So vivid. Strong. Bright. Have sunsets always been like this? Or am I just starting to see them differently? Nothing else in my mind. No labeling, no brain chatter, no internal voice. Quiet. Like what I try to accomplish when meditating. Quiet inside, quiet night in tent. No talking. Just going about our evening. In love. Train horn blows. Clouds changing to blue, sky turning pink. Marvelous.image

9/10/2016

Yesterday was a long tiring day of sailing to weather. I am not quite sure why it was so tiring, but we only made about 15 miles and it took all day. The sun was out which helped, but sailing into the wind on a small boat takes a lot of effort and constant attention. We do find it less exhausting than rowing into the wind. We decided to stop at marina before Lock and Dam 14, which is where we were going to camp near. After buying some ice and filling our jugs, we started rowing towards the island near the lock. A couple minutes later a pontoon came up next to us taking photos. Kyle joked, “Hey! That’s a dollar per photo!” They laughed and then asked if we had somewhere to stay for the night. We took them up on their offer to stay at their home. We followed their pontoon across the river to a house right on the water. We were able to pull Solvi up on some rollers and tie her off. We were in Bob’s yard and Judy, his neighbor, offered for us to stay in her spare bedroom. We declined that offer as staying in the tent on dry grass with Solvi nearby sounded more wonderful than staying under a roof. It’s funny, we were offered a shower, bedroom, running water, and we both declined all. Not because we didn’t feel comfortable, but because our tent and the river have slowly become our home. Our normal. Soon after arriving I was on Judy’s golf cart and Kyle was on Bob’s. Cold beers in hand, we were taken on the most wonderful tour of their awesome little neighborhood on the river’s edge. We got to see Judy’s house, their neighbor’s yards, the railroad, and lots of land along the river. The land they live on is owned by the Army Corps but they lease it and then own their homes. Because of that, the area is still really undeveloped and quite unique. I can’t explain how excited I was to be able to take a tour on land. We travel by so many different river communities and I always wonder about them. It was a real treat to actually get to see one and meet folks who live there. Bob and Judy were so incredibly kind to us. They gave us canned tomatoes, salsa, chili, a book, and note we aren’t allowed to open until we get to Missouri. We ended our tour around 7pm and all went our separate ways for the night. This morning they came to say farewell. I am so grateful for the generosity they showed us and all the laughter and conversation. Thank you Bob and Judy!

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Bob and Judy’s

At this moment I am sitting on the starboard bench with my feet outstretched in front of me. We have two reefs in the sail as it’s a bit gusty. Kyle is handling the tiller and the main sheet. We are trying something new today- taking shifts to see if it makes sailing to weather less tiring. Although soon the river turns and we should be able to run with the wind which would be a wonderful treat. We awoke to a gray, blustery, rainy morning. But with the hopes of a north wind and sunshine we headed south. It rained on us while in the lock, but now just 30 minutes later the sunshine is here cloud blasting through the sky. The sail is casting it’s shadow on me, causing me to be in the shade, but the sun is shining real strong on my feet. I can feel the warmth slowly traveling up my body from the tips of my toes. I love the sunshine, especially on blustery days like today. The gusts are pretty strong right now. About 15-20mph. I can hear them howling past the hood of my green rain jacket. My ears are real happy to be covered. The water is a bit choppy and because of the gusts the surface of small waves looks really textured. For some reason when the sun isn’t out I get a tad nervous in these conditions, but with the reefs in and the sun shining bright, I feel safe. Comfortable. Alive!