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 🙂
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.
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!
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!