Zero Day Exploring and a New Route! 

10/20/16

The sky is a steel gray. When the wind blows the ripples on the water’s surface seem angry. The air around is still, but not a calm still, it’s a weary still- a stillness I don’t quite trust. Then suddenly a gust of wind comes rushing around the corner bringing a swooshing sound as it ruffles the tree tops and pushes on my face. There is a tug and barge on the river in front of me that has stopped moving completely, despite being in the middle of the channel. It’s as though it is waiting for something, but what? I look down the beach to my right and see driftwood covered sand, knowing that beyond what I can see is a beach that continues around the point of the island. On this beach are footprints. So many footprints. Beaver, deer, coyote, mice, raccoons, pelicans, birds, and as of this morning, human. Kyle and I spent hours this morning exploring the beach. We began walking, rain jackets on, coffee mugs in hand, and headed south on the island. Exploring driftwood, garbage, mud, rocks, and the various footprints we strolled along enjoying the unknown. Each step, each turn around a bend providing a completely new and untouched area of land to experience. At one point we climbed up a small incline and I found myself sitting down on a smooth piece of driftwood looking in front of me on the sand. “Want to watch T.V.?” I asked Kyle, my tone somber and defeated as we looked at the large, black, plastic, and glass T.V. that had lodged itself upside down in the sand. Disappointed we sat on the log and didn’t talk for a few moments, words weren’t necessary.

Continuing on we rounded a bend and were greeted with the most marvelous view of openness. A massive barren sand bar was protruding from the point on the end of the river’s bend. This sandbar though was blanketed in millions of stones and pebbles of all shapes and sizes, the majority of them being smaller than a clenched fist. Excitedly we scaled the steep edge of the shore before hopping down onto the enormous piece of land. Our bare feet, encapsulated in mud and sand, carefully guided us over the small rocks. For the next 2 hours we walked, a bit cautiously as the rocks were a bit harsh on our soft soles, and searched for treasures within the blanket of stones. Together we filled the pockets of my rain jacket fully with stones, pebbles, oddly shaped pieces of coal, and river glass. I found myself in complete awe of how absolutely raw, pure, and vast the area around me was. It was so massive that when I finally made it to the middle and sat down, I couldn’t even see the river; only blurry smudges of green in the far distance- trees marking the river’s edge. Kyle sat down next me and for a few moments our universe consisted of stones, pebbles, and the ever changing grey skies above. Small water droplets landed on our rain jackets and we watched as they marked the stones next to us, causing just a small stain on the rock’s surface before drying into nothingness. Once my pockets were full and my rain jackets much heavier than when we left, we began the cautious walk back to the muddy sand that would take us back to our camp. Kyle walked in front of me, turning around to laugh every once in a while at the music the rocks and river glass were making in my pockets as I trudged along.

Kyle has made a unique and awesome jug out of a glass bottle and ropes he found along the river. He took the glass bottle, cleaned all the sand and river water from it, and then used the line he found wrapped up in a tree weeks ago to tie around the bottle. It turned out to be a really cool little jug, particularly because the entire thing has been made from recycled garbage along the river. The only thing that is missing is a cork. Right now we are using a carved piece of wood, but it isn’t porous enough and leaks a bit. Therefore, we have been on the search for a cork of some kind. Halfway back from the vast stone beach Kyle turned to me and pointed “Let’s walk down to the river’s edge where all those stones are and see if we can find a cork.” Looking at the shelve of mud that separated me from the water’s edge I agreed and we attempted to walk, very lightly, on the mud. We both failed. Our feet quickly sank into the brown wet mud and we giggled as it squeezed in between our toes very similar to a play dough dispenser. “This was a great idea!” I said half serious as the mud began squirting up and covering my legs. Being that I was already covered I decided to just go for it, and intentionally chose the gooiest looking areas to see how far I would sink. Somewhere along the way Kyle found a large chunk of muddy clay. He was very fascinated and focused on this discovery so I continued walking. Once he caught up he held is clearly very muddy hands behind his back. “Look!” A smiling forming under his blonde mustache. Proudly he held up an actually quite impressive sculpture of a woman holding a basket. He rested it in his muddy palm and I observed the sculpture while the mud began to dry turning from a brown to a grey, showing the lines in his hands intricately.  

Arriving back at camp Kyle made bean and cheese quesadillas while I organized all the noisy treasures in my pocket. It is now about 3:15 and I find myself sitting in my camp chair, feet covered in sand, typing on top of a perfectly round and flat tree stump. I love all the natural tables we find out here on the river. I look up at the sky, hoping that it doesn’t bring too much more rain. I have a date tonight! Kyle and I are going to pack up our small backpack with my tiny backpacking stove, dinner supplies, something to drink, and our colorful tapestry to sit on. We are then going to walk back to the openness we found a mile down the beach and have a picnic on the vast covering of stones. It’s been a fabulous day of exploring while waiting out rain and grey skies. Tomorrow will bring sunshine and north winds as we travel the 26 miles into the town of Helena, Arkansas to resupply and do more research on our new route plan.  

Speaking of a new route, The Atchafalaya River. Who knew it existed?! Not me and my goodness am I grateful it does! Just before the city of Baton Rouge at mile 307 on the Lower Mississippi River there is a right hand turn. Most river travelers continue straight past the right hand turn and into the cities of Baton Rouge and eventually New Orleans. Well considering Baton Rouge/New Orleans Harbor is the busiest inland port in the United States and someone told me, the world, I have pretty much been dreading it. But with this new discovery of the Atchafalaya River we have no worries! If we make this right hand turn at mile 307 we will be greeted with a Lock and Dam, once passing through the Lock and Dam there is a 6 mile canal, and then we are free. In front of us we will 150 miles of river leading to the Gulf of Mexico! And what is so exciting about this discovery is that the Atchafalaya is actually the Mississippi! If the river were allowed to do what it wanted, without human intervention, the Mississippi would turn right and follow this 150 miles stretch to the Gulf. Therefore Kyle and I both are feeling very excited not only to skip the ridiculous industry of the Baton Rouge/New Orleans area, but that we are going with the natural flow of the mighty river. Based on our estimations we will be reaching the Gulf of Mexico in about 3 weeks. We are both so thrilled to find salt water and open bodies of water! We will enjoy these next few weeks immensely as we prepare to start a new stretch of our journey 🙂 Onward!  

P.S. The stretches between towns and Internet are getting longer. Bear with me as I do my best to keep the weekly updates! 

Shipwrecked on a Deserted Island 

Terms explained for those who might not know them:
Dagger board: A vertical foil protruding from the bottom of our sailboat in order to maintain directional stability when sailing against the wind. Without the dagger board instead of the boat moving forward in the direction we are going, it would move sideways. The dagger board is removable and we only have it in when we are sailing into the wind.

Dagger board trunk: A structural box that allows the hole in the bottom of boat, where the dagger board protrudes, to not let in water and supports the dagger board when in use. The trunk has a sealed cap that is water tight.

Wing Dam: A specifically located and manicured pile of rocks protruding into the river in order to direct the flow of current and water as to keep the main channel deep. Usually these are easily seen on the charts and with the naked eye, but in some cases they are under the surface of the water.

10/17/16

I always knew that at some point on this expedition we would be faced with a situation more challenging than anything we had dealt with thus far. But I never knew what it would be or when it would strike. I had no way to know that it would happen in an instant on a sunny beautiful day, so quick, so dramatic. And I never expected it to be so loud, wet, and frightening.

We had been sailing along trouble free as usual all morning, into the wind but enjoying ourselves and the sunshine on our faces. At some points the water was a bit choppy and we got splashed every once in a while, but having fun regardless. Kyle was on the tiller and I was on break, writing and helping to navigate from time to time. “Do you see that tug and barge?” I asked Kyle, observing the smudge in the far distance which due to experience I now know is a push coming up river. “Yep I see it. I’ll tack over once and then we’ll hug the inside of the channel to stay out of his way,” he responded while studying the charts. Because, you see, the U.S. Army Corps has created chart books for the entire river for the tug captains. We bought these charts and after reading the “Rules of the Road” section learned that recreational boats are to stay on the inside of the channel during a bend in the river, and the tugs on the outside because the tugs need the deeper water found there. As usual, we hugged the inside of the channel as the massive tug and barge began to pass us. But then something strange happened, he began to get really close to the inside of the channel, causing Kyle to have to leave the channel completely. At that moment we looked forward to the large wing dam that was getting closer and closer. “Maybe I should lift the dagger board so we don’t run aground,” I said hesitantly. “Yeah, get ready to do that just in case.” So I removed my seat, pulled back the bungees holding down the sealed cap, removed the lid, and grabbed the orange handle of the dagger board prepared to remove it from the trunk at a moments notice.

“Shit..I am losing steerage,” Kyle said with the slightest bit of panic in his voice.

“Kyle! That…” And then it happened. The most awful, grinding, raw sound- wood splintering, fiberglass tearing, and water suddenly rushing- it was the most shocking noise I have ever heard. The wing dam was still 50 feet in front of us, what was happening?! I yanked and tugged on the dagger board trying to pull it up, but the rubble on the river’s floor had taken it, held on to it. But while it held the board still in its harsh grip, Solvi kept moving and that’s when the water really started. “Kyle! I can’t get it up! Where is the water coming…” I trailed off because it became clear that the entire trunk had began to separate from the bottom of the boat creating a gaping hole, angry spitting gallons of water into the boat. Suddenly the entire boat was filling with brown river water. Everything was floating in the murky cool water and I still couldn’t remove the damn dagger board. Kyle had always told me that even if Solvi was full of water she would never sink, but it was truly nothing I ever wished to test. “Come to this side! Get on this side!” Kyle shouted as Solvi began to heel almost all the way over. Kyle had stepped out of the boat, his food finding one of the jagged rocks that had grabbed the dagger board moments before trying to fight against the current. 

“Kyle..the whole boat broke! Open!..the whole thing..there’s a big hole..the water.. It’s .. Water filling… Sinking!” I sputtered incomplete sentences, frantic in my words but completely calm in my actions as I tugged in vain at the board. 

Kyle grabbed the orange handle to help and I still can’t remember who eventually removed the dagger board, but once it was out of its trunk Solvi began to right herself and sat up right. The current was still pushing us downstream and the water poured into the boat from around the trunk, almost reaching the tops of benches before I found the bailing bucket floating amidst the GPS, radio, charts, journals, and water bottles. The sail was still up and the oars tied off. Kyle got the sail down while untying the oars; I swear he did both things at the same time (I later found out it was I who untied the oars which gives a perspective on how intense the situation was that I forgot my own actions completely). I kept bailing the endless pool of water, each bucketful being dumped overboard and by the time I got the bucket empty, another gallon of water pushed its way through the angry hole in the bottom of our boat. Once Kyle started rowing we looked around, hoping to find a nearby sandbar. Fortunately, there was a perfect, sandy, flat island 200 yards away. Kyle rowed each stroke heavy and difficult due to the water that was up to our knees. I kept bailing, not making progress exactly, but countering the water that was flowing in from the hole. Eventually we made it to shore and were able to get out of the boat and stand in the sand, water up to our ankles. We both sighed, looked up river to the tug boat that did not seem to have any idea what had happened, or didn’t care. We went over what the next steps would be: Step 1. Remove everything from inside the boat, except what is in the sealed tank lockers. Step 2. Pull Solvi up on both rollers and bail water. Step 3. Assess damage and figure out necessary repairs. Step 4. Laugh really hard, then cry really hard (okay maybe that was only me), then hug and laugh again before starting the repair and dry out process.

Within 30 minutes of arriving at what will be our home for a few days, one section of the beach was awash in a variety of colors. Clothes, our sleeping bag, the sail, our chairs, water jugs, tent, rainfly, and other various objects were strewn about drying, once again, in the sunshine filled breeze. Kyle was rigging some stakes deep in the sand in order to use lines from Solvi’s mast to tilt her on the side, giving him access to the bottom of the boat. I was running all about organizing and fiddling to make this island a comfortable home for a few days. For a moment I noticed that Kyle and I both had stopped what we were doing to just breathe and observe our surroundings. I noticed the iPod and speaker next to me and smiled deep from within as I excitedly browsed the iPod for the song I had in mind. Moments later the opening lines to a sea shanty came blaring from the speaker, they sang… “Shipwrecked on a stormy island! Shipwrecked on a stormy island!” And that was it, the tip of the ice burg came crumbling down as we roared with laughter, hollered, and fully let go of any tension that was being held about the entire situation.

Part of the reason Kyle and I feel capable of taking on excursions such as the journey we are on, is because together we are incredibly prepared. What is required to fix damage as intense as the one we have suffered? Well, fiberglass, epoxy, resin, wood glue, sand paper, screws, a screw driver, spare cedar, a hatchet, fumed silica, hack saw blades, and one patient and experienced boat-repair man. And lucky for us, we carry all the above in our small little boat. Therefore, we will spend the next few days on this island, preparing Solvi to what will hopefully be stronger and even better than before.

10/17/16

What a beautiful night we had last night! After we had Solvi pulled up and safe, Kyle began assessing the damage further and started in on the sanding, sawing, and prepping that would need to take place before the major repairs could happen. While he did this I collected firewood, got stuff ready for dinner, and made sure our camp was safe and comfortable from the relentless wind. Usually we choose our camping spots based on the wind direction when the wind is as high as its been, but considering our circumstances yesterday, we didn’t have time to be picky. Therefore we are on a wonderful sandy island, but it is completely exposed to the 15mph southerly breeze that has been blowing consistently since yesterday afternoon. To deal with this we have various barriers around our tent and cooking area to prevent the sand that the wind blows everywhere… And I mean everywhere! Anyway, once Kyle was done fiddling and the sun started setting, we decided it was time to celebrate. I know it might sound odd to celebrate an occasion such as the one we were in, but come on, how many times in your life do you find yourself shipwrecked on a deserted island?! We are 30 miles from any town in both directions and our boat has a big hole in it; but we have two weeks worth of food and water and all the supplies necessary to fix the boat so neither of us were feeling any sort of worry or stress, in fact we were feeling exhilarated! Alive! Free! We drank boxed wine while cooking veggie brats, baked potatoes, and green beans over the fire. Hours passed and we found ourselves giggling, reflecting, and re-living the event while also discussing what we will do from now on to avoid such situations. Our reflection of the event brought us all the way back to the build of the boat; how arduous, ridiculous, and actually how miraculous the entire build and journey process has been. Our hands met in a high-five over the fire about how we had everything we need to fix the boat and how thankful we are to be prepared. While we were engrossed in conversation the trees across the river came to life, they were on fire with an orange glow. After staring for a few moments in confusion, the reason for the trees seeming to be on fire became evident. The moon, monstrous, orange, glowing, and completely full came rising from the behind the now dark trees. Suddenly our dark beach became aglow in moonlight. Kyle jumped out of his seat and grabbed the frisbee. We spent an hour running around the beach in the moonlight, throwing the frisbee, laughing, and taking breaks to chat and sip on our wine, sharing with each other that there is no one else in the world we would rather be shipwrecked on an island with.

This morning I awoke to sunshine and strong winds. My head ached a bit from lingering red wine. Knowing that we had a lot of work to do, we took our time to enjoy our morning before delving into the gritty work of repairing the boat. I made delicious omelettes with cheese, basil, onion and garlic, which we put in a tortilla with hummus and cabbage. Sipping on hot coffee my head quickly found relief and I was ready for the day. The majority of the day was spent sanding (so fun!) and prepping the boat for epoxy and fiberglass. It was time consuming, exhausting, and dusty, but we were both just feeling so grateful we could even make the repairs in the first place that it didn’t really matter. I took breaks to do laundry, make lunch, and re-arrange camp based on the wind changing directions. It is now 5:30pm and we are proud to say that we have a working boat, without a gaping hole, and are no longer shipwrecked. The repair went extremely well and tomorrow will only make it better. Tomorrow we will add fiberglass tabs, finish the bulkhead repair, and add a cedar board which didn’t exist before and will make the boat stronger (I should mention that we found the extra cedar in a pile of driftwood..thanks River!) Last we will varnish in order to make her look pretty again and by the following day we will be ready to continue on with our journey as planned!

Whew. What a crazy experience this has all been. Now that I have really had some time to reflect on the situation, I must say it was scary, exciting, and quite the learning experience. There is something about it that I can’t seem to shake. I will do my best to articulate what I mean, but words escape me as I attempt to explain. When it all happened, Solvi running aground and her dagger board braking the bottom of the boat open, when the water began flowing in and I realized we were very quickly filling with water from the bottom up, I was more alive than I have ever been in my life. My senses were so incredibly heightened and my mind more present than I even knew was possible. Everything was happening so quickly and if Kyle and I didn’t work together and approach the situation correctly, things could have gone much worse. And somehow, without even conversing, we both knew exactly what to do. It was as though the rest of the world ceased to exist. For a couple minutes, there was nothing else in the universe but Solvi filling with water and Kyle and I working to save her from any further damage. Each splintering noise as the fiberglass cracked was sharp, loud, and it was as though I could hear each individual strand of fiberglass splitting. The grinding noise the rocks created on her dagger board was crisp, clear, and raw. River water that I have become so accustomed to was now much more intimate as its cool, brown consistency began flowing over my legs. Kyle’s voice, his words and actions, more important than ever before. My conscious mind didn’t have time to process all of the chaos so instead my subconscious worked on its own- untying the oars and getting them ready for Kyle to row was an action I completed without having any idea I did it. Each movement, sound, and splash of water became so vivid and real that I was completely mindful of the present moment. My past and future self ceased to exist while my present self lived fully in the moment. And that right there, the mindfulness I experienced during the situation, is why we adventure! It’s why we do things and go on journeys that may seem odd to others. The reason why we push ourselves to our very limits and put ourselves in vulnerable situations. We choose to live in a way that induces suffering, challenge, difficulty, and discomfort. We do this because it causes us to feel more alive than we do when living in a secure routine. My limits were tested, my ability to deal with what could have been a crisis was challenged- and I succeeded! We took an uncomfortable and frightening event and celebrated! We pushed through and are now stronger, braver, and a better team because of it. That is why we take these adventures, these journeys- to live fully in the present moment.

P.R. (Post Repair)

10/20/16

We spent 3 days on our exposed beautiful sandbar doing repairs and getting Solvi back to her non-holed self. The repairs required a lot of sanding and because we were using fast epoxy we had to move very quickly when applying the fiberglass tabs. Due to being on a sandbar, in the sun, with wind blowing 15mph it proved to be an interesting repair. We set up a wind blocker and sun shade using Solvi’s sail; this is where I set up my epoxy mixing and fiberglass wetting area. Using a milk crate that we found buried in the sand and some random plastic I was able to create a nice little mixing station protected from the sun and wind. The hour that we spent using wet epoxy and applying fiberglass to the boat was intense and entertaining. Kyle would take a wetted piece of fiberglass from me and then run, full speed, over to the boat. He would then quickly apply the fiberglass before the epoxy started kicking while I was yelling at him to hurry back over before the batch of epoxy I was using kicked. Sand was blowing everywhere and I giggled about how different a field repair is to using a calm, dry, controlled environment like a garage. It was actually fun and similar to the original incident during the entire repair process nothing else was going through my mind. Focused. Anyway, we added an extra cedar board which should, in theory, make it so that if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation the dagger board itself, not the trunk and bottom of the boat, will break (which is what was supposed to happen before but the dagger board was too strong). Overall the repair went incredibly well. Kyle was giddy about how well it went considering our circumstances; I loved seeing him so proud and excited. I was also quite impressed and just feeling so thankful we were able to do such a good job while being on an island far from any development. Besides it not looking quite as cosmetically appealing, Solvi is stronger than before and ready to go!

After applying a coat of varnish for epoxy protection and to bring the whole repair together, we left yesterday afternoon around 2pm. Once Solvi was back in the water Kyle and I stood together in the shallow water of the beach, looking toward where our elaborate camp was set up just hours before. We smiled and felt proud that the only thing we left behind were footprints and designs in the sand that would soon be washed away with wind and rain, leaving no trace of us. Due to the conditions and wind direction we rowed about 17 miles before the sun started to set. Knowing that there was a thunderstorm or two scheduled for last night and today, we planned our camping spot accordingly. It felt really good to be back out on the river, especially since no water came pouring in through the bottom of the boat. “Success!” we yelled while high-fiving after traveling all afternoon in Solvi for the first time since the incident. Feeling confidant and ready to continue on, we are looking forward to what adventures and challenges we have in our future.

River Rats take on Memphis

10/14/16 

We awoke to find ourselves encapsulated in a thick fog, so dense I felt I could grab a piece and put it in the pocket of my green cargo shorts. Walking to the river’s edge near Solvi I peered down river to where Memphis was the night before, but saw only a faded bridge- the city disappeared, engulfed in the same fog that surrounded me. We went about our morning as usual, knowing that the fog would lift soon as it usually does. By the time we got going to make the final 3 mile row into Memphis the fog had lifted, leaving only a slight mist that filled the air. Our destination was the Memphis Yacht Club on Mud River Island where we were really hoping they would let us stay for a night so that we didn’t have to try to find a spot to hide the boat in such a big city. Fortunately once we arrived, bought ice, and filled our water jugs the marina manager said that they had a slip we could tie Solvi up in and stay for the night. It turned out to be a 50 foot slip, and we joked about complaining that they didn’t give us a big enough slip 🙂 We got Solvi all situated in her large slip and quickly put the boom tent up to prepare for the scheduled thunderstorms. Once Solvi was secure and ready for rain, Kyle and I gathered a small backpack with lunch, rain jackets, the iPad, and camera and headed for the city. As soon as we left the marina we arrived at Mud Island Park which is a large park that has what they call River Walk. River Walk is a massive carved River sculpture that flows in the ground through the park. It was fun because we were able to walk from The Ohio River to New Orleans via this River Walk. Despite the steel grey skies and consistent drizzle there were still a lot of people at the park. And this is something I was not used to or even really ready for. I was amazed at how quick, loud, and excited all the people at the park were. Kids running in all directions, parents and chaperones following close behind with smart phones out as to capture all the moments in their digital memory. Loud pop music blaring from the speakers that made it hard to think straight. Then we reached the edge of the park and could see into the actual city and the buildings all just seemed so immense, so man-made. It was strange. Before we left the park to head into the city we found a restroom. I walked into the restroom and just sort of stood there for a second. The stalls, toilets, water fountain, and sink all seemed so foreign. I turned and was surprised to see myself, in a full length mirror. A mirror! What an odd thing, I haven’t looked in a mirror probably since we left. And this was a full body mirror, which fascinated me for a few moments. I looked at my reflection and was quite shocked by what I saw. My leggings were baggy, my face thin, my body the most fit I have ever seen it. I guess I can thank rowing for that! I looked at myself in the reflection for a few more moments before using the bathroom and washing my hands. Why is there a mirror over the sink? Why do we need to look at ourselves while we wash our hands? I would much rather have a window to look through or a quote to read. Anyway, after leaving the restroom Kyle and I began the walk across from Mud Island into downtown. While we walked I kept getting a whiff of a foreign unfamiliar smell. “What is that smell?” I kept asking. I eventually traced it back to my hands! It was from the soap- the soap in the bathroom was scented and filled with chemicals. I found it harsh compared to the biodegradable soap and river water I was used to.

Once downtown we began walking aimlessly. We had no plans other than to find Thai food and Beale Street that evening and it was only 10am. I found myself completely overwhelmed with over stimulation. Thankfully I have Kyle on my team and he navigated us through the big city. Ending up at a coffee shop we sat in a quiet corner and used wifi while sipping on black coffee for a few hours. Leaving the coffee shop we did the tourist thing for a little, walking from shop to shop, checking out the Blues Hall of Fame, and enjoying all the murals along Main Street. Overall it was a fun afternoon, but I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling of displacement. I felt out of place and a bit uncomfortable with all the buildings, cement, square blocks, cars, and artificial noises and lights. Wanting to really enjoy Memphis and our time there I did my best to work through these feelings and let them go, so that I could be fully in the moment for the rest of our time in the city. That evening we made our way to a Thai Bistro and had the most delicious Thai food I have ever had. Kyle ordered a Yeung Yling which he has been craving since we left the South while I ordered a glass of wine. We sat in the restaurant for a couple hours slowly eating and enjoying our drinks before heading to Beale Street to find some blues and jazz music.

Talk about over-stimulation! We hadn’t even made the right hand turn from Main Street to Beale Street and I stopped in my tracks in awe of all the lights and people. Kyle grabbed my hand knowing I was overwhelmed and we headed into the chaos. It turned out to be a wonderful night partying on Beale Street. We saw at least three different blues bands, checked out B.B. King’s Club and made some friends from Europe. Used to going to bed by 8pm, I found myself fighting to stay awake, but I made it all the way until 11pm before we called an Uber to get a ride back to the marina. That night we were greeted with a thunderstorm that brought torrential rain. We had never slept in the boat under the boom tent in a rain storm before, and I am proud to say that other than some droplets caused by reflection, everything stayed dry! The following morning we awoke to rain, gray skies, and more thunderstorms on the radar. The marina manager offered us another night at the yacht club so that we didn’t have to take off in bad weather. Thanks Andy!  

When we arrived at the yacht club the day before we met Captain Mark. He hadn’t even met us for five minutes before he offered to drive us to the grocery store the following morning. Being that he is a captain and has travelled by boat a lot, he realized the importance of a grocery store, especially since we had a 200 mile stretch before our next re-supply. We took him up on his offer and on Friday morning got in Captain Mark’s truck with his wife Janice and headed to Kroger. Kyle and I were like little kids at Christmas. A real grocery store! They even had tofurkey and veggie brats! Kombucha and fresh veggies and hummus! It was glorious. We all climbed back into the truck, our groceries safely tucked away in the truck bed.. And not on our backs! Kyle and I were so incredibly grateful. Thank you Captain Mark and Janice. We had a wonderful time together and really appreciate the errand.

Due to my exposure of the city the day before I was feeling ready to explore and after unloading all the groceries we headed back over the bridge. This time we headed for a massive glass pyramid that turned out to be a Bass Pro Shop. But this store was like nothing I had ever seen- it had a restaurant, a bar, an aquarium, open water with huge fish, a 10$ elevator ride, and endless amounts of merchandise. We spent over an hour and a half in the store just because there was so much to look at and check out. Leaving Bass Pro we headed back to Main Street and Beale Street where we had Chinese food and found the most awesome blues/jazz band I have ever heard. Sitting at a table in the Blues Café surrounded by Kyle and the three girls who I had just offered to sit at our table because there weren’t any other seats, I found myself smiling and laughing inside about how incredibly different I felt. I went from feeling completely displaced the day before, to finding extreme relaxation. It was as though all the tension and discomfort of the previous day melted away and I looked around at all the different people from literally around the world, sitting together in a crowded bar listening to the most amazing live music I have ever heard. The labels, stereotypes, backgrounds, baggage, and judgements we seem to carry as humans dissipated as the drummer, pianist, horn player, and harmonica blew us all away. We were all there together, as humans. As one- brought together by sounds and music that can’t be expressed in words.  

10/15/16

 
After spending our morning yesterday saying our goodbyes to the friendly folks at the yacht club and filling our water jugs to the tippy top, we rowed away from Memphis. The sun was out which was a total motivator after 3-4 days of gray skies and rain. Kyle and I rowed about 10 miles until the buildings, bridges, and barge docks were around a river bend and out of our site. We both looked forward at the rugged river and smiled gratefully that no development could be seen on the shorelines. No buildings, houses, cars moving way too fast, or hustle bustle. “It feels good to be back on the river,” Kyle said in a humbling way. We had only been away for two days, but those days were filled with so much sensory and over-stimulation that it felt much longer.  

I found myself feeling disorganized and a bit anxious that everything in the boat was damp, smelly, and sort of just stuffed into lockers. Having such a long stretch in front of us, I had an urge to get more organized and “prepared”, even though we probably couldn’t be more prepared if we tried. Because of these feelings Kyle and I decided to stop for the day and take advantage of the sunshine and breeze. I spent the entire afternoon taking everything out of the boat and hanging each item on the hefty clothes line Kyle set up for me. I then took everything out of the lockers and cleaned and re-organized them. Feeling much better that our gear was now clean, dried, and organized we took our evening stroll on the beach. Burritos over the fire, interesting and thought-provoking conversations, and a full moon rising in front of us, we were thankful to be back home.  

This morning started out cloudy, but by 8am the clouds began to lighten and around 8:30 the gray sky split showing a sliver of blue sky. Moments later the sun showed through the sliver and seem to slowly dry all the clouds until they withered away leaving blue sky in their dust. The wind is blowing from the south, which to us means a 40 mile day of sailing into the wind. That’s okay though, it has seemed to be the norm on this journey and in reality is making us both better sailors. We have been forced to become so intimate with our environment. Often when I am on the tiller sailing into the wind, the world goes from being vast and filled with different thoughts and experiences, to a narrow channel of mindfulness. The main sheet in my left hand and the tiller in my right, I am focusing fully on Solvi’s sail trim, the channel markers, the shore line, and any potential hazards in my future path. I observe the water’s surface and release the main sheet moments before the gust even arrives. A gust is shown on the water’s surface as small, fast moving ripples; they are a warning to prepare for a strong push of wind. Reading the river’s bends like a familiar book, knowing that when I turn the page there will be a sandbar on the inside of the corner and I should tack over.  

The sun exuding its warmth on my shoulders as Trampled by Turtles is blaring from our speaker, causing my foot to shake in rhythm with the beat. My lips turn upward as I listen, fascinated with the strings being picked by the various string instruments. Kyle’s deep, smooth voice humming and gently singing along to the familiar lines. The wind comes rushing up the river, being funneled by the river valley and causes my hat to blow off my head, leaving it flapping around my neck. We are so isolated out here, nothing around to suggest human life. The harsh reality that there is a city 15 miles north is easily forgotten when all I see is sand, trees, and the deep brown of the muddy river. The city of Memphis provided us a wonderful time and break from the river, but as I stare downstream at the sun glistening on the surface and observe the ripples left from a fish flying out of the water before splashing back down, I am happy to be back in my element 🙂  

Lots of Sailing and Hello Fall! 

10/11/16

Yesterday was another day of completing our miles under sail. We awoke on the boat on the sand bar, happy to find the water had not risen, and after breakfast took off around 10am. I was on first shift and was proud of myself for some tricky navigating caused by sailing into the wind with a tug boat coming around a bend. With Kyle’s encouragement I was able to successfully keep us out of the tug’s way while still sailing the boat efficiently. The day went quickly and by 3pm we had reached our 30 miles and stopped on another massive sandy island. This particular island was a bit unique because the ground is a vast covering of dried and cracked mud. Some plants are really trying to grow through the tough mud, but it is mostly barren. I had some fun taking photos for a bit while Kyle worked in his notebook. We again set up camp a little different last night. Kyle was setting up our boom tent as a sun shade and when I got inside said excitedly, ‘I want to sleep in here!” Ten minutes later our bed was all set up on the dried cracked dirt. It was a sweet set up because our bed, chair, and cooking stuff all fit under the tarp, but it still provides the feeling of cowboy camping since it is completely open to the outside. I was pretty excited about the set up. In fact, as I write this, I am laying surrounded by blankets on our sleeping pads which are on the dirt. Even though I am under the tarp the sun is shining on my face and due to being exposed to the outside I feel much more intimate with the natural world around me. Kyle is in his camp chair in front of me cooking grits and brewing hot Colombian coffee which smells wonderful. I think I like this set up because I feel like I am in a fort 🙂  

Last night before having a fire and cooking dinner we went on our usual exploration of the island. This time we were in for quite the treat! As we traversed the side of the island we kept finding beaver tracks and then in the trees above saw areas where beavers had downed whole trees. The shoreline got steep so we were scaling the side holding onto exposed roots when suddenly I saw a brown blob slide down the shoreline 10 feet in front of me and land in the water with a large splash. “What was that?!” Kyle asked and before I could answer a second brown blob started sliding down; this time much slower allowing the image of a beaver to crystallize in front of us before it plopped into the water below. I had never seen a beaver so close! It was spectacular. We both felt sort of bad for scaring them and messing with their evening so we turned back and headed towards camp. The sky again lit up with vivid colors, this time so much red and pink the sky looked like it was on fire.  

Kyle just informed me the coffee is hot and ready. I smile in anticipation of holding the mug in both hands while inhaling the aromatic steam. There is a breeze providing a bit of chill in the air but the sun is shining boldly, countering the chill. I look forward to launching Solvi in the water and seeing how far the river takes us today.  

11:30am: I just handed over the helm to Kyle who will now take an hour turn of sailing us into the wind. Usually sailing into the wind is a bit tedious, but today I am having a blast. The river is real wide and the land surrounding the carved river valley is steep, tall, and beautiful. The water is a bit choppy which provides some excitement as Solvi’s bow crashes down into the troughs of the steeper waves. Her foredeck gets splashed but we are dry in the cockpit. A tug pushing 49 barges just passed us and created a couple of 3-4ft. waves. I had so much fun sailing Solvi up and over them while trying to keep Kyle dry in the front of the cockpit. The sun is shining real bright and it is causing the surface of the water to glisten, sort of like a sparkle. Wearing black leggings, a pink long sleeve, and my sun hat the temperature could not be more comfortable. The wind countering the heat of the sun. Because we are sailing into the wind Solvi is rather heeled over, I sit on the high side of the boat to counter the heel a bit with my weight. Every once in a while an outrigger dips in the water and I wait for Kyle to release the sheet to reduce the heel by letting out some sail.  

A curious thing happened this morning as we left our sandy island. We rowed out into the channel and then a mile down river until we reached a 90 degree right hand turn. Once we rowed around the bend we were greeted by a vastness of the river and shoreline we have not seen in a while. The river was wide and on one side a sand and clay filled bluff scattered with trees and vegetation on the top protruded quite high in the sky. And then suddenly I looked around and it was fall! The leaves were not the luscious green we have been seeing, but instead different shades of green with some yellow, orange, and reds. Now it is nothing like I am used to coming from Utah, but compared to what we’ve been seeing it felt like we literally rowed from summer into fall with one bend in the river. The change of landscape and temperature adds to this effect. Because of what feels like this sudden change, I find myself filled with a warm and tranquil feeling as I sip my coffee on this sunny fall morning.  

10/12/16 

At this moment I find myself sitting on a sandbar four miles North of Memphis, TN. We arrived this afternoon after completing about 16 miles, which was a nice half day compared to our usual 30! We are stopped outside of Memphis so that we can go in first thing in the morning and hopefully spend the entire day, if not two. We are both really looking forward to exploring this city, particularly because of the music history. Across from us is a barge dock that is busy and making lots of noise. I can see the city with the tall buildings, big bridges, and cars moving very fast. Honestly, I find it all a bit overwhelming after spending so much time in isolation and solitude out here on this empty river. Besides tug boats, we see absolutely no one. No boats, no people, nobody on sand bars. It seems to be just us out here on this mighty river and our pace of life has slowed so incredibly much that seeing airplanes flying full speed and cars driving 70 causes me a bit of uneasiness. Because of this I am feeling grateful that we stopped just outside of the city before going in. This way, we can have time to observe the hustle bustle from afar before diving right into it. It’s an interesting thing, living away from society for two months. I think it’s a part of traveling on such journeys and expeditions that many people don’t discuss. When you hear of someone going on a grand adventure, what happens after is often not heard of. Adjusting back into a society as busy and technology reliant as ours is a huge change and definitely takes some time. It took me almost two months to feel normal after spending three and a half months on the Appalachian Trail. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like after 6 months on the water! So because of the uneasiness and overwhelming feeling I get from just looking at a big city, I am very curious to see how the next few days pan out. I am sure they will be an adventure in themselves and as always I am looking forward to it. Onward!  

Runaway Rollers and Flying Fish

10/9/16

The black ink from my z-grip pen is a stark contrast to the crisp white pages of my new Mead 5-Star notebook. I love the possibilities all these blank pages of my new journal provide. I flip through them gently, imagining the unwritten words on the faded blue lines. What will fill the pages? Thoughts, notes, the outline of the children’s book or novel I hope to write, lists, doodles, observations? Whatever it may be, I look forward to the journey filling these pages will take me on.  

In front of me I see the glistening surface of the river as Solvi’s bow surges through the water. Our tan bark sail with one reef is full of a northeast breeze. Kyle, sitting behind me, is singing sea shanties as he lets the main sheet in and out for the gusts, controlling the heel of the boat. Caruthersville, MO Is behind us and Memphis, TN is about 4 days in front of us. There aren’t really any towns or marinas between the two places so we are full of 14 gallons of water and over a weeks worth of food. The river at the moment is clear of tugs and barges besides the 42 barge push that just passed us. One tug boat spitting black smoke in the clean air, pushing 42 empty barges up river is not a force to be messed with. Therefore we stayed just outside the channel walking the line of our daggerboard running aground and staying out of the tugs way. Fortunately exposure and experience has made such situations fairly simple to handle, but we still take them seriously and don’t allow ourselves to relax fully until the black smoke is lingering behind us.  

Kyle is giggling and cheering behind me, distracting me from my notebook, as he informs me that we are traveling 9.5 knots down the river in the gusts. That is extremely fast. The river just made a turn in our favor and we are now running down wind; the wind is coming from behind us, filling the sail entirely and allowing us to sail without changing course. Add the 3 knot current and the gusts and you get a tremendously happy sailor singing and giggling with pure joy.  

Yesterday we took another zero day, traveling only from part of our sand bar to another to find shelter from the blustery wind. The day before had been spent in the town of Caruthersville, re-supplying on food and water so we had everything we needed for a relaxing day on a sand bar. Not surprisingly, the re-supplying was yet another adventure in itself. We found a somewhat sandy shore just down from a town park to pull Solvi up and hide her in the trees. The shoreline was scattered with large rocks of varying sizes so we had to be cautious when pulling Solvi up on her roller. Next we dug out our backpacks from the bow locker and began the mile and a half journey to the grocery store. The walk to the store, with empty packs, is always quite fun. Observing the different stores, houses, and landscapes of a new town. The walk back, however, is not quite as enjoyable due to the 40lbs. on our backs.  

Once back to the park we headed down to the shoreline where Solvi was waiting. But in order to reach Solvi we had to careen down a rock wall called a revetment. It was installed by the Army Corps and helps prevent erosion and flooding when the river level rises. It is basically just a steep incline layered with boulders. Well, walking down unsettled boulders with 40lbs. on your back is not very ideal. If you have never done it, I highly suggest you continue to avoid such a situation. We, on the other hand, didn’t have a choice and as I found myself loosing my balance and hurtling towards the rock covered ground in an uncontrolled fall, it dawned on me that this wasn’t the best of ideas. I recovered quickly from my fall, taking Kyle’s hand and then brushing by him as though I hadn’t just landed on a bunch of rocks with 40lbs. on my back. The adult in me was embarrassed. The child in me wanted to cry. The combination led to a reaction of “tough girl” ignoring the pain and blood until out of view of any potential onlookers. In reality I was only left with a couple of scrapes and one large, angry bump on my arm which I’m sure will break out into an array of bruised colors before healing fully. Once back at the boat we unloaded the groceries and grabbed our water jugs to begin the hunt for a faucet, hopefully within a quarter mile because carrying 100lbs. of water for any distance is another thing I would suggest for one to avoid if possible. The park, to our disappointment, did not have any running water. Therefore we had to venture on, every step we took farther from the boat weighing on us because we knew that meant more steps carrying heavy water. Soon after the park I spotted a spicket on the side of a building. And that spicket is the reason a bank manager found a tall, blue eyed fellow with a mustache and river clothes standing in front of him asking, “Could I by chance use your hose spicket outsides to fill our water jugs? My wife and I are traveling down the river and..” The bank manger smiled real big and said, “Why of course!” and walked outside with Kyle where they found me awkwardly waiting with 7 water jugs. His name was Lindsey and he was an extremely kind guy who chatted with us while we filled our jugs on the side of his bank and gave suggestions on where we go to find WiFi. Once the jugs were full we headed back, once again, to the boulders but this time taking a different route which wasn’t ideal but didn’t end with anyone landing on rocks!  

The rest of our time in Caruthersville was spent using WiFi at a family owned restaurant named Mike and Jean’s Piece of Heaven. There we met both Mike and Jean and they told us about all the other river travelers who have stopped in at their restaurant. Mike took our picture in front of the restaurant and offered for us to take his truck into town to re-supply. We laughed and declined, but joked about wishing we would have met him earlier. We said our goodbyes to Caruthersville as we rowed the quarter mile across the river to a sandbar as the sun set beyond the horizon.  

The night on the sandbar proved to be a bit restless due to the 15mph winds that arrived around midnight. Some of the gusts would not only shake our rainfly vigorously but would bring handfuls of sand under the rainfly and into our tent. Lovely. The following morning the wind picked up even more and halfway through packing up and eating breakfast we made the decision to take another zero. But due to our exposure on the open sandbar we decided to move Solvi about 200ft. across a little slough to another sandbar that had tree protection from the wind. Just as we were about ready to move, Kyle came running back from where he was doing the dishes, no dishes in hand, and began taking off his shirt in a distraught hurry. “What are you doing!?” 

 “I have to go swimming” he responded while stripping to his boxers. I paused for a second and looked around, it was cold, windy, and the water where we were located was full of strong currents and eddies. “Wait! Why?!” I asked with great curiosity. Kyle pointed to an eddie a couple hundred feet from our beach. Floating in circles and being spun all about was one of our AIRE rollers. Before I continue with the events that followed this sad discovery let me explain the importance of these rollers.

Our good friend Dan very generously sent us two rollers made by the company AIRE. When deflated they are about a 1ft. by 6in. cylinder, making them very easy to store. They have a pump, which we store in the foredeck, that is very powerful. Once pumped up they are approximately a 10in. by 5ft. cylinder. Being rubber reinforced nylon, similar to what you’d find on a white water raft, they are extremely durable and once pumped up can withstand hundreds of pounds. We are able to pull Solvi up on these rollers so that she is 100% out of the water. This is amazing for a few reasons. One being that every night she is dry on the sand or mud so we don’t have to worry about her getting away or being beat up by waves crashing on the shore. Another reason being that once pulled up we don’t have to walk in the water to access the lockers and the inside of the boat. Last, we are regularly able to inspect her hull for any potential damage. We have found these rollers to be one of the most important pieces of our gear and honestly the entire trip would be different had we not had them. Now usually we only use one roller, and when we do use two the boat is left resting on both of them. But this particular sand bar was rather muddy at the edge and required us to get creative. We ended up using both rollers to pull her up, but then left her resting on just one. We hadn’t expected the increased wind and well quite frankly made a thoughtless mistake and left one roller, inflated, laying on the beach by our tent.  

So back to the moment in which Kyle decided swimming in the current and eddie ridden waters was a good idea to retrieve our beloved roller. “Kyle, stop! You are NOT going swimming.” He looked at me, the roller, and then back at me rather defeated. “Leave me and all our stuff here and use Solvi to get the roller,” I barked as I put his oars in their oar locks. Dressing, Kyle agreed and quickly launched Solvi back into the water. He then rowed to the roller, retrieved it, and headed back to where I was standing in my leggings, jacket, long sleeve, hat, and socks. “Aren’t you happy you didn’t go swimming?!” I said, probably completely unnecessarily. “Yes…. Thank you for talking me out of that idea…” We hugged, laughed, and then thanked the universe for teaching us a lesson without us having to lose the roller completely to learn it. I can promise you, never again will those rollers be found not tied to the boat 🙂  

After the excitement of the run away roller we moved to a spot mostly protected from the blustery gusts of the wind. We cleaned the boat, set up camp, and then found ourselves having the most relaxing, lazy, and restful day we have had in a while. Laying our cotton tapestry down and using books, shoes, and water bottles to hold the corners down from the wind that did push through the trees, we then set up our boom tent as a sun shade and draped our bug net under that to find relief from biting flies (Which by the way aren’t actually biting, they are in fact puking an acid on your skin in order to break down the skin and eat the nutrients. Cute.) There we spent the entire day in a slumber of relaxation filled with reading, lounging, napping, calling friends, and laughing at the flies who couldn’t reach us through the bug net. It was romantic, fun and quite marvelous.  

10/10/16  

After a day of lounging in the sand we took off yesterday morning around 9am. We rowed out from the slough we were camping in and as soon as we arrived to the main channel were greeted by a following wind. The entire day was spent sailing in the open river with the sunshine on our faces. 35 miles later we stopped on a sandy shore. While navigating in the small cove created by wing dams we decided on a place to land when all of the sudden a massive fish came flying out of the water, breaking through the surface with great exertion before ramming my oar blade and crashing back into the water. Frightened I found myself standing when another one came roaring through the water landing on the aft deck before sliding off from its own slime. Three more jumped around the boat and suddenly one was flying through the air aiming directly at the foredeck. This time the fish landed inside the sail that was resting on the foredeck, the sail creating a hammock where the massive flying carp slithered and slimed for a few moments before sliding back into the water. There we were, completely frozen in the same position as when the first fish came flying. There had been so much excitement so quickly that when it was over the silence was striking (pause…look at each other…HAHAHA we roared with laughter). Despite the offensive fishy slime that the last fish left on the sail, the situation was harmless. We have heard accounts of the flying carp giving black eyes and split lips so we felt fortunate to have been spared.  

After Solvi was pulled up enough on shore we went exploring to make sure it was a good spot to camp. During our outing we found beaver tracks, coyote tracks, and two mud turtles bathing in the Mississippi Mud. We walked over to a wing dam which protruded perpendicular to the shore line and went a quarter mile into the slough. Walking carefully we hiked the length of the wing dam, finding cool rocks and random garbage along the way. On the walk back to Solvi it was decided that the shoreline was too buggy and muddy and that the sand island directly across the way had not one tree, was massive, and surrounded by water so would be bug free and more comfortable. When we arrived at the sand bar it was clear that very recently the entire thing had been under water. The sand was completely overtaken by a wiggly texture that had been created by the water and waves when it was under. It provided to be quite beautiful- natural sand art! Being unsure of how long this sand bar would stay dry, we didn’t want to set our tent up just in case the water came up. Therefore we did something we’ve never done before- pulled Solvi up on both rollers and slept in the boat..on land! Being a clear night we cowboy camped in the boat. It was pretty funny to be on the boat on land, especially because she was a little tippy on her rollers, providing a sensation similar to water. Kyle cooked dinner on the foredeck while I set up our bed. We danced and listened to music while cooking and as soon as dinner was over we went on a sunset walk around the diameter of the sand bar. I find myself frustrated with my inability to articulate the shear beauty of the colors the sunset provided. Not only did the sky break out into an array of blues, pinks, oranges, and yellow, but also all those colors were then reflected on the wiggly pattern of the damp sand. At the far end of the sandbar we found one, very old, decaying tree. It was a stark contrast to the completely barren landscape and we found ourselves plopping down in the sand next to it where we talked and shared stories as dusk turned to dark. The sky filled with stars and they are the last thing we saw before drifting to sleep in our land boat.  

Zero Days and Cotton Fields 

10/4/2016 
At this moment it is about 11:30am. Kyle is rowing while I rest for an hour. The sun is out full force in the sky, causing us both to sweat quite a bit while rowing. Music is playing out of our black speaker and there are tugs and barges traveling in all directions. The river’s shore is completely undeveloped and full of luscious green trees. The leaves don’t seem to be changing colors anymore. I wonder if we are too far south? I guess we shall see. The water’s surface is serenely calm, not even a ripple except for when Kyle’s oars slice through the water causing a swirling ripple effect. I love watching as the water is disturbed by each stroke, yet 60 seconds later no evidence of our boat passing through the water is to be seen.  

I just found myself giggling like a young child with a new toy. My mom sent bubbles in a package and I have found them to be very entertaining. I imagine Kyle, Solvi, and I from an aerial viewpoint. An open winding river, calm water with a small boat traveling on its surface. In the boat two adults- one rowing and the other blowing bubbles and watching them as they land ever so gently on the river, resting for a moment before popping into nothingness. Such a temporary and simple but pure form of play.  

The rest of our day was spent rowing and then sailing into the wind. We found a nice spot to pull off and stop for the day. Kyle had seen a car with people sitting in lounge chairs down the beach a bit and decided to go over and say hello. I wasn’t feeling very social so decided to stay back and set up camp. He came back a couple minutes later and suggested we grab our chairs and go hang out with the nice local folks down the beach. I declined, but encouraged Kyle to take his chair and go enjoy himself- I was looking forward to some me time and I know he loves social interactions so it worked perfect. I put my headphones on full blast and went about setting up camp, collecting firewood, breaking it into small pieces by slamming individual logs on a bigger log (it’s actually quite fun), and lounged on my big beautiful cotton sheet. An hour or so later I heard a woman’s voice hollering at me from the direction Kyle had headed. I yanked my ear buds out and there was Barbara with cold drinks and snacks. She wanted us to take them with us. Barbara and Rick and some of their friends were who Kyle was hanging out with. Barbara and I hung out by Solvi and our camp for a bit before walking down to find Kyle and the others. In the end I am thankful that Barbara came to find me. She and Rick and everyone else were so kind, fun, and giving. River Angels providing River Magic and friendship. We all hung out until it started to get dark and Kyle and I headed back to camp. There we enjoyed the star filled sky, yummy food, and the sound of water lapping on the shore.  

10/5/16 

This morning we awoke to wind and a rain cloud filled sky. The sun was still shining, but through the rain clouds which created a spectacular sight. The sky was awash in dark colors, but the area near the sun was lighter and there was a small break in the clouds. In this break sun beams shot from the sky in all directions causing the water to be lit in certain areas. Sun beams are pretty amazing forms of art. Soon, with the beams still shooting down, the rain started. I was able to quickly grab my small backpacking stove, some pop tarts, and coffee before the rain got too intense. There, surrounded by blankets, books, and journals we sat in our tent in the sunshiny rain. I boiled water for coffee and we munched on pop tarts. It was the laziest, coziness, most comfortable morning I have ever had. The morning slowly turned into afternoon and we couldn’t have been more relaxed. The sun came blasting through the clouds around 12pm, but with the strong south wind and an awesome sandy beach we have decided to stay put. So now I find myself sitting in my green camp chair, my feet resting on a large piece of driftwood, writing on the back of used chart pages cause I have filled my 100+ page journal. The wind is strong and whenever I lift my pen to move to the next line, the paper lifts tempted to fly off. The sun is shining, the water is lapping loudly, and I find my mind captured by the pure raw beauty of the environment around me. Taking this journey required us to take a courageous leap of faith, but I feel as though because we took the leap, we are soaring, utterly free, towards tremendous inner personal growth.  

10/6/2016 

The rest of our zero day yesterday was quite relaxing. We read, played games, listened to music, and went exploring. Before I delve into what we found while exploring, I will give a little background to why I was so thrilled with our find. I have a slight obsession with Johnny Cash’s music, particularly the song “Cotton Fields.” I am always singing it- it is my go to song whenever I get one stuck in my head. Most often I wake up with it in my head and I’d say 5 out of the 7 mornings a week I bounce around in the tent singing the song and driving Kyle absolutely crazy. Some mornings, just to drive him crazy, I’ll turn it on the speaker so it’s the first thing he hears in the morning 🙂 It has become a fun joke and because I am always singing it, we often talk about cotton fields. I had never seen a cotton field before, so Kyle has taken the time to try to explain what they consist of; even though he is really good at explaining, I still just couldn’t picture it. Well, when we went exploring yesterday we found a cotton field!! I thought it was huge, but I guess it was a smaller one. Either way, it was what looked like endless rows of cotton. I had no idea that cotton balls, like the ones you buy at the store, literally grow right out of the plant. It was awesome! I was so thrilled that I found myself running around checking them all out. I took one little cotton ball to send to Florida but mostly just enjoyed seeing what my clothes are made of! It was definitely the highlight of my day, and I feel fortunate to have had the experience to see one in person.  

This morning I found myself wide away around 6:15am. I think since we took a zero day and I really had time to rest and step away from the boat for a while, I woke up revitalized and ready to go. I sat up in the sleeping bag and looked out of Kyle’s open vestibule which was facing the river. I was greeted with the most marvelous view. It was pre-dawn so the sun hadn’t risen yet, but her colors were already emitting over the other side of the river. The sky was a light blue and the horizon was a deep orange that faded into pink. The water was so calm and everything around was still and serene. I quickly hopped over Kyle and went and sat in my camp chair. I let myself sit there for a while and absorb the tranquility of the pre-dawn. I could hear just a few birds chirping, but other than that, it was silent. When was the last time you found yourself sitting outside during pre-dawn? If it’s been a while I highly suggest you give it a try. Waking up with the sunshine is really rewarding and can be a wonderful start to the day 🙂 Soon the sun began to rise behind the tree line across the river and the intentions of the day began to crystallize: calm, beautiful, and sunny. Kyle got up soon after me and after making a yummy breakfast of cheesy eggs in a tortilla with hummus and cabbage we got under way around 8am. Much earlier than usual, and the day went fairly quickly. We are heading into town tomorrow to find water and Internet, so planned on doing about 25 miles and stopping right before town. The day started by rowing into the wind, but after rounding a corner we were able to sail the rest of the way. At one point we were rowing around yet another bend in the river and there were 3 north bound tugs, all pushing at least 30 barges; the wind was against us and thus the wavelets were also against us. This made rowing difficult as it was and then add in the barge wake and we definitely had our work cut out. But we had a good time through it all, complaining and singing songs about how “fun” it is to row into the wind and confused sea. We came around this bend and to our left was a steep sand bank that seemed to lead to a sand bar. I had a sudden urge to climb up the bank and see what was there. Kyle agreed and we pulled off. I quickly ran up the bank and was greeted by the largest sand bar I have ever seen. It was so incredibly vast. I instantly just started running around, amazed by how large it was. I ran all the way to the far end and was exhausted by the time I got there. We played around a bit and enjoyed the vastness it provided before continuing on with our day.  

We found another nice sand bar around 1pm outside of Caruthersville, MO, which is where we will go into town tomorrow to resupply and to enjoy a late b-day drink on Lynne and Dan- thank you so much you guys, so thoughtful 🙂 So we are currently in Tennessee (Missouri is right across the river) on a big sandy beach sitting in the sun shade that Kyle set up for us using our boom tent. Today is a hot day and I made a discovery that made the day more enjoyable: 2” thermarest sleeping pads make a wonderful float! I blew my sleeping pad up real full and then took it out to the water to test it. The Army Corps has put in wing dams (a bunch of rock and rubble) all along the river and where we are camping is surrounded by wind dams, therefore creating a little cove with no current aways from the actual river. I wasn’t sure if it was going to float, but sure enough I jumped on and found myself floating real nicely next to shore. After seeing how much I was enjoying myself Kyle went and got his and we spent an hour floating in the sunshine. It was really quite fun 🙂 So far we are both really enjoying the lower Mississippi and are looking forward to the next 850 miles. Onward!  

Hello Lower Mississippi River and Sunshine! 

10/2/2016 
Today, itself, has been an exiting day! We have officially finished what is called the Upper Mississippi and started the Lower Mississippi. Meaning the chart book which has been counting down since mile 811 for us, made it to zero! At mile zero of the Upper Mississippi we found ourselves at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, where we took some photos. When looking at the photos the Mississippi River is on the left and the Ohio on the right. Hitting mile zero was quite fun and then 5 minutes later we started back over in our new chart book at miles 953. But what is cool is that when we reach zero on this chart book, we’ll be at the Gulf of Mexico!  

Anyway, since heading south on the official Lower River we have experienced some changes. The river has widened immensely and there are less markers all over the place. There are more barges, but since there is more river we still feel we have plenty of room. We also entered into Kentucky today! So it’s been a day full of things to celebrate. The first 20 miles of the day have been spent rowing in shifts, but now we are sailing, slow but steady.  

The past couple days have brought some interesting emotions for me. I have been feeling a bit homesick. I miss our home, Sirocco, a 35-foot Cutter. I miss my friends and family; the easiness of always knowing where I will sleep and get food. The nights spent wandering downtown and days on the beach. I miss the clear salt water of the ocean and hot showers. But even with the feeling of longing for home, I don’t wish I was anywhere else. It’s a strange emotion to articulate, but it is more of an: “I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed my life until I left it for a while.” But at the same time, as I’ve mentioned before Solvi, the river, and islands have become my home. And I know that when we eventually get back to Florida, I will long for the river. Therefore, instead of getting down and wishing I was somewhere else, I will take these visiting emotions as a reminder and as a lesson. A reminder of how blessed I am to have a life in Florida that I miss. And a lesson to remember to slow down and enjoy all the little moments, because at the time it may not seem like it, but in reality those small moments, the small pleasures are what life is all about. So as the we sail down this river I will enjoy the simple pleasures of a wave of a friendly fisherman, the butterfly that lands on the foredeck, Kyle’s voice as he sings about what he doing. I will also say my thank you’s for all the friends and family I have who love and care about me and whom I love and care about. The sun hasn’t been out for a few days and I am really looking forward to it shining tomorrow. Until then I will remember that emotions are just like visitors, they come and they go 🙂  

An hour later: All I hear is the lapping of water on the hull and the sound of the harmonica. In front of me Kyle laying back. Beyond that the River Valley- the river carved it’s way through the land leaving steep shoreline. Sun glistening on the water through the bend in the carved river valley.Yes sun, it just poked through the clouds! Quintessential river- green trees and all sorts of bends. Marvelous.  

10/3/2016 

What an incredible difference sunshine can make on one’s moral! After about 10 miles of sailing yesterday we found a massive sandy beach connected to a large island. At the same time the sky began to clear and the sun came blasting out as if to say, “I’m here to stay!” Even though we had wind and daylight to continue we quickly pulled off on the sand bar. Within 15 minutes I was a quarter of the way done with the laundry that had accumulated over the cloudy rainy days. Kyle set up a nice clothes line and had our tent, sleeping bag, and pads airing out in the sunshiny breeze. We both found ourselves with a burst of energy and a major moral boost. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and we had a huge sandy beach, a beautiful section of the river, and to top it off we were officially halfway between Wisconsin and New Orleans…time to celebrate! And celebrate we did. After finishing laundry and allowing everything to dry out Kyle cooked baked potatoes, rice, and veggies over the fire. We followed that up with iced red wine and dark chocolate as the sun set and a sliver of moon appeared. Next to the sliver of moon was one lone star and in the background was pastel pink and orange a washed behind the tree line. We cheers’d to the Lower Mississippi and spent some time discussing our favorite parts of the trip this far. As we talked the sky grew darker and the stars multiplied. It was such a clear night that we decided to cowboy camp next to the fire pit. Kyle retrieved our pads and sleeping bag from the tent and we set them up near the dwindling fire. There, under the abyss of the universe above, we spent our evening. I found myself like a young child trying to keep my eyes open and fighting the urge to sleep just so I wouldn’t miss out on anything. We saw a half dozen shooting stars flying through the sky at a speed my mind can’t phantom. We searched for constellations and had long in depth conversations about other earth like worlds. The air was crisp, providing a chill in the air but also improving the clarity of the world around. Besides some tugs passing by, all we could hear was the noise of distant crickets, but behind the crickets was silence. We found ourselves whispering as though if we talked too loud our voices would damage the silence. Eventually my eye lids fell too heavy and I drifted off. Sometime in the middle of the night we both awoke to find ourselves engulfed by a sea of fog. The log that had been 5 feet away was not to be seen. The river..well what river?? It was just our 7 X 5 foot square of blankets and the tunnel of sky overhead, nothing else seemed to exist. We tucked ourselves into our sleeping bag to stay warm and stayed awake long enough to catch a few more shooting stars. The sun shining bright in the sky is what woke us. The fog slowly beginning to lift I looked over at Kyle and he instantly burst with laughter. “What?!” I responded with intense curiosity. “Good morning sandy!” he smiled. I looked around and noticed that my entire area of the sleeping bag was caked in sand. The fog made everything wet and somehow I then layered the dew with sand. It was everywhere: on my face, my hair, my sleeping bag liner, and inside the sleeping bag. Kyle’s half was sand free..oops 🙂 We laughed and went about our morning as usual but really soaking up the sunshine which was quickly drying the after effect of the foggy mist. 

After the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers we found the water to be clearer and sandy on the bottom. We took advantage of this and the sunshine and showered in the river before taking off. It was a revitalizing swim which we followed up with by running in circles with our arms outstretched on our big sandy beach in order to dry off in the breeze. Showering has become such a fun and refreshing experience, we always end up running around due to the revitalization and feeling of being clean.  

We got underway around 11am and spent five hours on the water before we reached our 30 miles. We took shifts the entire time which again, boosts moral so incredibly much. Rowing for an hour at a time as compared to say 4 hours straight is well worth going a bit slower. Since the sun had finally come out we were able to charge iPods and thus listened to music most of the day. Some days we choose the quiet of the river, others music is a motivator. We sang to Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles, and The Devil Makes Three- some of our favorites. Around 4pm we hit 30 miles and found a sandy island to pull off on. There is SO much sand everywhere on this part of the river which has made camping awesome. I particularly enjoyed the landscape of the island we chose. The river had risen so high at one point that it took a bunch of the shore with it, leaving shelves of sand, mud, and a mixture of the two. Some of the mud was so hard and dried out that it had cracked, leaving a spiderweb effect on the surface. Not only was it cool looking, it created an interesting texture on my bare feet. And then in various spots on the mud and sand patches of grass were growing from the cracks as though trying to save the eroded shore with roots from the brutal grasp of the mighty river. We took a nice stroll on the eroded river’s edge, climbing over and under fallen trees and driftwood that had created a natural jungle gym. We cooked quesadillas with beans and tomatoes over the fire before crawling into our tent early, both exhausted from a marvelous day of rowing in the sunshine.