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.
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.