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.
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 🙂
3 thoughts on “River Rats take on Memphis”
I really enjoyed this post. So glad that you enjoyed the stop in Memphis. I lived in the residential area on Mud Island for about 6 years and kept a small boat at the Yacht Club myself. It always amazed me that other than the small community of boaters there at the club, very few people in Memphis realize what a beautiful resource they have right in their back yard. They mostly view the river as a big, dirty, dangerous and commercial waterway and thought us recreational boaters were crazy for being out there. I really miss it. Good luck and stay safe on the rest of your journey.
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Hi Andrew, Thank you for the comment! I completely agree with you, it is too bad how many people have negative views of this river. Yes there is pollution and commercial traffic, but as a whole, those things are very small compared to the absolute beauty of the river. It’s a truly wild place in a country where wild places are getting fewer and fewer. Really appreciate the thoughts and kind words. Hope you have a great day! D & K
Thanks for continuing to post. I am also reading Edwin Way Teale’s essays on their travels from Florida north following the arrive of spring. You might enjoy reading his work once you are off the river.