Mile 55 and day 2 on the Atchaf’: The air is still. The water is calm. The sound is quiet except for Kyle’s oars dipping in the water. White egrets and great blue herons stand stoic on the muddy shoreline, fishing patiently. The shoreline is steep- trees fallen or just barely hanging on. Many tree roots are fully exposed giving us a glimpse of the intricacy below their trunks. Every once in a while we row past a small wooden dock with a flats boat tied to its side. Just behind the dock hidden in the trees is a small house or cabin that is not accessible by road. We have seen 2 tow boats total today, they both slowed down for us, waved, and one even blew their horn as a hello. It was a pleasant interaction rather than an arduous one. All things on this river seem much slower, calmer, more forgiving than the mighty Mississippi. It is a welcome change and definitely revitalizing me for the next half of our journey. Kyle just stopped rowing abruptly and pointed to the mud bank to our right. There, standing on the edge was a mom bobcat and three babies. They were startled by us but only moved back a couple feet as we slowly drifted past in awe of their beauty. This river sure is something else. I have never seen a bobcat in the wild, what a rare and delightful treat. Thank you Atchaf’ for providing a change of pace as we journey south.
Our first full day on the Atchaf’ (right after we got the wallet back) was spent fully under sail. A following wind allowed us to travel 30 miles without a single stroke of the oar. We saw only one other boat, a small fishing boat. The day was calm and peaceful. That evening we found a sandy spot to pull up Solvi, camp, and have a small fire. We were feeling lucky to have found sand as this river is rather muddy and marshy. Yesterday, our second day, proved to be just as calm and peaceful, but we rowed the entire day in shifts due to a lack of wind. Around 4pm we hit our 30 miles and began to look for a place to camp. Being that the shore on both sides was mud and it was starting to get cold, we found a flat muddy spot, put on our rubber boots, and pulled Solvi up on her roller. Kyle cooked quesadillas with refried beans and tomatoes while I set the boat up to sleep in. I enjoy sleeping in the boat, I find it cozy and comfortable and I feel lucky we have a boat that allows us to do so. It was a chilly night but with our sleeping bag liners and warm clothes we did just fine. The next few days and nights are supposed to be warmer which will be nice.
This morning after the chilliness of pre-dawn we opened our eyes and were greeted by a river covered in a dense fog. The sun was rising in the distance bringing some pale color to the surrounding sky. We chatted quietly while the fog began to slowly dissipate. Kyle made breakfast while I changed the boat from a house to a sailboat again. It is currently 9am and Kyle is on shift rowing us down river. I definitely feel a breeze so maybe we’ll be sailing soon. Either way the feeling in the air is a good one and I’m excited for the day!
It is about 12pm and we have been having an awesome day. We spotted an adolescent Eagle perched in a tall tree and spent some time drifting past, taking photos, and observing the large bird. About 30 minutes later I spotted what I’ve been searching for since we arrived on this river- an alligator! He was basking on a mud bank and must have been 8ft long. What a cool site to see, a prehistoric creature just lounging on the river’s edge. When Kyle and I first started dating we took a canoe trip on the Hillsborough River in Florida and saw at least 10 alligators of all sizes. I haven’t seen one since so we were both fascinated with our find. After taking some photos and observing him we continued on. Since then I’ve been on the look out for wildlife and have seen a plethora of birds including some sea birds, reminding us the Gulf is close!
Well 5 days on the Atchafalaya and our marvelous journey on a new river is coming to an end. The last couple of days have been spent rowing, and I must say that without the current to help us along, Kyle and I are a bit slower than we expected! So instead of doing 30 miles a day we have been doing 20, which takes about just as long. That’s okay though, we were expecting that when we reached the Gulf our mileage per day would slow down a bit anyway. As we traveling farther south down the river the sand slowly dwindled away and the mud, marsh, cypress trees, and Spanish moss started to become more prevalent. It was really quite spectacular watching the change of environment as we journeyed south into the bayous of Louisiana. One of my favorite things has been looking at all the houses, cabins, and camps along the river- most of which can not be driven to and have to be accessed by boat. I had always heard stories of Cajuns living in the bayous, but this is the first time I’ve ever experienced it first hand! Some of the set ups are really awesome and Kyle and I daydream about one day spending some time living out here on the bayous while we row by.
The last couple nights spent on the river we slept on the boat. One night we pulled up into some thick mud and secured the bow, but still slept on the boat. Last night we anchored near shore outside of the channel and enjoyed a night of sleep while bobbing on the calm surface. I am not sure how we would have ever slept without being able to sleep in the boat. The shores are so steep and muddy that a tent would have been impossible. Again, so thankful Solvi is built in a way we can comfortably sleep aboard!
Some of our favorites part of the Atchafalaya included:
-The smaller size
-How little traffic we saw
-The change in environment- marsh, moss, cypress, alligators, etc.
-The wildlife has been spectacular
-How calm the river is and our ability to float down the middle without worrying about traffic
-Sleeping aboard the boat and anchoring near shore
-All the fishing boats
-The houses along the banks and the bayous
-The mud.. While frustrating it also adds to the adventure!
-Being so close to the Gulf of Mexico
So as our last night before reaching Morgan City comes to an end, I listen to the stillness and quiet around. We are laying in our sleeping bag bobbing gently in the water. We hear birds, crickets, and a few loud toads croaking on the shoreline. Every once in a while a fish will jump out of the water causing a splashing sound that makes us giggle. As I jot some thoughts in my journey Kyle plays his harmonica. Quietly as to not disturb any creatures around us. The notes are deep, singular, and sound wonderful as they pierce the quiet air around us. I close my eyes and imagine the sound waves traveling out of the harmonica and filling our little boom tent covered boat. I sit up and grab the tiny bouquet of flowers I picked earlier that have now dried out. I poke my head out of the boat and look at the full moon shining so brightly on the water it almost looks like daylight. I drop the mini bouquet in the water and watch as the current brings them downstream- sending positive thoughts down river. What a joyous life it is 🙂
Yesterday morning around 10am Kyle and I rowed from the Mississippi, took a sharp right turn and approached large metal doors. “Old River Lock and Dam,” Kyle hailed on the radio. “Old River back,” we heard a friendly voice say. After being instructed to wait on the bank for the lock to be ready we took some photos and said our final farewells to the Mississippi for once we entered the lock and the doors closed the Mississippi would be behind us. A couple minutes later the doors began opening and the lock master instructed us to put on our life jackets and let him know when we were tied off. Rowing into the lock I was surprised by its size and shape. It was much narrower than the locks on the Upper River and seemed to be much taller. Once we had our line secured around the floating cleat the doors began to shut. Within minutes we were surrounded by an orchestra of creeks, squeaks, groans, and moans as the rather old lock began to drop us 15ft. Kyle and I sat quietly in Solvi, no one around, and giggled about the strange noises around us on such a calm and quiet morning. Eventually we stopped dropping and the doors on the other end began to open. Waiting for our horn signal giving us the OK to leave, we readied our oars and pushed off the cool slimy wall. Leaving the lock doors we greeted the Atchafalaya and headed south down the man made canal that would take us 6 miles to the actual river. Despite some flying carp almost landing in our boat, the row was rather peaceful and we thoroughly enjoyed the smaller size and change of environment. As soon as we reached the intersection of the actual Atchaf’ the current picked up 2 knots and we had a following wind. Quickly raising the sail we ate lunch while sailing down the middle of the river. Not one tow boat in sight. Surging at 8 knots in the gusts we reached our destination of Simmesport Louisiana within the hour. Kyle and I both felt so pleased and excited about this new river and our first couple hours were such a pleasant treat. Little did I know the following few hours would test my limits more than ever before and quite honestly almost caused me to quit.
A few different locals had told us that in order to access the stores and main road in Simmesport we need to pull off directly after the bridge. Following this advice we dropped the sail and rowed Solvi to the only small sandy spot as close to the bridge as possible. I hopped off the boat and was happy to find firm ground below me. “This spot seems good,” I called to Kyle as he pulled Solvi’s bow up with the oars. As I stepped forward to grab her foreword post the “stable” ground below me quickly changed its mind and was no longer stable. At first I sunk in just to my ankles- no big deal. But as I tried to move the mud grabbed me up to my knees. Ugh. Kyle laughed while I posed for a photo. Slightly annoyed and just wanting to find a spot to stand, I tried moving down the beach. My foot tested the ground, only sunk a little, so I proceeded. Next thing I know my left leg was encapsulated all the way to my thigh- in thick goopy mud. I began to get frustrated and in trying to get out my right leg sunk just as deep. So there I stood, up to my waist in mud, both my legs completely immobile. I tried to put my hand down to pull myself up, but that sunk too. Kyle tried to come help up it was clear we would both get as stuck as me if he proceeded. Intelligently Kyle blew up our roller and threw it to me. I was then able to pull myself out of the mud using the roller as support. Once free I trudged to some rocks to attempt to get the mud off. It was a long process as the goop was thick, sticky, and everywhere. I got myself clean to my ankles and realized we still had to get Solvi up and out of the water. Time and time again we’d pull her up half-way and then the roller would get stuck in the mud and become useless. After the umpteenth time I was ready to give up. “How much water do we have? Can we just skip this town?” The answer was no- we needed water and a larger variety of food would be nice. Getting the anchor out and using a block as a pulley we finally succeeded in getting Solvi up on the shore. Next came the process of cleaning ourselves of mud, digging out the backpacks, wallet, iPad, and other “town items.” Both of us, backpacks on and secured, gazed down at the bridge a quarter mile away and then at the extremely steep and rugged shoreline between us and it. Loose rocks, vines, cement slabs, and driftwood lined angled shore line. “Let’s go up” I suggested as we found a small opening leading to some sort of trail. As we climbed the few steps up to the trail I became rather distracted by all the garbage: fuel tanks, dishwasher, kid pools, a fridge, mattresses, clothes, unidentifiable items, partially burned times. Due to my fascination and hesitancy caused by the trash, I had forgotten to look for poison ivy. Well, that was a mistake because after further examination we found that it was everywhere. “I’m so done,” I sighed heavily, not even sure what I meant. Kyle grabbed my hand as we proceeded ever so cautiously through the maze of Ivy. Once we arrived at the bridge we climbed back down to the river to rinse our feet and legs with copious amounts of water. Following the bridge we climbed up a beer can littered hill which brought us to the outskirts of town. Had I been in my car, this is the moment I would have locked my doors. I checked the cell phone- no service. Guess we are wandering to find food, water, and wifi. As we took a side street attempting to navigate towards town I grabbed Kyle tightly as I observed houses, trailers, stray dogs, and garbage everywhere. We strolled past a tiny cemetery and looked at the cans scattered about. Three times a car drove by and Kyle took off his hat and sunglasses with a big smile and a wave indicating we had a question. Nothing. At this point I felt scared, displaced, exhausted, and so over having to work so hard for food and water. Kyle, so patiently, looked me in the eyes and calmed me down. Smash! Crash! Crunch! I heard as I looked to my left and saw a woman smashing cans and throwing them at the side of her house while they tumbled down into a mound the size of a small car. Two small children stood near by playing with a toy. Finally we came to a gas station- “Do you know where we can find a grocery store or wifi?” No. Alrighty then and we kept walking. A couple blocks down, just past a house with at least 6 large dogs tied up, we found 2 restaurants that looked out of place because they looked so nice and inviting- clean, no garbage, cute decorations, nice places to sit, etc. Both of us craving a salad and a place to sit down, we chose Rabalais’ Seafood Restaurant and what a wonderful choice it was. Instantly we were greeted by a friendly face who, because of our backpacks, was curious about what we were doing and where we were coming from. Ray was his name, and little did we know that him and his wife Debbie, as well as the other two people in the restaurant would soon be our River Angels.
We sat down after chatting with the folks in the restaurant who informed us we had a new president, and ordered a big cup of water and two salads. While we plugged our various devices into the wall and pulled up wifi, Donny and his son Jacob came to sit by us to chat. We ended up having great conversation and before we knew it they had bought our lunch and offered to drive us to the grocery store and then back to the river. Speechless because of their kindness we filled our water jugs at the restaurant and piled in their truck on our way to Piggly Wiggly. Food, water, weather checked, and a ride- I was feeling much better about the day. We left the grocery store and headed back to the river. Kyle and I were expecting to get dropped off on the road before the levee leading to the river’s edge, but as they put the truck in 4 wheel drive and drove over the levee and got us as close as possible without endangering anyone, we giggled and said we were very surprised by the first class service! After taking some photos, saying our goodbyes, and making sure we had all our food and water, Kyle and I headed to the steep rock covered shoreline to avoid the poison ivy covered trail. We both fell at least once and it was quite the obstacle course but once we arrived at Solvi and saw the beautiful sunset reflecting on the river, we set down our loaded packs feeling satisfied. Then it hit me… “Kyle please tell me you have the phone and wallet…” As I watched him touch his hands to his empty pockets, my heart sank. The phone and wallet, together, were left in the truck. I was so concerned with making sure we had all our groceries and water jugs that instead of double checking the back seat, I double checked the truck bed before saying goodbye. We spent an hour searching frantically through our stuff, walking the obstacle course back to where they dropped us off. No luck. With no phone and no wallet and the sun setting there was nothing we could do until the morning. We talked about how to possibly get a hold of the nice folks who dropped us off. We knew their first names, their job titles, and the town, Lettsworth, they were from, but that was it.
For me, it was the tip of the iceberg. How could we have done that? How did I forget it? I’m not forgetful, why did it happen? As I contemplated the day and the feeling of isolation caused by having no way to communicate or connect with the outside world, I was attempting to put our backpacks away so we could set up camp. They wouldn’t fit, things kept getting stuck, I smashed my hand, and I felt like everything was fighting back. I put my head in my hands and began to cry. “I’m done Kyle. I want to go home. I don’t want to do this trip anymore.” He stopped what he was doing and came over to me. Forcing me to look directly in his eyes he said to me, “Danielle if that is how you feel, then that is what we’ll do. We’ve accomplished so much and stopping now doesn’t make us any less. It’ll be okay. I promise we will work it out, together.” Those words, the support to quit, was all I needed to hear to calm down enough to get some sleep. I awoke the next morning feeling a bit better but still sick to my stomach about leaving the phone and wallet. In reality it makes sense we left it, we go 10 days at a time without even seeing the wallet; its not our habit anymore to check for it. Also Donny and Jacob were so incredibly kind. The second they found our belongings they would have contacted us using the blog info I gave them and mailed it to us. Both of our families would have gone above and beyond to help us. Phones, wallets, I.D.’s, debit cards, they are all replaceable. But none of those facts gave me comfort. I was too overwhelmed to think logically. So on we trekked to the only place we could think of going- back to Rabalais’ Seafood- even though it was a Sunday morning at 7am. We sat outside the restaurant and used my iPad to Google any possible thing we could think of that might bring us the contact info of Jacob or Donny. During our searching, the owner Ray and his wife, Debbie, showed up. They aren’t even open on Sunday’s but invited us in, turned on some cartoons, made sure we were comfortable, and together the 4 of us began a journey of tracking down Jacob and Donny. The moment I sat down at a table in their cozy and well decorated restaurant I instantly felt better. I felt that these people were dear friends and that we were just hanging out on a cold Sunday morning. We read the newspaper, got to know each other, told stories, and laughed together. In the end, after some serious whitepages.com and LinkedIn searching I came across Donny and Jacob’s last name. Using this information Debbie found Jacob on Facebook and sent him a message. Ray was out driving to his friend’s house who he thought knew Jacob (how incredibly kind, right?!). He arrived just after Jacob had called because of the Facebook message. He had found the phone and wallet and would bring them to the restaurant in 20 minutes. We all cheered and giggled in excitement at our success. Thanks to 4 extremely kind and thoughtful folks from small towns in Louisiana Kyle and I had funds and communication to continue onward (got to give Google some credit too :))
But at the end of the day, the phone and wallet are not the important parts of the situation. As usual on this journey, it was the people. From the moment we entered the restaurant we were blessed with interactions with kind and genuine souls. The lunch that was bought, the conversations shared, the ride to store, and then the teamwork of getting our belongings back all took place because people are good. The fact that Kyle and I knew we could go back to the restaurant and ask for help and then received it, is amazing. The bond, friendship, problem solving, and laughter that getting our wallet and phone back brought almost makes me glad we left it! I had so much fun hanging out with Donny, Jacob, Ray, and Debbie that I am so thankful we stayed in Simmesport, Louisiana. In the end, regardless of our first impressions, the people are good and I will never forget that small town. After Kyle and I said our goodbyes and thank you’s once again, we walked back towards Solvi and put a whole plan in place to keep track of our belongings better as we shuffle in and out of towns and random cars and restaurants. We launched Solvi and proceeded to have the most spectacular day of sailing the Atchafalaya. Not one tow or barge. Not one big turn. Mirror water, a following wind, and a new and marvelous river. That night we found an awesome place to camp and enjoyed a vivid sunset and glowing fire. As for quitting, no way. This journey is full of way too much learning, joy, and amazing human beings to quit. But being allowed to give up for the day made all the difference. I feel renewed, grateful, and so incredibly excited about the Atchaf’. The day of hardships, difficulties, and situations out of my control brought so much growth. Patience, humility, community, the ability to surrender to something higher, and learning to rely on others are just a few of the lessons I learned. To Jacob, Donny, Ray, and Debbie- your generosity, and pure genuine kindness will never be forgotten. Thank you with all our hearts for the River Magic you provided- it really was something special.
As I type this we are a couple day into the Atchafalaya and I am so thankful I pushed through the difficulties because this river is a whole new endeavor and we are absolutely loving it and it’s ruggedness. But more on that Atchaf’ later.
Nine states, 87 days, and 1,508 miles later it has come time to say farewell to the Mississippi River. When the dreaming, discussing, and planning of this voyage began 2 years ago the thought of making it so far was a small seed in the back of my mind. While I never doubted us, I was too focused on the tasks at hand to daydream as far as 1,500+ miles. Now that we have come this far I find myself looking back to the moment that this journey was born and all the moments in between.
It started over a cup of steaming coffee. As we sat on the foredeck of our 35ft sailboat home the black coffee’s aroma filled my nose as I inhaled in anticipation of the dark roasted liquid. “Let’s take a boat down the Mississippi River,” one of said to the other, although at this point we can’t remember who. Either way once those 8 words were put into the universe, she conspired to make them happen. Two days later I was laminating and gluing pictures onto a 2’X3’ black poster board, thus creating a dream board. The pictures included the river, a faering, a map of the Mississippi and an estimated route created on google maps. In the middle were the five words: No Schedule and No Rush. Kyle and I both spent countless hours staring at that dream board over the course of 18 months; looking at the picture of a faering wondering if we could really pull it off and build such a thing. Time went on, jobs were worked, money saved, and the days passed- but the seed that was planted over that steaming coffee began to build roots deep in our beings until soon the seed began sprouting and its leaves were constantly rustling in the back of our minds. On March 1st, 2016 Kyle quit his job and the build process began. On June 24th, 2016 Solvi was christened with bubbling champagne in the Edisto River. Everything that happened in between those two dates has become a blurred and satisfactory memory.
Two months after Solvi’s first splash we waved goodbye to our families on the shoreline of the St. Croix River as we rowed south on a river of unknowns. We laugh now when we think back to the 3rd day when we rowed 9 miles. Both of us were so incredibly exhausted that we collapsed before even eating dinner. Now we individually row 16 miles, 32 miles total and end our days with frisbee, fires, and activities. But it’s not just our muscles that have grown stronger, but our inner beings as well.
This voyage has been full of challenges, hardships, and discomfort. But it is those things that have also brought growth, learning, and strength. The river is wild and will never be fully tamed. We can build all the wing dams, channel markers, and revetments we want, but at the end of the day the river is its own being. Alive in its own way, the mighty waters have their own path creating a river of ever changing conditions. In response to this Kyle and I have learned to adapt and to be flexible. We can not control the river and that is the most beautiful thing. Emerging ourselves in something we can not control caused us to lift both our feet off the ground and fly. Free. Knowing that we must adapt in every situation presented because the waters aren’t going to adapt to us, has created a sense of vulnerability so deep that we are stripped of our expectations and urge to be in control. Leaving these things behind has left our path open for growth and development we may have missed otherwise. The ability to take a situation that could be scary and negative and make the conscious choice to laugh and view it positively has come from learning to let go of the need to be in control. Just as the trees on the shoreline give way to the river’s powers and float freely downstream, we must also give way to the universe and flow freely down our paths of life.
It is with this new found wonder of letting go fully that I have also learned to use my senses fully. When I see the sky break out into an array of colors and then watch as a line of birds glide by across the setting sun, I can also feel the playfulness of the universe. When Kyle or a stranger talks to me, I have learned to listen; and I don’t just mean hear the words they are speaking, but to internalize them. To not be distracted by stimuli or by my own thoughts, but to truly listen. The food I eat and the water I drink tastes fuller, more crisp due to a feeling of gratitude with each bite. The textures of the environment around me tell a story and I have begun to learn those stories. When my hand runs across the cracked mud and I observe the sun beating down I know rain has not fallen. The ripples on the water speak to me about wind direction and strength. Mindfulness- that is what I’ll call it. This journey has taught me to be fully present in each moment because that is all there really is. When I contemplate that thought enough it seems almost magical. Together Kyle and I created our world to be free, playful, beautiful, and most importantly joyous. Each day we find ourselves happy, satisfied, and grateful. Each interaction and situation full of discovery.
Nine states, 85 days, and 1,508 miles later, the seed that was planted two years ago has blossomed into something grander than we could have ever anticipate. As I sign off I will end with a quote I read daily:
“In the midst of our lives, we must find the magic that makes our souls soar.”
There are many names for the Mississippi River depending on your geographical location, the manner of the person you’re talking to and their particular experiences upon it. Books have been written, legends passed down, stories of great deeds, historical happenings, and many a tale of its dangers. The river’s history to America spans centuries to a time when the USA was but a dream to only a few locals. Until recently though my experiences on the river were few: some glamorous camping mostly, on sunny weekends and in big pontoons full of gear. Nearly three months ago that all changed when Danielle and I set out on an expedition to sail and row nearly the mighty river’s entire length. The goal of this leg of our journey is nearly at hand and this is our last day on the Mississippi River.
Last night, though we hid near the protection of trees as best we could, was spent in a loud and shaky tent as a cold north wind blew down on our little camp. We lived and cooked in the lee of our faithful little boat seeking shelter. But this same wind was a blessing to our day, instead of rowing the 26 miles we came down the river, we sailed. At times rushing along at over 8 knots, a great feeling of power and speed emanating from our bow wave over the smooth river, and Solvi seeming for all the world like this was her sole purpose of existence. Then this morning after launching her with an ease that speaks of our new seemingly extensive experience, I had the endless joy of sinking into quicksand and mud pockets. The ground disappearing under my feet faster than I could step, sinking me down into the water waist deep and covering my skin in that now familiar grey paste of clay and mud to my knees- not once or twice, but thrice. As I stumbled along the shore trying to find a place to stand that would hold my weight, while also working to maintain control of the boat being pulled away by the current, I can only laugh. Danielle and I both bursting out loud at the situation, though admittedly her a bit more than I. Now as I write this in my clean clothes I’m laughing again. What a journey this grand river has given to us! We set out full of wonder and excitement at what this expedition may hold for us and I can with enthusiastic honesty say- it never disappointed us for a second! This great resource of life deserves every legend it holds. After nearly 3 months of living and working with it every day it still fills us with the same wonder and excitement as when we started. Yesterdays great sailing in the strong wind and this mornings surprise shower are lasting reminders of the river’s duality. Perhaps as far as to say it’s physical representation of the balance. As it’s gotten bigger and more challenging to navigate, becoming more rugged and isolated, it has come into its natural state show casing its vast beauty and massive scale and giving us feathered and fury people to call friends. When the wind blows from the south, it is warm and usually not rainy, but brings the river’s worst waves: steep and sharp; making our day wet and difficult in the boat. When from the north, it’s commonly cold and crisp with strong gusts and rain, but since it’s pushing the water the same direction as the current, the water is calm and we move along comfortably. The confinement and cabin fever of the tent during rainy days, means more current in the river and its increased height means less mud along the banks as it rises towards the sand. The Mississippi has tested our faith, to see if we would falter on our path of learning its cadence of living. It’s soaked us through, worn us out until we could hardly stand, scared us quiet, sunk us, fried us in the sun’s glare, forced us to live in the mud that never lets go and ignore the blowing sand that fills your life with grit. It has made us cry and beg for relief and then scream and dance with joy. We have stood in stoic awe of its beauty and given it endless gratitude for its gifts and then gritted our teeth in livid frustration at its nature.
I came to this river prepared for an expedition and seeking an adventure, I was given a gauntlet of challenge and reward far surpassing any thoughts or expectations. This living thing we call a river, this flowing source of life, is truly a treasure of our country and our earth. I am blessed to have lived it, to have been given a small taste during this one season of this one year to experience the living Mississippi River.
**Kyle and I watched the build video for the first time since we left. How fun! For those of you who haven’t seen it or would like to see it again click here: Solvi Build
The sun is out! And my goodness am I thankful. It has not rained or been cloudy for a few weeks, and I didn’t realize how lucky we were until the rain started two days ago. Usually I enjoy the rain and the slower moods the gray skies bring, but I struggled the last couple days. The rain started Monday morning and really didn’t stop until Tuesday evening. The entire time the skies were dark, gloomy, and it was really quite cold. Kyle and I hunkered down in the tent and spent two days reading (we both started and finished a new book), playing games, and eating! We have both lost a considerable amount of weight so took advantage of lazy, rainy days to eat and then eat some more 🙂 By yesterday morning I was feeling really restless and needed to get out and about. I couldn’t seem to shake the somber mood the dark skies brought, so we put on our rain gear and explored the island. Getting out of the tent really helped boost moral. I almost wonder if the universe brought the rain so the last 60 miles would be prolonged a bit and as a reminder of how blessed we have been with awesome weather on the Lower River.
Anyway, this morning we awoke to sunshine! While there are still some clouds, they are thin and the sun is blasting them away. We also awoke to a following wind and are sailing along quite happily at a 6 knot average. The ripples the breeze has created on the water’s surface are glistening in the sunshine and I love watching them dance along as we sail by. The morning is quiet and all I can hear is the water rushing under Solvi’s hull and a couple of birds chirping in the distance. Today and tomorrow are our last days on the Mississippi and we couldn’t ask for a better farewell. The sunshine, glistening water, vast and rugged shorelines, and the tranquilly brought on by the solitude and quietness of the environment around sum up our experience on this lower Mississippi. Thank you mighty river for seeing us off well 🙂
After traveling 26 miles, almost all of which were under sail, we found a sandy spot to pull off for the day. Even though it was only 2pm we both felt like stopping; probably to prolong our time on the river just a little bit more. The wind is strong and despite trying to find a spot to hide, we are fairly exposed. Therefore after pulling Solvi up on her roller we set the sun shade up really low of Solvi’s lee side. We now have our ground tarp, sleeping pads, and sheet set up on the sand. Solvi does a great job protecting us from the wind and it isn’t until I stand up that I realize how blustery it is. The water is only about 10ft away from me and I can hear it’s gentle lapping on the shore. Kyle and I have both been reading our books while snacking on crackers. About 10 baby birds, I think they’re cormorants, just floated by. It’s the third time we’ve seen them today. They aren’t the best of flyers and they stick real close together. The current is moving about 3 knots so they float downstream rather quickly. I love watching them all huddled together bobbing in the water. I wonder if they stop on the shore at night or where they are heading. A few tow boats and barges have passed by, and I have paused to watch them intently. I know that years from now when I look back on this journey I will visualize them and remember them fondly. So instead of being bugged that we have to change our course to stay out of their way, for the next couple days I will look at them with interest and fascination while waving happily. My stomach is letting me know that dinner time is near, I think I’ll make Thai Sweet Potato soup that my mom sent. Maybe have some hot chocolate for dessert because I can tell it’s going to be a cold one tonight. The mood at our little wind filled camp is calm, reflective, and quiet as we both gaze out towards the river knowing that tomorrow is our last day on the official Mississippi.
Our last night on the Mississippi brought us a pleasant surprise! Not only did we find an awesome island, half covered in trees half sand, we also made a friend. Kyle was laying in the tent reading while I was typing- the sun was out but slowly beginning its nightly decent. Countless tow boats and barges passed by and we were both feeling rather contemplative. Suddenly I looked over and saw a little sailboat! The first sailboat we’ve seen on this river! He must have felt just as excited as us to see a sailboat as he quickly changed course and headed right towards us. Kyle waded out in the shallows to help grab the boat and to greet the fellow sailor. I watched from the dry shoreline and smiled when I saw a friendly dog patiently waiting to get off the boat. And thus we had met Josh the sailor and Jackson the dog. The two of them had come from Kansas and were also heading to Florida! I knew we would all be quick friends when the first thing he yelled from his boat as he approached the sand bar was, “Do people tell you you’re going to die all the time?!” Why yes, yes they do and how wonderful to meet someone who understands and experiences the same thing. Within an hour we were all sitting around a glowing fire, drinking red wine, chatting, laughing, and sharing stories while I cooked dinner. Had anyone walked up on us they would have thought we were long lost friends, but then again maybe we were. The laughter and conversation flowed so freely that before we knew it, it was long past midnight. What an evening we had together and a friendship I am sure will be re-kindled in Florida. Thank you to Josh and Jackson for the friendship, book, and good times. A wonderful farewell to the mighty Mississippi.
1. We see about 10-15 tow boats a day. Some pushing only 2 barges, some pushing 49. The average is about 30 barges which is about 1,400 ft long and 200 ft wide all together. Most of them are Northbound. They are big, loud, and some of them create wakes that cause 5ft waves. We communicate with them on the radio whenever we feel it is necessary and the captains have all been very kind to us. I am tired of seeing them all the time, although I still find them fascinating and am thankful to have experienced them so intimately. When a really big push goes by at night, I can sometimes feel it’s engine vibrating on the ground below me. We are looking forward to reaching the Gulf of Mexico and Florida where they will become less and less present and then finally disappear.
2. Besides the tow boats we go long stretches on the lower Mississippi where we so no evidence of human existence. Some towns are 200 miles apart and in between towns is pure wilderness. Untouched and undeveloped. It is so amazing how vast, rugged, and raw this river is. I had no idea it would be so undeveloped and words can’t explain how happy, proud, and grateful we are to have areas like this in the middle of America.
3. Kyle and I have slept on the ground, atop a two inch sleeping pad, every night since August 15th. There have been no hotels, no hostels, no indoors. We have taken two actual showers the entire time (one of which was cold), but shower every couple of days in the river. The Mississippi has a negative reputation for being dirty and polluted. While it is very muddy and sandy and polluted in some areas, as a whole the river has a come a very long way in the last decade and from Minnesota to Baton Rouge the river is actually quite clean. I do our laundry in the river and we have not once gone to a laundry mat. Using biodegradable soap and the clearest part of the river I can find, we both feel as though our clothes are clean, smell good, and show no signs of not being washed. We have even asked people if we smell and they say surprisingly not at all. Although they could just be being nice:) We have both become extremely sensitive to artificial smells and can no longer wear deodorant as we find it offensive and quite literally think it smells bad. This doesn’t mean that once back in society we won’t partake, but for now we stay away from anything that is artificially scented including soap. We seem to be thriving living simply and rugged and are learning to embrace ourselves raw and pure.
4. We cook over the fire most nights to save stove fuel. There is so much driftwood all over the beaches that collecting firewood is quite easy. We burn our fires to ash and always dig a big fire pit and then burry it completely leaving no trace of a fire. Besides footprints we do our absolutely best to leave no trace so the next person experiences the beauty and ruggedness we experience.
5. Kyle and I do most everything as a team. Whoever cooks, the other person does the dishes. In the morning one person takes down the tent while the other cooks breakfast. Whoever starts the fire doesn’t have to set up camp. We take 1-1.5 hour shifts, whenever possible, when we are underway. We take turns blowing up the rollers we use to pull Solvi up on the beach. When re-supplying in towns, if I bug Kyle enough, we take turns carrying the heavy load. It works extremely well and I feel it is a big reason we are so successful on a journey like this. The reasons we feel approaching life as a team and sharing tasks is so important include:
a. Gives us breaks from doing the same task over and over causing the daily tasks to be less mundane
b. By taking turns and going off to do our own thing once arriving at camp we provide each other with alone time. Time away from the boat and from each other
c. Doing things in shares allows time for me, for Kyle and for us. Time for our own thoughts and feelings. We can do things our own way and thus allows for a feeling of individualism when living in such close quarters
d. During our breaks while underway we work on individual personal growth and development projects such as: reading, writing, playing the harmonica, inventions in notebook, writing letters to people back home, small projects. Again creating a sense of individualism and time away
e. Neither one of us feels as though we are taking on more than the other person. While I do laundry Kyle sets up a clothes line and digs the fire pit. Therefore I don’t feel like he’s not participating and vice versa
6. We both have found more success, satisfaction, and happiness during this journey than we could have ever anticipated. We knew it would be a life-changing endeavor but we had no idea how deep the experiences would go. I personally have developed as an individual and my confidence has grown immensely. Every day we spend some time talking about how incredible this adventure has been and how thankful we are to not only have been so prepared, but also to be so open. Our openness to new experiences, situations, and views on life has brought us a greater understanding of the world around and played a major role in our development. The satisfaction and growth individually and as partners has been above and beyond anything we expected and the journey isn’t even over yet.
7. Once this write up is posted we will no longer be on the Mississippi River. We instead will be on the Atchafalaya River heading for the Gulf of Mexico. Once arriving at the Gulf of Mexico we have a route planned out which will allow us to coastal hop back east towards Alabama/Florida area. The research, planning, and preparations we have made for this new leg of our journey have been taken very seriously and carried out in depth. Although we are feeling nostalgic about leaving the Mississippi it is clear that we are both very eager to reach the salty waters of the Gulf.
8. Kyle and I have learned and have internalized deep into our beings that the mantra “No Schedule and No Rush” is the greatest thing we could have set up for ourselves. Before we even chose the boat, the journey, or the location we told ourselves that our next voyage would not be schedule and not be rushed. Now that isn’t to say that we don’t have a plan and a rough estimate of time-frames, but in the day to day basis, we have no schedule and no rush. This has allowed more freedom, joy, and easy-going attitudes than we have ever experienced before. Getting somewhere cool and saying “Let’s stay for a few days” is not only do-able but encouraged. Choosing not to go out on the water during bad weather has allowed us to avoid almost all rough conditions and discomfort due to bad weather. Not being on a schedule has, what I have found to be the most important, allowed us to share interactions with other humans on a much deeper level. Being that we don’t need to be anywhere at any given time, we have the time and interest to give a random stranger our complete undivided attention. It’s amazing. “No Schedule and No Rush” is the jam and I strongly encourage you to give it a try, even if just for a day 🙂
9. We are so incredibly thankful and grateful for the unconditional love, support, and encouragement we have received. Our families and friends have been absolutely nothing but supportive and helpful. Complete strangers often go out of their way to chat with us and see if we need anything. The generosity, kindness, and quite literally love we have received from every person around us and in our lives has blown us away. Kyle and I are left speechless at the reality that people are good. Seriously, at the end of the day, the vast majority of the people in this world are good kindred people and that is something we need to remember. Thank you so much to each and every person who has been apart of our lives and this journey thus far. Cheers!
11/3/16On Monday morning Kyle and I turned left off the Mississippi River towards the Yazoo River. One mile later we arrived at downtown Vicksburg. Finding a safe but very muddy spot to pull Solvi up on her rollers, we got everything situated to head into town. We hiked the mile and a half to the County Market where we did a major re-supply as the 9 day stretch left us with only a few food items left. As usual the walk back left us carrying 40-50lbs packs as we trudged back to Solvi. We were happy to find that the park just a few hundred yards from where Solvi was beached had water so that part of our re-supply was simple. Next was a run to Wal-Mart to get stove fuel and a few other odds and ends. A wonderfully kind man named Layne who is a paddler on the river and a part of Quapaw Canoe Company lives in Vicksburg and gave us a ride to Wal-Mart. He also showed us around the town a bit and gave us all sorts of information about the river. It was an enjoyable couple of hours spent with Layne. Sharing stories and experiences with a fellow river paddler is always interesting, fun, and full of learning. Plus the relationship formed is a quick one due to being kindred spirits. Thank you Layne for the River Magic!
The rest of that day and the following day were spent exploring the town of Vicksburg. I found it to be a cool little river town with a cute Main Street lined with brick buildings and lofts above the shops and restaurants. There is a flood wall that lines the edge of town near the river. Being massive and made of cement the town did a great job of putting large murals on the wall with plaques giving information on the history of Vicksburg. On Tuesday we spent the entire afternoon wandering aimlessly in and out of shops, chatting with locals, and resting on benches along the Main Street. That evening we had some drinks on the 11th floor of a building at the restaurant 10 South. Overlooking the town and river valley below we chatted quietly as the sun went down over the river. Both nights in Vicksburg we slept in the boat pulled up on the muddy bank. It was cozy and comfortable and I was thankful our tent wasn’t on the muddy shore!
Yesterday morning we rowed away from Vicksburg and headed about 8 miles South before stopping. The wind was gusting up to 20mph from the South and we didn’t feel like dealing with it. We found a nice sandy beach and Kyle spent the afternoon reading while I explored. I came across a beaver, 3 deer, and about 5 turtles during my exploring- so awesome!! Cooking potatoes and green beans over the fire we played games, listened to music, and conversed as the sun went down.
It is currently 11am and Kyle is rowing us. To my left there is a tow boat (I recently learned they are tow boats, not tug boats) pushing 48 empty barges. The whole rig is massive and Kyle is attempting to take a picture, but the scale just doesn’t show through in a photo. We are hoping to travel about 35 miles today and 35 miles tomorrow to make it into Natchez while the Post Office is still open. Kyle is turning 30 on Sunday and he has a couple birthday packages there waiting for him 🙂
After Natchez we only have about 60 miles left on the Mississippi before turning right on the Atchafalaya. We are both very much looking forward to the change of pace. Check out this cool video about the Atchaf’ here: https://vimeo.com/136154973
As I sit down to write for the first time in a couple days I find myself sitting under a sun shade Kyle set up for us. Laundry is drying and blowing in the breeze to my right and the river is calm and beautiful to my left. Kyle sits in his camp chair a couple feet away from me scribbling intently in his notebook while I use the cooler as a table for my iPad and keyboard. The last couple days have been spent exploring Natchez and meeting new friends. We arrived in Natchez on Friday afternoon after a marvelous day of sailing 35 miles with the wind behind us. It was the first time in a week we had sailed and due to the wind direction we were thrilled to have the sail up and full pushing us along. Unsure of where to pull Solvi up to access the town we stopped at the first sandy spot we saw that looked close to the town. Very soon we found it was not sand, but instead mud covered in a thin layer of sand. Therefore I found myself stepping off the boat and saying “It’s sandy!” and then taking one more step and finding myself quite literally up to my mid-calf in mud. I struggled to get out of the mud while trying to find the best place to pull Solvi up. Once we decided on a place to pull Solvi up we began the ridiculous process of attempting to blow up her rollers and pack down the mud to make it less steep. With each step we carefully planted our feet to make sure we wouldn’t sink down two feet into the goop below. Unfortunately it was much harder than we anticipated and at one point both of my legs were so deep in the mud I couldn’t get out without Kyle’s help. Sometimes it is frustrating, and my initial reaction is to be upset and annoyed about the mud. But the reality is that it isn’t a big deal. It’s dirt, it comes off with water, and if I want to go into Natchez this is what I need to do. Anyway, after fighting for at least 20 minutes to get Solvi up onto solid ground we then had to figure out how to climb up the hill in front of us to get into town. We climbed up a hill and found ourselves in a parking lot of a casino. Walking through the parking lot and heading towards the Post Office it was clear we weren’t welcome at the casino. Although no one said anything directly to us, the security guards and front door people were not thrilled with us climbing up from the river and walking through their very secure casino grounds. Therefore after retrieving the packages we attempted to get to Solvi a different way. This led us to a small gate that had a “No Trespassing” sign on it. Solvi was just down the hill from the gate and Kyle suggested we just walk to Solvi and then leave Natchez; clearly we weren’t feeling very welcome. He later told me that I looked like I was going to cry as I said to him, “I have never in my life trespassed. I can’t go through that gate!” In reality the entire area was rather abandoned and it was clear that others used the trail to go fishing down by the river. Regardless, the rule follower in me had an extremely hard time with the entire situation. “Just go. I want to get out of here, go I’ll just follow you” I said to Kyle defeated and tired. We walked quickly back to Solvi and then once again were greeted by deep mud. Our plan was to head down to the South end of town and see if we could find a better spot for the boat, and if not then just continue on to a sandbar. The entire situation was difficult and a bit ridiculous. Between the mud, the security guards, and the no trespassing sign I was feeling displaced. Everything during that hour was hard, tiring, and uncomfortable. But I pushed through with a positive attitude and it paid off. I am thankful I didn’t quit or give up, because believe me that would have been way easier than what we went through, but in a small way the situation caused some growth from within. The ability to adapt and be flexible in such situations is something that will bleed over into other aspects of life.
Fortunately after rowing a quarter mile to the other end of town we not only found a perfect spot for Solvi but were also welcomed by a group of friendly folks. As I rowed us towards the patch of sand we spotted in the binoculars a group of people at the bar on the river’s edge were hollering at us and telling us to stop. We were so relieved to find a flat sandy spot (real sand!) and quickly pulled Solvi up on her rollers, for the second time. After securing her and figuring out where we would set up our tent later, we headed towards the group we had seen just a few minutes before. Within two minutes of arriving at the bar I had a cold beer in my hand that a kind gentleman bought me and was conversing with all sorts of new people. Five minutes after arriving at the bar I felt as though I was with old friends as we laughed, joked, and got to know each other. And just like that, the discomfort, displacement, and difficulty of the previous two hours dissipated completely leaving me fully present enjoying the new company.
I had always heard the term “southern hospitality” and heard about how nice people in the south were, but I must say experiencing it first hand is a completely different experience. The folks in Natchez Mississippi are some of the kindest, warmest, and hospitable people we have met. Kyle and I spent our entire night at the bar where we first saw the people waving from the river, and we made so many friends so quickly that it blew me away. One man had lost his home during Hurricane Katrina which is something I have always been curious about. When the hurricane hit I heard so much about it from the news and media, but never had a I met someone who it impacted so directly. Being that he was the only person I had met who experienced the severity of the disaster I had a lot of questions. This man was so thoughtful and carefully answered each question I had. He shared some really heart-felt stories with me that were clearly not easy to share. The entire time we talked he looked me in the eyes, listened intently, and was never once distracted by a phone or other stimuli. What was even more amazing is that he greeted and said goodbye to at least 5 people the entire time we were talking but not once did his eye contact and attention waiver from our conversation. There were many other interactions like this throughout the evening and as the night went on we met more friends, shared stories, and I must say I heard more jokes then I had ever heard. As I write this I find myself typing and then erasing, typing, erasing, etc. I am struggling to find the words to explain the depth and kindness I experienced during each interaction that evening. It was special and something I won’t forget. It was also Kyle’s birthday celebration so I was feeling thankful we were both enjoying ourselves so much. We were able to order a big fancy pizza and salad and then shared the leftovers with our new friends. Thank you to Patti and Rick for providing such a wonderful dinner!
Anyway, the next day we emerged from our tent and had one intention for the entire day: find rubber boots. The Atchafalaya and the coast between Louisiana and Florida is known to be muddy, marshy, and wet. Therefore Kyle and I decided we need to invest in some rubber boots. As we left our camp site by the river we walked past the bar we were at the night before and were surprised to see many familiar faces! It was so fun walking up the street and having people to shake hands with, laugh about the night before, and who made us feel like we were at home. Amazing. After asking around and calling different places we found out that Wal-Mart was our best bet. Problem being that Wal-Mart was 3.5 miles away. Well, our solution to that problem was just to walk! We are hikers, backpackers, and have spent countless nights walking the beach back in Florida, 3.5 miles couldn’t be that bad. But what we didn’t realize is that the muscles gained from rowing are very different than muscles needed for walking. And being that we live on the river on a small boat we really don’t walk long distances. Needless to say as we finally approached the Wal-Mart we were both dragging our feet and discussing how to find a ride home. After successfully finding rubber boots and learning about the “Transit Bus” from the cashier, we waited outside for our $5 ride back to the boat. We laughed at ourselves for walking 3.5 miles when we could have paid $5 for a ride, oh well it was an adventure 🙂
The rest of the day was spent exploring Natchez a bit further, walking on the Natchez Trail (yes more walking!) and eventually ending up at a Blues Lounge. During our exploring we found a store on Silver Street, which is the road down by the river, and met Gayle. She is in the video of the Atchafalaya I provided above and has a wonderful little boutique gift shop. Kyle and I both really enjoyed chatting with her as she told us that we were in for a treat going down the Atchaf’. We really appreciated the first hand knowledge and hope to cross paths with her again. Our night ended fairly early as we were both exhausted from the walking of the day and I found myself falling asleep as soon as my head hit the sleeping pad.
Happy Birthday to Kyle!! Kyle turned 30 years young today and I think I am more excited than he is. I have sung him happy birthday at least 3 times and gave him my gift- which I secretly bought online and had sent to my parents house, they then sent it in a package so I was able to give it to him today. I got him a backpacking/camping pillow which is something he has been talking about for weeks. It was fun to surprise him (thanks to my parents for being co-conspirators ) and he was thrilled to open it. We only travelled about 10 miles today and then stopped on a big sandy island. The wind is strong against us but also we only have two more days on the Mississippi River before our turn to the Atchaf’. Therefore we are really enjoying our last few days and soaking up the ruggedness of the river. The south has been a pleasant surprise and we thank everyone for all their kindness and support. Onward!
Around 4:30 yesterday, just when the sun was starting to get to us due to the glare on the water, we coasted to the shore of a sand bar. Both exhausted from the sun and rowing we decided to have a lazy evening. Kyle set up our sun shade which we used as our tent and I set up our bed underneath, right on the sand. We cooked on the stove instead of the fire and watched the sun go down, causing the sky to catch fire in a deep orange. Due to being sore and tired we decided to have a movie night! We had never done this before but using my iPad, which has a couple movies on it, Kyle whipped up an apparatus using some lines and figured out how to hang the iPad above us so we could lay down and enjoy. It was pretty funny laying on the sand in the open air watching a movie. A couple times we paused it to stare in awe at the stars. When the movie was over we got up and did some stretches under the twinkling stars before going to sleep. Movie night was fun and a nice change, but probably not a habit we will get into. The stars are just too enticing and I almost felt guilty looking at a screen and not the sky. Either way, what a wonderful end to a tiring but beautiful and rewarding day.
This morning we got going a bit earlier than usual, and I have already rowed us 6 miles south by the time we usually leave camp. Hopefully we will get into camp before the glare gets too intense. The air isn’t quite as stagnant as yesterday, a gentle breeze is blowing, giving some relief from the sun, but not enough to sail. That’s okay though, I have really been enjoying the rowing for a few different reasons. One being that it is change of pace- sailing, especially on a river into the wind, can become tiring and exhausting after a while, rowing with no wind is calm, peaceful and quiet. The next reason being that while rowing we can stay real close to the shore, and on this part of the river I really enjoy that. The lower Mississippi has been the most wonderful surprise. Many people told us we were going to hate it, that it was congested with commercial traffic and barge docks. In reality, that’s not the case at all. Yes there are tugs and barges, yes there are lots of them, but the river is big and they are only a small part of the experience. The sandbars, shore lines, and islands on this lower river have been marvelous. Vast open expanses of land that have been untouched and undeveloped. Islands that are not manicured or fiddled with by humans. Every night for over a week the camping we have experienced has been some of the best camping I have ever done in my life. We pull up on a sandbar, bring Solvi 20 ft. from the water’s edge using her rollers, and then set up camp on the flat sand. Around us is endless firewood due to all the driftwood, and usually a quarter mile away there are trees and wooded areas to explore. The view in all directions is breathtaking and never when we camp do we see any buildings or development. The water, despite being a bit muddy, is actually quite clear in areas. Sometimes I can wade to my calves and still see my toes. Most importantly though, is the wildlife. Never in mine or Kyle’s life have we seen birds gather in the numbers they do out here. Whether it be white Pelicans, cormmerands, Canadian Geese, or ducks- we see these animals gather on sandbars in the hundreds! Particularly the white Pelicans. On the beach we find footprints every night, of coyotes, beaver, deer, and again birds. We have experienced beaver swimming really close to our tent on many occasions, and see coyotes walking the river’s edge while rowing quietly down stream. Deer hide in the woods and come out for water when the coast is clear. The birds, bugs, and insects create an orchestra of music every night as the sun begins to set. I wish I could articulate the shear purity of what we have experienced out here on the river. But I will say one thing, I think if possible, everyone who has interest should make a point to come experience parts of this river that run right down the middle of our country. It is truly spectacular!
4:30pm: I hear water lapping on the shore to my right. Gentle waves that roll over the sand, bringing just the faintest sound of water rushing. Below me is our tapestry on our sleeping pads atop our black tarp. The sandy, gritty earth is below that. Pebbles the size of my fingernail blanket the sand in areas, giving some color variance and texture. The water is a deep blue in the sunshine. Small ripples caused by a southerly breeze cover the water’s surface. A small patch of calm water has formed near the water’s edge caused by trees nearby blocking the wind. In this small area the water is mirror like and reflects the puffy white clouds in the pale blue sky above. Every once in a while I hear Kyle’s laugh in the far distance, being carried over the sand by the wind. He has found some friends who are camping a quarter mile down from where we are on this rugged gorgeous island. Seeing other people and other boats has been a rarity for the past couple weeks, but as we approach Vicksburg and Natchez the sightings have increased. This makes Kyle happy and excited to meet and chat with as many people as will stop and talk to him. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed the complete solitude and will take my time easing back into social interactions. Soon I will walk over and join Kyle and the friendly folks from Mississippi, but for now I am enjoying sitting still, quietly enjoying my surroundings. A small bug, green as a spring leaf, has crawled up on the black tarp. The contrast is stark and I wonder what the bug is thinking about this foreign material he has stumbled upon. Watching him carefully for a while I observe his thin little legs taking miniature steps as he explores further. Moments of stillness such as these, the only movement is my hand moving across the paper, are so plentiful out here on this voyage and I feel incredibly grateful for each and every one.
I awoke this morning before the sun rose over the horizon. My heavy eyelids opened just a little bit as I moved to my side, turning to face the water. The river water was mirror like as it tends to be in the early morning hours, and the horizon was a foggy orange, crystallizing as the sun began to rise beyond the trees. We got another early start, really hoping to beat the heat that has seemed to be radiating lately. The friendly folks from the powerboats last night drove past us and stopped to say one more goodbye. Waving we watched as their 1960’s boats became small specks down the river. Knowing we only had to travel about 17 miles to reach our intended campsite just north of Vicksburg the day was easy going and the rowing not very arduous. Arriving at the beach around 1:45 we were feeling thankful to be done for the day, as the sun was really starting to beat down. In fact, the sand was so hot that I had to run across it in order for my feet not to feel as though they were on fire. Quickly we set up the sun shade and spent the afternoon hiding from relentless rays.
The day was spent reading, writing, and making lists for town, rather uneventful and quiet until we heard an airplane above us flying real low. Poking our heads out from the sun shade we were greeted by a float plane that looked like it was about to land in front of the beach we are camping on. And sure enough it did! The beautiful while and blue plane landed gracefully on the water in front of us, hardly disturbing the surface, before idling down and heading our direction. Kyle waded out into the water to grab onto the wing and then to catch a rope the pilot was holding. That is when we met Dan and his daughter Eleana. They said they just had to stop and say hello because they can’t pass up a “good Huck Finn story” as he put it. What a wonderful visit it was. Never have I seen a float plane so up close nor had one stop on the water to talk to us! We had a great time chatting, laughing, sharing stories, and he gave us all sorts of good information about our new route plan for the Atchafalaya as he is from that area. A half hour or so passed and the sun was getting ready to set so Dan and his daughter got back into the plane as Kyle and I pushed them out into the deeper water. We stood, up to our knees, in the cool river water and waved and watched as our new friends flew away. “What an awesome visit!” Kyle said to me enthusiastically. I agreed.
As the day comes to close I find myself reflecting on our journey thus far. A comment a stranger made to me a few weeks ago came to my mind and caused some contemplation. So many times throughout this endeavor I have found myself becoming discouraged by what others have told me and their opinions:“It’s too big out there”, “The locks and dams are awful”, “Those tug captains hate little boats”, “The bugs are horrendous”, “You guys are crazy, that’s dangerous”, “You’ll hate it, I wouldn’t go” and unfortunately the list goes on and on. Thankfully I have Kyle on my team to talk me out of the mood that those comments put me in, and really I am sure most people are just trying to help, to provide their perspective. But I’ll tell you what, if I would have listened to half of the things I was told, mostly by complete strangers, I would have never even made it into the boat in Wisconsin! It’s a tough thing, not letting other people’s judgements and opinions weigh me down, but with time I am getting better and better at it. The entire purpose of this trip was to take a journey, an adventure, to challenge ourselves past our limits. To go where we will find situations that require work, patience, quick thinking, and strong will. And that is exactly what we have found. It is difficult, tiring, dirty, muddy, sweaty, and sometimes flat out ridiculous what we put ourselves through. But it is also so incredibly rewarding. The situations I find myself in are so raw that I am often stripped of any predeterminations and forced to deal with what is in front of me in that exact moment. I am feeling thankful that I am learning to push through others thoughts and opinions and only worry about my own, because it really is something I have struggled with prior, and still sometimes during, this journey. I care what others think and say and I try to take their thoughts into consideration, but there are times when I need to learn to stand on my own two feet and be confidant in who I am and the choices I have made. It’s not an easy thing and as I write this I am sure I don’t have it all figured out, maybe I never will, but I do feel a sense of independence and confidence that I was lacking before and I give the mighty, beautiful river some credit for that. The lessons I have learned thus far on our adventure are powerful and provoke deep thoughts and contemplations and I very much look forward to seeing how they pan out in other aspects of life as a whole 🙂
10/25/2016We completed 30 miles, all under oar power yesterday. Each of us rowing about 15 miles- 3 one hour shifts. The sun was just beginning to set when we arrived at our sand bar. Kyle and I pulled Solvi up on her roller and then found ourselves standing in awe as the sky broke out into an array of vivid, crisp, colors. It was as though someone had taken a blue canvas and this canvas was the purest of blue. Then they took a wide, soft bristle paint brush and gently swooshed it across the canvas sky, thus creating a masterpiece of pastel pinks, greens, and oranges brushed lightly on the blue. The result caused the two of us to be stopped in our tracks as we watched the pastel colors begin to reflect in the glassy water’s surface until the sky and the water became all but the same. Marvelous.
As the sky continued its masterpiece, Kyle and I began the hunt for firewood. We walked a quarter mile of sand before arriving at some bushes surrounded by driftwood. Taking two long sticks and some rope Kyle created a sled type of structure. We then placed the firewood perpendicular on the long sticks until they were mostly covered. Each of us then grabbed the sticks on both ends and carried the firewood sled a quarter mile back to camp. It was quite fun working together to carry such a load back to camp. We talked about how interesting it was that situations like this had become a daily routine, whereas before this journey they had been non-existent. Simple yet laborious activities have become rather rewarding.
Which leads me to another thought: never before have I found myself so completely in tune. Not only in tune with the environment and natural world around me, but also with myself. Because our days have become so simple yet demanding, I have left behind all the clutter, chatter, and baggage that was in my mind before. The over analyzing of situations, the worrying of minor things, the feeling of needing/wanting to be somewhere else, the stress caused by the hustle bustle- it has all vanished. And it took over a month to do so, but now that it has vanished, I find myself, every morning standing on the river’s edge stripped of any expectations or judgements for the day. I find myself happy, and this happiness I describe runs so deep in my soul that even when I am frustrated, angry, or upset about something, I have a steady feeling of joy and ease deep down where it matters. And because of this steady feeling, circumstances that are stressful or hard, become fun and adventurous, and most importantly rewarding. I had no idea that when we left on this journey I would find myself so incredibly satisfied, but at the end of every single day when I am covered in sweat, sand, mud, and dirty river water, I honestly couldn’t be more grateful to be right where I am.
The universe must have heard my complaints about the constant southwest winds, because as soon as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the rigors of sailing into the wind everyday, the wind left. It’s as though we woke up one morning and it just ceased to exist! Therefore, the last 4 days have been spent rowing all day and I couldn’t be more thankful for the change of pace. I was really starting to get worn down by sailing into the wind, and while rowing is difficult physically, when there is no wind it is actually quite enjoyable.
Yesterday we completed 20 miles under oar in about 4 hours. We were really lazy in the morning and didn’t leave our beach until noon. The laziness of the morning followed us into the afternoon and we just took our time, real relaxed, and enjoyed the windless river. While Kyle was on shift I sat on the aft deck and did laundry. We had intellectual conversations that got so intense at moments the person on shift stopped rowing and we drifted while finishing our conversation as to not be distracted.
Today we got a bit of an earlier start, leaving the beach around 10am and completed our 30 miles by 3:15. The day was quite wonderful, and when we arrived at the beach for the evening we both plopped in our camp chairs, discussing how satisfied we felt and how fun of a day it was. It was just one of those days filled with laughter, dancing, music, and an overall feeling of joy. Kyle kept doing this silly little dance to a familiar song and I couldn’t help but giggle and giggle, thus causing him to continue the dance, perpetuating the cycle of silliness. I love such days.
The sun is out full force this morning. I can feel it beating down upon my tanned skin, causing the zinc oxide I have on my nose to become sweaty and probably less effective from the sun’s strong rays. The air is calm and humid, the wind nonexistent, causing the atmosphere to be a bit stuffy but not in a negative way. Kyle is rowing us away from the sandbar that we called home last night. I turn my gaze to the right towards the fading sand bar and can see heat radiating from the sand; it’s going to be a hot one today! There is a distant humming of a tug’s engine that is slowly fading away. Kyle’s oars disturb the water’s surface causing a calming swooshing sound as he pulls on the oars. What a familiar sound it has become, filling my ears and bringing ease as I close my eyes and experience the tranquility of the environment around me. The water is so calm that it appears to be one mechanism, rather than individual drops. And when a tug comes by and brings a wake, the surface of the water is reluctant to break, causing rolling waves, still with a glassy look. I feel rested and contemplative. Kyle and I cowboy camped on the sand last night with our boom tent/tarp set up above us to lessen the dew.There is something special about sleeping out in the open, an intimacy with the earth and environment caused by being one with our surroundings rather than separated by artificial walls. I much enjoy it. Kyle and I had another night full of intellectual and thought-provoking conversation. We have had a lot of that lately, and we both seem to drift off to sleep, smiling and dreaming of all the various ideas that were discussed. The stars were vivid last night and we could see part of the Milky Way Galaxy; it’s become one of my favorite things to fall asleep to. Helps keep me grounded and to remind me of my place in this infinite and expanding universe.
Well the clues this morning were correct, it has been a hot one today. Beautiful and peaceful, but the sun has been scorching down at some points. We took a break for lunch and drifted down river for half an hour while we crunched away on salty chips and dip. While we were drifting I couldn’t help but notice the lusciousness of the colors around. Everything from the sand to the sky seemed to be a deep and vivid color. The trees growing from the sand a lush green in comparison to the grainy tan sand below. The sky the babiest of blues and the clouds so white and puffy I found myself imagining jumping on them. Then there was Solvi, floating perpendicular to the river with her gorgeous varnish covered western red cedar radiating in the sun causing a shine. The only sounds that could be heard was the gentle rushing of water caused by a nearby wing dam, an occasional bird song, and the crunching of tortilla chips between our molars. And not only were our moods high because of the beauty around us, but just five miles earlier we crossed a major milestone marked by an invisible line: the border of Louisiana! Louisiana, the same state in which the Mississippi dumps into the Gulf- the last state of the Mississippi River! 75 days and 1,324 miles later we rowed right into Louisiana. How fun. We stopped on a sandbar and splashed around in the shallows and took some photos to celebrate. Go us! We were feeling quite proud to have made it so far 🙂
On Friday afternoon after sailing 26 miles on a lovely run of averaging 7.5 knots we arrived at the river town of Helena, Arkansas. We found a nice little sandy spot to hide the boat a ways from town so that she was out of view. After a ridiculous 15 minutes of attempting to pull Solvi up from the water, through goopy mud and to the sand, we succeeded- both completely covered from knees down in a goopy, slimy, almost fluffy type of mud. Kyle and I laughed at how often we find our lower legs and feet encapsulated in mud. I used to try to avoid it, but it now has become fun and we laugh at all the silly noises the mud makes as it squishes between our toes. Gathering our grocery list and backpacks we headed into town. The town of Helena was quite interesting. After emerging from the shoreline where Solvi was, we were greeted by a large park that had walking trails, bird watching, and a nice Boardwalk. Leaving the park we found ourselves on the outskirts of town standing on a small hill looking down over Helena- a strange duality of nice, clean, modernized buildings to buildings that were quite literally crumbling down landing in a defeated dusty heap on the ground below. We scouted for a water spigot since the park didn’t have one, and found one on the side of a collapsing building. I tested the water and it was clean, clear, and cold. The building looked like someone was attempting to bring it back as it had new windows and doors so we felt safe about it. Water check! Next was the goose chase of finding food. I had seen on google maps that there was no grocery store in Helena, just gas stations and quick marts. We set out to find a quick mart and after asking 3 people for directions and getting completely conflicting answers, we came across a dollar general- good enough. After 45 minutes of reading food ingredients inside the most disastrous store I have ever been in, we emerged into the sunlight, our backpacks full of the healthiest food we could find at such a store. Surprisingly, their canned goods seemed decent and we even found some snacks that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup! Walking back to the boat we enjoyed the unique and diverse town of Helena and found a place for wifi.
Our afternoon was spent at a little bar/coffee shop listening to calm music in a relaxed atmosphere. We drank cold beer and shared a veggie burger thanks to a very generous River Angel. Thank you SO much Anna, it was a wonderful treat that will be remember as we continue our journey! Kyle spent some time chatting with some locals while I did research on our new route to Florida.
Anyway, we left Helena yesterday afternoon with 10 days worth of food and water since the stretch from Helena to Vicksburg, Mississippi is over 200 miles. It was an easy going day of taking turns rowing, both of us enjoying the break from strong winds.
Currently it is about 11:30am. We are sailing into the wind, daggerboard in its trunk (no issues, yay!) and Kyle is on the helm. My hat is clipped around my head so it doesn’t blow away in the gusts. Leggings, a long sleeve, and a fleece jacket are keeping me warm in this chilled breeze. The sky above is blue, but it’s as though a child took white finger paint and made long swirly streaks on the blue canvas. The sun is out, but so is the moon, causing me to feel grateful we get to experience both for a bit.
The rest of the day yesterday actually proved to be a bit trying. The wind was strong against us and because of that the rowing was extremely difficult. Therefore, we sailed, and most of the time it was fun and fast, but other times frustrating and hard. Because of our wing dam incident while sailing into the wind we have changed how we do things. When the daggerboard is down and we are sailing and see an oncoming tug and barge, we now drop the entire rig, pull up the daggerboard, row out of the channel, and wait until the push passes. Now we are able to drop the rig and start rowing within a 2 minute time frame- same for transitioning from rowing to sailing- but after doing it 5 times in a 3 hour time period, it begins to get a bit tedious. Add to the tediousness of pulling the sail up and down, there are choppy waves, high wind, and strong currents. Not only that, but it is also laborious. Raising the sail in a 15mph breeze is difficult for me, I find myself using all my strength to pull the sail up, but all the wind wants to do is blanket me with it, making it much harder to pull up because I can’t see and am being pushed by the full sail. It is hard on my hand, my arms, and my back. Kyle and I share the various tasks, but by the 5th or 6th time of dropping the rig, waiting for the push, and re-raising the rig, I was exhausted and annoyed. “I’m calling it!” I said frustratedly. At the beginning of this trip Kyle and I decided that if at any point either one of us needs to quit for the day, we will do so as soon as it is safe, all we have to do is call it out. Therefore after I called it yesterday and the tug and it’s 4 foot wake were gone, Kyle and I both laid back, me on the cooler and Kyle on the aft deck; we were beat. The wind, the sun, and the constant attention needed to navigate the day had worn us out. We had almost completed our 30 miles anyway so began to look for a place to camp. A massive sandbar was 2 miles down river, and we both sighed, neither of us wanting to move another inch, as we pulled on the oars for 20 more minutes. But as usual, once we arrived at our home for the night the frustrations and difficulties of the day faded away as we held hands and explored the beach, collecting firewood along the way. We ate a very large quantity of food as we sat by the burning fire and watched as the sun dropped behind the trees. It was a tough day, but it was good one as well! We must not forget that tough days can sometimes be the best of days 🙂
Today, on the other hand, is a completely difference experience. We awoke to no wind and blue cloud covered skies. Both of us were actually looking forward to rowing since we could take turns and not be fighting the wind. I took first shift and found myself rowing us at a consistent 6 knots. It hadn’t been 30 minutes when Kyle and I spotted the cutest little cabin on the river’s edge. This intrigued us because we hardly ever see any houses along the shore, especially just one on its own. We were checking it out when I heard someone shouting, unable to see him, but I made out the words, “Do y’all want to stop and visit for a bit?” Two minutes later we were approaching a sandy spot just below the cabin as a gentleman came walking down the hill. Mickey was his name, and what a nice man he was. He has been retired for 20 years and lives in Cleveland, Mississippi. Each morning he comes to his cabin on the river and reads and eats his lunch. Mickey showed us around the cabin and then asked if we wanted to sit on his deck and eat lunch together. I packed Kyle and I a quick lunch and we headed to his patio. What a fantastic visit and afternoon it was! He shared stories, asked questions, and Kyle and I did the same. We stayed for a couple hours before continuing on, but it was an impactful couple of hour. The fact that this man saw us from a far and asked if we anted to “visit” for a while is amazing. How often do you have a complete stranger ask if you want to sit down and do nothing but talk? Or let me ask that a different way, how often do you ask strangers if they want to visit? And how different would the world be if we did things like that more often? We, as humans, are all so uniquely different, we carry such different stories and experiences, but at the same time we are all similar. We enjoy companionship, conversation, and learning- so why not find that enjoyment in the people around you? We surround ourselves with our friends and family and people we have grown to trust and love, this is wonderful and shouldn’t change, but what if we expanded our circles? What if our circles began to intertwine and we shared our stories? I feel strongly that our worlds would begin to change and grow if we could learn to embrace the people around us, even if they aren’t in our circle. Anyway, my point is that he reached his hand out, and we grabbed it. And because of us being open to one another, Kyle and I have a new friend and Mickey has two new friends. It’s a marvelous life and I am thankful to have shared two hours of it with Mickey and Kyle on a small patio in a cozy cabin overlooking the river valley below. Thank you Mickey!
Kyle is currently rowing us while I sit crossed legged, facing forward, and write in my journal. A monarch butterfly, no bigger than a silver dollar, just fluttered by. The sky is blue but covered in a sheet of thin clouds. Some areas the clouds are so thin I can see the blue on the other side. The sun is out, but currently covered, allowing me to look right at it for just a moment with my sunglasses on. The river is real bendy and about every 5-10 miles it makes a dramatic left or right turn. The entire day today has been rather quiet. There is a stillness, a calmness in the air around. When I stop moving and just stand still, I find myself amazed at how tranquil the environment is. Due to our late start and then lunch with Mickey we will probably be underway until close to sun-set, but that’s okay because it’s a good day to be on the river : )