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 : )