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 🙂