Our campsite last night was perfect. Got a much needed good night’s rest.
After breakfast, Austin and I discussed paddle strategies over a cup of New Orleans style coffee given to me by John Ruskey. Delicious, but we had to figure out how to paddle these waters and share them with the big ships.
As we paddled out, we almost immediately had to maneuver around several large vessels that were selecting their routes based on efficiency and without regard to the channel markers. Barges and tugs are all over the place. Fortunately, the seagoing vessels tend to predictable stay in the channels, otherwise paddling the Mississippi in these flood state waters would virtually be impossible.
The big ones don't scare me. It's the massive waves left behind from the upcoming vessels that cause me the greatest concern. This is especially true with the large freighters. Austin and I would like to video them, but truthfully, we must keep both hands on the paddle to safely pass through. Maybe we can rig something with tape so I can mount a camera on my head.
Sat outside the tent, letting it cool down long as I could, until the mosquitoes were so bad that I had to go inside…no matter how hot. Figured I could deal with the heat better by stripping down to my shorts. I had earlier left the screens unzipped to get the air flowing. That was another mistake.
Tomorrow, we will attempt to reach New Orleans a day earlier than expected. If Austin and I can paddle that fast through these waters, I can take my 11th, "0" miles paddled, day of rest. If I can take one more "0" day, reaching the "Gulf of Mexico in 80 days" could become a reality.
We were running low on water, so Austin plotted a course to Donaldsonville, Louisiana.
After departing our "Creative Campsite" for last night, the wind started billowing as we rounded the first bend. Was different paddling. Determined to paddle at least 35 miles today, Austin and I pressed on. I would soon reach the mark of the 2000th mile paddled on this trip.
Beginning to understand the meaning of "Industry" as the amount of commercial activity on the river increases daily. We can manage the constant need to modify our planned routes for safe passage. The turbulent waters left behind by the massive ships is our biggest challenge. Hove noticed though, if I communicate with my Marine radio, the Skippers are doing what they can to help with safe passage. Just so many barges, tugs and ships it's hard to communicate with all of them.
High waters have blocked entrance to the boat ramp with acres of log jams. We must get water here. With no way to reach the town boat ramp, we had to find passage through the flooded forest and pull the boats up on the concrete reinforced levee. Once on the other side, a nice couple that gave us ice water. Would like to thank them but didn't get their name.
Had ice water with dinner last night. A rare treat indeed. As Austin said "you know when you have been on the river too long when you drink ice water for desert".
I'm pretty sure that these guys aren't getting enough credit for what they are doing. So, here's a big shoutout to Brad Tallent and Austin Graham of Adventureitus Productions for filming this documentary for the ole' man! Hope you enjoy their weekly updates! Stay tuned in the Spring of 2016 as the film is released.
Hope all of you can share this website with your friends. Let's continue to spread the word. Somehow, someday, our efforts to raise awareness and spread the word about the need for a cure for Juvenile Diabetes will be heard. And, once again, I want to thank each of you from the bottom of my heart, for all of the support thus far.
Tomorrow morning, Austin Graham and I will begin the most crucial leg of this entire journey. The paddle between St. Francisville and New Orleans. When we paddle into New Orleans, we will still have 100 miles left to paddle before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.
The next 175 miles, as we pass through the heavy industrial sections, will likely be the most stressful, possibly difficult, of them all. High waters will further complicate matters making tent sites rare and possibly impossible to find. The heat, coupled with today being the last rest "0" day on the entire journey, I expect the next five days to be the toughest of all.
I have been resting today at Austin’s mom's weekend, year-round "Camp". Donna has been such a gracious host. I am thankful to have met this fine River Angel family. Austin Graham you are my hero! I can't wait to see the full length movie you, Brad Tallent, and Coltin Calloway will be producing at Adventureitusproductions.com
Slept till after 0800 this morning. Nice breakfast and off to wash clothes. Did shopping for foods that should last to the Sea. Also did "Boat keeping" chores part of the day. Tomorrow morning early, we will be off to the GULF OF MEXICO! The next scheduled day off will be after we reach the salt water, 22 miles south of Venice, Louisiana.
Paddled the last three days with river brothers, John Ruskey and Mark River. I have been blessed, not only for being able to do this expedition at 80 years old, but for the opportunities it has provided me. I feel so grateful to be enjoying river time with some of the most well-known adventure paddlers of our generation.
The time spent with John and River has been more valuable than words can express. I needed this morale boost…and they came to my rescue. I was tired, and they were there. Got me through the last three days. Was a relaxed a and peaceful paddle with great food and shared stories. They quite possibly saved the completion of the Expedition.
John Ruskey and the fine folks at Quapaw Canoe Company are the creators of the #rivergator, which is a priceless guide to the Lower Mississippi. I have found the information it contains to be my most valuable source of information. I highly recommend anyone paddling, or just interested in the lower Mississippi, review this original creation as often as possible.
As I get closer to the end, I am aware of things I feel clearly now as being the most important to my life. Find myself often reflecting on how good returning home will be. I miss my wife Merriam, my children Jony, James and Sunshine, and my grand children, Bella and Isaiah.
The uneventful 30 miles paddled today got me thinking about the true meaning of life. River time has slowed me down, making it easier to use some time to reflect back on the past. Never realized how much I would miss Richard Sojourner until he was gone. He was my on-water inspiration. A cog is now missing. I pray the Doctors will let him return soon.
I think of the children out there like AnnA with Type 1 Diabetes. How society has seemingly forgotten them, not getting equal research funding that many other diseases receive. Even though I am tired, and I miss my family and my paddle partner Richard, the quest to complete this journey will continue for now.
I will paddle out from St. Francisville, Louisiana this Friday morning with Austin Graham. Austin rejoining me on the water is also a vital cog to the potential completion of this journey. My thanks to him and his family.
Today, we paddled past the outlets, where one third of the Mississippi River water passes into the Atchaflaya, the shortest big river in North America. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive, fearing we would approach the area too far river right and get sucked down one of the chutes. John and River passed much closer than me, though, without any difficulties.
The current is slowing a bit. It will take longer to average the miles needed to make this journey in 80 days. Also, for the first time since above St. Louis, I am beginning to see signs that the flooded river basin is beginning to recede.
We must find a campsite for it is getting late in the day.
He could not have been more correct. After we got our gear up, we set up camp. Under these large trees, we were just far enough off the main river to not be disturbed by the passing barges. With all day shade, clean, dry, and level land, it was the most ideal conditions a creative camper could ever hope to enjoy. The undergrowth and terrain reminds me of Lickskillet, Kentucky where I grew up. Happy campers here tonight! We even joked around with some entertainment video clips.
Would highly recommend this campsite for high water conditions. Unfortunately, there is no way to boat into this area at normal water levels.
One again, I have learned never underestimate the knowledge of the Mighty Quapaw John Ruskey. I must also write my next blog discussing the great camp foods we have been enjoying. John Ruskey and Mark River - you guys are a sight for sore eyes.
I was blessed today in that the major sponsor of this Cruising for a Cure Expedition will paddle alongside my boat "AnnA”. John Ruskey will accompany me all the way to St. Francisville.
Ruskey and his sidekick, Mark “River”, arrived in Natchez at 1300 as planned. All of us had lunch at Gail Guido’s house, literally about 10 yards across the road from the boat ramp. The Natchez news paper showed up, as promised, for photos and interviews at 1330. We said goodbye to Gail and others under the hill, and was able to paddle out by 1430, hoping to get 30 miles in before dark.
The paddle down was filled with laughter and catching up on stories. We stopped to swim several times, and I have found that getting back in the boat as it floats downstream is a piece of cake. The cool water, coupled with the shade from my umbrella, I was quite comfortable, even though it was hot.
We found one of the finest campsites on the Mississippi here at mile 335, some 28 miles below Natchez. Just love this site. Ground has clean sand at the shoreline, with a deep bead of leaves covering the small island knoll that is surrounded by water. I don't recommend trying to find it on your own though, for it is tucked away deep in sycamore saplings, which will soon be on the other side of the shoreline debris. Those following with SPOT can see where we are, as well as follow the journey, with pings every 10 minutes.
I am now relaxed and listening to music by John Ruskey with River turned in for the night already. John cooked dinner, and River and John built a fire. Our spot is shady, so it should cool off soon for a good night’s sleep.
Would like to take this opportunity to thank Layne Logue for paddling from Vicksburg to Natchez with Me. I can’t imagine completing this journey without the Quapaw Canoe Company, John Ruskey and River. A huge thanks to them for driving down and paddling to St. Francisville. And, finally, Gail Guido, who hosted my stay in the fine city of Natchez. Without River Angels such as these folks, this Expedition to raise awareness and funding for research to fight the dreaded childhood disease Type 1 Diabetes would not have been possible.
I witnessed the whole episode from the balcony of my riverside suite here in Natchez, Mississippi. The man backed down the boat ramp to unload his kayak. As he prepared to drive out, his vehicle was in reverse. He gunned it, laying rubber in the process. It was too late when he realized that he was in deep trouble, in fast flowing waters. He was traveling backwards down the ramp at a high speed.
The splash covered the cab from the back through the truck bed. I could have started my video here, but decided to call 911 first, thinking they might be here in time to latch on to the truck and pull it out. Not so, as the truck began sinking shortly after he scrambled out of the driver-side window. Just before that, he did try at great motor speed revolutions to drive out of the river, while the vehicle was bouncing in the waves. Guess he thought the tires would act as a propeller.
Today was weird, felt like something was missing. Richard Sojourner was not paddling along side me. That was a heart breaker. It was a beautiful day to paddle though, with great winds and following waters. Layne and I paddled the remaining 37 miles to Natchez, Mississippi in five hours. Although there were some interesting things to write about, I am devoting the remainder of this blog to my great paddle buddy and river brother Richard Sojourner.
MESSAGE FROM RICHARD SOJOURNER:
As you already know, Dale and I left Greenwood MS early Tuesday morning July 28th, camped at a most miserable campsite that night and arrived at Vicksburg MS by12:30 pm Wednesday July 29th. Although fast, the 100 mile paddle took a serious tole on us. It was 99* with a heat index of 113* on Tuesday and Wednesday, the hottest day of the year thus far in Mississippi, it was 101* with a heat index above 115*. I became dehydrated on Tuesday, didn't fully recover that night, and was even more dehydrated the following day.
With Dale's and Tim McCarley's help, I made every effort to recover but Wednesday evening, I experienced some concerning medical issues and decided to get a medical checkup. The examination confirmed that I was quite dehydrated and, in addition, had developed Bursitis in my left knee. Tim's Dr, Dr Bynum, ordered several tests, the results of which would be known Friday morning, before we planned to paddle out. I was feeling better Friday. While preparing to depart, we had a nice interview with the local News Paper and talked with several folks who had come down to see us off. Shortly after 9:00am, I received the call from Dr. Bynum's offices...and that's when things went downhill.
My Electrolytes and Kidney Functions were well out of normal range. Dr. Bynum wanted to retest me in 4 - 5 days and strongly discouraged me from paddling. Needless to say, this was not what I had anticipated or wanted to hear. I was a bit emotional, and become so even now when I recall the conversation.
When I announced to Dale that I couldn't paddle. Dale, also became emotional and immediately decided to delay our departure 4 - 5 days until I received the go ahead. I said "no way, there's not enough time! We only have 16 days left to complete our adventure, and there are far too many folks involved in this effort, plans are already made, and there are several long-standing inflexible deadlines for such a delay".
After some convincing, Dale reluctantly agreed to continue without me. Lane Logue, another paddler and Vicksburg River Angel was already set to paddle with us to Natchez. Several folks from Natchez were scheduled to paddle from there to St. Francisville LA. where Brad and Austin will rejoin us.
So, the bottom line: I am TEMPORARILY not on the river. I informed my wife of the situation. My brother David, who was visiting from California, picked me up in Vicksburg. I have a follow up appointment with my doctor on Monday afternoon. WITHOUT QUESTION, I WILL BE REJOINING DALE ABSOLUTELY NO LATER THAN IN VENICE POSSIBLY SOONER AND I WILL COMPLETE THE MILES I'M MISSING, WITHIN THIS CALENDAR YEAR. I appreciate all the support and encouragement we have received and encourage all to stay tuned, it's not over yet.
God Speed Richard may you be able to join us again soon.
Here's some bonus pics that Layne took on our 2-day journey. Rivergator
Layne covered his lips with his finger in a gesture to be quiet. He whispers in my ear "there is something in there". We could see it walking our way now, only a few yards inside the thick undergrowth.
Layne Logue is paddling with me to Natchez. He is great at spotting creatures, small and large, that I would never know were stalking and closing in on our campsite across the river from the day marker and light at mile marker number 399.3.
Today has been a whirlwind of activities. Starting out with my awakening at 0400 (my routine starting time each day). I spend the extra morning time catching up on Facebook posts, emails, texts and messages. I also finish writing the daily blogs in the early AM. Today, however, was different. Richard was concerned that his symptoms of heat exhaustion still lingered. Thank God there was no signs of heat stroke.
Richard was awaiting results from some test the Doctors had given him the day before. He had heat exhaustion symptoms during the paddle into Vicksburg. While at the doctor’s office yesterday, he had been instructed not to paddle until the blood work test results were known. We expected to hear the results from the Doctor this morning.
Richard and I both packed as if both of us were paddling to Natchez. Tim brought us breakfast. The Shipley Donuts of Vicksburg are the best ever. Paired with fresh coffee, we got our gear loaded and off to the ramp before the 0800 interview with the Vicksburg Post.
A local youth with Type 1 Diabetes, following me on SPOT and her friend was there. She became part of the interview process. That was an emotional time for both of us. Here I am paddling for her, plus thousands of others so afflicted, and the mission may have to come to an end here on the boat ramp in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
As the interview ended the test results were in. Richard was instructed not to paddle until further tests could be done. The doctor felt he would need to followup with with his doctor's at home in three or four days. This was yet another setback that was added to the emotional rollercoaster of the last two days. But Richard and I are survivors, and a solution was soon to be found. Several options were discussed. His plans now are to re-join the Cruising for a Cure Expedition downriver in a few days. Layne and I paddled out from Vicksburg at 1030 this am.
By the way, the creatures stalking us turned out to be a very large raccoon and two bucks.
At the doctor's office, Tim McCarley and I waited in the parking lot. Richard had some issues that appear to be dehydration related. The doctor checked him thoroughly and all looks as though we will be able to paddle again, starting tomorrow. A late day start. But we must wait for lab blood work results. To keep tabs on start time, follow SPOT, which you can access on this website.
Today has been restful, a needed day off. Having paddled 100 miles in two days did task my old body has been pushed to the maximum. After a day of rest, both Richard and I will be in much better shape to deal with the high waters and heat issues. While I was busy writing this blog, River Angel Tim McCarley was busy trying to find a way to solve the "shade" problem for Richard's kayak. Amazingly, Tim was able to solve the problem and Richard will now have shade following him down the river.
Tonight, we went out on the town with Layne Logue. Loved the new "10 South" restaurant atop the 10 story Trust Mark building in downtown Vicksburg, MS.
Will get more needed rest tonight, and get up in the early AM for a newspaper interview. But first I would like to mention my family. To Merriam Sanders, my wife, for taking on the responsibility of running our home so I can paddle. To Judi Silvey, my sister, who without her massive efforts fund raising and providing outstanding on river ground support there would be no Cruising for a Cure Expedition. To Shannon Williamson, my niece, who has made the Jonathan Brown created fantastic Grey Beard Adventurer website even better with her daily maintenance and postings. To Elaine Sanders, my sister, who has provided much needed land and river side support. To AnnA, the poster child, and her parents, Tom and Angie Silvey, who's support was essential as well as allowing me to name my boat "AnnA". And to my children Jony, James and Sunshine for their loving support. I love all my family and thank those mentioned and un-mentioned, all down through 43 first cousins and 100's of second and third cousins, most whose roots can be traced back to Lickskillet, Kentucky.
The Sanders, Silvey and Hankins families all hope this Cruising for a Cure Expedition, in some small way will help find a cure for Juvenile Diabetes.
Saw briers under the tent, saw briers growing across passage to the boats, and saw briers hanging from the trees. This is not to mention the other vines, like poison oak, which fortunately has never been a problem for me. There were a couple dozen older saw briers blocking the passage to the boats, which I easily broke and moved aside. Although I did get pricked a few times, I was able to clear the passage before Richard awoke. Still can't figure out how we actually set up our tents last night. We must have been exhausted. The photos here were taken this am after I cleaned up the campsite. The boats are now loaded and ready for paddling. We left this makeshift campsite at the at the crack of dawn hopefully never to set foot here again.
Richard and I agreed to boat closer together from now on, a subject debated numerous times since we departed Lake Itasca on May 15th. With this heat, coupled with not being able to find dry grounds, and for a multitude of safety reasons, it is now crucial we stay within shouting distance. The need to paddle close to each other became apparent yesterday when Richard lost sight of me and I passed him on river left. He was just too far ahead to see my boat approaching as he awaited for me on the far side of the river.
It really must be boring for Richard, waiting for me numerous times throughout the day. His sleek, speedy kayak is much faster than my bulky touring canoe. I try hard, often too hard because of my competitive spirit, and sometimes just can't keep his boat in tow. It happened again today as Richard paddled on ahead arriving in Vicksburg "forty-five five minutes" ahead of me.
Richard must get out of the heat of the sun, finish early enough to avoid the mid day heat. For me I don't have this problem. My large wind tunnel designed umbrella from Germany acts as a shade tree. Possibly even better than natural shade because of its UV protection level. Coupled with pouring water over my head I am perfectly comfortable, even in the heat of the afternoon when the heat index is in the triple digits.
Unfortunately, my loyal paddle partner Richard Sojourner does not have shade following him down the river. Those who paddle in extreme heat, without shade have never experienced the comfort level created with following shade. No shade for Richard's boat, yet though. We still have not figured out how to mount a protective cover and still have paddling clearance.
A solution to this issue must be found prior to paddling out on Friday morning. That solution could very well include paddle early, paddle in full moon, break up the day in two segments, as well as find a way to shade a kayak cockpit.
Tune in tomorrow to see what solution(s) we came up with.
Earlier today, a funny thing happened. River Angel, and soon to be Source to Sea paddler, Matt Burdine tried to catch up with us at Mayersville, Mississippi. Unfortunately, we were paddling so fast that he he arrived with food too late. The alternate plan was for him to meet us on the levee a few miles downstream. The sandwiches were great. Thanks Matt! Too bad that paddling over to the levee became almost an impossible task.
Matt blew his car horn several times. I was finally able to figure out where the sound was coming from. We found the boat ramp. Well, we "thought" we he was there. Started paddling up the road only to find that there was a long stretched out section of the water. Walked over the hill, tried wading, and just went deeper and deeper. Richard even tried swimming and turned back. The side currents were ferocious. But I wasn't going to pass up free food. Unloaded my canoe, dragged it down the road until the road re-entered the water. Richard climbed in the boat with me and I paddled us over to the jetty where we ate well.
The expected campsite was missing. Nothing except tree tops visible above the surface of the water.
Before leaving Greenville, we made detailed plans on where to camp this night. There were three options, but we decided on the site furthest down river. At 50 miles, we paddled up to the recommended site, finding it submerged. There was no dry land to be found.
Having seen several homes on the west bank we made the decision to paddle across, thinking there would be a place where we could pitch a tent. Even if it meant trespassing. It would be dark in two hours and it could take that long to find any dry ground. Nothing could be worse than spending the night in our boats all night, fanning off mosquitoes.
The shoreline on the east bank was all flooded - no homes, nothing where we could get out and walk. Crossed back to the other side.
Desperate now, we were ready to take anything long as we could get out of the boat. Saw what looked like sand at the north end of an island. Turned out to be logs and other debris washed in - no ground of any type.
Paddled through several more islands with no exposed ground. Saw on the distant tree lined east shore what appeared I be a ten to twenty foot sandy bank. Richard said no, but I was now relying on faith and the higher power that it would be usable land, even if we had to set in camp chairs all night.
There it was, a little piece of sand. The bank was only a couple of feet high. Matted with saw briers and years of under growth, I manage to explore just enough to see that, with some work, we could pitch a tent. I was not leaving the site no matter how bad it was, which is the second time today that I set my jaw in determination.
Both Richard and I are having a difficult time cooling down tonight. Our makeshift site is nothing to behold, but it is dry. We have been in and out of the water several times, just to somewhat keep our core temperature down to acceptable levels. Now, after a quick bite for dinner, no cooking, we are setting here with all the expected nature's critters waiting for the air temperature to cool down enough to get inside the tents. The mosquitoes are getting more aggressive now that it is dark. Must get inside now, even if is hot in our canvas shelter.
Plans are to paddle out at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Must find a way to beat the heat and this is our only acceptable option.
Taking a rare "0" day, meaning no paddling today. Great evening of entertainment last night. Most of all enjoyed the company of the Keens and their air conditioned home!
Now that I have had a chance this day to dry out "stuff" want to take a moment and reflect on the background, reason for the Cruising for a Cure Expedition in the first place.
In the spring of 2004 I paddled from my birth place, Lickskillet, Kentucky to Memphis via Whippoorwill Creek. Followed the Red into Tennessee and back into Kentucky on to Lake Cumberland into Kentucky Lake. Down the Ohio and on to Memphis via the Mississippi. This trip left me with a burning desire to continue my pursuit to expand my horizon exploring other outdoor long distant paddle, bicycle and hiking expeditions.
Considered hiking the Appalachian Trail until I found out the oldest through hiker to complete the journey was 82 years ago. Since I was only 80 last year decided to wait couple years.
It was a relatively peaceful night to be camping in the woods. Made the best of last night's fast exit and found protection from an incoming storm. To the folks we met on the river, and those whose property we stayed on last night, “We thank you for your support!”
With temperatures soaring, we left early and paddled fast as we could muster. We hoped to reach Greenville in time to go to Church with John and Sam Keen. The extreme heat slowed our progress substantially. We even made our own passage through to the flooded point leading to Lake Ferguson. Thankfully, we reached the US Coast Guard Station at noon, just before the heat became unbearable. John Keen was able to meet me at the station ramp. While there, we met the fine folks on duty and enjoyed every minute of their company.
I want to thank the Jazz Persuasion Band who played at Lillo’s Restaurant in Greenville last night. Their generous donation to help fight Juvenile Diabetes was an awesome surprise! With support like this, we most certainly will reach our fundraising goal. Let's all speak for these children who so often have no voice being heard by society.
Will be paddling out from Greenville at 0500 tomorrow morning. Want to thank all the fine folks in Greenville for their support and hospitality. As John Ruskey would say "May the River be with You", especially the Keens, and God bless you and your family.
The day started out with us having to navigate around a wing dike. From there, we mostly followed the channel for 36 miles, which often has the fastest flow. Under normal circumstances, the channel is usually where the barges go. However, in flood stage conditions, this is not the case.
We have learned that the barge skippers tend to follow the path of least resistance. With abundant route choices in deep waters, upstream captains tend to navigate outside the charted channels, powering through the slow flowing waters, whichever side of the river that might be. This unauthorized, possibly illegal, navigation outside the designated route forces human powered paddlers to constantly be vigilant. With normal paddle speed ranging from six to eight MPH, we must be proactive for miles ahead to decide where an upcoming barge might pass. Under flood conditions, you can take nothing for granted.
The approaching storm now was close enough to send it's winds in our direction. Separated by wind and current, I was unable to get my umbrella down in time to enter a channel, with Richard between two islands. This set off a chain of events leading to another night of "Creative Camping" as Brad and Austin have coined the phrase so perfectly.
Richard was several hundred yards downstream when we re-entered the channel. Paddled hard as possible to catch up with him and cross the river, staying clear from of an upcoming barge at the same time. We needed shelter from the impending storm. I spotted a home complex on the far left shore that looked promising.
Richard would soon be too far downstream to make it to this potential oasis. I tried yelling, called him on the phone, radio and nothing I could do was getting his attention. The storm was now too close, we must find shelter. Richard was focused on downstream shelter, paddling far ahead. This left me with one viable option. I had to give up on contacting him and find shelter inside the left bank flooded trees. With Richard's location unknown, I weathered the winds, as the storm ended up passing mostly north of my position. Fizzled out with only some lightening, wind and little rain.
Once the worst of the storm had passed, I knew that I must find Richard. Again, there was no phone service and no radio contact. It looked like he just vanished around the corner. On the other side of the trees was a sandy service road. I walked to it, looking for any clue as to what my next options were. There were none that were immediately apparent, so I returned to the boat. As I paddled through the trees, I noticed a four wheeler powering down the road that I had just left.
The flooded shore line forest was dense, forcing me to yell out "Richard" several times. Then it came, a voice from the deep, he was OKAY, and was already paddling up through the trees toward me. What a relief!
We started looking for campsite options. Finding none, I began walking the road before the four wheeler returned. At first they seemed surprised, concerned that some miserable looking unknown human creature was trespassing on their property. Those feelings of doubt suddenly changed to sympathy and concern. They wanted to help after I introduced myself and explained the expedition mission . Thank God for the multi-family River Angels who also know John Keen, whose home we intend to spend the night tomorrow.
Two of the children of one family have a friend with Juvenile Diabetes. We gave them bracelets and words of encouragement to pass on. After a shower and some great conversation, we were four-wheeled back to our boats, where we sat up camp for the evening.
At noon, Richard and I were close to our goal of 30 miles downriver and decided to pass up several sand beaches before lunch. That was a mistake. I failed to notice that we were entering the delta, where the White and Arkansas Rivers married up with the Mississippi. The entire area, with levees several miles from the river basin, was filled with flood waters.
By the time we reached the White River, getting out of the boats was a high priority. Paddled into the confluence thinking there would be land access with drinking water, as was the case the last time I paddled this area. That was another mistake. Turbulent waters soon took their toll, forcing our boats into the huge eddy at the south side of the dying White River. Our attempt to paddle into the woods turned out to be a life saver. There it was - dry ground, with an old, abandoned cabin. Now we could rest and sleep a little to make up for the sleepless hours last night.
Those following SPOT can see where we stopped as well as where we ended up camping in a side yard of a weekend resort. Tried to get permission but wasn't until after we sat up tents that I realized why none of these beautiful homes were occupied. The roads coming in were flooded. No way to access this community by vehicle.
Prepared for a hot evening in the tent. The bitter and the sweet came soon after. Rain caught us outside under umbrellas. It fell in sheets, wind blew the tents sideways but sweet part was the cool air. When I was finally able to enter my tent, found it dry and reasonably cool. Thank God, for I would now sleep well for the evening.
Richard was not so fortunate. Wind and rain was so strong the fly mashed into the tent and, for those of you that camp, you know what happens when extra seam and fabric sealer is not applied before leaving home.
After this first downpour, it rained hard a few more times during the night. Unfortunately, with poor cell service, we were unable to access our favorite phone app, "My Radar", to check weather conditions. As I write this blog, the sun is beginning to show signs of rising and I still don't know if Richard slept dry for the evening.
It was hard to leave John Ruskey’s this morning. The place is a paddlers dream. After saying goodbye to the others, we floated out and alongside the elevated pedestrian walkway that snakes its way through the submerged forests of Helena. Upstream wind hit us immediately upon entering the river waterway, and we battled headwinds all the way to mile marker 633, which is where we sat up camp for the evening.
Thirty miles into the paddle, we spotted a potential campsite. Turning our boats to paddle to the shore, we noticed (for the first time) a big, dark, cloud that was rapidly approaching. Richard and I immediately became concerned and paddled faster. About that time, a weather alert sounded from my cell phone. We knew that the sandy bank we just passed was the only hope for getting ashore before the storm hit. We needed protective refuge, and FAST!
Didn't quite make it to shore before the weather front hit us fast and hard. Paddling up stream now, and with the wind against the current, it was nearly impossible to continue with forward momentum. I finally made it to shore, just short of where the sands began. Had to drag the boat behind me as I walked the final steps to the safety of dry land. Set up camp faster than ever before. Only took ten minutes and I was drying out inside the tent.
For those of you following my journey with SPOT, you will understand the value of this tool. I can't imagine exploring remote areas like this section of the Mississippi without SPOT. Thank you to Globalstar for making this unit part of my Expedition. You are a great sponsor.
Richard Sojourner and I are the only team members still paddling. The Adventureitus Productions team will meet us again above Baton Rouge. Jonathan Brown had to return early to Memphis, and Isaiah Allen only paddled with us the one day. The absence of their wonderful companionship has hit me today, and the loneliness of this huge river has set in. But Richard and I have miles and miles left to paddle and have no plans to stop before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.
We plan on paddling out Early a.m. tomorrow to make up for lost mileage today.
Wind from the approaching storm front was forcing my boat sideways. Felt like the starboard side was lifting…
We departed Cat Island at 0900. The film production crew from Adventureitusproductions.com had been busy shooting scenes from our "Creative" campsite, which turned out to be a pleasant nights stay. The Paddle for Prevention team, Corey Smock and Lance Loney, who had joined us for the evening paddled us again.
After a brief lunch stop in Tunica, Mississippi, we paddled past several beautiful sandy beaches where camping would be perfect. I mention this, for until today, I could count on one hand the number of sand beaches we have seen since St Louis, MO.
Approached West Helena and took a flood stage shortcut. Had to paddle over several wicked wing dikes at the beginning of this three mile passage. Those tracking me on SPOT can see my route. Upon entering the chute, could see an approaching storm brewing down river. By the time Jonathan Brown and I had paddled two thirds through, the storm arrived. Richard had paddled on ahead, and the boys from Adventureitus Productions were miles behind.
I have become accustomed to up river wind conditions and knew how to avoid being swamped. Backed the craft into the dense bushes under midsize shoreline trees, giving the best storm protection possible under these conditions. Tried paddling. It was less than a mile to Helena. Just couldn't make any promises. The Mississippi is huge at flood levels. So wide that paddling in storm winds could spell disaster. Fortunately the wind subsided, and was able to paddle the remaining mile into Quapaw at Helena without incident. We were blessed by yet another fine day on the Mighty Mississippi.
It was such an honor to be at John Ruskey’sQuapaw Canoe Company in West Helena, Arkansas. I now have visited both of the Quapaw locations and can say the on-river programs that John offers are a sight to behold. Programs are suited for all skill levels, including the first time paddler. I will soon be honored to paddle with the legendary John Ruskey for the first time.
It is Tuesday morning and my stop in Memphis is now only a memory. Paddled out from downtown Memphis as scheduled. It was hot and muggy, but the excitement of the moment overshadowed all the discomforts of being confined to the cockpit of my Wenona Canoe, which John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company had played a major role in selection and acquisition. Was blessed with John's presence as we left Memphis, as well as Rod Wellington of Canada, Jonathan Brown from the Apple headquarters, and many of my family members and local supporters.
The team paddled out at 1230. We were accompanied by Isaiah Allen who joined us for the day. As we maneuvered through the fast moving waters toward our planned campsite on Cat Island, the team was still floating with euphoric joy from our brief stop in Memphis.
Our campfire highlighted the evening. I could see it from my tent front door, beautifully sparkling and surrounded by laughter from teammates who gathered for an evening of entertainment. Sorry I could not stay to enjoy the serenity of the moment, but the whirlwind of activities over the past three days had taken their toll. I had no more miles to paddle before I slept.
Today was another one of the team's "planned" days off. Here's some photos and videos from today and a few more from Saturday's event. Whew, was it ever a weekend for the books! The team will leave at 11am on Tuesday, July 21, to finish the last leg of the trip.
Attended church with my wife this morning. I have missed my Bellevue church family so much over these weeks. It was wonderful to feel their love and support in person, rather than from afar. The day was spent without the distractions of "business as usual" as I rested and caught up with what has been going on at home.
The following pictures are shared, with permission. Hope you enjoy John Keen's photographic journal of yesterday's excitement! Again, I am humbled by the love and support of my Memphis friends and family.
Paddled through the woods and up the chute to where SPOT Tracker had been turned off the night before. Found paddling up stream difficult, but with adrenalin flowing high, we managed to reach the bean field where we encountered the six foot vertical bank the night before. With SPOT working perfectly, I managed to finish writing the blog for yesterday while waiting for cameras to be positioned. With GoPro cameras mounted on our vessels, the paddle into Shelby Forest was no longer a dream…but a reality.
There she was, standing in front of a huge sign, my wife Merriam and Mollie my dog. There was a large gathering of people, many sporting long creative grey beards and shouting love and encouragement from the river’s edge. I can’t tell you how good this felt to see Meriam, Molly, and Memphis. The next hour was filled with greetings, photographs, hugs and tears. It was surely the highlight of the trip. Cameras were everywhere.
The paddle downriver into Memphis with 36 boats was filled with laughter and joy as we managed to stay within the fast waters of the channel in the flooded, now turbulent, waters. Needed to avoid the wing dikes as well as the barges, whose navigation routes are unpredictable in this flooded area. Passed four barges without difficulty and made our way to Mud Island.
The Adventureitus Productions crew, Brad Tallent, Austin Graham, and Coltin Calloway (who traveled from Cookeville, TN to join the fun) were able to shoot movie theme scenes, footage that has been long awaited. Thankfully they were able to use motorboats made available by Tom Roehm. It was a beautiful “3 hour tour”! When we rounded the southern bend of Mud Island, there was yet another large crowd of followers awaiting. This approach to downtown was once again emotional, a site to behold.
I was blessed to have Richard Sojourner and the camera crew along side of me. Also thanks to Jonathan Brown for flying in from California to be part of this great festivity. Another special guest was paddler/author, Rod Wellingon, who journeyed from Canada to join this momentous event. My feelings of joy, excitement and appreciation are hard to express in just a few words within a blog.
I want each and every person involved to know that their efforts were appreciated. A great cheer of appreciation goes out to Boar’s Night Out Barbeque and Catering, who DONATED the best pulled pork I ever put in my mouth. WOW, did it hit the spot! Cooked to perfection, the pork had just enough juiciness and smoke flavoring to make your mouth water with each bite. Sweet Swine O Mine provided the dry seasoning and the sauce, which was to DIE FOR! These two organizations are very involved in “Operation Barbeque Relief”. The mission of Operation BBQ Relief is to provide compassion and to offer hope and friendship to those whose lives have been affected by disasters across the United States through their expertise in cooking and catering barbecue meals. We were honored to have them present at our gathering.
I'm the Grey Beard Adventurer. But you can call me Dale Sanders, and these are my stories.