Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Barge Tows

One of the risks I mentioned on an earlier post was barge tows. So far they have not been an issue. They are so slow moving that I usually see them from a distance and can get well clear of the channel. I also travel on the same side of the channel as the up stream barges. That way the if I don't hear or see a downstream tow it should pass on the other side of the channel. Of course the tows get much bigger down from the last lock at St Louis. At the moment they don't exceed 15 barges but I can expect tows of up to 24 barges

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The river revisited

It would seem that I can't stay away from the river. For our roadtrip from Atlanta I decided to head back to the river to show Juliet the places I stayed/camped,to see some of the people that were so kind to me,and to see how much the river had changed in 6 weeks. We drove across Tennessee in double quick time stopping only in Nashville to see the home of Pres Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) the hero of the battle of New Orleans. We hit the river at Caruthersville Missouri,the home of Boots and Howard who had previously lent me a condo for the afternoon and taken me to dinner in the casino. It was evident the river had dropped at least 8 feet since i was last there. There were islands and sandbars where none had existed b/4. From there we checked out my campsites at New Madrid,Chester,Cape Girardeau,Cairo and Kimswick. The final visit was to Grafton where Alison had let me stay in one of her luxury B&B cottages for 3 nights. It is a wonder I am not still there. The last stray that came on to the property was a lovely dog called Murphy who stayed for 10 years and who had sadly passed away a couple of days prior.It was interesting to see how much the current in the river had diminished with the lower water level.
I also learned that the 3 paddle boarders who are vying to be the first down the river have all past St Louis.
I can't believe they will be allowed through the busy commercial traffic further south

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Risk Management revisited

On an early post I set out all the risks that I envisaged I might face that weren't common to kayaking generally. All the way down the river I kept waiting for something I hadn't anticipated on that list to happen but I am pleased to say it never did.I thought I should review the list now the trip has finished to evaluate the risks I did identify
1/Deer ticks. I didn't encounter these but I did have a couple of ordinary ticks latch on at different stages
2/Barge tows. I thought I coped with these very well.It was a case of keeping to the edge of the channel and moving further towards shore when I saw a tow approaching.The biggest issue was with all the parked barges south of Baton Rouge. There would be tugs scattered among them and it was hard to tell if they where moored or working. I learned to look for the tell tale puff of diesel smoke as engines kicked into life and then wait to see if the tug was taking a barge across the river or up the river towards me and adjust my course accordingly. I did get tooted at a couple of times but I wasn't in any danger-I just think the tug captains don't understand kayaks and what they are capable of. I certainly never felt I had the slightest close call
3/Wing Dams. These were all submerged and all created a greater or lesser degree of turbulence. This is where I think it was important not to have had an IPOD on but to be listening to the sounds of the river. The noise the turbulence made could be heard some distance away. I had no control of the boat once it hit the turbulence and whirlpools and boils would throw it one way and then another for a couple of hundred yards. There would also be waves,especially if the wash from a passing tow should hit at the same time
$/Poison Ivy Didn't see any
6/Snakes/Saw two but they had to be pointed out to me
7/Bears. I have told the story of a previous traveller who saw what he thought was a black lab swimming in the river in front of him. It was a bear. Well,I saw what I thought were THREE black labs swimming in the river in front of me. They were 3 black labs
8/Alligators. Didn't see any although enjoyed a great alligator salad at the restaurant at the finish as I had promised myself b/4 leaving NZ
9/Storms.Encountered several on the river and while sleeping. Certainly quite different from anything I had experienced b/4
10?Raccoons The zip on my day bag failed and I twice came to the boat in the morning to find muddy footprints and my beef jerky and cheese crackers gone
11/Locks No issues even when I went under the raised dam gates
12/Wolves Apart from a dog like creature swimming across the river that was probably a wild dog ,I didn't see any.
13/Chain of Rocks. This is the artificial dam across the river north of ST louis that I took the canal around. I checked it out later and found that the river was so high you couldn't see where it was and could have paddled over it
14/Shipping There is an unbelievable number of ocean freighters from Baton Rouge south. They are very quiet and very fast,but I kept well out of the channel on that portion of the river and they weren't an issue
15/Asian Carp. Saw a couple but they weren't as big a problem as the videos I had seen would suggest.Others saw more
16/Humans/ It will be apparent from my previous blogs that I didn't have a problem with people-quite the opposite. I never felt unsafe even woken on a popular boat ramp in the middle of the night with youngsters cruising or doing burnouts or people wishing to engage me in religious discussions. The kindness of strangers is the thing that will stay with me for the rest of my life.I hope to be in a position to repay some of it in the future

My Worst Moment

The worst moment came on my last night on the river. I had left NO with approx 84 miles to my final destination. I saw from my charts that there was a ferry landing exactly halfway and knew from my past experience that this could offer a good landing/camping spot. As I paddled down I passed another ferry landing and was concerned to note that there was no way that I could have landed there. I decided that if I saw another suitable spot near the next ferry landing I would take it. There is a levee all along the river but it is hard to get to because there is a mini levee of rocks with trees in front of it. I couldn't believe my luck when I spotted a gap in the mini levee with a small mud beach so I landed. The top of the levee was covered with tall grass and I thought would be having a good sleep. Behind the levee and completely fenced of was an enormous house. I lay in the sun for an,phoned Jane, made dinner, put up my tent,and around dusk lay down for the night.Almost immediately the sheriff appeared and informed me that I was on private property and that the complainant,the woman in the big house, wanted me gone. I politely pointed out that it was nearly dark and that I could be at some risk on the river after dark. He didn't care,just said I couldn't stay there.I quickly packed up,put on my head torch (which was not as strong as 2 months ago) and set off.Fortunately 3 miles down the river I came across the ferry landing that was my original destination and found that I could get ashore. It was with a great deal of relief that I put my tent up for the second time that night at about 10pm and went to sleep

The last few days

The hospitality on the last few days of the river was amazing. I felt like an escaped slave on the underground railway as I was passed from family to family down the river.It all started at mile 180 south of Baton Rouge. I had just paddled through one rain shower when i noticed another approaching. The problem with the rain was the almost complete loss of visibility and with tugs having a nasty habit of speeding out from behind parked barges it was a little unsafe.I happened to come upon a dock at which were moored two launches that service the freighters that anchor at the edge of the channel, taking workmen and supplies too and fro. I spent 3 hours with the captain of one ,George Mitchell zooming out to the ships and back. He then offered me a bed for the night in his trailer behind a plantation house nearby.In the morning I met Daniel Wahl,a young man doing the same job as George. He immediately volunteered that his grandparents who lived 35 miles down the river would look after me. When I got to Lutcher I called Daniel and within minutes his grandmother was there to take me home,where I took part in a combined father/daughter birthday party.The grandparents in turn said that they knew someone in New Orleans who could not only put me up but also remove the kayak to safety as it couldn't be left on the river bank over night. When I got to N.O. I came ashore on the south bank at the Algiers ferry landing in the sand/mud and rang Steve. He was there in very quick time with a helper and we lifted the kayak over the levee and on to the back of the pick up truck. It overhung the back and stuck out the side and two of us sat on the back to hold it for the 6 blocks to the accommodation. In the morning they delivered me back to the river for the last 2 days of paddling to my final destination

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You are wonderful.

There are many people we want to thank in connection with this trip.
At the moment we are passing followers' comments on to Greg when he phones. These are most encouraging as he soldiers on through the heat wondering where he'll find a spot to camp overnight, or whether he'll be able to replenish supplies of much-needed  food and water. Often these problems are solved by kind strangers Greg happens to meet. If you are one of these people, Greg wants you to know that your friendly words and/or offers of cold drinks etc are very much appreciated. Most recent thanks goes to Rodney who spent a little time with Greg, and later brought him a bag of cold fruit.

With approximately 200 miles still to paddle, Greg wants you all to know that things like this are what makes the journey so enjoyable.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What next?

Greg is approaching the final stage of his journey,with Louisiana on both sides of the river . He will be in Baton Rouge tonight, and has paddled 2000 miles. He now has 300 miles to go - in New Zealand terms this is the distance from our local boat ramp in Takapuna to Cape Reinga.
Recently we received an email from a fellow kayaker who told us he and his friends had some initial doubts as to Greg's chances of completing the trip down the river. Little did they know! A short time later they heard of "an older gentleman with a strange accent and a blue kayak" who was about a week ahead of them on the river. They met again just before Natchez as Greg has taken a number of rest days around St Louis. Although Greg has continued to paddle solo, these new friends left a message for him in the first bar beside the river in Natchez, so he was able to phone them and spend a night with them at a family member's house. This gave Greg a much-needed opportunity to resupply before returning to the river where he spent the next night sleeping on gravel! Apparently a life-jacket makes a very good mattress when all else fails.
Local people have continued to show great kindness , offering water and sometimes food or Coca cola.
At Angola Prison the ferry operator gave Greg three bottles of coke and a packet of chocolate biscuits.
Greg continues to keep in touch by phone. When asked last night what he's looking forward to once he gets off the river, Greg replied he's looking forward to getting cool.