In this video, you can see what the process is like, and meet Don, a lockmaster. He shares his perspective on plastics in the river.
Locks and Dams
The Mississippi River is basically broken into 3 sections: The Headwaters, The Upper Mississippi River, and the Lower Mississippi River. The Headwaters are wild and go from Lake Itasca to Minneapolis. There are a bunch of dams, but no locks, so all the dams in the Headwaters must be portaged. The Lower Mississippi River goes from Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi, to the Gulf of Mexico and has no locks or dams. The Upper Mississippi River goes from Minneapolis to Cairo, Illinois, and there are 28 dams, all with locks. The US Army Corps of Engineers keeps the river navigable to barge traffic from Minneapolis to the Gulf by dredging a 9 foot deep channel, and maintaining the locks and dams of the Upper river. The dams control water flow and levels of water in the pools between dams. Locks are compartments at the edge of the dams that allow boats and barges to pass through. You pull into the lock, a door closes behind you, the water adjusts to the level of the water on the other side of the lock (drops in my case), and off you go.
In this video, you can see what the process is like, and meet Don, a lockmaster. He shares his perspective on plastics in the river.
I ran out of time last time I had access to wifi, so I just pooled together a collection of snippets from days 48-53. Included: Trempeleau Refuge, past La Crosse WI, etc.
Day 54: Drowned Rats
Cold in my tent, I woke up early, and went into Patty’s cellar where our stuff was stored. It was much warmer in there, so I set up a standing desk situation and enjoyed the comparative warmth for a couple hours while I took care of some emails and waited for J & J to wake up. We headed over to Nutmeg’s bakery for breakfast and right as we arrived, so did Tripp Edwards, the cyclist we met yesterday who is traveling from Vermont to Washington, and another cyclist, Frosene Sacco who is traveling from Washington to Minneapolis. Delighted and surprised at the synchronicity of it all, we busily chatted with one another over eggs and “twists” (the server didn’t know what kruellers were) about each of our adventures. Frosene and I high fived eachother for being solo ladies.
I headed back to the tents to pack up and finish a couple emails. We carried our heavy bags back to the marina where our boats were waiting for us. J & J had to completely empty their canoe and bail it out from all the water from the storms over the past couple days. I was glad I had a cockpit cover that keeps water out. My hat, which had been in the cockpit, however, suffered some mold growth over the past couple days. I headed out into the chilly drizzle (it was in the 50s), switching out my sunhat and face protection for a rain jacket and my cozy hood for warmth. I listened to Oscar Wilde’s The Duchess of Padua, and stopped a few miles down the river for a zucchini bread snack at a dock. I had to hold onto the dock to keep from being blown upstream. J & J caught up with me there, and we all set off back into the rain, dodging barges (particularly friendly barges today—one cheerily honked at us and another captain came out to wave hello) and the dredging operations. It was a lovely scene, but it was difficult to enjoy as the wind was so strong against us, the waves were regularly topping the lip of my cockpit, drenching my seat. I think my full spray skirt was stuffed forward of the bag that sits between my legs because I couldn’t reach it. So I was extra wet, and continually sponging out my cockpit. I had my sunglasses on to protect my eyes from getting too wet and washing out my contact lenses, but the rain was fogging them up and it was difficult to see clearly. I wanted to take photos, but the waves were too large, and I was focusing on just getting through it. My elbows were feeling particularly sore. I think feeling and remembering how good things can be, what with my massage yesterday and a couple days’ rest, the reality of how uncomfortable and painful paddling can be was all the more painful and uncomfortable. By the time we locked through lock #9, I was very glad to be in the last stretch of our day. As we were locking through, I exclaimed,
“I’m cold and wet and hungry and sore.”
“Oh my!” Jake finished, reminiscent of the “Lions, and tigers, and bears, Oh my!” refrain. We followed the lockmaster’s suggestion and pulled over at a landing a mile downstream, where there was a flat patch of grass (not wet sand!) to pitch our tents. We all took a quick river bath in the warmer-than-air river, put on our warm, dry camp clothes, made some dinner, and went to bed. I had better phone coverage here than in Lansing, so I caught up with Nick, my mom and my friend Ben. I was cold for hours, even in all my dry long-sleeved camp clothes and zipped into my down sleeping bag. 50 something degrees is really cold after days of 100 degree weather!
Bill's Eye, August 28, 2015
Alyssum Pohl: Paddle On!
Day 51, 52, 53: Lansing, Iowa!
It was yet another hot day. We were sweating before we even finished packing up our boats. I planned to go to Lansing and get some blogging done. J & J planned on heading a bit farther downstream. Jake reminded me to try my Greenland paddle, and I did use it for 10 miles. I liked how easy it was to use--I definitely did not mind how much less my shoulder was clicking, how much less I felt I had to pull and push the paddle. But it was louder than my other thin-blade carbon fiber paddle, and not long enough for my broad posture. I tested it after 10 miles and realized it was 25% slower than my other paddle, and I didn't feel like I had the same control of my boat. Considering that the water is low and slow and I'm not a very strong paddler to begin with, even though I appreciated how much less work the Greenland paddle made me do, I opted to switch it back out for my carbon fiber, because I don't want to be on this river forever. Twentyfive percent slower is significant! When I pulled over to switch out my paddles and to dry out some things (like my foam seat) from some overzealous motorboaters, a man came over to see what I was up to and offered me a beer. I always heartily thank people, but decline. Today, however, was so hot, and he was so insistent, that I eventually accepted a chilled wine cooler in a can. It felt amazing on the back of my neck. And tasted pretty good too.
I nearly passed the Iowa tri-state sign--I had to paddle all the way across the channel and upstream a little bit to snap a photo in front of it. I didn't have cell phone coverage all day yesterday, and only had some coverage midday today. I was delighted to get a message from Julie asking if I wanted to join them in Lansing at a woman's house for the night. I was about 2 miles behind them, and it felt like an eternity before I caught up with them! Lansing was SO CRAZY with recreational boaters, even on a Sunday! As I was paddling past the Lansing beaches, a man yelled out to me, "Did you get the message? That you have a place to stay tonight!?" So awesome. I love small towns.
Family members of the Paddle for Prevention crew were on the boat (wearing their shirts!), as well as Patty, whose house and company we greatly enjoyed for the evening. Patty is one of those stalwart, colorful, strong ladies that doesn't take shit, and likes to live life. Her house, overlooking the river and the bridge (the tightest turn on the navigable Mississippi) was adorably decorated in bright colors and whimsical images. Julie and I immediately felt at home and loved the place. Josie, Patty's dog was just a sweetie once we took off our scary backpacks, and the three of us enjoyed chatting, eating some dinner, and telling stories with Patty.
The next day, it was raining hard all morning, and thunderstorms were forecast so we decided to wait it out. Unfortunately, the thunderstorms never showed up, and J & J and I felt like we should have paddled anyway. Sigh. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think it can be difficult to realize that when you're living in a tent, paddling, you really don't want to be caught in the middle of the river during a fast-moving thunderstorm. Rain is one thing, but lightning is not fun, and it can take 10 minutes or more just to paddle from the middle of the channel to the side of the river, assuming there's a place to pull over at all. Not only that, but leaving after noon is rarely worth it when you factor in the time and energy it takes to pack up and unpack, especially when those things are wet. Patty took us into town to explore Lansing's quintessential Horsefall's Variety stores--two large collections of all sorts of low-end whimsy. "One thing you need and a million you don't". I bought myself a Mississippi River Rat coozy. In camo. I figured that was perfect.
As Patty was headed back to her Decorah home, we moved our things to her backyard to camp in her backyard for the night.
We had some dinner at the riverside restaurant, and headed back there for breakfast since everything else was closed on Tuesday morning. Another day in Lansing, raining on and off, thunderstorms in mid afternoon, and tornado warnings all evening. We met a man named Tripp this morning who is biking from Vermont to Seattle. He's a month in and suspects it'll take him another month. I spent the entire day catching up on my blog. AND, I had a massage. A blessed massage. I have had 2 two-day rest days in the past week, and I figured I needed to do something to help me stay a little more pulled together and strong for the upcoming 2/3 of the river. She concurred that my left hip was super tight (bursitis) and that my right forearm was bunched up too (where I have the worst of my nerve damage). When she massaged my hands, I felt like whimpering, they were so sore. She had never heard of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome before, and half way through the massage I asked if she could tell, and she said, "Definitely. It's like you're elastic. A lot of women are soft, and men are tough, but you sort of snap back where I press." I always think it's interesting how body workers verbalize their experience of what it's like for them.
Tomorrow we head back on the river again! Only 40% chance of rain.
Day 50: Hot day
Humid, humid, humid. Temperatures in the low nineties with heat indices in the low 100s. IN THE SHADE. Sitting all day outside in the sun is a bit rough. I find myself getting sleepier than normal, and wanting to nod off for 5 minute naps all the time. I try to pull out of the channel before I do. I drink water from my camelbak all day long, and enjoy my fresh fruit all the more for the electrolytes they provide. I dip my elbows in the water to try and keep my long-sleeve-wearing arms cool. I dip my face protection wear in the water to keep my face and neck cool. I breathe deep and try to lift myself off my seat to give my poor aching butt a break. I am still not thankful, though, when big boats zoom past and swamp me because the water that cools me for a second, ends up hot and gross in my seat / pants for the rest of the day.
Paddling in the heat, on a Saturday near a big city is not my favorite thing to do. The river was crazy with drunk boaters everywhere. So I opted to paddle through the bird refuge above lock #8 rather than staying in the channel, in an effort to avoid some of the traffic. It was beautiful, and I'm glad I did it. It was much less populated with recreational boaters, and I really enjoyed all the bird life. However, on the way out, I got lured out into a channel that didn't actually exist. That is, I saw a red nun buoy, and headed for it, but it was an errant floating nun, one that got loose from somewhere else. So I was stuck in a mad mess of a wild celery and algae patch. I had to paddle really hard to push my way through, each paddle lifting a heavy load of plant matter. I headed for the lock, but it still took me 3 hours to reach it from the time I saw it across the pool. A barge was locking through and another barge was waiting to lock through. I sat behind the 2nd barge, watching a bald eagle and some crows. The eagle was uncharacteristically standing in the water--probably to cool its feet--and taking sips of water every so often too. I usually see them up high in trees, it was strange to see it panting in the river. I feel you, little feathered friend, it's hot out here.
I realized I could paddle around and see if I could maybe lock through between the barges, and guess who I saw? Jake and Julie! They had arrived a couple hours before and were told they couldn't lock through until the barges went through, so they went into the teeny town of Genoa and befriended some folks from a motor boat from Lansing; Kathy, Dave, Amy, and Ben. Jake is one of those people who is unabashed and friendly with everyone. He'll give anything to anyone, and expects the same of others, making him (a self-professed) scavenger. By the time I showed up, Ben had literally given him the shirt off his back, and the others had filled J & J's cooler with ice, beer, and even a venison sausage that Dave had shot. We locked through with this generous party crowd, and, as it was past sunset by the time we locked through, they towed us a couple hundred yards to the nearest beach below the lock. They helped us set up camp, get a fire going, and I had some endearing one-on-one girl time with Kathy who kept asking me about my trip and then telling me about her family (who she clearly is very proud of). She suggested I not date anyone longer than 2 years, and insisted that I keep her bug spray. I accepted both the advice and the spray.
When they left, J & J and I enjoyed a marginal dinner around the fire, super tired from our long, hot day. I took some photos of the power plant across the way, but was surprised at the huge mosquitos and didn't end up taking a photo of the incredibly clear and starry sky.
Day 49: La Crosse
The wind was on my back today (the best!) and I was able to sail with my umbrella for a little while. I got a message from Jake, Julie, and John, inviting me to join them at John and Beth's house for the evening. Coming into La Crosse, I passed a group of ladies who were swimming and drinking--they coordinated their calls to yell at me at the same time, "HEY, WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?" "All the way to the Gulf!" "COME DRINK WITH US!" I thanked them, but I was excited to meet my fellow paddlers and I didn't want to keep my hosts for the evening waiting.
Jake, Julie and John met me on bicycles at the edge of La Crosse, nearby the Hiawatha statue. They forwarded me over to the Marina, a couple miles down the coast, where John met me with his car. I grabbed some dirty laundry and my overnight stuff, tied my boat to J & J's canoe, and headed in to La Crosse. John is a retired water quality specialist that used to work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It is his water quality data collection that I'm repeating. So it was super exciting for me to meet him in person and nerd out about my YSI sonde and the results I've seen so far. I was able to ask him some questions, and he mentioned that he was really curious how quickly the conductivity changes down in Louisiana. That is, salt water intrusion upstream--how soon does it start? He said he didn't measure conductivity often enough to pinpoint where the change occurs, so I said I'd try to increase my testing frequency down there to try and get an answer for him.
At the house, I was able to shower, and then spent the evening re-doing my resume. Beth was a delight, humming her ukulele songs and baking us fresh zucchini bread to take with us the next morning (!). We all took a little jaunt up to the bluff for sunset (I'm sensing a theme. I like this view-from-bluff-at-sunset theme). Jake took a panorama and we ran around him and ended up in the photo 3 times, haha. THANK YOU John and Beth for such a lovely respite!
Day 48: Intense night
Kathy started me off by stopping at the Wenonah Canoe/Current Designs kayak warehouse to buy a foam pad for my seat (and aching butt). Success. The day was hot and I was glad to have my face protection. Part of the day I was able to use my umbrella as a sail. I paddled until I was tired, a good 16 miles below Winona. It wasn’t yet dark, and I enjoyed shooting photos of the plants that grow at the edge of the river.
That night at 2:15am, a wind storm blew through, knocking my tent over on me. I got out, tried to weight down the stakes better, but it pulled the stakes out and blew over again. The third time, I put all my water bottles on the stakes and it stayed up, but the tent poles flattened and creaked. I called my friend Ben in California, knowing he’d still be awake to look at the weather forecast for me since I didn’t have any 4G coverage. “5 mile an hour winds,” he said. Nope, I knew that was incorrect. I guessed it was at least 20 mile an hour winds, gusting up to 30. Eventually he found a Doppler radar showing a storm heading over me. I hung up and waited out the storm which only ever sprinkled, but howled with wind over me until after 4:30am. Sure enough, in the morning, I listened to my VHF weather radio, and heard of measured gusts a little south of me of 26 miles per hour. Luckily, the only thing worse for wear was the bag that holds my tent poles which had blown into the nearby pond, but I was able to retrieve it and rinse it out.
Day 46 & 47: In Winona
My hosts, Chris and Kathy, were marvelous people. Generous, excited to hear my stories, asking great questions, very engaged with me but also understanding of me needing space to rest and do some internet work. First thing Chris said to me as I pulled in last night was, “have you missed a good Kentucky accent?” (his being thick indeed). It WAS nice to hear. When I arrived, Kathy had made some delicious tabouli salad with mint in addition to cilantro (mmmm), and some ratatoulli to die for. In the morning, she asked if there was anything I’d been craving living on the water. And, well, since she asked…I ventured, “Pad se ew? It’s a thai dish, I’ve been craving it for weeks.” While Winona doesn’t have great options for restaurants, Kathy is an avid cook, and was more than willing to try a new recipe.
We mostly relaxed around the house and I took a four hour nap on the poofy heaven bed (these 30+ mile days really wear me out). So, I didn’t get as much blogging done as I had hoped, but I had a great day of rest. Later, we went for a drive to pick up some stamps and post cards, talk to the folks at the MN Fish and Wildlife, and Big River magazine. The Fish and Wildlife office ladies took great interest in my journey and gave me a ‘hoo rag,’ a tube of fabric that I could use to protect my face from the sun. I was so excited about it (given my terrible sun burn the other day) that they gave me two for good measure. That evening, we ate the pad se ew, and it was SO GOOD. I’m not sure it quenched my craving, though. I just want it more now J. The three of us took a drive up to the top of the bluff for a beautiful sunset view, where we met some of their friends and snapped some photos before heading home to some ice cream and homemade strawberry drizzle.
The following morning, I had to take care of some pressing matters back home involving a printer, scanner—and I was very glad to be in a place that had both! I was interviewed by some folks from the Winona Daily News, and by the time I had finished all my work, it was after noon, and I didn’t think I could reasonably get to the next waypoint in what was left of the day. Kathy welcomed me to stay another night (THANK YOU), so we had time to drive to see the Latsch Island community.
Latsch Island and the adjacent Wolf Spider Island has 100 house boats moored to the edge of the island. You can access them by foot from Latsch Island. Some have electricity, many don’t. Some are lived in year-round, some aren’t. Those that do live there full time have to tote their water, fuel, groceries, etc by foot or by boat to their home. In the winter, you can drive on the ice to replenish what you need, but the rest of the year, you still have to contend with flooding and other issues that make access difficult. As someone who is obsessed with tiny houses they were really cool for me to see. I wish I could have gone inside more of them! I took another (shorter) nap, before we enjoyed a meal at the local golf club restaurant.
Day 45: Long day to Winona
I knew today was going to be a long day, and was very happy that the wind was behind me to help. I had to get through three locks today, and paddled a total of 34 miles. The landscape changed to rolling mountainous hills--reminiscent of the hills of eastern Kentucky, but instead of driving on the Mountain Parkway, I was paddling the Mississippi! The whole day was just lovely. I stopped periodically to massage sore limbs, but I enjoyed the day very much, perhaps one of my favorite days. There were all these super cute towns along the side of the river. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
I had been texting with Chris and Kathy Carroll, the in-laws of my mom's neighbor, who live in Winona, and were expecting my arrival. They waited for me at the bridge and I arrived just as I lost all light. We pulled my boat up on the dock, loaded it on their van, and headed to their beautiful house a few miles out of town.
Alyssum Pohl is paddling the Mississippi River and documenting water quality and plastic waste along the way.