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How to be a good River Rat
If you have never been a River Rat before, and are in the position of being offered a River Angel’s generosity, please keep our reputation alive: that of being amazing strangers to host. What your River Angel wants: to know that their offer means something to you (THANK THEM! You can’t thank people enough.)
Ways to be excellent guests: it should go without saying, but leave a house better than you found it. You may bring in sandy piles of gear, but when you leave, make sure you take everything with you, and that you clean your space up. Offer to do dishes or sweep/vacuum the floor or whatever chore you like best. River Rats should not be thought of by River Angels as free maids, but a good guest is one that people would be delighted to have back again sometime in the future. The most you can offer, though, is to tell your stories. What you’re doing is, to a River Angel, usually either unthinkable and exotic (they want to hear all the nitty gritty to hear what it’s like to live on a river), or something that they’re very familiar with themselves (they want to commiserate/connect with you about the experience). It can be really exhausting to tell the same stories over and over, but I promise it’s totally worth it. River Angels are people you have the opportunity to stay in contact with for the rest of your lives if you treat the relationship with dignity and gratitude. Carving some of your precious rest time out for conversation, you will find, is WELL worth the sacrifice of a bit of sleep!
How to be a good River Angel
River Rats don’t need much of anything and are grateful for the few things River Angels are able to provide. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how—here are some commonly appreciated offerings :
Things the River has Taken
2. Over Time/Damaged to to the Point of No Return
3. Quit working on the river (unsure cause)
Shortly after I fell asleep, Leanne woke me to warn me that it was going to rain and that maybe I should properly attach my rainfly. I was too sleepy and lazy to do so. So this morning, I had several puddles in my tent and my sleeping bag was super soggy. It was my own fault for not doing anything about it earlier, so I just laughed and sponged the tent out, and hope that my sleeping bag will re-fluff itself a bit before nightfall.
There were 2 people drunkenly arguing last night at the pavilion, so we just quietly set up our tents on the edge of the forest, a few hundred feet away, armed ourselves with our bear mace and didn’t bother them. Soon after we went to bed, the man left and the woman fell asleep on the picnic table. We were glad there was some construction going on at the railroad, blocking the entrance to the landing to most people.
This morning, the woman was sitting on the picnic table by herself, just looking out over the river. I went up to her, offered her a couple packets of oatmeal and some water, and we chatted a bit. She thanked me for the oatmeal, as she was super hungry, and explained that she often goes down there to calm her mind when she’s kicked out, but that this was the first time she ever had to sleep down there. Apparently she moved up here from Arkansas for her fiancé, but it’s not working out so well. I felt bad for her and was glad I could offer her at least a bit of sustenance as so many people have helped us out along this trip. She was fascinated by our story and said she was glad we were there last night—that it made her feel safer. “You didn’t know eachother!? That’s so cool. If I had a boat, I’d join you two.” She was really sweet. She was also very pretty but it was clear she hadn’t had great dental care in her life. I thought about how even though I have been poor for most of my adult life (often living below the poverty line), and am currently unemployed and technically homeless, I am grateful for and so SO lucky to have had a good start in life. My teeth are clean and strong, I know how to eat healthily, I have healthy mental habits for dealing with strife, I have a solid base of friends and family for support. Is it my privilege that allows me to do this trip? Would I have the confidence to do it if I hadn’t grown up with such awesome examples around me?
Leanne and I spent the day using wifi, working, eating a buffet lunch, and watching the rain pass outside. Cruddy day, glad it coincided with a day of work indoors.
I successfully completed the Paddle On expedition on November 4th. I still have about a month's worth of blog posts that are partially written and need to be completed and posted. I will do this, and have not forgotten! I have been very busy since I returned, starting work on a memoir and making contacts and scheduling myself for upcoming speaking engagements (not to mention hustling for part time work in the interim, and of course the holidays). Here are my current confirmed speaking engagements, and there are more pending. If you or your organization would like me to come speak about this expedition, citizen science, water quality or marine/coastal/riverine conservation, please message me: alyssum(dot)pohl(at)gmail(dot)com
March 31-April 2 Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Conference. Keynote speaker. University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, WI.
April 20-23 Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey's Earth Week. Keynote speaker. MIIS, Monterey, CA.
April 28 Public Library. Free community lecture. Lexington, KY.
April 30 Gaines Center Reunion. Honorary speaker. University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Aug 9 Public Library. Free community lecture. Grand Rapids, MN.
Sept 22 National Association for Interpretation Region 2 Workshop. Honorary speaker. Berkeley Springs, WV.
Oct 10 Water Week. Honorary speaker. University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
Day 84: Drowned Rats
We waited for the morning thunderstorms to pass, and although it thundered, it never rained, so we opted for getting on the river since we had a long way to go before we got to Alton. Once on the river, we dodged multiple rainstorms and thunderstorms. We alternated with getting drenched, trying to pull over, stopping at a marina to dry out, still getting wet, and so on. The video below is an accurate reenactment.
In Grafton, IL, we decided we wouldn't be able to make it all the way to Alton, and so we stopped at the marina there where we paid to leave our boats for the weekend while we played in O'Fallon, IL with Leanne's Uncle Mark and Aunt Karen and in St. Louis with Nick and Jeff.
At both marinas, we were introduced to the "loopers"--folks who, usually on large motor vessels, travel a huge circumnavigation of the eastern United States. We spoke for quite a while with several--all were agog at our journey. Particularly, the sailors-turned-motorers who acknowledged that the reason they decided to do their journey in a motor vessel rather than a sailboat is because so often they end up motoring in a sailboat anyway, and when they're sailing or motoring in a sailboat, they go slow enough that they may as well be paddling! Their dry indoor cabins with electric looked mighty enticing...but I did not envy what their boats and fuel must cost!
Day 83: A bit of work and rest
Another windy day. Jake and Julie left in the early afternoon, and Leanne and I stayed to rest and work until 4pm. We headed down the river, and found Kinder's Restaurant just before it closed. We had a quick bite to eat there, and camped on the other side of the river at Riverside Harbor dock because Leanne had a nasty migraine. We slept on the dock, but as rain came through, we pulled our sleeping bags up to the picnic area and slept on the concrete there. Not only do I not have a phone anymore, but my sleeping pad deflated for the first time on the dock at Cedar Hill, and so sleeping on the dock and then concrete at Riverside was not exactly comfortable. We are hoping to get down to Alton Illinois tomorrow where Leanne's uncle will pick us up. My boyfriend, Nick, is in St. Louis this weekend visiting his friend Jeff and I'm really excited to see him. Leanne's been pushing hard with me to make sure we don't miss this date.
Day 82: Tarps and Carps
Another 4am paddle. For the 1st time, my brain wasn’t ready to paddle early. We’ve had such a weird schedule the past 3 days (Night paddles! Morning paddles! Midday naps! Middle of the night naps that turn into the rest of the night!), and we haven’t had a rest day since Burlington, I think I’m just ready to sleep in and have a normal day.
We packed up and head out under the stars. Venus, the morning star, was so bright it left a trail of soft reflected white light on the river. We paddled in silence, listening to the morning crickets and owls, grateful for the lack of wind in our face. The small town of Hamburg, IL was just a few miles south, and we stopped to find a trash can and some water, as we both had run out of water the night before. On the way in, hugging the shore, we scared up some carp, some of them landing on our boats and wriggling away, some flying through the air just in front of our faces. It was like popcorn!
As the day wore on, the wind grew stronger (in our faces) and we opted to duck out of the main channel to enjoy less wind resistance. We found a long slough that was more like a thin canal—clearly it had been created at some point for recreational purposes. It was like paddling in the headwaters again—just a few tens of feet wide, lots more turtles and several snakes, and the quiet that goes with small waterways. I saw several plastic tarps washed ashore today--it was strange because I hadn't seen one before, and I saw 3 today. At one point it got noisier as we came upon a tractor working the land right up to the river bank. A little further, we saw a veritable showcase of tractor brands—six or seven tractors idling on the riverbank, waiting for their drivers to get in and start working the land.
This morning Leanne dropped her lightning cable to charge her phone in the water, and when we exited the canal, we stopped at a landing so she could try to find her extra cable. She was unable to find it. Since my phone died last night, and she was out of batteries, we were really annoyed that we had lost all phone contact temporarily. We knew we were only days from St. Louis where we could remedy these issues, but in the meantime, it was up to her Delorme satellite text-messenger to let people know where we were. At the landing, a couple older fishermen stopped by and offered a beer to Leanne, lots of opinions on labor issues in the area, and the advice, "don't let them rednecks bother ya, a'right?". Just after they left, we saw Jake and Julie paddling way far away on the other side of the river, just two blue dots moving at the edge, toward the next lock, 4 miles ahead. I waved and waved, but they didn't see me. We didn't want them to lock through without us, because it might take us a long time to wait for the next lock, so I opted to paddle my butt off and try to catch up to them while Leanne repacked all her stuff and caught up. I never did catch up, but I paddled SO HARD, and Leanne had a really hard time catching up to me. She had sent them a message on the Delorme, letting them know we were without our cellphones, and the confusion that started up (she had inadvertantly used the word "emergency" in her text, which had Jake and the Lockmaster getting ready to send out a boat after us), slowed the locking through down enough so that when they looked back, there we were, catching up and setting the record straight. It wasn't an "emergency" so much as an "urgent" message. (Leanne learned an important lesson in wording).
The lockmaster let us know of a place to eat on the far side of the river just a couple miles down, so we made our way there. I was absolutely beat, and did what I like to call "butterfly strokes" there (where my paddle very gently, like a butterfly's wing, barely touches the water). It's a slower stroke, but it lets me heal my aching joints/muscles while still moving forward! When I arrived to the 'restaurant,' it turned out to be Cedar Hill Resort Restaurant and Bar, owned by a man named Jay who, despite being closed, insisted on frying up some delicious Asian appetizers for us in the kitchen and sharing some cold Gatorades with us. He owns the land, his house nearby, and a sweet guest house on the property, as well as the restaurant which, I imagine, does incredible business with the recreational boaters during the summer. Jay chatted with us, offered us a shower at his house and let us camp on his dock overnight. All in all, it had been a 25 mile day with some crazy winds, and we were grateful for the rest.
Day 81: to Rip Rap Landing
I was surprised that I enjoyed sleeping out in the open with just my inflatable mattress and sleeping bag. I was also surprised that no bugs bothered me! Leanne woke up at 5, but there was already a barge going through lock 24, so we had to wait til 7 to get started. We packed up camp with Jake and Julie, paddled across the pool to the entrance of the lock together. J & J stopped in a town and Leanne and I paddled on for several hours, stopping for a midday lunch at Rip Rap landing in Illinois. J & J paddled past us and didn’t see me wave them down. There was a concrete outhouse at the landing, but when I opened the door, the floor was caked in more than a foot of mud, and a ton of trash (another photo I am sad to have lost). Clearly, the parks department forgot about cleaning this location out when it flooded last time. I cooked some warm lunch and we took a nap under the trees. Our nap lasted longer than expected, and we were enjoying just relaxing at this spot after so many days of weird schedules, so we decided to stay the night there, too. So it was a short day, just 10 miles of paddling.
In the evening, my phone stopped working. I have been really good about keeping it dry, so I think it was just the end of its life—it was booting and rebooting itself without ever letting me access anything on it. One of my absolute pet peeves is how ‘disposable’ cellphones are. I hate that I have to get a new one so frequently. I hate that they don’t last six years or more. I hate that in order to stay current and on top of news/peoples’ lives/etc. it’s basically a requirement to have one at all. I love what my smartphone allows me to do, I just hate that it’s not something that LASTS. I worry about all the minerals mined that go into making each phone. I worry about all the electronic waste and plastic that goes into making each phone. I get seriously stressed out and anxious having to choose the ‘right’ phone that will fit my budget, allow me to do everything I need it to do, not be extravagant, and last as long as possible.
Alyssum Pohl is paddling the Mississippi River and documenting water quality and plastic waste along the way.