Wind-swells in one direction, swells from the wakes of motorboats cross-hatching them. My little kayak doggedly navigating these plaid patterns of bouncing water. My full spray skirt helped keep splashing water from swamping my boat all day long. At one point I had to cross the channel. I put on my brave face, held my breath, and dug in, one difficult, strong stroke after another. Crossing the mile-and-a half channel took over an hour, and there were several gusts of wind and strong waves that nearly toppled me. Close calls. Reasons to keep going strong and stay focused, in the zone.
After the first day, I was pleased to make camp in Clayton, Iowa where I saw J & J waving to me from the deck of a riverside bar and grill. Once I figured out where to dock my kayak, I joined them, changed into some dry clothes, and collapsed at their table, bewildered by the day’s intensity. The couple at the table next to us said they had watched me crossing the channel, had passed a few times to make sure I didn’t tip. I hadn’t noticed, I was so focused. They were very interested in our journeys and impressed with our tenacity that day. They paid for our dinner and drinks before they left. It nearly brought me to tears to have someone do that for us. So sweet. We camped behind the bar near a USGS river gauge box. Locals drove by our tents for a few hours, staring at us. I decided that I’d get an earlier start the next morning in an effort to enjoy a couple hours of low wind before it picked up.
Indeed, I woke up at 4:40am, broke camp quickly with my headlamp, joined some fishermen on the dock as I packed up my kayak, and I was on the water by 6am. The morning was still and the sunrise was lovely, but it didn’t last very long before the wind was crazy again. Still, because I had such an early start, I was able to paddle 8 hours and make camp by 2pm, just past lock number 10 where a bunch of Amish fishermen sat on the downstream side, staring at me as I passed Guttenberg. I found a good camping spot just past a grassy knoll and an eagle nest. I put my soaked clothes out to dry, set up my solar collector to recharge my battery, set up my tent, texted Jake and Julie to let them know where I had found a good campsite, and I crashed for a nap in my tent. When I woke up, a little over an hour later, J & J had arrived. Jake was building a fire in his boxers, cooking one of his famous meals. I took his suggestion and coated a potato I had in river mud, and stuck it in the coals for an hour while Julie and I watched a movie (!) on her phone. She made popcorn for us over the fire, and when the potato was ready, I dug it out—the mud had baked into a clay oven, and broke cleanly off the potato which was perfectly cooked and moist. I used some coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt and enjoyed the deliciousness. I spent the rest of the evening gathering drift wood and adding it to our fire. Jake and Julie are marvelous companions. We lovingly refer to one another as “river family,” and are all very chill, very encouraging, enjoy laughing, self-deprecating jokes, and good food (though they do make fun of me for eating cold, salty oatmeal every morning).