Hannibal was just really cool. And there were a lot more pictures to share, so here they are :)
Our first cold morning. Gotta get going south! The mist rose portendingly off the water this morning (more pics I'm sad to have lost). Leanne and I stalled our movement though, as we enjoyed the company of 3 fishermen who were staying at the landing in an RV. Surprised to wake up to a couple women in tents at their obscure fishing spot, they offered us coffee and a chair, and we all just talked about life, and how book-learning isn't everything...how much we all enjoy getting out into nature and feeling what the world has to offer. It was truly one of our favorite mornings yet.
Just 12 miles down the river, we stopped in Hannibal, MO--the birthplace of Mark Twain. Right as we landed, we were greeted with the American Queen (paddleboat)'s cheerful calliope announcing it's departure--a fitting welcome, I thought, to a legendary spot. The moment we walked up the ramp, we were greeted by a couple gentlemen who were enjoying their 50th highschool reunion. They and their wives were enamored of our story and invited us to enjoy what food was still available at the reunion in the pavilion nearby. That meant cookies and cake for me and chicken for Leanne. We thanked everybody and headed into town to enjoy being a tourist for a day or so.
We hopped aboard the trolley, and nearby the Tom Sawyer caves, Leanne requested that we be let off the trolley--she had a Jake and Julie sighting! Sure enough--we found our paddle buddies at the Rib Festival in the park there. Yay, river family!
Jake had befriended another boyscout, Steven, and his grandmother, Mary, in town, who graciously invited all four of us to stay the night at their house! After setting up our beds there and getting some laundry started, we headed back into town to walk around during the art gallery hop. Three of the galleries had drawings for winning art, and guess who won TWO of them? Lucky me! I gave one to Julie, and am keeping the fish one--perfect for my marine conservation self.
The following day, we bid adieu to our J & J pals, and Leanne and I spent the day being tourists, avoiding the strong South winds, and really really enjoying all that Hannibal has to offer in its quirky American splendor. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
That evening, we paddled 25 miles in the dark (I saw 16 shooting stars!). I had just finished telling Leanne about an experience I had had sailing up in Newfoundland where it was a lovely day and out of nowhere we were faced with 16 foot swells, when--BAM--we were faced with large swells of our own, leftover from the day's wind. The swells were nice and rolly for a while, but then, as we entered the pool above Lock #22, they became treacherous. I didn't have my full spray skirt on, and one swell after another was washing into my cockpit. We passed the spot where J & J were camped, and planned on getting much further, but the extra water in my boat was quickly making it impossible for me to maintain control of my kayak. I bailed. "Leanne, we need to stop right now, I can't keep going. I have to bail my boat out, we've got to pull over immediately." Twenty minutes of furiously focused paddling, we landed on Blackburn Island near Louisiana MO, where we faced mud, but found a decent camping spot. Grateful that nothing worse happened, I learned an excellent lesson: ALWAYS WEAR A FULL SPRAY SKIRT AT NIGHT.
With Leanne hydrated, we left Lock and Dam #20 after the morning's first 2-hour barge lock-through. We took a rest in Quincy where Leanne was supposed to pick up some medication (alas, it was too expensive). We stopped at the Art Keller Marina where we were able to take a shower (yay, thank you!), and celebrate our first THOUSAND MILES of paddling by treating ourselves to a hibachi grill meal. Under a gorgeous sunset, we passed through Lock and Dam #21 and did some night paddling before tiring and heading upstream up the Fabius River to a landing where we set up camp and crashed out.
Our first day in Missouri! We slept in. I explored over the berm and realized that tilled land was closer than I’d imagined it could be. This is where fertilizer enters the river; nitrates/nitrites and phosphates seep through the soil a few hundred feet (or less) into the river, or, when the river floods, it takes these chemicals right with it. More about the effects of this here.
Leanne was moving super slow when it was time to pack up, so I just enjoyed all the frogs and toads and butterflies at this little landing. The day was hot, though, and there was no good shade at this landing. When Leanne stood up she was woozy. She vomited once, and I decided we should get to a doctor in Hannibal since this was the 2nd time in a week that she had vomited out of nowhere. I was pretty sure she was having some sort of overheating event, and wanted to get her some anti-emitics and IV fluids. I helped pack her boat and we set off. The lock was only 5 miles away, but she was too weak to paddle, and vomited again. I decided we needed to get her to a doctor immediately. She called her father who figured out the nearest clinic was in the town at the lock; Canton. Meanwhile, I tied her boat to mine and towed her the five miles to the lock. The lock was closed for maintenance until evening, but the workers were super friendly, and offered to help portage around. When I asked if there might be someone who could help us get to the clinic, they didn’t bat an eyelash. Immediately we had a fellow (I think his name was Joey? I feel really bad I don’t remember) drive us to the clinic, wait for us, drive us to Dollar General for some Gatorade and groceries, and drive us back to the lock. At the clinic, they did some bloodwork, called in a prescription in Quincy and told her what we already knew—she needed rest and hydration. I decided we wouldn’t head to Quincy until morning, and that we’d use the evening to rest and hydrate. Thus, we went directly from being badasses one day (50 miles!) to being very humbled (5 miles) the next.
The guys at Lock 20 were awesome. They let us camp wherever we wanted, and offered the tractor barn as cover if we wanted too. We took them up on that, but still set up our tents inside (bugs were bad). We had incredible electric storms pass overhead that night; two thunderheads and attendant lightning were visible on the horizon over the setting sun (one of the photos/videos I was saddest to lose). My tent doesn’t stand on its own—you have to stake it out to support the arches. Since the floor of the tractor barn was concrete, I was pretty happy with my macguyvered solution to set heavy metal plates I found in a metal recycling bin on the stake-guides.
Our goal today was to go 42 miles in order to beat both our previous records (37 for me, 41 for Leanne). We decided we’d do best if we got an early start, took a late afternoon nap and continued into the evening. So, we woke up at 3:30, and were on the water by 4:40. Paddling early into the sunrise is so lovely. We had a nice north wind which helped us a bit; we sailed about 8 miles with our tarp/paddles contraption. A father and son (Don and Josh) canoeing from Prairie du Chien WI to Quincy IL, shot video of us sailing as they passed us. We listened to Tina Fey’s Bossypants for a couple hours as we sailed, but when the wind died down, we had to paddle ourselves to Keokuk, where we were going to rest. Those couple hours in the hot sun were slllllooowwww. Leanne didn’t know how I was paddling so slowly. I was doing what I could and it wasn’t much. The pool before the dam got wider and the water got slower and it seemed like forever before we finally tied up at the Keokuk Yacht Club. What a wonderful rest we had there, though. A group of people had just been to a funeral and they gave us extra sandwiches, vegetables and a fruit plate left over from the funeral. We gladly snarfed it down, and listened to stories about Pat (their aunt/mother/cousin) who had died. The fruit plate was especially delicious. After some time online and being refreshed with food, we set our sleeping bags out on the grass for a nap. The Yacht Club owners offered us a shower, a place to stay and the opportunity to lift our boats out of the water to clean them if we wanted—which made leaving a few hours later really difficult! But we felt like we had just had such a great rest in Burlington, and we were really dedicated to making our 42 mile goal that night, and we were only about 12 miles from that goal. So we left just after dark.
We had gone through a couple locks at night before, but the turbulence after this lock was intense and rather scary. Out of nowhere, a standing wave caused by who-knows-what under the water sucked me into it and it broke over me—the closest I had come to being knocked over so far. Leanne was able to miss the worst of the turbulence. We were both surprised by it and glad that we were traveling together at this point. The water was perfectly calm after that initial turbulence, but I was cold and wet for the rest of the evening. We made our goal of 42 miles and found a dock on the map at 45 miles. When we arrived at the dock, we realized it was a barge dock, not a boat dock. There were no lights, and as we shined our headlamps into the dark, we laughed at how creepy it seemed: fog steaming up from the dark water, eyes reflecting back at us from the trees and the muddy riverbanks (frogs, raccoons, opossums), the looming shadow of a crumbling factory with no lights… There was no place to land at the “dock” and so we found ourselves, at 2 in the morning, continuing on to the next landing, 5 miles downstream…which meant we would paddle 50 miles! We arrived 4:20am, meaning our day had been 23.6 hours long, with a 5.6 hr break in the afternoon/evening—or 18 hrs of paddling. But we did it—FIFTY MILES on the upper Mississippi River!
Leanne and I were eager to leave this morning, ready to get back on the water and paddle. We cleaned up the house, packed our things, and Cindy came to pick us up, take us to Walgreens for some more mucinex, and drop us off at our boats. We packed up our boats (that took quite a while, with all our new groceries and the awkwardly high dock), but we eventually got loaded up and ready to go. Just as I was paddling out, I spied a father/son canoeing toward the dock. They (Josh and Don) are paddling from Prairie du Chien to Quincy and are pushing for 20 miles a day—quite a rate when you’re just starting out! We got just passed the bridge, where Cindy took a few photos of us leaving, when the sky burst into lightning and we were forced to pull over at the municipal dock and wait out the storm over at The Drake.
After a couple hours, we got back on the water, but Leanne was feeling really crummy. So we only made it 6 miles downstream before we pulled over at a landing for the afternoon. Leanne set up her tent and zonked out. I used the afternoon to catch up to phone time with my family and to write some postcards. We plan to have a more kick-ass day tomorrow.
Cindy and Tom took us to breakfast at the Hungry Bear, a diner full of people, but lacking enough service. The company was great, though, and I enjoyed a caramel malt (mmmmm) while everyone waited for food. Tom was called to work—there was some glitch in the utilities at the airport which was no bueno as Hilary Clinton was flying in later in the day. (We’ve been in town when Bernie Sanders visited Muscatine Sept 4th and when Donald Trump visited Dubuque August 25th…I think all the presidential candidates are following us). Cindy drove us around town, showing us the cool snake alley from 1894 and Mosquito Park overlooking the river, and then bought us some groceries! I took a nap as Leanne worked on blogging, and we decided to leave the following morning. Cindy and Tom treated us (AGAIN! They totally spoiled us!) to a take-out Italian dinner. In the morning, we were faced with threats of thunderstorms and flash flood warnings, and Leanne felt awful, so we opted to stay one more day. Mostly, we lay around and watched TV. In the afternoon, Cindy brought us bicycles and we went for a short ride to a park where we fooled around at the skate park, intimidated by the talented kids riding there, but not so much that we couldn’t show off our skillz.
The short bike ride was a great way to move our legs, get outside for a bit, and remind ourselves how hot it was and that we were both recovering from being sick. We returned to the cottage and rested for the rest of the evening. I made some green beans and soup for Leanne and I; good Get-Well food.
Reminder of why I include these health checks here.
I had a cough for a while after being sick, but it's finally gone.
Feeling stronger and stronger. I can actually SEE and FEEL muscles in my upper arms now! Leanne tells me she has to paddle harder alongside me now (she's still stronger).
My body revolted one night against the grossness of my clothes--my sweat and the same dirty clothes for too many hours created an uncomfortable red-dots/red welts rash all over my torso one night. With an all-over spray of gold bond, most of it was gone by morning. Some of the welts took 36 hrs to disappear.
The day after long paddles or hard winds, my elbows really hurt and I have to be sure to wear kinesiotape on them and dose up on ibuprofen.
My inflatable mattress no longer holds air longer than an hour or two, so I was waking up to a deflated mattress for a while, which meant all the joints that need the most support (hips, mainly) are the heaviest and all the lighter parts of my body are supported, causing a vector toward the joints that need support. So I now sleep on the ground, with no mattress since this at least keeps my whole body flat and supported equally. It's not the best night's sleep, but I'm starting to get used to it. Sandy spots are the most comfortable, followed by dirt and grass. Hard mud with sticks and leaves is okay, but gravel and concrete are terrible. My pillow has also lost a lot of loft, and my sleeping bag is starting to get clumpy (it's down, and keeps getting wet). All of this combined with a very bright moon this month meant that I didn't sleep well several nights in a row, and am taking some sleep-aid medication occasionally now. It's been over 3 months since I've needed any!
Still have: trigger finger, synovial cyst, occasional numbness on forearms, charley horse/cramps in my forearms and legs. Left hip bursitis has been pretty bad, making standing and walking difficult and regularly waking me up in the middle of the night in pain.
Diet: I eat about a jar of peanut butter a week. I depend on fresh produce like carrots and cucumbers to keep good fiber in my diet. I eat a lot of oatmeal. In town, I crave warm meals, but am usually disappointed by the quality of the food and the low nutritional value. I expected this, knowing which states I'd be traveling through, and packed good food for myself. But as my stores dwindle I have less options for varied good food. Also, our strange schedules have not been conducive to a regular schedule for meals. I make a warm meal for myself when it's convenient, and it's never convenient. Sometimes I make one anyway, but I pay for it in lost sleep (takes a long time to take those extra bags out, do the actual cooking, eat it, clean up, and then re-pack all those bags). I usually just grab some quick-bite foods from my big food bag in 4 day quantities and subsist on a diet of peanut butter, chia seeds and coconut milk powder (what I like to call "pudding"), juice boxes, water, oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit, and some fresh produce.
Mental: Leanne and I have been traveling together for almost a month, and it's been great to have someone to share the experience with, chat with during the day, talk me down when I'm feeling glum or being hard on myself, and motivate me (she's an amazing encourager!). Sometimes I miss paddling alone, and doing this all on my own, but I'm pleased with how easily we communicate and respect one another's space and needs, and I enjoy her way too much to say sayonara. Plus, our parents are super duper happy we have a paddle buddy for safety's sake, and putting them at ease is worth a lot.
Dropping my camera in the river represented a huge disappointment in my ability to do well, and has provided opportunities for me to examine why I'm so hard on myself. I recognize how irrational this can be, and try to just be kind and move on, but it's something I struggle with.
Middlebury Institute of International Studies News Stories, Sept 11, 2015
Paddling for a Purpose: Alumna Alyssum Pohl Documents Mississippi River Water Quality on 2400-Mile Journey
Not me, specifically, but NPR's Weekend Edition did a great spot on the microplastics collection work many scientists and adventurers and I are doing. Sept 20, 2015Citizen Adventurers Sample Seawater To Count Tiny Pieces Of Plastic
LaLa Land, radio interview, Wed Sept 23, 2015, Louisville KY, ART FM on the dial @ 97.1 WXOX
After 5 nights at Jared's (THANK YOU!), we finally got back on the river. Leanne and I woke up at 3 something and were on the water by 4:20am. Definitely my earliest start so far. I had decided when I started that I was going to avoid paddling at night if at all possible, but after getting to Aitkin at 11pm early on, talking to veteran paddlers about what makes for good night paddling (calm waters and a bright sky), and getting stuck at the lock as a barge went through last week, I feel less ominous about night paddling. Indeed, the dark-morning paddling is awesome. Everything is flat calm, the crickets and owls are still active, the moon and stars are bright enough to allow your eyes to adjust. I can use the red light on my headlamp to maintain night vision and still warn any other vessels that I'm out there (I haven't seen any other vessels at that time yet, though). As the sun rises, I'm treated to a brilliant vista of clouds and sky colors. Every morning is different, and it's really nice to be on the river at that time. I can get a couple hours of paddling in before the sky is even warm, which, on these hot, humid days is really important. By 9am we've often already paddled 10 miles or more. That means we can take a more leisurely pace as the day heats up, and get into camp after 25-30 miles somewhere between 3-5pm. Getting in to camp so early means we have time to take a river bath if we want, set up our tents, make food (aren't too tired to eat it), and get an early sleep (8:30 or so), so we're rested for the next early morning paddle.
For the past several days, Leanne and I paddled alongside one another. I'm not quite as strong as she is, but she and I have a very similar pace, and she enjoys relaxing just enough to stay at my pace, and having someone to talk to. The first day, we told one another our life stories, or, more accurately, our vet-related PTSD stories (she's a 2x Iraq war veteran, and my PTSD comes from veterinary school) and our reasoning for paddling the Mississippi River. We determined that she's two years younger than I am, so she's going to let me finish 5 minutes before her so I can hold the "Youngest Female Solo Kayaker Source to Sea of the Mississippi River" title for a few minutes before she claims it. She also told me I can tell my friends, 'true, she's younger than me, but she also cheated' because she's been driven past a few sections of the river. We really enjoy one another's company, joking with eachother and telling eachother the long version of every story that pops in our head because we have the time.
We estimated we could average 25 miles a day (150 miles/week with 6 days on and one day off) if we always got early starts and rested well at night. On day 68 we put in 27 miles, including a really fun break at a beach where I found all sorts of crazy plastic trash (a plastic gun, a golf club, etc), and a whole bunch of antique mussel shells with button holes cut from them. Until the 1940s or 50s, mussel shells were harvested from the Mississippi River to make mother-of-pearl buttons. They’d drill holes through the shells and then make buttons from the circles. When plastic became more popular, they stopped harvesting the shells which was good for the mussels, but bad for the fact that now non-biodegradable plastic took its place. It was really cool to find so many pieces of history. I even found one un-cut button! As we paddled to camp, I saw a power structure with more than 40 turkey vultures on it. There are more dead fish now, and I assume this increase in carrion is what supports this much larger population of buzzards. A while later, Leanne and I set up camp at the Izaak Walton League landing where we enjoyed a flat, grassy campsite, and I took a nap. Our river family buddies joined us a while later, and we all realized that the spot was directly next to a railroad crossing. The railroad follows the river on both sides, so we’re never without trains during the night, but the horn is rather intense when you’re right next to it. Somehow, it didn’t seem to bother me when I slept, though.
When Leanne woke me at 3:30am, I was in the middle of sweating out a fever. I was delirious and felt terrible. I requested another hour’s sleep, and she let me sleep til I awoke at 5:30. I still felt sick, but I wasn’t feverish anymore, and I felt like my arms were still able to paddle, and since I wasn’t doing anything else, I may as well get on the water. We had a short day, mostly, I think, because I was feeling poorly. But also because we were easily distracted. As we passed Muscatine, we smelled something heavenly, like French toast or something baking. A brewery? Maybe a sweet-feed granary factory? Anyway, we opted to look for something to fill our bellies that tasted the way the smell smelt. We docked and locked our boats at the wharf, and walked uphill directly to a sweet little diner with AC, wifi, and delicious food. I have felt cold in AC most days since I’ve lived on the river, since I’m totally acclimated to the weather. However, since I’ve been sick, the AC feels amazing. It’s like it gives my body a break from trying to cool down, so that it can focus on getting me better. We hung out for a little bit, then headed back to the wharf, and met J & J on the way! They had stalked Leanne using an iPhone app that shows where Leanne is to find us. As we left, they headed in to repeat our awesome idea J. Between a couple islands next to Muscatine, Leanne and I found a collection of handmade rope swings and water slides into the river. Leanne got out to try them, but the water slide was too dry and ended in the mud instead of the river, and the rope swings were too tall for her to reach. And I was too sick to try them myself. So we found the next spot to camp (only 12 miles total), just downstream of the Monsanto factory.
I felt better on day 70, and we put in a solid 29 miles. At one point, Leanne and I decided to see how fast we could paddle for an hour—we did our best mile yet, covering 5 miles during that time! I like how Leanne pushes me and encourages me. We ducked behind an island to get to the landing where we were going to camp, and were telling stories. All of a sudden, I broke off—“Listen! What is that? Is there a waterfall?” We saw a large motor boat gunning its engine toward us and not moving, and then realized it was trying to move up a set of rapids. When we realized there were rapids, we didn’t have time to think much about it. We shot the rapids—Leanne had a fun boost to her speed, but I got stuck on a rock. It was only momentary and everything was fine, but I missed the fun boost in speed! As we turned the corner, we passed several houses on stilts. When we arrived, hot and sweaty, Leanne and I set up our tents, did some planks, and then jumped in for a swim! It was the first time I’ve submerged myself in the river, and it felt marvelous. The current was swift. I soaped up and enjoyed the cool, then hung my clothes to dry and made myself some dinner. A couple in a john boat pulled over and chatted with us for a while. The husband said he’s built most of the john boats in the area over the past several decades. They have one of the houses on stilts as a weekend/summer house and spend as much time there as possible. They offered us a beer, and headed home. Jake and Julie arrived, hung a laundry cord, and we all joked and carried on before sleeping.
On day 71, Jake and Julie got an even earlier start than Leanne and I! They tend (like me) toward the 10am start, so I think they just wanted to prove to themselves that they could get going earlier. Especially since they like arriving to camp early, and it gets dark at 7:30 instead of 9:30 like it did when we started, getting an early start really helps to maximize one’s enjoyment of camp in the evening. At every hour, Leanne has an alarm set to remind us to take a break. We stop paddling for a moment, drink some water, eat a snack if we want, and she smokes a cigarette. We stopped for a break and I ate some oatmeal since I hadn’t eaten in camp. When we were finished, we pulled away from the beach, we both got stuck in the sand and had to pull ourselves off the sandbar. As we were getting unstuck, we missed the fact that our friends Jake and Julie were catching up to us—they had stopped less than an hour after leaving camp to find coffee and breakfast, and had already fallen behind us! We had a good laugh, and a great paddle with all four of us bantering and suggesting funny video topics for us to make in the future. We passed lots of bird blinds, some under construction before we approached (and barely beat a barge to) lock #18. On the other side, we took another little beach break, resting out of the heat. J & J left, Leanne and I followed. We rested in the shade near some barges, where a big pontoon, self-proclaimed “Texas All Day,” pulled over to chat, and offered us peanut butter sandwiches and beer! Just a few moments after they pulled away, Leanne vomited, probably a combination of getting sick and heat exhaustion. So we stopped at Big Muddy’s in Burlington to finish some blogging, re-hydrate, and enjoy some AC. We planned on staying there through the rest of the heat, and then continuing at night for another 10 miles or so.
While we were at the restaurant, one of the followers of the Mississippi River paddlers facebook page noticed we were in Burlington and offered aid if we needed anything. I wracked my brain and realized we did need some crucial supplies for the fun our river family had just planned: we needed marshmallows and a white board. Kyle S. was super awesome and arrived not too much later with just those things! We laughed at how random our requests were, but were truly thankful to Kyle for helping us find these items without needing to leave the river. Just then, a woman named Cindy overheard our conversation, explained that her son is biking the entire west coast, and offered a place for Leanne and I to stay, as a sort of pay-it-forward karma thing for all the people helping out her son. My head said that staying in Burlington wasn’t our plan, but my heart said it was important to take advantage of this generosity and opportunity to actually finish the blogging we set out to do. So we accepted, and drove with Cindy and her husband Tom to their super cute bungalow. They had recently moved to a new house, so Leanne and I had the old house all to ourselves. Tom and Cindy showed us the leg massager, the hot tub, the laundry, and our beds, and left the place to us. Leanne and I quickly jumped into the hot tub to soothe our aching muscles, took a blessed shower after several yucky sweaty days, watched some bad TV in bathrobes (well satisfied), and slept very well in our cozy beds.
Alyssum Pohl is paddling the Mississippi River and documenting water quality and plastic waste along the way.