Tuesday, June 28, 2011
“People on the river are happy to give.”
-Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
We paddled 50 miles today. Back on track, baby! We have had some good luck. The people we have met in the past few days have been so kind and generous. We’ve gotten rides to the grocery store, directions when we were lost, campsite recommendations, and even home cooked meals. As we paddle closer to Hannibal, MO, there seems to be a deep understanding of what it is we’re doing and what we’ve been through.
But now it’s a rainy day in Hannibal, so we have decided to set a spell. It just so happens that there is a big hullaballoo going on in town. Hannibal is the hometown of Mr. Mark Twain. The U.S. Postal service is here to unveil the Mark Twain postage stamp. It’s a pretty big deal.
Before we know it we are face-to-face with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Well, these were actually kids who won a contest a year ago to become the town’s ambassadors for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. They led us around town and explained to us what was going on. Before we knew it, they led us to a fence that Tom was supposed to be painting. We convinced him to let us do the painting. All it cost was a telescope and a doorknob. What a deal! I didn’t even know we HAD a doorknob. Good thing Bryan packed along icons from Mark Twain stories in case we walked into one.
Just when we think our goals are within sight, nature flexes its biceps and shows us who is REALLY in control.
We had three whole days of bad canoeing weather. The winds blew in our faces and waves try to swallow our canoes. We made it as far as Keokuk, Iowa, but there is still a long way to go. Our arms feel like boiled noodles!
Currently we are floating into lock #19, the biggest lock and dam on the Mississippi. The 38 ft. drop kinda takes a while. Don't they know we have a lot of miles to make up?!
The lock reminds us of the trash compacter scene from Star Wars. You know, that moment in the movie where you begin to try and remember how they got there? It feels like that part. Except in Star Wars, they eventually get out of the trash compacter. Then Luke and Han do some more amazing things with lightsabers and lasers and Chewbacca stuff and then they blow up the Death Star.
You know what? Forget the last three days. We are going to make this happen. We are going to release the Millennium Falcon from the tractor beam. We are totally going to blow up the Death Star.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Day 16 -- Painted Turtle
It was rainy. We were wet and not feeling very lucky. Then we landed on shore and found a painted turtle laying her eggs in the sand. Stretched above her in the sky was a bright double rainbow! The scene was so unbelievable. We were speechless. Good thing we brought poetry hats along. We can explain the whole thing better with a haiku.
A double rainbow
Over a painted turtle
A TRIPLE rainbow!
She laid 15 eggs (that we witnessed) and covered the eggs with sand. Then we watched her slide back into the river, and there she was…gone. We started feeling a lot more lucky after that.
Day 17 – Pelican Island
Ten miles north of Clinton, Iowa, there is a hidden place inhabited by birds--many, many birds. The trees on the island look like the Truffula Trees of Dr. Seuss. From the water we saw them—blue herons, egrets, and pelicans. There were birds of all shapes and sizes. Thousands and thousands of birds! Good thing we brought our poetry hats along, for it was just that moment I realized--
What a wonderful bird, the pelican
For its beak can hold more than its belly can
Day 18 – Thousand Pound Catfish
At one of our campsites we met a big family. They were spending their weekend camping and catching catfish on the river. We ended up making friends with these kind folks. They were all so much fun and super creative. We stayed up late playing music together and just makin' up songs around the fire.
Then they started tellin’ us tall tales about the river. There were a bunch, but our favorite one was the Thousand Pound Catfish.
The story goes that there is a catfish living in the Mississippi weighing over 1000 lbs. It is so big it can swallow a school bus whole. Mere minnows will not satisfy the hunger of this great swimming beast. It lives off the tons of corn spilled by passing river barges. Legend has it that he’s over 100 years old! It’s a good thing we brought our poetry hats along because...
I can’t think of anything poetical. I guess my hat must have fallen off into the river. Shucks!
Saturday, June 18, 2011
We made it to Guttenberg, Iowa and landed on a small island. Not long after we got there, four more guys landed at the same island. It turned out they were paddling the ENTIRE Mississippi.
They reminded us of four other guys we know floating down the Mississippi—ahem!—But these guys were pretty darn cool too. One guy didn’t even bring a tent! He just sleeps out in the open or in a hammock or something crazy like that!
While we were hanging out with these guys, a bright spotlight shone on the island from on the river. A massive barge was moving past our island. Its light was so powerful that we had to shade our eyes. Until this point, we had never witnessed a barge moving at night. The river barges are big, but at night they seem even bigger.
Anyhow, these guys we met are also raising money for the fishermen affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Check out there website at arsts.org.
There is so much to do every day. There is a lot of river left to paddle and sometimes it’s tempting to paddle all day long. Sometimes it’s tempting to get out of the canoe and shoot videos all day long. Sometimes we want to sit in trees and sing songs all day and then grab a rope and swing over the river like Tarzaan and then do a sweet flip into the water and then forget about all that stuff we left behind in the “real world” like the price of gas, soap, and Justin Bieber.
Actually, I think Joe has some Justin Bieber on his phone. Nevermind. I guess we have Bieber.
The truth is, our trip down the Mississippi has been a great balancing act. Besides keeping our balance in the canoe, we also need to keep our balance between distance and documentary, miles and music, art and accomplishment. We will complete all of our goals, but sometimes the wonderful experiences on the river are just too much to resist.
We came up with this idea to film something called, The 2011 Okee Dokee Olympics. The events include Rockput (shot-put), River-Stick Throw (javelin), and the Paddle Spin & Sprint (gymnastics). During the filming, Joe’s sunglasses came off in the murky shallows of the mighty Mississippi. Lost.
Even though finding them again seemed hopeless, we all got in the water and began probing the spot where Joe fell. The water was about 4 feet deep and extremely muddy. After 15 minutes, we were all ready to give up. Suddenly Joe lifted his foot out of the water and pulled his sunglasses from between his toes. Amazing save!
Later that same day, we were in a lock waiting to be let through. Joe pulled his hat off to wipe his brow, forgetting that his sunglasses were sitting on top! PLUNK! Gone again. I guess the river really wanted those sunglasses.
Life and Death
After Joe lost his sunglasses in the lock, we noticed a small, injured bird floundering in the water. It must have struck the wall of the lock and fallen in. We hoisted it out the water with one of our paddles and placed it to rest on the front of the canoe. It lay there, barely breathing.
We continued down the river with the bird on our bow always keeping hope that it would soon get up and fly away. We were all very sad when it never did. After landing on shore, we had a small ceremony for the bird and continued on our way.
We didn’t have much desire to paddle after that. It was difficult to make good distance while pondering the bird we left behind. But whether we paddled or not, the river’s current moved us along and the flow was kinda soothing.
We have been witness to so much life on this trip. It is easy to forget that there is also death. Even though it was the death of a bird we hardly knew, life suddenly seemed like a delicate thing, as swift and light as a feather. Death kinda seemed heavy.
Time flows in a continuous current much like a river. It keeps us moving along when we are too sad to paddle. It also helps to soothe our wounds as we float along.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Remember how we said the beginning of the river was so small that it seemed like the Mississippi Creek? Well, this part of the river is so big that it’s more like the Mississippi Ocean!
In our canoes, we can travel at about 6mph. At that speed we can cover thirty miles in a matter of a few hours. We never imagined it would be this fast. However, the locks and dams slow us down considerably. We’ve gone through four locks so far, and one we were stuck in for nearly two hours!
Five Star Hotel? More Like THOUSAND Star Hotel!
On Thursday we landed on an island to make camp. It was hot and we needed a place to swim—a place where the water wasn’t moving so swiftly. After a little exploration, we found a rope swing someone had made. It hung over a spot along the shore where the water was still, like a little swimming hole. We must have played in it for hours. Before we knew it, the sun was going down and the air, after days of being hot, was finally beginning to get colder. It was almost like our whole world had gone for a dip to cool off.
Our comfy island accommodations did not stay comfy for long. Friday turned cold and wet, but we paddled through La Crosse so quickly that we got to spend most of the day off of the water and writing music. One song we made was about a hummingbird (because we were feeling particularly small on the big river) and another one was about staying in a thousand-star hotel with king-size river beds and gold leaf pillows. Ahhh...
We've met a lot of cool people so far on our trip. In fact, there is a man from Scotland at our camp right now. He's canoeing down the entire Mississippi! We gotta go talk to him. We're going to find out how much he loves adventure...and Braveheart. See ya 'round the bend!
“Hello my fellow travelers in the greater circle of life."
We woke with the sun on Tuesday morning because Kenny Salwey, the Last River Rat, planned to take us to his shack on the backwaters of the Mississippi. We needed to get there before the deer flies woke up. Alas, this time of year they’re bad. Deer flies bite, so we had to cover ourselves completely—not fun in 95 degree heat.
Kenny lived in his shack for 28 years as a hunter, fisherman, and trapper. Visiting his river home was a mystic experience, like walking into a story book and getting to hold the items inside of Hagrid’s hutt. But Kenny is not a fairy tale. He lives with nature. He is real, and he makes nature real too. Many of us live lives greatly removed from nature. Roads and hotels and computers separate us from trees and flowers and animals. It’s almost as though nature itself has become a fairy tale--something we only see on TV or read about in books.
Kenny had a lot of lessons to teach us. We kept voicing up our concerns about the swollen Mississippi waters. “Are we going to tip? Are the waters too fast and too strong?” to which Kenny simply replied, “Don’t fear the river. Respect it.”
Kenny firmly believes that if we are disconnected from the Earth, then we are missing something very important. For us, that lesson was a big one. We aren’t fighting the Mississippi. We aren’t using it. We aren’t separate from it. We are flowing with it. We need to respect its strength and allow it to carry us.