Friday, June 08, 2007

Mississippi Kayak Challenge - Trip Summary June 8

You've probably noticed that my blog updates are lagging a few weeks behind my actual progress. That's caused primarily by the limited opportunities I have had to date to get off the river to charge my notebook's battery and access the Internet, and to some extent by the fact that I've been paddling for 10-12 hours most days in an effort to make maximum progress whenever the wind allowed me to.
In order to bring everybody up to speed with the bigger picture, I've decided to do a trip summary every few weeks. The chronological blog narrative will continue as before. It's probably a good thing for me as well to stop and reflect on my progress once in a while.
Here are a few highlights of my adventure so far:
I have completed 572 miles (858 km) of my 2,000 mile journey. I started at mile 845, five miles upstream of St. Paul on May 13, and tonight I find myself in Clarksville, MO. My journey has taken me through five states so far: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. I have paddled through unspoilt wilderness, large cities, industrial sprawl, and everything in between. Mother Nature pulled out all the stops (and continues to do so). I have had 32 degree nights, 90 degree days, balmy days in the mid-seventies, one stifling night with the temperature in the eighties, days in the low fifties, 30 and 40 mph winds, days with non-stop driving rain, several thunderstorms, and even the tail-end of a tornado in Pike County, Illinois last night.
Clarksville is my third 'city' stop. I stopped near Brownsville, MN at the end of the first week, and last week, May 31st to June 3rd, I was forced to stop over in Burlington by severe thunderstorms and tornado activity in the area. I do not regret any one of those days off the river. I was fortunate enough to meet some of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met in my life. Everywhere so far I've been treated like an old friend, and provided with all the help I needed without having to ask for anything. This has given me a glimpse into what makes the US such a great country: people are kind, generous and caring, and they are willing to take a stranger in their midst and see to it that he has what he needs. And they do so without fanfare; without meddling. That is how they are and who they are.
I have become something of a celebrity in Clarksville since my arrival here earlier today. The owners of the Clarksville Inn (where I'm staying) came over to introduce themselves and find out about my trip, all the staff in the Steamboat Inn restaurant know about me - even the off-duty girls wave at me in the street - and I've talked to half the road crew working on the highway above the motel. Of course, it's kind of hard to miss someone who shows up dragging a 17-foot mango-orange kayak up the main street, and then parks his boat outside his motel room. And other than the motel, restaurant, gas station and hardware store, there's not much else here in Clarksville.
Any venture of this nature will serve up its share of surprises; some pleasant, some nasty. I am happy to report that thus far, my surprise scale has definitely tipped to the favorable side. A few of the good ones below:
The friendliness, generosity and kindness of strangers.
More wilderness than I had expected, especially in Minnesota and Illinois
All the bald eagles in Minnesota and Wisconsin!
Relatively little urban and suburban sprawl.
The river is much cleaner than I thought it would be.
Except in Iowa, there is much less litter on the banks and in the river than I expected to see.
Abundant bird- and wildlife along the banks.
I do not have to portage around the dams - I can go through the locks, which saved me many hours to date.
So far, it's been relatively easy to find good campsites on the many mid-stream islands.
I am holding up very well, both physically and mentally.
I've had no injuries worth mentioning, no major aches and pains; not even a cold or headache.
I have had exceptionally good luck so far. The few times I found myself in somewhat precarious situations, luck stayed firmly on my side.
I'm making faster progress than planned. I'm still averaging 20 miles per day, in spite of the days the wind had forced me off the river.
I have the best equipment for the task.
The 'bad' list is short:
The WIND. For most of the past three and a half weeks, the wind has been my nemesis. Most of the time I had 20-30 mph southerly winds to contend with, in other words, headwinds! On a few days early in my trip I ran into fierce NW winds that nearly shipwrecked me during a lake crossing. There were days when I battled into the wind for 12 hours, with only 16 or 18 miles to show for all my hard work.
Cold nights. There have been some unseasonably (so they keep telling me) cold nights. Actually, I've been cold most nights, not being geared up for cooler weather.
It's been very difficult to access cities and towns, and any facilities from the river. This has limited my access to the Internet and cell phone service, and my ability to keep my notebook and cell phone charged. However, I set myself the goal of doing this as a true solo effort, and I'm sticking with it.
I miss my wife Christine a lot, even more so than I knew I would.
I will update my gallery later tonight, and I'll try to post one or two regular blog entries.
Thank you to all my sponsors, friends (old and new) for your support and encouragement!

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