As we left Memphis, we were still battling the heat and we knew it was only getting worse. With water everywhere, nobody was willing to jump in, what with the cloudy muck in the water and all.
We made our first stop in Helena, Arkansas to find some food. It was getting dark and we were dead tired as we tied up the Sea Monkey. We were definitely foreigners in this very southern city, and we didn't see much of anybody else. The streets weren't well lit and everything was closed. Each time we rounded a corner, we'd see the silhouette of another person for only an instant before it dodged out of view. Finally we found a gas station that was all locked up, but still had a service window, like a drive through, but nobody drove. There were only pedestrians at this window. As I kept my knife handy in my pocket, we asked for directions to the nearby casino and scurried back to the raft. Again we were home and safe.
We landed on the Mississippi side of the river. It was a hike up the rock and thick forestry of the levy, but it was all worth it for the air conditioning and fresh food. We almost got a hotel for the night but we wanted to hold out for the Big Easy. That was the first night of the heavy mosquitoes. I don't know how they found their way into the mosquito nets, but by the morning, we were all housed inside the nets with hundreds of the blood-filled bugs. I was on the top deck and I don't believe I slept hardly a wink until we started off. Josh pushed off and drove from sunrise and I finally had a little breeze to fend off the blood suckers. I slept for a few more hours until my cot was sliding around on the top deck as we passed over the barge wakes. Seeing that we had no sides on top, I decided to get out of bed before I went in the drink with my cot.
The Sea Monkey pushed all the way to Greenville, MS. We pulled into the marina gas pump about 5 miles up a cut. We tied up close to 2 am. It was a run-down place with roaches and sure could have used some Rustolium on the floating dock, but it had character so we didn't mind. First thing in the morning we called the yacht club office up the road and they said they'd send someone by 9am to run the gas pump. It was only 6 so we did some grocery shopping. Matt and I met the worker back at the dock and he filled us up. Through the language barrier, he told us that we owed $50 for gas and $24 for the mooring fee... for tying up for a few hours. We argued with him and with the owner of the marina/ yacht club over the phone. Eventually I went to the owner's office to reason with her in person. She threatened to throw me in jail! I told her exactly what I thought of her roach infested marina with the hidden prices as we yelled at each other. Regrettably, I paid the "mooring fee" because I was sick to my stomach of the god awful state of Mississippi and all of the 'yachtzis' that were running the fascist nation of their own. I just wanted to get the hell out. If you're reading this Bonnie, either run your business as if you're in America or move to Muldova where you belong. I blame the poor education system down there.
It took us most of the day to get to Vicksburg where we showered in the fountain, grabbed some grub, gas and beer, and then hit the river again. We motored all night. By that point in the trip, we had the radio on all the time at night. We used it to talk to barges and move to wherever they wanted us to go. As we came up to Natchez MS, I radioed to the barge behind me as I saw only the spotlight from a few miles away, but he couldn't see our boat yet. We went under the bridge and I asked how far he was from it. He responded, "I'm fixing to go through it." I asked him again and he repeated himself. I said, "Hey I'm from Minnesota. I don't know what that means. How far are you from the bridge?" Finally he reported, "I'm about 300 feet from it," and I darted to the side of the channel to stay out from under him.
As the sun came up, Josh and I fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the plywood as Matt took over for a few hours. We got a lot more of the same scenery, the same barges, and the same heat. The three of us were itching to get find anything different. Finally, the Sea Monkey hit Baton Rouge at sunset and we tied up to an old broken down concrete barge dock.
There was a thick pillar hanging by the rebar that would or would not have taken off the front deck of the raft if it fell, but we figured we'd play it safe and sleep in the back half of the raft, just in case. Josh and Matt went into town with a few gas cans to fill up before the long industrial stretch to New Orleans. By then it was dark. I lay down with the hobo flail nearby in case of a homeless invasion. Just then, the lantern ran out of propane. I saw a spider on my chest. In a spooked motion, I swatted it off. I lay back down as the headboard slipped out from behind me and I hit my head on the corner of the cabinet beneath me. On the whole trip there were only two moments when I wished that I lived back on a dry-land building and that was one of them.
With another early start, we got a close up view of some of the ocean liners and other industrial equipment. Check out the pictures. With all of the traffic from the tugs and even bigger boats, the waves were enough to slow down the Sea Monkey to about 5mph. We were flagged down by a Cajun tug captain. The first thought in each of our heads was that we’re in the way, but he was just curious and wanted to take a look. He mentioned that his dad wants to make the trip on a canoe. The Sea Monkey seems to inspire everyone that has dreamed of the adventure.
We tied up in a clearing after dark and headed off again at sunrise on Saturday morning. I slept in but I woke up to the harbor patrol taking everyone’s names and numbers. They kept repeating “you’re in a dangerous part of the river and the Coast Guard is watching you.” I think they were glad to hear that we were shooting for another 20 miles or so and they wouldn’t have to deal with us after another couple of hours.
We floated through downtown New Orleans around noon and we all shared a feeling of exhaustion, relief, and accomplishment. We had conquered one of the longest rivers in the world in a raft we build from scratch. We had concluded a journey that only a handful of people in the world are brave enough but still young and dumb enough to follow through with. We’d lived a lifestyle that at first was completely novel and unfamiliar. But over the course of a few weeks, our horizon was stretched and we were experienced and comfortable on the floating home. I’ve never felt as free as I felt while I was floating down the river.
We docked the Sea Monkey at a marina close to Lake Ponchentrain, rented a hotel and hit Bourbon Street by the evening. Right away, we met a man preaching on the streets. He insisted that we were the white devil. He said that the blacks would soon rule the world and the whites would serve as the slaves, as the black have for all of history. We tried to logically explain to him that he is not a slave and he is free. We tried to tell him that slavery has been over for some time now and he can do whatever he wants. But whenever we made a compelling point, he rambled off another racist remark from his books and called us the “neesay” (white devil). I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have a blast. Of the two nights that we were there, some of us literally hit Bourbon Street. We took the third day off.
Getting a truck long enough to fit the raft was like pulling teeth. It took us most of Tuesday to get everything loaded up and we took off for the north country. We stopped at a few hotels and stayed with Revy and Jen in Dubuque, Iowa for a night, all to make it home by Friday night. The Sea Monkey is still in pieces but is slowly coming back together at the barn on Diamond Lake. We’re going to put it all back together and enjoy Diamond Lake on the Sea Monkey for as long as it lives!
I want to say thanks one more time to everyone that has helped out along the trip in one way or another. And also thanks for keeping an eye on us and rooting for us the whole way down. Thanks a bunch for the comments too. I still like reading them over.