Friday, August 7, 2009

St. Louis to Memphis

Memphis has been great to us so far! Here's an update up to last night when I wrote it up:

After sleeping in on the second day in St. Louis, we got some food in us and figured we couldn't leave before going up to the top of the arch," the gateway to the west." I think anyone who has been up the arch would agree that the 1960's elevators look like futuristic escape pods, and feel like it too. There are 5 seats, but it wont seat 5 average sized men. Good thing one of us in the pod were susceptible to claustrophobia. The ride up was a little shaky, and nerve wracking considering that a few of the elevators had just broken down, but it was all worth it fro the view. We could even see the raft from over 600 ft up!

With full bellies and the sight-seeing out of the way, we searched the city for navigation charts of the lower Mississippi. Well, we searched by phone. Phone call after phone call and no promising leads. The only solution was to print them off... after we somehow found printing access. Eventually, Josh and I made our way to the public library and printed off the charts. We ran into a few problems. The staff said it's not often that someone prints 316 pages at a time. Low and behold, we finally got the charts from Cairo, IL through the Bayous of southern Louisiana.

We were still parked right under the arch on the cobbl-stone beach, a stone throw away from the arch. The water had gone down a foot since the night we beached. We met a local fireman, Duane, who was a huge help throughout our stay. He made a few calls and found out that the water was supposed to drop another foot. Seeing as how we were already half way beached, we wanted to move down before we we had a completely beached Sea Monkey. In the process, we broke off a nose cone. YIKES! But it was only the screws that broke off, no worries. We decided to make the repairs (first repairs of the trip) in the morning, when the Sea Monkey was floating freely. There was a concert under the arch again that night, so naturally, the Sea Monkey got a heap of attention. We had the near by music and fireworks to keep us entertained and a new set of curious locals every so often to keep us company.

I woke up the next day to see the front deck filled with fresh groceries and the cooler filled with new beer. 'A gift from Poseidon' I thought. As it turned out, it was a local fisherman that we'd been hanging out with, Bob. He tried to be anonymous and drop it off after we had hit the hey, but luckily Matt had gotten up for a midnight just in time to meet him. I think we still would have figured it out, seeing as how Bob also bought us supper the night before. Thanks Bob! We can't tell you how much we appreciate it!

We fixed the nose cone and just before we left, we met Jasper, the beat-boxer from the streets. Jasper is quite the character. He'd been across the country and back to his home town of St. Louis. Jasper used his solo beat-boxing skills to earn food from tourists and people around the city, and country. I shot some video of his performance. Josh will post it soon.

AFter a few days of St. Louis, we had to hit the river. Everyone for the past 200 miles warned us that Hoppies was the last marina until Memphis, so we had to fill up there. Of coarse the people there see every raft that makes the trip, but even they were impressed by the Sea Monkey.

We found a calm spot behind a wing-dam. The days are hot down here, but the nights are still comfortably chilly. With plenty of driftwood at hand, we built a roaring fire. It turned out to be a late night and we didn't leave until 10 am on Monday.

We didn't realize it right away, but we are in a whole different type of river beyond St. Louis. There are no lock and dams, much faster current and hardly any towns or boaters. We see a lot of barges, big ones too, as they aren't restricted by the size of the locks. We got stopped by the Coast Guard twice since St. Louis. The first time, they were only curious and wanted a closer look at the raft. Just yesterday, they gave us the full safety inspection. We passed with flying colors.

To make up time, we decided to motor through the Monday night. I drove while Josh spotted the buoys and Matt slept. We came near Cairo, IL just as the sun was rising. Cairo is on the peninsula where the Mississippi meets the Ohio River. To get into Cairo, we had to motor up the Ohio. Our 10 horse could barely beat the current but we made it to town to stock up. Cairo was a rough town that seemed to be secluded from standard American Society. I'll just say that the morning was the best time to be in that town. Finally, after gassing up, we rotated to put Matt in the drivers seat while Josh and I slept. And that's tough to do in this kind of heat. The water is too muddy for swimming this far south, although it looked awfully tempting that day. Later in the hot sticky evening, a cold wind washed over the river. Nothing was ever so refreshing. I spread out my body until I shivered. No shiver had ever felt so good. The cold wind came with a price. There was a storm approaching. On top of that, the river was hungry and snatched a hat, some jeans and a life jacket. So far on the trip, the river has also gobbled up a chair, glasses, a wallet, 2 journals and any cocky attitude we had toward it.

There was a storm just out of range for a few hours. It wasn't moving fast and neither were we. We tried to outrun it like we had before, but it eventually caught us and forced the Sea Monkey to take a break on the bank. We were planning to pull another all-nighter, but Mother Nature thought differently.

Rain is good and bad for us. We learned the hard way that it doesn't pay to drive through it. It does, however, boost the current. All that run off has helped us to push an average of 8 - 9 mph in the past few days. At that speed and with no lock and dams, 100 miles per day is no problem.

In the few towns that we see now, the people are still nice. Josh and Matt ran into Caruthersville to stock up. There, they met Baker who was mind boggled about the journey. Baker insisted that Matt and Josh take some fresh fruit from his stand. Of coarse, none of us argue against free food offers.

Last night, we camped on another island. This was a rocky island with a few trees scattered on the bare up-river corner. Some of the trees were poking right out of the water. We saw a deer as we were approaching, but the deer played it safe and took off before we got close. We barely made it into the canal out of the current and were worried that the river would drop again, trapping us in the side waters. We marked the water line and after only an hour or two, we could see that the water was raising. The run off from storm was still paying off.

Today, we met the first boater that we'd seen in a couple of days. He was a middle aged man with his young boys. He said he was just talking to his boys about making the trip from Itaska to the Golf before he saw us pull through. He mentioned he was planning on it for years with his buddy. But a year or so ago, his buddy passed away. The friendly boater was more than glad to see a few rafters living the dream and I think we may have even inspired him to shoot for it himself.

We're currently looking at Memphis at a distance. Wish us luck in the big city.

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