Mississippi River Source to Sea: Dam Locks
On July 12th, 1 month on the river, I officially left Minnesota. The river now acts as state lines until Louisiana. I've left Minnesota, Wisconsin, and soon Iowa. One night I might be sleeping in Illinois, the other Iowa, and so forth. Things seems to be moving quicker now that the river has straightened and mostly flowing south. I'm a day out from Missouri then soon thereafter I'll be passing through Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal and then to a symbolic point on the river, St. Louis. I'm relieved to finally be making some headway and consistently doing 30-40 miles a day, since I was feeling sluggish crisscrossing Minnesota. Unlike any of my hikes, I'm not sure how many miles I've done total at this point. I'm surprisingly not really focused on that. Sure I calculate how many I do a day and how many to a big city like St. Louis but passing into a new state is more of a marker for me. I've still got a long ways to go and frankly seeing a big mileage number still ahead will only make me feel overwhelmed.
In the last post I mentioned mishaps and things not going smoothly. Well, I'm almost 6 weeks into my trip and things haven't improved. Once I transitioned to rowing in the canoe I quickly realized that my rowing experience in college only had me in a boat for maybe 2 hours a day and hadn't prepared me for what it would be like to row for 10+ hours a day. I had to make modifications, such as removing my foot stretchers and just planting my feet right on the floor of the canoe. Really the rowing itself is fine, muscles I haven't used in years get sore, callouses form on my hands and fingers, but what I wasn't expecting was the butt pain. The rowing seat is hard and by day 2 I was using a cushion on top. Day 4 I was using 2 cushions and it still felt like concrete after hours. Long story short, the pain was keeping me from doing the big miles I had expected to be able to do. It was unbearable, I was constantly shifting around, standing up in the canoe, laying back, I couldn't go ten minutes without shooting pains. Now weeks later, it seems to have gotten a little better or maybe I've just become used to the pain. I'm using padded bike shorts and I sometimes use an air cushion, but mostly I just try to stop more for breaks and to get out of the canoe. Besides the body pains, I've encountered pouring rain and thunderstorms, weekend boaters waking me all over the place, headwinds, swamped boats, and more. It's been trying most days and I'll be honest, I've been struggling... I always try to be transparent and give truthful accounts of my adventures even when it's not what some people might enjoy to read. But it's real.
When I reached Minneapolis a few weeks back it was a pivotal moment in the journey. It was the first big city and the start of the lock and dam systems. It was also where my dad and I parted ways and I continued solo. Once I made it through Lock #1 (out of 29 on the Upper Mississippi River) I packed all my gear into the canoe and off I went. That day I ended up going the furthest to date, 44.5 miles, because I couldn't find a campsite along the river till 8:30PM. Over the next several days I got the lock system down and now I call the lockmaster when I'm nearby to let them know I want to lock through. You can also radio them or use a signal cord located on the lock wall. If there's no other boat traffic they will open the gates, give you the green light, and I row in to the lock. They close the gates, lower the water, open the other gates and I row on through. Sometimes it only takes ten minutes, sometimes if there's a barge it can take hours. For instance, one day I got to a lock right before a barge but they said I had to wait for the barge to go through which could take up to 2 hours. Frustratingly I hung up my hammock to wait which ended up being 3 hours but I ended up meeting some other folks so it was a nice break. But then 15 miles down the river at the next lock I ended up waiting on the same barge for another 3 hours. Ugh.
Over a month into the trip, I'm getting a routine down and getting used to the river rat lifestyle. Between the thick, suck-your-sandals-off mud and the sand, the burning heat from exposure to the sun all day, and the paddler's biggest foe: wind, my attitude seems to be improving. I'm just trying to take it day by day. The golden sandy beaches, the colorful sunsets over the water, and the quaint river towns are making up for the downsides. I've gotten into stopping at some of the small towns and finding my way to a brewery or ice cream shop for a short break; it's a nice reward after a long day. I'm also still getting support from my dad. He's come back twice to resupply me, and I get to rest up in a hotel which is much appreciated after not showering for 10 days.