Following St. Louis, I was happy to see the banks soften and the barges thin. There was still a reliable stream of traffic but nothing like the port. My stove fuel was low so I once again found a Walmart near or on a creek off the river and paddled upstream. Plattin Creek was a relaxing detour I felt was rarely seen by the residents of Crystal City despite living so close. The water worn rock formations along the creek were towering and impressive. Once resupplied and my water jugs full, I headed back to the Big Miss. A local was bow fishing from an abandoned mine bridge. He hollered down he was looking for Carp or Gar but I got the impression he'd try for anything that looked like a fish from up there.
The channel is deep here and powerful in flow. The wing dams can be easy riffles or precarious rock hazards as I found out today. On a few occasions I had to take the smoothest shoot down a 1 foot drop and had a dangerous careening smack from a boulder below the smooth rolling surface. Adrenaline was pumping as the bow surged down into the churning eddy but I dug my blade in hard and leaned back to lift the bow. THUNK, scrape and we're free and turning about in the hydraulics afterward. Do that a few times and the main channel sounds rather appealing when a tow isn't headed up or down. I've got to stay vigilant all the time and keep and eye out for those fast leviathans.
Thunderstorms have been a frequent occurrence in the afternoon. Yesterday I put up my tarp three times for a passing storm. The upside is collection of water for coffer and other boiled things. The storms sometimes cool things off but often are so quick it just becomes a hot and humid stckiness. A cold front is blowing in now and offering some lightning over the river to the west. This is the last night I'll camp in Illinois as I'm only 2 miles from the confluence with the Ohio River. I'm excited for the new adventure as the river broadens on the final 965 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. I'm finding that when the weather is favorable, 50-60 mile days are possible (like today). I'd have kept on but I've got a sweet care package from Mike and Holly waiting for me at a post office across the KY side. Hope it arrived as I'm flying now with this current. We'll see where it takes me in the next three weeks!
At first light I paddled away from my Island camp toward the confluence of the Missouri River. I paddled into the confluence and let the currents spin me around. The power of the water is phenomenal.
Up ahead, a sign signals "Canal, All Boats". Not this boat. I had news from Jeff that the portage was easy at the Chain of Rocks, an underwater low-water dam. The St. Louis gauge was at 17.5ft and the suggested limit for paddling is 18 at the least. I didn't want to push my luck and was happy to get that portage finished and out of the way in the shade early. I made some well deserved oatmeal with protein shake powder in it and set off into the morning. The absence of commercial boats for the 9 mile stretch here was a real joy. Little did I know what I'd be up against shortly.
After the canal joins the river again, I let a downstream tow pass then continue in its frothy wake. Tall cranes, refineries, graineries and metal recycling operations line the shore. Barges are stacked 10-12 wide in some places jutting into the already narrow channel. I've found its easy to tell which boats are operational by the spinning radar unit. The wakes from upstream tows here build on the river and make for dangerous conditions. At one point the waves were taller than my head in the boat. I felt like a cork bobbing in the sea and hoped the oncoming ships could spot the orange canoe. Multiple times, I'd be avoiding a stack of moored barges when a tug would steam up the bank toward me and try to slip between me and the barges. Other times when a major tow was coming down or up, a tug would come out from behind a line or moored barges and put me in the middle of their wake. The last 5 hours were pretty intense paddling. It didnt help thst it was 105F during this heat wave.
Oh yeah, there's a giant arch here chock full of sweating tourists.
I'm camped out off Mapple Island a few miles away from downtown St L.ouis. It has been a challenging few days due to the heat but Im making due. This morning the Illinois River joined to amplify the current. Now through the Mel Price Lock and Dam 26, I can say goodbye to these Corps of Engineer stop signs. Tomorrow morning I will pass the confluence of the Missouri River then portage around the Chain of Rocks low water dam, a 200ft carry. After this, it becomes a dam-free river.. It feels more powerful and the current and waves pack a punch if not paying attention. I'm looking forward to getting through the "cancer alley" and past the city.
The mid-day heat index is above 100 and rising for the next 3 days. It's important to get on the water early when it's cool, break mid-day and paddle late until seeking camp. The heat is bearable if I stay fed and hydrated but every now and then a "heatache" comes on and it's time to pull over and dip the straw hat. Getting up early has its perks.
I stopped in to Hannibal, MO, Mark Twain's boyhood hometown. I walked all over and found shelter in the library for an hour or two. This served to convince me that it's nice to cool down in AC but makes the heat feel that much more oppressive when stepping back outside. The town was banking in on rhe tourist trade and the familiar retired vacationers and shops/restaurants for them to dispose of income avound. The score of the day were 3 cukes for $1 from the Marketplace. Fresh veggies from and garden!
This is valuable morning time so onward i paddle. Catch up soon
After a resupply in Keokuk, I paddled on into a headwind and kept at it. It was hot and sticky today with slightly overcast skies that turned to scorching sun rather quickly. I noticed the Fox Island Chute on the map and knew it would offer shelter from the 15-20mph south wind. That was good because the waves had been building and growing more precarious. I passed Warsaw, IL and crossed the channel just in time. A tow headed upstream was coming right my way but I knew it would remain in the channel. I passed over to the shore and enjoyed watching the long vessel slug on by.
At the chute, I came across a rock dam built of concrete chunks from the 1993 flood ravaged town of Alexandria, Missouri. After walking up to scope it out, I noticed a crowd partying at a cabin on the island. The waved me over and I paddled up to "The Bunkhouse". Jerry Calwell, the 72 year old owner, offered me an ice cold Keystone Light and ushered me to a chair in the shade. His family lives in the town of Alexandria, a place built on stilts with roughly 100 residents on the low west bank of the river. Jerry has taken his 20ft Flatboat to New Orleans, up to St. Paul and up the Missouri. He's a person of the river with a huge reputation and fabulous close family.
Boone, a shirtless and tanned character said "You stick around and there's a t-bone with your name on it." Sold. I had planned to make more miles today but this was too enjoyable to pass up. Good food, cold beer, lots of laughs. Boone told me all about growing up on the river, his first flat bottom boat at 13 and the old Purple Cow bar, owned by Jerry's Mom and later, Boone. Jerry brought me inside for a tour and once I saw the camouflage pattern inside, I immediately recognized it from someone else's river blog. He handed me the leatherbound journal and invited me to add my name to the many other travelers who had stopped through. My blue ink filled the final page of the ledger and a new one sits ready for the next wayward traveller.
At sunset, they departed the island leaving me in the bunkhouse alone. I sipped my last beer and watched the lightning storm passing to the north. The brilliant white floodlight of a tow bathed the bunkhouse in an otherworldly glow as the pilot hunted for the channel markers in the dark. The rumble of diesel engines carries downstream and passes within a few hundred feet of the cabin door. If you're headed through Alexandria, stop in and say hello.