It was with great emotion that I crossed the channel before an unbound tow and paddled freely past Fort Defiance and the end of Illinois and onto the broad confluence with the Ohio. The Ohio, I learned, carries twice the flow of the Mississippi and the width of these two combined rivers is impressive. Wing dams and dikes, once inconsequential marks on the map are now built of rock and extend above the surface. Staying near the channel is key to staying safe and making time. It's easy to knock out 40 mi days and I've had a few easy 50 mile days with the cooler weather in the 80s.
I had the pleasure of stopping in Wyckville for a care package from Mike and Holly. My scent must be wafting as one of the items was a Norwex silver threaded washcloth. I couldn't eat that and was soon munching on Holly's ThriveLife.com freeze dried snacs. The vanilla yogurt bites are remarkably creamy and delicious. Thanks for the great package :)
Heading downstream, I spot another small boat up ahead. As I paddle from right bank to left, I recognize it as Jeff. He's surprised to see me and points behind where his three other friends are playing catch up. How unusual a feeling to be out here with other boats my size. The miles go quickly when you've got company. We make decisions as a group somewhat and I feel a small sense of security in our flotilla. I also have the vague thought that this is how whole armadas are lost. Approaching Hickman, a storm moves in from the west as the ferry lands. I paddle over and confirm they have beer on the other side in town. A few of them take off for the ferry on foot like a hairy castaway version of Baywatch. They pay their $1 crossing fee and all hit the vending machine for an ice cold coke. The final ferry returns at 615 and they're all aboard with boxes of beer. The store was 4 miles and they got a ride from a guy on the ferry. He also gave them 10 beers total on the trip to and from th store. What a whirlwind trip for brews. They arrive just in time for the storm...a storm of awesomeness and camaraderie.
I wake in the morning before the sun, kindle the coals for oatmeal and coffee and shove off onto the quiet and serene river. Ahh bliss. Aaman's head pops out of the tent and says goodbye as I shove off. Downstream, ever downstream. The next few days go by in a whirl. Each day is the same 40 miles or so, 95-100F sunshine and violent scattered storms in the afternoon. It's a predictable day and I have to be careful to avoid heat exhaustion. Lots of water and rest stops help to reward me for the long days, paddling until right before sunset before pitching a tent.
Around Sunrise bend last night, I got caught on the outside of two upstream tows while a 6x8 passed the smaller in midstream. The increased speed of the boat in passing and the current built up imposing waves. The frothing giants stood in the river dancing white and loud. I kept an eye on them but knew the current from my side, bow into the wake and turbulence from an Eddie would make this extra dangerous. Soon, that rearing 6ft beast of a wave was directly in front of my bow, as if a suction force was drawing me in. Down into a deep trough so low I lost sight of land, the other boats and the wave. The bow dug in cutting a V into the rising wave and I paddled hard. I muttered "Dear God" as the next explosive wave crashed before me. If that was my bow, I'd surely be sunk. Nothing left to do now but paddle. Down into another trough we fell and the massive wave rose overhead. The cresting tip formed and I kept an eye on it while leaning hard into the paddling. It came crashing down with an immense force boiling toward the right side of my boat and turning me nearly sideways. The water splashed over the bow and into my lap sloshing around my feet. I had no time to worry about electronics getting wet with the knowledge that another sizeable roller was just ahead. This time, without the foam on top. Repeating the mantra "Paddle hard! PADDLE HARD!" I screamed my way over to the slack area near a bank and waited for the standing commotion to die down. My heart was racing and I'd been sweating since 7am but man that was a thrill and a close call. I tried to recall what I could have done differently and decided that once I heard the captains on the radio call for the pasa, I should have just pulled onto the rocky revetment and waited it out. Knowledge is power and I earned this lesson the hard way.