Day 34- July 25th- 72 miles
I would venture to say that more people have kayaked the Mississippi than have experienced a day like today in my shoes. This was my first full day alone and when you’re alone and all you have to rely on is God, it’s weird, you don’t feel alone anymore. I woke up on a large peninsula of sad at mile marker 710. The sunrise was a little dull but the clouds offered some relief from the strain of 100+ heat. The first portion of my day was filled with prayer, talking to myself, paddling, remembering why I am here, and a lot of deep thinking. The heat decided to come out at 11:30 and you know it’s hot when every pore in your legs are dripping sweat, as your just sitting there (this is a rare occurrence). God tested my faith with some early morning storms and winds which then turned into a stale and hot afternoon. Because of the lower water more rocks are above the water on the wing dams that are on the sides of the river. Not knowing how bad it was until I got there I often prayed for protection for the kayak from the stumps and rocks and it amazed me how I never hit the dam. And when I look back if I had gone down any other place it would have been bad news.
By lunch I had 47 miles done and I stopped at a casino on the Mississippi side of Helena where I journaled, charged my phone, and drank pop. I love these people. Most are happier and friendlier than the people in Memphis, bar one- Luke. God had answered so many small prayers today and after lunch there was another one: two storm cells on each side of the river. As I continue on the storms never touch me. I had the only blue in the sky right above me. The Ipod I inherited is great for motivation so from the end of my three hour break on I was on a roll. The day was gloomy and lightening was everywhere but by me and then Chris Tomlin came on. I looked around and saw God’s creation in a way I had never seen it before. All of nature seemed to have emotions and while most would call it a disappointing scene I have never seen something so gorgeous! I stopped paddling and regained my composure and went on towards the storm. Tonight I sat in the water watching two lightening shows, one on each side of the river and the sunset was majestic. I wish you could experience it because words can’t take you there. We stopped at mile marker 638.
Day 35- July 26th- 60 miles
(Gene didn’t upload page one of this day so all have is page 2. This is the day he met up with Alex Linnel, the stand-up paddler from Mendota Heights, Minnesota. They spent the afternoon paddling together but they couldn’t continue to travel together because Gene gets up and going by 4 or 5 am and Alex doesn’t leave until around 9am)
(Page 2 of Day 35)
It was a fantastic time and we talked the hours away. They invited me to stay for supper so I willingly ate their hot spaghetti and fried summer sausage. It is unfortunate that I get up so early because I am sure that we [Gene and Alex] could pass the time through chats. His father tagged along with him and I was quite at home with these fellow river-goers. We start at mile marker 637 and end at 578 for a total distance of 60 miles but we ended a little early. Good luck and best wishes to Alex for his record-setting achievement but I will be the first red-head to kayak the mississippi river without the use of sunscreen in the months of june july and august, so sorry alex your trip does not compare.
Day 36- July 27th- 64 miles
Dear Diary, how do you tell if a man is truly from Mississippi? He has a fabulous accent and he is missing at least 2 teeth. Today was a battle and I just had to bite the nail on this one. After 3 alarms I was finally on the water by 6:30. I left my good paddle boarder friend Alex and his father sleeping, and headed off for Greenville. I apologize for not having a lot of scenery but it has been the same for 400 miles. The river is about a mile wide, has adjacent flow, sandbars clutter the shores and there are no hills to speak of. The sun is very hot because we are getting closer to the equator, making the days consistently feel like an oven. Today is also an emotional day surprisingly. The scene is, I am on the river, the sun is pelting my body to where I can feel it burning and I should be in Greenville by now. I can see Greenville and what I thought should take about 20 minutes becomes 50 minutes. I am angered because after 40 miles I just wanted to be out of the sun and eating but instead I was paddling in place. I come close to throwing my paddle but decide that wasn’t one of my greater ideas. I show up at a park with no running water because of the flooding but the DNR officer was nice enough to help me out and chat for over 45 minutes. I ended up staying there for 5 hours and 6pm I raced on. I just barely missed a thunderstorm but in no time at all I had 2 foot waves to fight. The front end of the kayaking being empty went up and mashed down on every wave.The tediousness of it also frustrated me. Then I began to be joyful in my trials as paul says, and it gave me the umph to go on until 1020 pm, 2 1/2 hours past sunset. I was in a mode where I can paddle all night, and then as the sun sets the only light I had is the light of the barge in front of me. It was difficult to tell the land from water and sky, I pinpoint a barge that will lead me downriver but he happened to be coming right towards me, I pull aside and actually run myself into a beach without seeing the beach there. I paddled 24 miles into the night and the temp and the stars were perfect. stopped at 514 for a total of 64 miles today.
I forgot to mention night travel is difficult trying to tell distance and whether or not the light in front of you is a barge or a mile marker. It is as if at night you are going crazy fast and you are paddling in place, which is a totally unsettling feeling. I unexpectedly beach the second time and scare up some flying carp which in turn scares me. I sleep at the second beach. During lunch I pull the kayak completely out of the water but as I was away waves pulled the kayak back out to sea. As I come around the corner 2 hours after I left I see that the kayak wasn’t where I left it. Panic instantly sets in and as I look down the beach I can see the kayak pinned up against the rocks. The back current kept it close to shore but the back was completely swamped from the waves. At least I still have the kayak.
Day 37- July 28th- 75 miles
Due to the late night last night I slept in a little and was on the water by 7. There were clouds in the sky to block the direct rays of the sun and morning went decently well. I didn’t put in the miles I was hoping for before lunch but it was enough. I had 78 miles to travel today and I would have made it if wind wasn’t a part of todays package deal. My lunch break was a mere 30 minutes but 2 hours late I pulled over again due to an “I need to get out of this dang kayak” sick feeling. After a quick swim I was feeling better and back on the water. one of Luke’s friends, Ryan, was going to house me for the night in vicksburg so I had to make it there. 22 miles away I was face with some huge headwinds. Because of the lack of weight in the front of the kayak every wave ended in the kayak crashing down with a huge splash, slowing my speed down to quite possibly 2mph. I had spent a lot of time with God that morning and with this unexpected trial, I needed him more than ever. I became very angry at the situation I was in, and everything seemed to be encouraged and uplifted by God. The winds and the waves never failed to literally crush my spirits. I was completely physically and emotionally exhausted. The high winds and virtually unpenetrateable waves washed me up on shore 2 times. At this moment in time I had become frustrated with God for not making my life any easier. Then I came to the conclusion that firstly my complaining and blaming wasn’t making things better but was setting myself up for disappointment and failure. Secondly if i wasn’t willing to the hardships of this near daunting task than why was I there? Just then “stronger” came on my ipod and as true as it is if our God is for us who could stop us? and if our God is for us who could stand against us. Looking at my trials with joy gave me endurance beyond my own strength. I paddled into the dark, the barge traffic was ridiculous and I had quite a scare when I realized my intended path of travel put me almost right in front of the front end of a barge. After redirecting to safety I pulled up near a grainery and walked through some infested lands to get to Ryan who had been patiently waiting for me. First impressions of Ryan and his family were of absolute amazement. Stopped at mile marker 439 making today a 75 mile day and by far the hardest day.