Canoeing the Mississipi: Wildest Day of the Trip
Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 2:33pm
June 27, 2012 – Iowa / Illinois
The weather forecast in Camanche, Iowa, says we have a hot day ahead approaching one hundred degrees, but more importantly a windy day with thirty mph gusts in our faces. The river is near record lows, we’ve been told by numerous lockmasters and river rats; low means slow, particularly with the lock and dam systems that bring any current to a standstill.
The anticipation of severe wind and heat compels us to get on the water at astronomical dawn. Our setup is the same as it’s been for the last eight days with a three-man crew: two in Rachel the Penobscot, Arawak-style, while one guy double-blades the other, Inuit-style.
The morning is unpredictably pleasant on our approach to Lock and Dam Number Fourteen just upstream of the Quad Cities. The frequency of residences lining the river increases at an increasing rate, Leibniz-style. Our acceleration is negative by the time the tips of our canoes enter the lock.
We break on through to the other side, Morrison-style. With the lock in our allegorical rearview mirrors, the unpredictably pleasant becomes the unrepentantly aggressive. The wind strikes vengeance on the water the same way Achilles strikes vengeance on the Trojans after Patroclus dies. We have to find Briseis.
Apparently Briseis is busy. We’re living on a prayer, Bon Jovi-style. The waves are whitecapped in the overpowering winds, but we have reason to believe the opposite shore will provide shelter. However, that respite lies almost a mile across this choppy mess. We begin the journey across, trying to angle into the waves as we go, lest we get caught sitting parallel to their crests like a hotdog between buns. At one point, the elements are winning, and it seems disaster is inevitable as a set of enormous whitecaps barrels broadside towards us. No human power can avert the inevitable tip. But then, a demigod possesses Jeff’s arms at Rachel’s stern. Parallel with the waves breaking over the canoe, this demigod saves the boys in Rachel with one hundred meters of furious paddling in a matter of seconds, Bolt-style. The angels rejoice.
We make it through the wild waters and head farther into the heart of the Quad Cities. The banks are all concrete floodwalls, making the downtowns unapproachable from the water. We finally pull off under the bridge at Rock Island, within walking distance of the amenities we need. The crew scatters: one naps in the shade, one sips at the teahouse, and one wanders to Chinese food. When the wanderer returns to share his booty with the napper, they discover that Leah has disappeared. Rachel sits pretty right where we left her, but there’s no sign of Leah anywhere on the huge urban river. She’s gone, Marley-style.
Some of us panic for the first time on the trip. We’re unloading the Penobscot for a recon and rescue mission, even calling 911, when the fire department shows up. Someone on the other side of the river has called in an empty canoe. It seems Leah was blown back into the water and pushed across the river, perpendicular to the current. All parties are at ease, and Jeff heads out with the fire chief to reclaim Leah.
With Leah back in our clutches we return to the river. The sun beats down and the wind continues to blow, but less intimidating now. Our hazing has already taken place.
That’s when we’re called off the water by some party people on a beach. Clearly inebriated, they raise a toast to our adventure and insist we join them for a celebratory libation, redneck-style. We accept (most of) their offers, and one of our crew members is inexplicably offered extra drinks.They beg and beg us to find them on Facebook until we gracefully extricate ourselves and head on our way.
We paddle our last few miles as the shadows grow longer. The sun drops quickly, but we show no concern. Under the trees is good enough for camp tonight. It’s Clif Bars for dinner because we don’t have much else. As we toss and turn to find a comfortable position in our sleeping bags, just shutting our eyes, some townies terrorize our ears with fireworks just across the river. Surely tomorrow will be less hectic.