Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mississippi: Memphis to Vicksburg

There is only one town directly on the river between Memphis and Vicksburg: Helena - and this is pretty useless because you reach Helena after only 1,5 days after Memphis. Brian just ran in quickly to satisfy his junk food and soda addiction while I stayed with the boats. With only short daylight and unpredictable weather our progress is difficult to predict and so we prepared for the worst and carried 10 days of food.

The good news is that temperatures have risen dramatically. During the day we often had more than 20 Celsius and even the nights are balmy - but that means we even have a mosquito problem again! I must admit that even I had not expected these summer temperatures again in December! But the nice temperatures come with one big down side: Wind! Almost every day we are battling 15 mph  winds - and of course every day the wind comes from the South and is a direct head wind. 15 mph head wind is still doable, especially since we have gotten used to the waves now. But 15 mph wind feels a lot stronger on a huge body of water and can be rather tiring. As a result both Brian and I suffer from a very sore middle finger knuckle, a problem that we both have had since the beginning of this trip, but that has gotten really bad now.

We have also encountered our first real thunderstorm on this stretch but due to the weather forecast we were prepared. We had decided to just paddle till 2 pm and had just finished to set up our tents and cooking when the storm broke loose. Thunder, lightning, wind and hail - but luckily we had a decent sheltered campsite and survived it completely unharmed.

Our boats and one container
The paddling itself has become rather uneventful. The river looks pretty much the same all the time. Very, very wide, plenty of wingdams and plenty of barges. To my great relief Brian has now been yelled at from a barge as well - although he is convinced that it was totally unjustified. Several days later we were paddling together and were both yelled at from a barge - and could both not understand what the barge captain was trying to tell us. We could not even figure out what the issue could have been as we were both way out of the shipping channel. Other than these occasional incidents we both have gotten very much used to the barges now and there are hardly any more panic maneuvers to outpaddle a barge or avoid its wake. 

The river itself is still surprisingly remote. Except for the occasional barge and industrial installation on the shore you see very little signs of civilisation. You don't see or hear any roads or trains. Everything is behind the levee - and the levee is often more than one mile inland because the Mississippi floods. There are plenty of camping options around the wing dams and at the end of revetments but although plentiful they are usually not very good. Either there are no or very little trees for shelter and/or the ground is completely overgrown with brush.One night we had finally found a halfway decent campsite when a barge stopped right in front of it - and showed no intention of leaving. We were wondering what the captain was up to until we saw flashlights in the dark. The crew was working on the containers and after 2 hours the barge finally left, which made us rather happy because the idling engine of a barge is still rather loud.

Crab legs and oysters
We were both looking forward to Vicksburg after this long stretch and I was almost dying to wash my hair so itchy was it. But approaching Vicksburg we were in for a bad surprise. We had scooped out a riverside park with a cheap hotel close by and wanted to take out the boats there and carry them up to our rooms. Although there was a decent sandy beaching area it was bordered by an incredibly steep and overgrown slope. We looked everywhere but could not find anywhere to carry our kayaks up. So grudgingly we decided to hide our kayaks in the brush and hope for the best. Because our hiding place is so close to civilisation I even carried up almost all of my gear. But at least the rest of our plan worked out. The Dixiana hotel was close by and acceptable and we were situated right between two casinos with AYCE buffets and am RV park with laundry. Unfortunately historic downtown was almost 2 miles away and no Casino shuttle bus. I still spent a very relaxing Friday doing errands, solving more logistical problems at the library computer and even doing some sightseeing in the brand new and free  Lower Mississippi River Museum. Resupply turned out to be a problem as the supermarkets were way out of town and no bus and sidewalk going there. This is something I hate about the US - you are lost without a car. But I finally managed to do a halfway decent resupply at the only downtown store, Fred's One Dollar store. In the evening I treated myself with an expensive but very good AYCE seafood buffet at the Ameristar Casino. Fresh oysters and crablegs - delicious!

If our boats are still there we will today embark on the last stretch of this trip. Only one more week and we'll be in the Gulf of Mexico. I am rather tired and ready to finish.

2 comments:

Fran said...

We're near Baton Rouge on our way to kayak Florida. Would love to meet you & Buck 30 to paddle a few of the last miles.

Spirit & Steady PCT 2004

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