Where is the Crew?



Although we've had hotels in the past, last night's was the first we thought we actually needed one. We were beat. The southerly winds have been stronger than ever. Fortunately, the current has been strong enough to help us make over six miles per hour- faster than we'd been going in the past. We dig our paddles strongly against the River, trying to keep in line with the wind. If we don't, the wind throws the bow around and the stern-person throws five extra strokes to line back up. almost everyone has contemplated all too seriously what we're doing this for. It's not fun to fight wind for nine hours to make the necessary mileage. Yesterday, we woke before sunrise to get in 30 miles before the wind really picked up. The night before, our tents were folding in on themselves, the stakes torn from the ground, and the sand whipping against our canoes. It's been three days of gusts up to 35 miles per hour. It will be the same for the next two days. But, after that, the forecast looks to be quite attractive, with sunshine and blue skies. Hopefully, we'll be able to rest our muscles a bit during those days and put on over 50 miles per day. It shouldn't be too difficult, considering the current after the Missouri River joined the Mississippi (which was quite anti-climactic). We still have the Ohio River to look forward to as well.
All this wind makes it seem pretty realistic for Lewis and Clark to travel upstream on the Missouri River.


No more locks!

We made it to Alton, Illinois yesterday.  We can now give tours of the Alton library as we spent most our day there. We were grateful to have the use of their computers to do some venue searching for our next event at Baton Rouge.  We also made a groceries visit and grabbed a bite to eat at the Raggin Cajun which got us in the Halloween spirit as it was decorated from light fixture to chair leg in cob webs.  We now spend most our canoeing time creating Halloween costumes.  We have come up with some interesting outfits that will surely be posted Halloween day.  Stay tuned.
 We have finally waited through our last lock today.  It proved itself to be the hardest of them all.  We had a ten mile canal to paddle through in order to reach the last lock.  The paddle was long with no current and a headwind, something we did not expect, but the determination of our group was put to the test again and we made it in good time. Celebration was much needed after this long wait of completion, so we docked at the base of the St. Louis Arch leaned backed and took in the view for a few minutes of relaxation.  We now look forward to swift rivers with no locks to interrupt our peaceful flow.


Eight Again, Carp-Punching, Sunset

At long last, we are a full crew again. Dave made it back safe and sound with some great stories from the Georgia wedding. The eight of us reconvened at the Hannibal Boat Club, 50 yards upstream from the Mark Twain Riverboat. Brett Arndt saw us off. We were all happy to have a partner in our canoes. Yet another gorgeous day was ahead of us. It has been about three weeks without a drop of rain. The River has lowered a bit, but the current is still pushing us along. For a few years, there have been news stories and Youtube videos of Asian carp. You just don’t know what it’s all about until you canoe down the Mississippi. As we near the shores, the carp begin their frantic jumping. One fish, then two. Usually, no more than that. But today was a different story. The aluminum Grumman canoes served as giant lures for the invasives. The dirty backs of the 20-inch fish rise to the top of the River, then it all goes haywire. The fish leap up to three feet all around the canoes. They pound against the gunwales and flop over the bow. At this point our paddles become shields and weapons. A few fish have come charging like uncoordinated falcons at our bodies. Our grips tighten. Our paddles swing. A couple carp should have bruises at this point as we’ve punched some away from us. Some still land in the boat and flop their way back into the River after a few seconds. These things are aqua-monsters. Ugly, fat, and smelly. When we’re done screaming like school girls and the fish settle back the muddy River bed, we burst out into laughter and cursing.
Tonight, we floated onto shore with the sunset. 42 miles and feeling great. Magenta waves of clouds swirled with the grey to the west. The three-quarter moon floated higher in the sky, waiting for the darker hours. It was a pleasant end to the day. We ran through two dams today as we didn’t want to wait for the barges to spend their two hours in the lock. Our routine continued as usual at camp with a quick dinner over a fire. We’ve only been here an hour and we have sautéed veggies, lentils, and spaghetti. River life is only as difficult as you make it. Barges pass by, shining their spotlight on shore. Surely, the captains are cussing about our being faster than they are. Amanda is finishing up with tomorrow’s lunch. Dinner’s not done and we can’t wait for lunch tomorrow. We’ll pass through St. Louis in the next couple days, which means we’ll join forces with the Mighty Missouri River. It’s exciting to predict the change of pace as the arteries join. All that water from another part of the country will join with all the water we’ve been experiencing. We’ll accept it with open paddles and hopefully more miles per day.
It’s good to have Dave back.


Tales to Tell

It has been a wild, wild past five days. We have not gotten much sleep at all and have been going at full speed. And again, we haven't found a minute to sit down and write about the happenings of the River life. So, here's a not-too-detailed synopsis.
On Wednesday, we became seven as Dave wandered into Keokuk, IA. He caught a bus to St. Louis, where he flew out of to Georgia for a wedding. We requested that he bring back some fancy hors d'oeuvres from the reception. The rest of the crew made it to Alexandria, MO (the first town in the state). A friend from La Crosse suggested that we keep a sharp eye out for a purple building on stilts when we come up to town. We found it and gave a holler into the bar. They came out and pointed a hundred yards down stream to an island. with a cabin on it. "It's yours for the night," they said. We beached the canoes and cleaned the cabin up a bit. It had eight bunks, a great radio station, and boxes of pictures of the guys who use the cabin for hunting. They leave it open for all the River travelers, so long as they're not looking to use the butcher block. We spent the evening with a few of the locals who were playing classic country jukebox songs and drinking Stag and Budweiser. They told to come by at 11 a.m. for a free fish fry cooked up by Duck, a volunteer bartender. That night led to a ride in the back of a pickup to the bar owner's beautiful house. On the way to the fish fry, we spotted two canoes headed south. A strange enthusiasm came over us. They were kin. We never see canoeists on the River. "How far?" Louis yelled. "All the way," they yelled back. They came over to shore after we told them we were headed to the Gulf too. They said they knew we were good folks because all they could see from the other bank was our pants rolled up to our knees and a few full-brimmed hats. We dined together at the Purple Cow (the bar) and decided the best thing to do would be to pass the day together at the cabin. So, that's exactly what we did. A couple hours later, three of us were walking down the street and spotted a kayak with gear stack all over it. He was relieved to meet the two groups. He didn't think he'd meet other crazy people doing the River. So, we were then 13 at the cabin, all paddling down the River. And, we hear about a traveling theatrical group ahead of us. We intend to meet with them in the next week.
The following day, we tried to reach Quincy, IL, to meet with Bev, Jack, and Dorothy. We couldn't do it in time, but ended up meeting in La Grange, MO. We stashed our canoes in the woods with our gear, hopped into the parents' cars, and headed to St. Louis after a pit stop at the Golden Corral buffet. Our event was that night at the Atomic Cowboy. Quite an event it was. Our good friend Brett Arndt pieced together several awesome bands (Palace, Dear Vincent, John Hardy & The Public) with DJ Mauf inside. All the music had a lot of energy and talent behind it. Thank you to everyone who helped make that event a success. We raised a good chunk of money for the Lambi Fund.
As we've traveled along, we become more passionate about the cause. We've become more adamant about selling shirts and doing everything we can to raise awareness and keep Haiti on the front of people's minds. We can't express enough how much help people in Haiti need. The Lambi Fund is very grassroots-based and is effective in their strategies to help develop the nation and its people into a sustainable, self-sufficient country.
On Saturday, the crew, along with Bev, Jack, Pam, and Jerry, toured the zoo and the rest of the city's Central Park-sized green area. It was great to get the legs moving and not use our upper bodies. The cities are a really different experience for us. It's more complex to figure out how to get around, plan a day, and meet with people. The lifestyle is much different than that of the River. Brandy, Brett's wife, made a comment about how much more slowly paced our lives are than those of the city dwellers. It's true and it becomes a culture shock to throw ourselves into it. We plan a rest day in a city, but we end up getting three to five hours of sleep because we try to fit everything in and try to meet everyone we see. We're happy to do so, but we also strongly appreciate the River lifestyles we've adopted.
That day led into a wild night. We met some awesome people who ended up being our night's tour guides. We went to the City Museum at 10 p.m. We didn't go to study the history or to contemplate artistic influences of the 18th century. No, we went to climb all over statues, ride a Ferris wheel on a roof, and take a slide ten stories down into gem caves. This was the coolest adult playground we could have possibly thought to have visited. It was stories and stories of funky artwork, swings, slides, mazes, skateboard ramps, fun people, and cave rooms made of concrete animals. I (Michael) was fortunate enough to celebrate the first hour of my birthday there. One hell of a birthday party.
Exhausted in the morning (some stayed up until 5:30 a.m. wandering around the city), we made our way back to La Grange. We have to give a SERIOUSLY HUGE thanks to Bev, Jack, Dorothy, Pam, and Jerry. They have been an amazing group of Team Parents. We would not have the opportunity to enjoy all these towns, people, and the River without their flexibility and enthusiasm. We are sad to leave them after each event, but are so grateful to have them on our side.
Today, after two days on the River, we're in Hannibal, MO. It's the hometown of the humorous author and national hero Mark Twain. Everything here is based around him and his literature. It's a fun place, though many vacant buildings stand unpainted and deteriorating. Locals we've met say that there is an effort to bring in more tourism to make blossom the high potential for fruitful business. We're waiting here for Dave to get back from Georgia. We've missed him more than we anticipated. Some have wanted to set his tent up at camp just to create a fraction of his presence. We assumed the time would pass quickly (and it did), but when we mention Dave, it seems like a lot longer than it was. Hopefully, he had as much fun as we did this past week.
Oscar just came back to the coffee shop with a bright pink ukulele with tabs for six love songs. Should be funny to hear Oscar singing "Love Me Tender" around the campfire tonight. Now that we're back on the River, we'll try to get more posts on the site. we said that last time, but clearly we've had a wild series of sleepless nights. We're doing this whole thing the way it should be done. We wanted to see the artery of this huge country. And here we are, ambling through every town, raising awareness and money, meeting the real people who make up these great states, and learning more than any classroom could ever teach us. The River, for us, is not made of water and mud. It's made of towns, changing leaves, coffee shops, people, stories, sandbars, and the River travelers we come to learn about and love. Again, thank you to everyone who has helped us and even more thanks to those who've supported the cause to help Haiti.


Pink Skies, Muddy Waters

I apologize for the hiatus between posts. We've had some issues with internet access and computer battery. But as lot has happened. We couchsurfed with a wonderful woman who has now become a great friend to all of us. She managed to get us each a bed in the Isle of Capri hotel and Casino in Bettendorf, Iowa. We spent the afternoon with her at the Golden Corral, eating like savages, going up to the buffet more than a healthy amount. Oscar ended up with a plate of gummy bears and pudding with an ear-to-ear smile. We also went to HyVee grocery store. They donated twenty dollars' worth of food to our trip. It goes a long way. The night ended up with a few people wandering around the casino, throwing dollars into the penny slots and finally convincing ourselves that the odds were in our favor at the roulette table. They were not. Our new friend met us in the morning at the hotel restaurant and treated us again to a wonderful breakfast buffet with french toast, waffles, fruit, and omelets. What a great person she was.

We managed to head out of town by noon and put on as many miles as we could. We got stuck at a lock and dam for two hours, waiting for a barge to get its cargo through. One side of the River was the Rock Island Arsenal, onto which we were not allowed to step (although we talked them into letting us nap on the shore). The other side was too dangerous to get to. So, portaging was out of the question. After the wait, we made another few miles to a campground. There were several people there. They all lived in Muscotine (five miles south), but spent several days at a time in the campground as a getaway. At first, we thought it to be strange. But, after meeting a group of the campers (Mike, Kenneth, carol, Faith, John, and Melissa), we understood the camaraderie between them. We spent the evening with John and Melissa, both of whom are phenomenal people, then spent the morning with the rest of the crew. They treated us well, supported the T-shirt sales, and helped us out with food for the next week. We were on our way again, headed south down the Big River. Since then, we've been doing bigger mileage days. Today, for example, we did our biggest day (47 miles) with daylight to spare. The current has been generous.

Today brought the first clouds we'd seen in over a week. As much as we love the sun on our shoulders, it was nice to have an overcast day with a warm headwind brushing through the holes in our pants and flapping the Paddle to Haiti flags. The evening brought glassy waters and a pink horizon with a bridge in the distance. As we neared it, we saw box cars rolling behind a roaring engine. The train was long and slow but a gorgeous sight with the sun setting behind it. The wake behind us warped the reflection of the broken clouds. The arch of drips from the swinging paddles distorted the sun's reflection. It was all calm. The train passed by the bridge and a siren rang out. A section of the bridge began turning 90 degrees and a barge pushed through the open gap. The four canoes stopped accelerating and we all watched. It was a cool system to watch. The siren rang again and the bridge again closed the gap and another train took its turn.

Tonight, we're staying on a nice couple's lawn. They hosted a group of four thru-paddlers earlier this year. We have a great fire going and people are heading to visit with their dreams again. No doubt, we'll sleep 11 hours, as usual. Oscar just finished writing a request for a visa extension. If he doesn't get it, he'll leave us on November 1. If he does get it, he'll be able to finish the trip and see the rest of the charity work through. We all have our fingers crossed and couldn't imagine losing him before our arrival at the Gulf.

We've gotten several compliments on our Bending Branches paddles lately. I let a group of people feel how light one of them was and they couldn't believe it was actually wood. And such gorgeous wood at that. They're awesome to have, especially compared to some of the other raft guiding paddles we are using.

Again, sorry for the several days without a post. we have over 150 people checking this blog out daily. It's great to have such support from everyone. Tell your friends. We'll see you in St. Louis at the Atomic Cowboy venue on October 15. Lot's of music and great folks.


Birthday Party!

We've had two birthdays this week. Oscar turned 24 on October 1. Amanda turned 26 on October 6 (today). We got our hands on a set of party hats and wore them down the River for 32 miles until Dubuque, Iowa. This does mean that we've left the great state of Wisconsin and all of its dairy glory. Our borders are now Iowa and Illinois. The day went by quickly with everyone feeling fresh and healthier than the past few days (stomach flu has passed between a few crew members). Half way through the day, Louis made a few phone calls to Dubuque's local grocers. They were responsive and eager to help. Eagle Country Market donated 20 dollars' worth of delicious pastas, sauces, and some calorie-packed grub that will sustain the group another few days. A huge thanks to them. Teri, of Calico Bean, along with her humorous friend, enthusiastic husband, and curious child (Nile), kept a couple of us entertained in their shop, located in the oldest wooden structure in the area. They gave the group a bag full of phenomenal food, four pounds of which is the best peanut butter to pass man's lips- made of honey roasted peanuts. They then gave us a ride back to the River to meet the rest of the crew. They are incredible people. When the group reconvened at the River, Amanda was gone, seeking a movie theatre for her birthday. She came back empty handed but with an idea. She'd been speaking with the front desk of the Grand Harbor Hotel about places to camp and things to do in town. They mentioned that they sometimes offer rooms to people doing charity work. So, we went in, chatted it up with the manager, an energetic young man, and now I write this in the comfort of a 6th floor hotel suite. We're all showered, fed, tired, and overly-pampered. On top of all this, they comped our breakfast in the morning. It's pretty amazing how local businesses strive to give back to their community. We are all thoroughly impressed and thankful for the generosity and hospitality that continues to come our way. We do not assume we'll get this sort of compassion throughout the entire journey, but, so far, people have gone above and beyond all expectations and desires. Quite a birthday for Amanda.

More and more people have become interested in Paddle to Haiti. Our blog followers continue to increase in number and several businesses have linked their sites to ours. The donations keep coming in. The support has been nonstop from friends and family. Communities reach out to us whenever we reach out to them. Thank you for continuing to read the blog and tell your friends about our journey and efforts to help the population down in Haiti. Every penny counts!


Barges Need Locks. Canoeists Are Small.

We ate lunch at Alex's restaurant in La Crosse, then Eric and Danno saw us off. Out of the marina where we had hesitantly left our gear for two days, then into the Big Muddy. Three folks joined us. We were going to sleep on their floor in La Crosse, but plans changed. We still met up and traveled 20 miles with us. It was a tired day. Oktoberfest got the best of most of us the night before, leaving us drained of energy and eager to sleep. We made it to Lock #8. Dusk had passed and the stars were not bright enough to light our way down any more miles. The lockmaster jogged down to the end of the lock to suggest that we camp behind the lock on some flat ground. It was a generous suggestion and sounded a lot better than finding an island that was not flooded out after all the Midwest rain. So we set up some tents, got a $2 burger from a pub down the street, and moseyed back to find our makeshift pillows. Within a few minutes of the last tent zippers, a train came charging, barreling, and screaming down the tracks, no more than twenty feet from our tents. And it was not the last one. Some claim that over a dozen trains rolled by. Some claim five. The trains are fun to see on the side of the River. They roll north and south all day long. It's American industry hard at work. It's what Whitman wrote about- the hum and ding of a hardworking population. I think we all appreciate it, but when it scares the living hell out of you at 3 a.m., we're willing to see it take a rest.

We left this morning by 11 a.m. I guess we needed the sleep. With such a late start, we still managed to put on 31 miles. Oscar took his first stab at being being in stern. I thought we were going to take 40 miles to do 31 miles after hitting every bank 25 times. But he picked it up like a champ. We told him to point to a fixed spot and don't get off track or we wouldn't give him dinner. He's motivated by food and he impressed us all.

Today we said bye to Minnesota. We are n9ow on the border of Iowa and Wisconsin. and still, the Wisconsin bluffs stand taller, the colors are more vibrant, and the people have that extra sparkle in their eye. Maybe I'm biased. Go Pack, Go.

The end of the day was a race. We saw a barge to our left, going three time as fast as we were. With Oscar at one of the helms, we pushed hard past the 450-foot barge and got to the lock before it. With torn muscles, we were denied by the lockmaster. Barges apparently take precedent over scruffy canoeists. We asked a few carefully worded questions to the lockmaster and decided we wouldn't get fined if we ran the dam. The River's so flooded, there was no drop at all. We saved ourselves the two-hour wait and got to see the belly of a Mississippi dam. We camped soon after and saw the big ugly barge drift by in the dark. The small guy won that one. We may meet with the wonderful Wisconsin River tomorrow.


Trempeauleau, La Crosse, New Vision?

The Hueffners did us well. We canoed right up to the cabin in Trempealeau and Bob talked us through the process of opening and closing the cabin. Indeed, we've learned to appreciate the smaller things in life. We slipped off our sandals and dug our toes into the carpet. "What a great idea to put carpet in a kitchen," someone noticed. And, of course, Brett was the first to fall asleep on it. He's been known to fall asleep in chairs at any moment of the day, so it was good to see him lying in the hallway to the kitchen after a couple hours. He's learning. We spent a lazy morning there, feeling the need to take full advantage of the luxurious opportunity. We left by 2:30 without an ounce of guilt. And we left that afternoon with nine people instead of eight. The night before, we met another thru-paddler named David. He paddles a 16-foot, 48-pound canoe. He spent several months before the trip meticulously working on this canoe. He handmade every inch of it. He let me (Michael) paddle it for a day into La Crosse. It was, without a doubt, the best experience I've had in a canoe. Smooth, graceful, and efficient. The craftsmanship is outstanding. He is also using a beautiful Bending Branches paddle. Light as a feather, strong as a bull. David has been a great addition to our flotilla and he has intriguing theories about levity which we've all been able to contemplate as we float down river. Gravity is taking us.
We are now in La Crosse, Wisconsin, staying with Alex Johnson, a couchsurfer. We also connected with Dan Popelka and Jessy Ellison, friends from Stevens Point, now living in La Crosse. They set up an interview for Channel 8 at 10 p.m. last night. When we find the link to it, we'll post it. Last night, a few of us went over to their place and played music until Jessy had to go to work at 5 a.m. We decided the people in La Crosse were too good to leave behind. We are staying here for the day and will leave tomorrow. Oktoberfest is in full swing here. We will amble about the streets, trying every flavor of brat and sauerkraut known to Germany and Wisconsin, surely trying to sing the traditional "hoch soll sie leben" at each corner.
We've fallen into a great rhythm on the River. The current is pumping and will undoubtedly be for the next couple weeks. It takes us effortlessly through miles, allowing us more time to relax and enjoy towns like Trempeauleau and La Crosse. We know we'll make it to St. Louis in time for our next event (October 15). After recognizing the wealth of generosity that is pouring over us from people, co-ops, and businesses, we seem to have developed a more serious interest in getting to know these people and their stories. For example, a young man we're with today has been telling us of the trip he took down the River last year in a "shack-raft."
People have expressed interest in hearing about our day-to-day life on the River. Well, each day is quite a bit different from the next. Generally, the guys wake after hearing the ladies pumping the stove and giggling about the burst of flame from the dual burner Coleman. Within a few minutes, sleeping bag zippers resonate throughout camp (usually a sand bar or any flat land along the River), followed soon after by the unmistakable tent zippers, groaning, and a few distant laughs about my perpetual gas. Otherwise, mornings are quiet. Not much needs to be said when eight people are of a common mindset of devouring breakfast, packing up, and hitting the Muddy Highway, which the River has recently become. Typically, a few tent flies hang in the trees until we're ready to push off, in an effort to dry off the morning dew. Some mornings, we talk about coffee for a couple hours. Other days, we toss riddles back and forth until we can find one that Louis has to think about for more than ten minutes. We stop 15 or so miles downstream and eat the lunch we made the night before. It's usually a tuna wrap with a selection of veggies that a co-op donated to us. Or it's potatoes and onions, leftover from the St. Paul event. Instead of napping after lunch, some continue to paddle, others (usually Brett and Oscar) lounge, picking on the mandolin and guitar. Come afternoon, we start thinking about a site to stay at. At that point, we've gone about 35 miles (biggest day- 45 miles). The routine is similar to the morning, once we hit the shore. The only difference is that we're more chatty. Hit the shore, open the wanagan, start a fire, cook, set up tents, wash dishes, and relax around the fire. Nights are early, especially after a long paddle. But we try to get lunches taken care of before hitting the hay. If not, snacking is on the next day's menu. We've become pretty good at setting up and breaking camp. Everyone has their task and if something isn't done, the next available person takes care of it. We are like a vagrant community, a migrating family.
We're trying our best to keep everything updated on the site. Bear with us as our daily routine cannot always offer time for updates. We're gaining more and more money every day. Every penny of it goes to the Lambi Fund. We are trying to keep up with the donor recognition and all will soon be up to date. Thanks for continuing to follow our progress.