September 27, 2019
Dear Family & Friends:
September 26 started off with such promise and optimism. Then, it turned bad. Then, it quickly turned worse.
I left New Madrid at noon, bound for Caruthersville, Missouri. Everything was calm and peaceful and I was in harmony with nature, thinking I have the Big Muddy figured out after 65 days and over 1,450 miles. Like Mt. Everest, the River is now my friend and protector, allowing me to ride on its back to the Gulf. Wrong!
In order to make room for a towboat, I chose a parallel channel to the left of the towboat. Big mistake. The channel took me to a dead end and an impassible sandbar. I had to paddle back upstream to reach the point where I began the diversion. This cost me two hours and a waste of a lot of energy.
Three hours downstream, I reached a wing dam. The Mississippi River has thousands of wing dams. These are man-made rock structures that extend horizontally from the bank of the River into the center of the River. They force the water into the fast moving current in the main shipping channel, aka the “sail line.” Some of the rocks are visible, but most of the rocks are submerged, especially when the River level is high. When the rocks are submerged, the wing dam can be detected by riffles in the water caused by the rocks. These riffles are followed by fast-moving and often turbulent rapids as well as whirlpools, which can flip a canoe around and force it back upstream. The wing dams can also be heard for miles before you reach them. They sound like an approaching waterfall. I passed through hundreds of these wing dams without incident. The trick is to pass over a wing dam where the rocks are submerged below the level of the canoe. If you drop into a wing dam where the rocks can strike the canoe, you are in for trouble.
Unfortunately, the wing dam I encountered on September 26 was populated by rocks that I did not see until it was too late to avoid a collision. The port (left) side of the bow of my canoe collided with a rock that rolled my canoe over until it capsized, throwing me out of the canoe into the fast-moving River. Now, my upside-down canoe and I are floating down the River detached from each other. I grabbed onto the canoe and pulled out my life jacket, which I should have been wearing as repeatedly advised by Mike and other seasoned paddlers. Fortunately, I capsized near a sandbar. I swam to the sandbar pulling my submerged canoe. More than once, I let loose of my kayak paddle and had to swim out into the channel to retrieve the paddle. If the incident had occurred further from shore, I could have drifted out into the sail line and been run over by a towboat.
After reaching the sandbar, I flipped my canoe over until it was right-side up. Through the Grace of God, the only thing I lost was my baseball cap, a sponge and my iPhone, which was in my lap since I was listening to music when the disaster occurred. I emptied my canoe of water and considered next steps.