August 23, 2013 – Kayak Hannibal to Louisiana

Stacey invited me to have lunch with a couple that were kayaking from the headwaters of the Mississippi to its end.  They were stopping in Hannibal to do service, which is really the point of their trip.  Their story is told on their own web site and blog here;  Upon learning that I was a kayaker, they invited me to accompany them the next day.  The leg would run from Hannibal to Louisiana, 26 miles.  Like a fool, I said I would go, having no training or preparation.  My kayak is designed and outfitted for fishing, not distance paddling, and the furthest I’d ever gone before was 15 miles.

Nonetheless, I stripped down the kayak to its barest essentials and met Barb and Gene at the launch ramp in Hannibal.  I joked that it was free bait day, as an irregular line of dead shad were arrayed along the shore.  They packed up their 20-foot home-made kit-built mahogany kayak, and we headed out onto the river.  Before long we had reached Lock and Dam 22 at Saverton, MO.  I pulled the rope to let the lockman know we were waiting to lock through.  We waited a long while for a response.  It may be because a workman was grinding metal outside that he couldn’t hear us.  I pulled the rope again and presently the lockman came out and opened the gates, which swung agape like the mandibles of a giant insect.  We paddled in, the gate closed and the lock was dewatered. I got a sinking feeling.  Here I pointed out that while we were in Lock 22, the next one was Lock 24.  There is no #23.  It was never built, as it was not needed, but Barb and Gene already knew that story.  The downstream gate opened and we paddled out.  There were three boats waiting to lock through from that side, including one that was playing loud music.  I appreciated that.  And the bikinis.  We pulled over onto a beach just below the dam for a break.
Along the way, I gave various minilectures about cicadas, caddisflies and various other subjects. Barb and Gene seemed to tolerate these quite well, being educated and amiable people.  Barb is a retired teacher who had reared monarchs in her class.  I was mildly encouraged by the numbers of monarchs we saw crossing the river, apparently already in migration.  We saw many birds, including great blue herons, egrets, American white pelicans, and swallows.  We even saw an eagle come down and snatch something out of the water–a rare sight in summer months.  
We paddled on to our next stop, the DuPont Reservation Conservation Area on the Missouri side.  There were primitive camp sites for RVs (no hook-ups), but there were rest rooms on site.  We ate lunch sitting on stumps around a dead campfire.  We decided to trade places for a bit.  Gene took my kayak, while I took his spot in the stern position of the wooden tandem.  They were right, with two people paddling synchronously, you can really move fast.  Also, I immediately noted the advantages of their rudder, which my kayak lacks.  Meanwhile, Gene was having fun in my kayak, paddling around at high speed and, at one point, going backwards!
Our intention was that we’d go on this way for a couple of miles, then switch back to our previous positions.  Unfortunately, there was no good place to stop for the rest of the trip.  All of the “beaches” were essentially mud banks, where from experience we know that stepping out onto them results in post-holing to the knees in the proverbial Mississippi mud.
I felt really good through the morning hours and even after lunch.  Only after we rounded the last point that obscured the Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana did things get tough.  Just because you can see the bridge, you feel like you’re already there, although it’s still three miles away.  I paddled hard on the final stretch and began to cramp in some particular muscles.  The river was quite low at this time, and the current was only noticeable when passing by the Army Corps buoys that line the channel.
We finally reached the marina, which lies on the Illinois side, just north of the bridge.  Sadly, the restaurant (complete with fake lighthouse) was closed, and we were not able to have a drink together.  I had called Stacey earlier, and she arrived after a few minutes with the dogs on board.  Gene and I loaded my kayak on to the Lil Egg.  The private campground was a bit costly, and I believe Gene and Barb were going to spend the night in the small water trail campground, which should be free.  I read their blog entry for this day with great interest.  Indeed, I read the entire archive of their blogs and have continued to keep up with them for the rest of the trip.