September 19, 2013 — Never kayak the North River

I’m going to first state right out that this was Bob’s idea.  When I said we should go kayaking, he mentioned the North River, which he had done before.  He had only put in at the park in Palmyra, paddled upstream for awhile, then floated back down.  I suggested we float downstream to a take-out.  He also was the one who found the take-out on Google Earth. At the end, we would have to paddle out the mouth of North, upstream a short distance on the Mississippi, and into the mouth of the Fabius to the Fabius Chute Access.  Bob had forgotten his bottles of water.  Fortunately, I had brought two, and gave him one of mine.  I also brought a bag of almonds, while Bob had a sandwich and a banana.

The stream looks big from bridge on Highway 61.  On the map, it looked easy, especially compared to the 26 miles I’d recently done on the Mississippi.  We shuttled trucks, leaving Bob’s at the take-out, in spite of the lack of signs to direct us there.  We were a little worried about weather–storms were predicted for later that afternoon, but I knew we’d be out before then. Ha.
We started out OK, as expected pulling through occasional shallows.  On a rocky substrate pulling is easy (though hard on plastic kayaks).  We saw a great rusty car embedded in the bank. 
Birds we saw included Great Blue Herons, Green heron, many kingfishers (saw one trying to catch fish), eagles, pelicans, egrets, swallows, and a pileated woodpecker.  
Downstream a we saw Asian carp: a few jumped, which was a bit of a surprise.  At the Highway 61 bridge, there was a log jam underneath.  The water around it absolutely erupted with huge jumping fish.  One hit Bob. One became stranded on top of the logs.  I got some still images, then switched my camera to video, thinking I was getting awesome footage. Later I found I had forgotten to hit the record button. We saw a few more later on, and I did get some video, but never so many as under the bridge.  For one who’d never seen them before, Bob developed a radar for these fish.  He could see and smell them in the water somehow.
Further downstream the river became very narrow, and we were somewhat trapped by a log jam in front of us.  Of course, carp started jumping.  One landed inside Bob’s kayak. He was not amused. Not much he could do but block it with his feet.  I backed up, tailed it and threw it back in the stream.  His kayak will never smell the same.
Bob is a fish magnet.  I’m going to bottle up his sweat and sell it.  One fish hit me in the leg, but I considered myself lucky.  When a stream loses discharge volume as it goes downstream (because the water seeps into the underlying rock), it’s called a losing stream.  I don’t know if the North River is a losing stream in the geological sense, though quite possible owing to our karst geology, but it’s losing in another.  The stream got smaller and smaller, and we had to get out frequently to pull our boats through the shallows.  But instead of pulling through cobble, the substrate was deep mud.  Hard going.  Plus, many spots were blocked by trees.  We were reduced to pulling the kayaks over long sand bars.  Our stream float had turned into an overland haulage.  
My phone GPS was not giving me a high resolution view of our surroundings, making it hard to figure out where we were.  At one point I hiked through the woods and found the levee, but there was no road nearby.  By this time, we were getting tired and annoyed.  I popped open my bag of almonds and ate a handful.  Normally, I love almonds, but these tasted a little stale.  I checked the date on the bag: Best if used by Feb 2011. We were getting low on water too.  It was hot, and I had been bitten by hundreds of tiny ticks a few days earlier.  The cool water helped.  Dragging our kayaks through knee-deep mud was exhausting and unfun.  We got filthy with mud, and so did our kayaks.  It rained a bit–just enough to make us nervous.
The end of the stream just never seemed to come.  When we reached the second railroad bridge, I knew we were close.  But to our dismay, the stream under the bridge was blocked by a huge log jam.  I walked a long cottonwood bole to get a better look.  An impenetrable mass of trunks and limbs reaching at least 50 yards stretched to the bridge, and I couldn’t see what lay beyond that.  We climbed up the steep bank and over the levee.  At that moment there was no more joyous sight than the gravel road that paralleled the train tracks.  Bob walked to get the truck. I drank the last of my water and poured out the almonds. A train came by while I was fetching the kayaks.  To get them up the steep bank, I tied a strap to the bow of each one, climbed the bank, and pulled it up.  We loaded up the kayaks on Bob’s trailer and went to a convenience store, where I bought us 24-oz bottles of Gatorade.  We’re never doing that stream again.
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