P5280240 [1280x768] I arrived in Memphis yesterday (May 26th) in the early morning after a 91 nautical miles day (168 km, 104 miles) the previous day to be as close to Memphis a possible.

The Mississippi is quite magic because it’s a very big and powerful river. Some areas are really wide.
In St Louis I asked a ‘fresh’ homeless man (he still had his suitcases with him and looked cleaner than me during my kayaking) for help getting my Kayak from the hotel to the river in exchange of a good compensation considering a 5 min walk. I thought it would be better than carrying it on my own, better than giving a smaller ‘tip’ to a hotel semployee who is already making some sort of living. When we got the kayak to the river and after questioning me the homeless man told me ‘Mississippi is a mighty river but it’s dangerous one as well,
I would reconsider if I were you’, all in a very ‘American’ accent. I won’t forget the way he sounded. He told me about ‘whirlpools’, ‘sucking holes’ and how he knew many people that had drowned.
For almost a sec I thought that maybe I should look into the matter a bit more. After all he was homeless there was really no point for him to lie to anyone anymore. As well this echoed what the hotel staff was saying earlier. I told him that I was going to be careful.
I left St Louis. When I was exiting St Louis I had to be very cautious there were barges coming from everywhere, and the waves they were making were quite big. Adrenaline was quite high and I was much focused getting past the ‘traffic’. It is a mighty river without a doubt.
I kayaked through whirlpools, sucking holes, areas where the current is flowing the opposite way. It is an interesting experience and going through the first day was a bit of a discovery for me but after the first day I got used to them and they are not really much of a big deal for a kayak. On the other hand even if you are a good swimmer and get caught in one of them they can still be very dangerous. They are very powerful.

This is going to be the 2nd night in Memphis birthplace of soul, Rock’n Roll… Hometown of B.B King, Elives Presley, Johnny Cash… Hometown of the still standing ‘Lorraine Motel’ (now the National Civil Rights Museum) where Martin Luther King was assassinated… Lots of culture. As well in the center and very famous for it’s BBQ… lots of restaurants serving BBQ, definitvely a great spot of meat lovers.

Memphis is the ‘middle’ for the US. FedEx has their ‘center’ located in Memphis. It has more character than I thought initially. The downtown area is very ‘quiet’. Not many cars going through so you can have very nice relaxing walks while taking over the antique trams (they are very old).

It is the ‘middle’ for this trip as well. There is about half of the distance to cover and the there are not many towns. I won’t stop anymore until New Orleans. As a result I will carry with me about 7 gallons of water (about 28 liter). Going in the small few cities past Memphis for majority of them is out of question. They are not really within walking distance. I will rely on them only in exceptional circumstances.

The Memphis – New Orleans will be the hardest part as the fatigue is slowly accumulating faster at the end of the days. The Mississippi is slowly loosing of its speed I have the impression. It’s very wide. The days have been really hot. One day it was so hot, I had to pour water on my head every 15 min and at the end of the day I went for a swim (I usually need very warm water to be willing to swim for the ones who know me).

On another note, there was a second MSR fuel bottle incident. This time it only involved me in the middle of nowhere.
Some days there are a lot of mosquitoes depending of the time of the day I stop. So I do ‘intra-tentous’ operations. I open a little space through the mesh of my tent and operate the stove and cooking just with my hands sticking out.
I connected the stove to the MSR fuel bottle and opened the valve to let the fuel go to the stove and as soon I light it up, ‘woooosh’ there was a flame going from the stove, on the tube connecting to the bottle and on the bottle.
It was my fault clearly (there was no one I could put the blame on… I tried to curse the mosquitoes but I don’t think they cared). It was my fault because you are supposed to use a safety mechanism that ensures the stove is fully connected to the bottle. I never used it because I usually just check it visually to ensure that the stove is all the way in the bottle. This time because of the ‘intra-tentous’ operation, the heat (very hot & humid) and the fatigue I did not pay attention.
So there was a nice flame 10cm high and about 30cm long in front of my tent. I did not have many options so I had to put my hand in the flame and disconnect the stove from the fuel bottle. I lost a few hairs on my hand….but no worries I still have plenty ;)
But the whole incident made me think of the Pekin incident and the mentally disturbed individual, the ‘firerorist fighter’.
There were no ‘explosion’… the top of the pump melted a bit and a tiny piece of my tarp as well but that’s about it.

Since the Pekin incident no need to say that the terror level was increased to Orange in the US. After the second incident the department of homeland security detected a few extra milligrams of carbon release in the air. As a result the terror level now is Red.

Now any foreign individual carrying a liter of fuel are subject to immediate arrest. No more 30min paper checking.
As well if you have a bottle of alcohol on yourself you are subject to the same treatment. If you smell alcohol on the mouth of a foreigner be very careful as he/she may try to fool you that he just had a few drinks. It is very most likely a suicide-terrorist attack attempt.
If you hear someone with a foreign accent, be very suspicious. It does not matter if the person could possibly be a US citizen. Call the police and get them jailed overnight.

Sarcasm beside, it was a good safety lesson for me, now I put the lock and it was ironic after all that I did end trying to set the whole thing on fire !

I met great people along the way… I will talk about them later.
I have to prepare for tomorrow morning, lots of packing after a haircut from ‘Down to earth barber’ on main street to keep things clean. Next stop hopefully will be in New Orleans, I should be there by mid-june. I hope you are inspired to see and experience Memphis!

 

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Landing in Memphis 

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Whirlpools 

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Sucking holes

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Food or friend ?

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Kayaking on train tracks

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Sunset on the Mississippi

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Birds letting themselves float on the river

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Nice island in the middle of the river

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Life … despite the flood

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More sunset…

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Wide river…

 
 

My journals have now been deemed awesome enough to merit their own tab! Crazy! Now if you want to read them all in one go (or if, for example, you miss a day or two), they will now all be in one convenient location for ease of consumption.  That said, I will continue to put them on the front page as they go up, just to give the impression that stuff is going on here, even if, for me, it is not.

Also: This was shown to me by some fellow paddling enthusiasts, and I was moved by it.  Here’s hoping that you are too.

Cheers,

Matt

 

St. Louis!

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In front of the St Louis Arch

So an epic leg of the journey is now complete! We’re presently resting up in St. Louis for a day or two, sorting out some details, updating the website, etc.

As soon as we figure out the picture thing, we’ll put some up, but right now the cameraman has some more pressing things to worry about. (Like the infamous stove that caused such a ruckus in Pekin. More on that later.)

But St. Louis ALSO means the end of the line for me. Yes my friends, I’m afraid that other commitments are going to keep me from completing this epic voyage. That said, I’m quite proud of what’s been done so far: Over 600 kilometers paddled along the Chicago Canal, the Des Plaines Illinois and Mississipi Rivers. Thirteen nights of camping out on the side of the river, through (as Sorouche put it) rain, rain, rain, sun!, rain, rain, rain. Big waves, bigger boats (those barges are HUGE! You could literally put a full size soccer pitch on some of those rafts that they push up and down the river) and some geography that I honestly wasn’t expecting. The swamplands, levees and nearer the end, cliffs of the Illinois river ARE something to see. Not to mention some of the characters that we met along the way! Yes friends, crossing the state of Illinois was indeed an interesting adventure, and let me tell you, I’m very happy I took this trip, though I’m not sure that I’d recommend it, exactly, as it’s not exactly ideally set up for kayaking . . .

Now, in the days to come, Sorouche will continue on Solo, but I will go back to civilization to recuperate, spend some time with family and get ready for my NEXT adventure. (I’m slated to fly to Europe in early June, but that’s a story for another blog . . .)

That said, starting Tuesday (after the Canadian long weekend) I’m going to put up a daily posting from the journal I kept on the trip. Call it a virtual re-enactment of the trip if you will, as I will try and post them as I wrote them, a day at a time (if two weeks later than they actually happened).

I hope that you will follow me along as I revisit the trip!

Cheers,

Matt

"Voyage upon life’s sea;
To thine own self be true;
Whatever your lot might be;
Paddle your own canoe."
-Sarah Bolton

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After St Louis.

Soon enough it will be the ‘after St Louis’ days.
Before getting there I wanted to thank Matt for coming along with me up to St Louis. He did not give up where many people would have given up, was always helpfull and sharing. He borrowed me SpongeBob SquarePants and the weather radio for the great rainy days to come !
As well I wanted to thank everyone commenting and sending emails ! At the moment I can’t reply to everyone but I will in the future. So I hope you can accept this as a gesture of appreciation.

I know the world is not black & white and I am looking forward to meet and see more of the US.

Sorouche & Matt on the Illinois river

Sorouche & Matt on the Illinois river

Photo courtesy of Jerry Milam a pro photographer in Pekin, Il.
I will post his other pics with all the other pics at the end of the trip in the gallery section. Some of the pics suffered a lot because all I have on this computer is MS Paint. As well bad news but we lost all the pictures from the 10th to 17th may when we reached St Louis. I was changing the SD card of the camera and put the full one on the edge of a wall along the Mississippi and I believe it fell to its death!
I lost lots of great moments (Havan the very american city, pelicans, the Lunchbox, Rotten Apples….).
There are some pictures in the post below as well a ‘quick’ summary of the events in Pekin, Il.

 

The Pekin, IL fiasco

Considering the very limited time I will stick to the facts and personal feelings and won’t try to get to the root cause of the events. But there is a lot to say.  Myabe in the future.
 
 
An MSR fuel bottle
An MSR fuel bottle
An MSR Pump
An MSR pump (inserted on top of the MSR fuel bottle)

 

They are not at the same scale. The bottle is 30 oz or 0.8 liter. And note that you can’t even fill it to max capacity otherwise the whole system won’t work properly.
Just to say that the bottle is small. It is made out of steel.
The one I have it’s written in very big letters ‘MSR FUEL BOTTLE’ , there is as well the fire sign. Evrything is very obvious.

The principle is pretty simple. You put regular car gasoline NOT propage.
You screw the little device on top of the bottle and create a tiny pressure to force the gasoline to come out drop by drop and the whole thing is connected to a burner.

Every day I ‘pump’ to be able to have a stove to warm water for the oatmeal. The moring before the effents I noticed that the pump was making a squeaky noise. I knew something was wrong.
When we reached Pekin, Il and opened my latches on my kayak I could smell a very tiny amount of car gasoline. I tried the pump and I could not feel any pressure.

We started to look at it and found the problem. It was cold and we needed some lubrificant to have the whole pumping mechanism moving. It was cold and I thought it would be better to go eat and at the same time try to fix the pump. We found a cafe place (CJ’s Cafe). We entered with our completly out of town looks (I had a red jacked, blue shorts and sandals…), sat down and put the bottle on the side and had the pump on the table working on it. I asked the waiter for a bit of cooking oil to use as lubrificant.

Just like when you open a cap on a bottle of water and there are remains of water on the cap, on the pump there were a bit of gasoline. My hands were smelling but the problem was fixed (so we thought).

I screwed the pump back on the bottle.
It is at that point that some guy turned to me and asked us what it was and we were doing.

We explained that it was the fuel bottle for our stove system and we were trying to fix the pump part that was broken. We showed the bottle, showed that it was steel, tiny, and it was clearly written ‘Fuel Bottle’.

He did not seem to care and I don’t know if it was because he had a sad life or because there were 7 middle aged woman seating with him with enough make up to blow up all of Pekin but it was as if it made his day to say:

"You are not allowed to have this here, I work in the fire dept, I know these things".
Despite the fact that he did not look like anything but a fireman (I would not have let him even try to extinguish my dog’s poo…) and he really had a very rude tone I asked him what he wanted us to do.

I asked do you want me to take it outside ?
He did not reply… but I still went and left it outside.

When I came back he asked me ‘and what do you have in thaaaat bag’.
It was a very tiny bag that can hold two liters of water. But the way he was saying it was ‘oh I know you have a mini h-bomb there’.

At that point it was very insulting because he had been talking directly to me completly ignoring Matt.

I told him that it was not his business and whether he was going to check what was in my bag. He said "I am going to call the Police". I told him sure call the police.

I don’t know when he did it but it did not seem to be a big rush because it’s only when we exited the cafe that we got intercepted by two ‘detectives’.

Shortly after there were two marked police cars, two undercover ones ( I think the detectives) and I think there was a fifth one as well.
We waited for a long time. It seemed even longer to me because I had shorts and it was cold and I was told to ‘take my hands of my pockets’. I remember I was leaning against the window of the cafe and I was making the widnow shake from my uncontrolled shivers. I was trying to not shiver because I was thinking they going to think ‘he is scared’.

Even though the police guys were courteous and by that I mean they acted normal I found it ridiculous the amount of force they deployed as well the time they spent ‘checking’ on us. None of them said something as basic as ‘sorry we made a mistake’ or ‘do you want help to fix the fuel bottle because clearly the pseudo-firefigther forgot his roles’.

I won’t make generalities from this experience. I can say it’s just an experience on its own. There are many people who sent messages of support and thank them for that. There are many many great people I have met in the US as well so far.

It’s hard to sit down and write when there are so many things to do with the small amount of time I have right now.

I wanted to thank Todd from Speak Easy Art center for showing up and apologizing even though he had nothing to do with the whole thing, Ed for the article on the Pekin Times, Jerry for the kayak pictures (in the post above).

 
 
 
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Night in Chicago before departure

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First buildings in Chicago downtown
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Progressing through Chicago downtown
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Exiting downtown Chicago

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Sunset in the outskirts of Chicago, first night
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One of the many coal power plants
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Sight of the bald eagle

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Relaxing times on the Illinois river
 
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Many interesting and old structures
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Kayaks are silent… they got surprised :)
 
 

Past Chicago and more…

We managed to get two kayaks at Chicago. After going through Chicago downtown we made our way through the Chicago canal. When we were about to connect to the Illinois river we were threatened to have the coast guards called on us (because of some electric lines going through the canal to keep the asian carp away… Something along these lines). So we just crossed the road to get on the Des Plaines river. After some mini-rapids and very shallow areas and some nice scraps on our new kayaks we finally connected to the Illinois river. We went below Route 66 and went through our first lock of the trip shortly after.
We are now located at N41.18.318 and W088.38.019. We are hoping to have lunch in South Ottawa tomorrow (in Illinois that is…).
So far we have been fairly slower than our estimations. Head winds are very strong and sometimes we feel like we are on the ocean. Current is less than we had hoped. Weather has been changing a lot as well from hot to cold. We had some showers and many thunderstorms last night (some of them very close by).
In about 10 days, maybe after our first shower of the trip… we hope to be able to post some pictures :)
(Sorry if emails, comments are unasnwered, but this post was sent by email so we can’t see what is going on…)

 

We made it :)

Well not to New Orleans but accross the US border. Since we had started at Niagara Falls we were very close to the US border. We went through the US border very smoothly. Even though the officers were surprised they all were couteous. They did read the previous post when they asked about a website and double checked it. :)
But it went well (despite the fuel bottle and the one way ticket…). That was a big milestone… if not the biggest personally speaking. In Chicago we will be in about 12hrs. (3rd May 2010).

 

On the way…

We jus caught the bus in extremis from St Catherines. Lucky us :)
Apparently US customs does not like ‘one way tickets’ as we were told… we will see how it goes at the border. I don’t know if we had destructive intentions we would have gotten two ways tickets and try to make it look as less suspicious as possible no ??
We should be at Buffalo at 9:05PM.
After that we will see how it goes for he conncetion :)

 

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