Entry #1 – It begins

May 2nd, 2010 1005 EST

Buffalo, NY

The Kayak odyssey has begun.  It’s odd thinking about it, coming to terms with the fact that we’ve actually started, that we are actually on the road, actually DOING this thing instead of being in that endless state of: “Deep breath before the plunge” that has been gnawing at me for over a year now. I feel as though I’ve been “About to” do something for so long that my face is turning blue from overextending my stay on the diving board. Although I only heard about this trip less than a month ago, I HAVE wanted to do something like this for as long as I can remember. Add to that a month of on and off preparation, and a week of being ready and just sitting around and you can understand that I’m feeling a bit disoriented at the moment.

As to our actual departure: Sorouche showed up at my sister’s house at three and mentioned that the bus left at five. I have been more than a touch frustrated with his preparations up to this point, but when he does go, he GOES. He exhibits a fierce drive once he gets moving, and it makes for an interesting contrast. It turns out that the bus left at 7:45, but away we went anyhow, buying our one way tickets and having a lovely pizza dinner with a friend of Sorouche’s in Niagara while we waited. My partner had a panicked moment after we left the restaurant, having thought he left his phone behind, so we were forced to turn around and conduct a search while the minutes before the bus’s departure ticked away. In the end all was well, since it was hiding in his bag the whole time we searched, and we did manage to catch the bus without too much fuss. That said, I was somewhat amused by his call to the bus station to see if they could hold the bus for us as we raced back from the restaurant (Turns out they wouldn’t even hold the bus for the pope). It seems somehow fitting that the adventure commences in such a mad dash.

On the subject of my partner: He’s got half the gear I do, even after I pared down my “minimum” between three and five today, leaving behind things I would have thought essentials before Sorouche let me know otherwise. A second stove? “We don’t need.” Afterbite? “Useless.” A small frying pan? “We can bring if you want, but . . .” A true minimalist, my partner, if a bit madcap, but then I suppose that you have to be in order to dream up something like this.

Now that we’ve passed it, I’m starting to think of the border crossing as the first major hurdle that we’ve cleared. Ironically, I had a rougher time of it than he did, since my guard took a genuine interest in our trip and was curious about the details (or he’s REALLY good at his job and was just digging up background information whilst trying to catch me in a lie . . . he even looked up the website!). So by the time I’ve answered all the questions to his satisfaction, Sorouche and all the other bus passengers have been passed through, and they have yet to open my bag! So now ALL the guards cluster around my stuff, (since there’s no one else around) and are discussing a Kayak trip down the Mississippi. Upon opening my bag, they find a tent, sleeping bag, matches, etcetera (just as could be expected for an extended kayak trip, though I think their FIRST question was the most pertinent one: “Where’s the Kayak?”). Now they put my stuff through the machine, in bits and pieces, making it easier to tell stuff apart for the X-Ray technician. I don’t object to any of this, since I’m the helpful type, and I’m still trying to get on their good side (even though I’m trying to hurry things along). So once I’m on the other side of the monitor, repacking my bag, the guard running the machine stops it and backs up the conveyor a bit then utters words that make my blood run cold: “Those looks like bullets”. I do a double take and am formulating my polite but incredulous reply when a guard that’s looking over his shoulder says: “That’s because they are bullets”. I’m quite literally speechless at this point, but something in my expression must have been speaking volumes since the guard turns to me and says: “Don’t worry, they’re not yours, they’re mine” and plucks a full clip of what look like police issue .38 rounds off the belt right next to my lifejacket before adding nonchalantly: “The guy’s new, we were giving him a little test”. I managed to keep my mouth shut instead of protesting, but in retrospect, I wonder if I could have asked for some sort of compensation for being part of the American border patrol training program?

The whole border crossing debacle has left me sweaty, tired and thirsty with no refreshment in sight since next up for us is an overnight bus trip to Chicago. I’ve always wanted to push myself to the limits of human endurance, and it seems that I’ve got a good start on that, but I never thought that it would come because I don’t have any American change for the pop (wait . . . soda?) machine though.

Cote out.

 Entry #2 – Overnight on a bus? Not recommended.

May 3rd 2010 1216 CST

Chicago, Il

Even after only a night on the bus, a shower does amazing things to revive a man. I also washed my shirt since I’ve only got two of them and it might be a while before my next chance. We’re checked into HI – Chicago and I don’t think I’ll have trouble dealing with accommodations like these (though Sorouche says I’ve been spoiled by my first visit to a Hostel).

The remainder of the Bus trip was a bit of a blur between the book I was reading, the obnoxiously rude passengers (Seriously dude, what the hell was the driver supposed to do? Skip all of the stops on the way to your destination? You didn’t pay anywhere near enough for that. Grow up) and the few snatches of sleep I managed to get while on board. That said, I can now say that I’ve been to Cleavland, and the whole time I was there (three hour layover in a bus terminal in the middle of the night? Bleh.) I had the Drew Carey theme song playing in my head. With that and the fact that it’s pretty hard to sleep well on a bus, I’m pretty tired today, but I had been resting up for some weeks in preparation, so I’ll be all right.

I was a bit surprised by some of the scenery once the sun came up, I have to admit, since most of it wouldn’t be out of place in southern Ontario. Farmland, small towns, the occasional forest, etc. It might just be my Canadian snobbery, but I somehow felt that there were more shabby parts than I would have expected, almost as if the trailer park was something aspired to down here. That’s not to say there weren’t a LOT of very nice places as well, but I was struck by how many shabby places there were coming up to Chicago.

As I showered, (Not wanting to face Chicago with the reek of BO emanating from my pores), Sorouche wandered off to find a bank and internet. I find myself more interested in the prospect of food at the moment, but then again, that requires money, so I’ll need to do the bank thing momentarily as well . . . Oh yeah, then we have to go find some kayaks . . .

Cheers,

Cote

Entry #3 – And we’re off!

 Ralph's Type of Humour

Canoe Rental

 

May 4th, 2010 2023 CST

N 41° 50’ 39.4”

W 87° 39’ 47.0”

And we’re off! Finally.

After a full day of searching, this morning started with us finding an outfitter / storyteller / guy willing to drive us and our newly acquired boats to the river all in one man by the name of Ralph Freese. As far as I can tell, the man is a legend in the Chicago paddling scene, having been working at it for a full fifty years now. Ralph is the owner / operator of the Chicagoland Canoe Base. Which is a quirky shop stuffed to the brim with canoes, kayaks and paddling gear of all kinds. There are also articles about paddling stuck to the wall as well as commendations from the city of Chicago and the State of Illinois for the conservation work that Ralph has done with the Chicago river over the years. The man is 84 years old and still going. He’s done any number of crazy trips much like the one we’re currently on (Chicago to Montreal for Expo 67 for example) as well as having helped any number of folks get going on trips of their own. He was chock full of interesting anecdotes, good humor and better advice. I hope that when I get to his age that I’m as virile (“Why do they call them thwarts? Well, have you ever tried to make love in a Canoe? No? Try it. You’ll be thwarted”), life-loving and clearheaded as he, if I don’t imagine that I’ll be as famous.

Of course, locating the man, taking the subway / bus across town, picking out boats (edit: I got a Necky Looksha, while Sorouche got a Swift Bering Sea, but more on that in a later post), getting to the launch point, doing some grocery shopping and having some lunch took up most of the day, so we didn’t actually get on to the water until 3:39. That said, we DID cover 23.53 km before pulling in for the night at around 7:40 (official sundown was 7:51 so it was a near thing). Sorouche insisted on doing the extra leg through downtown Chicago, which, writing from my cosily set up tent, I suppose I agree with, since sightseeing is, after all, why we came. That said, between then and now, I was very worried that there would be no campsite at all for us to use and was mentally preparing for an all night paddle or setting up camp on a dock somewhere. We passed a LOT of steel walls and industrial sites today, and I’m feeling very blessed to have found this tiny patch of grass not at all far from more than a dozen houses (though there is a tiny hill that hides us, thank God).

I think dinner is going to become very bland over the course of this trip: Pasta with beans, every night. No sauce, no cheese, no meat, hell, we don’t even heat up the beans! On the other hand, I get the impression that I’m going to be hungry enough that it won’t matter in the slightest. Just before supper I asked Sorouche what we were going to do with the leftovers, and he decisively replied: “There will be no Leftovers”. To my mild surprise, he was right, as we finished off a pack of spaghetti that would feed a family of four as well as a large can of beans between the two of us. I suppose that we ARE burning a good number of calories out on the water . . .

And now I’m going to crawl into my bag, try to ignore the city’s glow all around me and sleep until the sun comes up.

Cote out – 2127 CST

Entry # 4 – Shitty Day

May 5th, 2010 1819 CST

N 41° 39’ 57.6”                         65.60 km total                     mile 298
W 88° 02’ 45.3”                        42.07 k today

Today was a full day, with its fair share of ups and downs. We started out at 8:30, which was later than I thought necessary, but I kept that thought to myself. I was up by 6, and by that time, some of the rowers were coming BACK to the dock after their morning workout. Those crazy cats were out there by 5:30. Yowzers. Interestingly, they used the same dock that we did. (Really glad we didn’t leave the boats on the dock like I was planning to! Good call Sorouche).

Once on the water we had a shitty morning. I mean that quite literally, as the canal that we were using was also the outflow for most of Chicago’s sewers. That said, a great many sailboats (sloops and cutters mainly, for the nautically inclined amongst you) were moored on that section of the waterway (I just can’t bring myself to call it a river at this point with it’s steel walls and overwhelmingly industrial facade), though I don’t know how they get out of the canal as there are a large number of bridges much lower than their masts between them and the lake. . .

We stopped to use the facilities in a place called Summit, (nicest porta-potty I’ve ever seen) and it’s also where we met Jim, the groundskeeper at the “marina” / boat launch. He sent us to “Fat Daddy’s” which, we were told upon arrival, was a biker bar, as though it weren’t already obvious to anyone who walks in the door. The sign next to the door with “Fat Daddy’s” across it borrows HEAVILY from the Harley Davidson logo, and there were two fellas smoking at one end of the bar, though I thought that was illegal in most places now? (Edit: I found out later that there is a state-wide ban on smoking in public buildings. Bikers don’t typically worry about piddly things like laws though. . .) Still, the food was good, and despite what you might think, I’ve found that as individuals, bikers can be some of the nicest and most interesting people to talk to. Don’t hang around when they get to drinking though.

Once back on the water, things improved (i.e. less poop) and we made good time to the point where the south Chicago channel meets with the North (which we were following). Up to that point, things were looking up, with more nature, the channel walls becoming stone blocks instead of steel girders and said walls overgrown with trees and shrubs. Birds sang and fish frolicked in the shallows. If not for the occasional lingering whiff of feces, it would have been idyllic as the sun popped out at about this time too. However, once the two channels met, things began to get a fair bit more industrial again. We passed many moored barges, petroleum plants, piles of coal, steel mills and the like. Then we started passing slips with huge barges everywhere. After several of these, there was a point where there wasn’t enough room to safely pass an approaching tug (with his three barges lashed in front of him), so we tucked into the slip to let him by. As he gets closer, he cranks up his loundspeaker, and from our vantage point, it sounded something like this: “shkkker – can you hear me kayaks? – mumble mumble mumble – not safe – mumble mumble – go paddle somewhere else!” We figured he was just being a jerk who didn’t appreciate sharing his waterway with kayaks, so once he was past us, we got back in the channel and prepared to go on our way. At this point an agitated man drove up to the edge of the channel in a jeep and frantically tried to get our attention. So we paddle over and he informed us, in no uncertain terms, that we could go no further. He even called the coast guard to get their advice on the situation since we needed to get downstream SOMEHOW. The thing is, not far from the point we were stopped, they have set up an electrical barrier to stop the spread of Asian Carp. It’s apparently enough to paralyze or kill kayakers (our agitated friend certainly believed it, and they don’t even let the ship workers be out on deck when they pass there). In any case, I eventually talked him into letting us out at one of the other slips. At first he wanted us out right there, but as he was standing on top of a six foot wall, I gently pointed out that we needed a slightly more accessible landing spot. (What was expecting us to do? Fly?) In the end, we managed to get off the water, across the barge loading property, across a road and into the Des Plaines river, but it was a very long portage with every third person questioning what we were doing, why we were trespassing or warning us to hurry or “the bosses” might call the cops on us. The whole while, my partner is muttering that: “We should not have had to do that” and “They should have just let us go” and “It stops fish, not people”. The whole ordeal severely shortened my temper (no mean feat that) and frayed my nerves to the point that I was questioning my place in this madcap adventure.

That said, I don’t know if I’ve ever been as happy to get out on the water as I was pushing off into the Des Plaines. Once we were floating again, I calmed down a great deal, and the scenery truly helped. Finally, at least a semblance of wilderness and a river that’s allowed to run where it will! I can’t describe how much it hurt my soul to see water chained to man’s purpose to the extent that the Chicago canal is. Even though we’ve only been on it for about an hour and a half, the Des Plaines is going a long way towards healing the wounds.

On the topic of the adventure though, the electric fence episode has convinced me that I’m not taking this trip as seriously as I should. Though I have a GPS, I have no map, and I only at the maps he brought once a day, and not thoroughly enough when I do. He lets me make some decisions, but I’m going to push for more (I insisted on bringing 2 gallons of water each, for example, and I’m happy we did, since we already need to refill and it’s only been two days). I guess he’s not as hardcore an adventurer as I imagined, though the ability to stop at towns along the way lowers the difficulty level of the trip so less hardcore is needed. My partner’s insistence that some things don’t matter is starting to wear on me as well. I know it’s not fair to him, but I also have a better kayak (his is shorter, slower and leaks).

Aside: my ‘yak is awesome. It’s a 17’ Necky Looksha IV DS in fiberglass that paddles like a dream and tracks like a hound on a hot scent. One issue though: I wish the seat were better, cheap plastic covered only by a thin veneer of neoprene has already grown old, and there’s a long way yet to go. Also, I paid $2700 US after tax, which I may come to regret if I can’t recover some of it. . .

Enough of that. My overall impressions so far are as follows: Some Americans are a lot nicer than you’d expect, though some do their level best to further the clueless and arrogant stereotype. I realize that I’ve only seen a fraction of the place, and I AM still on the outskirts of one of the major cities, but if what I’ve seen so far is any indication, then America is small, precious packets of nature surrounded by urban development. I pray (and I make it my business to ensure) that Canada does not go the same route.

Cote out.

Entry # 5 – Mexicans?

May 6th, 2010  1220

Joliet, Il

I’m sitting in the shade of a maple tree, which seems fitting somehow.  We stopped here for supplies and my partner is off to fill up the fuel tank.  It gave out partway through cooking breakfast so the oatmeal this morning was only lukewarm.  We did the groceries at a small Mexican store and it’s odd that there’s this much Spanish this far North.  The person we paid for the food spoke little to no English.

This morning’s paddle was once again exhilarating and gut-wrenching all at once.  The des Plaines river has some rapids, which were awesome but also some shallow portions which were murder on the bottom of my glass boat.

My partner does better in swift-water than I (not surprising considering that most of his experience is in white-water) so he led most of the morning.  We also set a record for top speed as we hit 15 km / h at one point.

May 6th, 2010 1954

N  41° 23’ 12.72”                107.55 km total                 Mile 274               Start time 9:05
W 88° 14’ 47.82”                42.05 km today                 24 Nm today      End time 6:30

Tonight’s camp is late due to the lack of options for a campsite.  We hit 100 km total distance today!  Note to self: start recording distances.  (Did yesterday’s retroactively).  The Des Plaines river is nearly behind us and tomorrow we’ll be on the Illinois.  Our camp tonight is sub-par and my partner pointed out that we (read “I”) need to be a bit more serious about looking for sites at two hours to dusk.  He’s right of course.  Not much to write about save that I was the one being unworthy of the title “adventurer” today and I felt like I was holding him up at some points.  This is totally unacceptable and will be need to be rectified.  That’s why it’s a partnership I suppose.  I’ll also have to pull money tomorrow as I’m tired of my partner paying for things for me.

Cheers,

Cote

Entry # 6 – Wild Winds

May 7th, 2010 1901

N 41° 18’ 19.08”                    144.40 km                    total Mile 251
W 88° 38’ 11.4”                      36.85 km today          23 Nm today
Start time 10:20                   End time 6:00
Moving Av. 8.2 km/h         Overall Av. 4.5 km/h

We had a slightly shorter paddle today. Had a late start due to rain and an early finish due to strong winds. My partner points out that it is better in the long run to conserve our energy than keep fighting when it’s so wild out there, but I can’t help that the wilder the water, the more I love paddling in it. Additionally, I chafe at the delay and have trouble visualizing it as a marathon, I suppose. I know his experience has brought him wisdom and I AM learning from it, but I can’t help feeling that I could be doing more, that this could be more difficult in some way. My energy levels are good, my paddling is strong and even my back seems to be falling into a rhythm and so when the wind and the waves start their battle for supremacy, I yearn to be out in the middle of it, to push myself to the point of exhaustion. My partner has no such inclinations, (understandable) and I sometimes get the impression that this fact, combined with my sunny disposition is getting on my partner’s nerves. That said, I don’t particularly feel inclined to hide the fact that I love this so much, that paddling all day makes me happy on a deep level. I love the hardship, indeed, I thrive on it. By my partner’s rough calculations, we’re approximately 400 kilometres from St. Louis, which would put us at ten days out if we keep rolling at around 40 k a day, which seems to be our average.

We stopped for lunch today in a smallish town called Morris, which has a touristic feel to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Lunch was at a restaurant called Corleone’s (The Godfather’s name I’m told. Someday I’ll get around to fleshing out my cultural education . . .). I had a “combo” sandwich, which included mounds of roast beef, more than a few meatballs, some tomato paste, a couple spices and some other kind of meat (pork?) stuffed in there as well. The meat portion of the thing was close to an inch thick and after the diet we’ve been on, my body rejoiced at this amount of protein and I savoured every morsel. After lunch we found a Hallmark card shop since Sorouche had to send someone a Birthday card. I sent Mom a “thinking of you” card to let her know that things are rolling along and I put in a “PS Happy Mother’s Day” too, even though it won’t arrive until sometime the week after said day, as today is Friday.

Oh! Almost forgot! We’re in Grundy County! Like in that song. I know. I’m a geek. I’m comfortable with it.

Cote out

Entry #7 – Fire

May 8th, 2010  1837

N 41° 20’ 25.6”              160.65 km total                    Mile 242
W 88° 48’ 13.2”              16.25 km today                    9 Nm today

We had a despiriting day today.  We stopped at lunch due to extreme winds, cold temperatures and wet clothes, with more cold in the forecast. The morning was another battle of wind and waves, heading almost directly upwind the whole time. The waves here are way bigger than they have any right to be since the fetch is never more than a couple kilometers, but I’ve honestly seen smaller waves on the Atlantic. Seriously. I’ve paddled in ocean swell that was four feet high and some of these waves are topping five feet.  (Thankfully not many).  From what I recall from my conversations with Ralph Frese, it’s because the wind and the current are working against each other, causing the waves to be bigger than they otherwise would be.  I sort of nodded my head when he said that, but now I have seen it, and understand.

Of course, I wore a lot of clothes since it was COLD this morning, and battling through that sort of water gets you soaked, no matter how good you are so and I don’t have a dry set right now, so drying out was a priority for me.  (Aside: Lesson learned.  From here on in, I will paddle in one set of clothes and keep one set for when I get off the water and to hell with how dirty or wet the paddling clothes are, since even if they start dry, they will quickly get wet, and I’m working hard enough that once I’m moving, I’m not going to be cold).  Combine my sodden state with my partner’s difficulties with the wind (not sure if it’s his boat or the gap in our experience levels, but he’s having a far harder time fighting the wind than I am . . .) and you can understand our decision to make camp (and a fire!) right after lunch.  I also had the weatherman’s prediction of freezing temperatures tonight in the back of my mind and I don’t really want to face that soaking wet.  So we found a spot tucked away from the wind, pulled the boats up and set to making a small fire on the beach.  After gathering driftwood off the beach for a while and setting up a circle of stones to keep the fire contained, I tried to light the fire with the leaves that Sorouche had gathered to use as tinder.  After I decided that this was useless, and was about to set to finding some better tinder, my partner took matters into his own hands and added some liquid boy scout to the fire.  I made good and sure that he was clear, then set the lighter to it. THAT got it rolling in a real hurry, let me tell you.

Fire does incredible things for morale, especially for someone with my outdoor-centric upbringing.  There is something rugged and beautiful about pulling heat, light and comfort from the environment around you (even though we cheated to start it).  The ability to dry your stuff is also a very big plus.  My partner pointed out that everything will smell like smoke afterward, but I have trouble seeing that as a drawback.

I decided today that I’m only going as far as St. Louis.  I have yet to share that information with my partner though. . . It’s a combination of things, from differing philosophies between my partner and I to wanting to get my affairs in order before my next adventure (who’s dates are pretty much set in stone), I feel like I could go all the way to New Orleans, but I think I’d be happy with accomplishing the traverse to St. Louis.  That said, 9 River miles a day will leave us very far from my goal on the date I’d like to leave so I’m starting to get a bit nervous about our pace.  The forecast is for a good freeze tonight, so I’m hoping things look better in the morning.

Cote out

Entry # 8 – Ottawa, Il

May 9th, 2010 0625 9°C

And they do. Pristine morning, the river is perfectly flat and my partner’s out of bed early too. I climbed the ridge behind us for my “moment with nature” this morning and while I was doing my business I heard a few wild turkeys gobbling. It made me think of Dad and the rest of his hunting gang and I realized that this is their Turkey weekend. That made me wonder how their hunt is going. . . To top it all off, as I sit here and write a doe is climbing the ridge not 40 yards to my right. “Looks like it’s gonna be a good day ‘Tater!”

May 9th, 2010 2027 10°C
N 41° 18’ 59.8”                        194.75 km total                   Mile 222
W 89° 08’ 32.6”                      34.10 km today                   20 Nm today
Top Speed 11.4 km/h          Moving Av. 7.7 km/h       Overall Av. 6.4 km/h

With this morning’s great start we got out early and made it to Ottawa (which I thought was hilarious. I kept hoping someone would ask me where we were from . . . no such luck) by 9:30ish. It took all morning to resupply but it was worth the walk to the real grocery store I.MO. Now we have granola bars, extra snacks, cheese etc. With our groceries and a quick lunch at Subway, we were back on the water by 12:30. We made good time to the starved rock lock system, but then we waited, and waited, and waited some more for our turn.  Upon reflection (and with the advantage of 20/20 hindsight) we could have portaged and saved a fair bit of time. We’ll be sure to ask at the next one. After the lock we were paddling well, trying to pass the tug that kept us waiting at the lock so long in a bit of petty revenge. After an hour of averaging around 10km/h and making up very little ground on him, we gave up and stopped for a bio break. In getting out of my kayak, I was way too smug and took a spill. I stayed dry from the knees up but the same could not be said for my cockpit. I emptied it out on the spot but didn’t realize that my rear bulkhead was compromised. When we stopped for the night just past a town called Peru, I discovered (to my horror) that my back hatch was wet. I suppose that I’m paying the price for my arrogance in not bringing dry bags, as my sleeping bag liner was the thing that got the wettest, though I thank my lucky stars that my other sleeping bag didn’t get wet and I’ll tough it out as a pennance for my arrogance. Tomorrow I’ll pack everything in ziplock and garbage bags and put “dry bags” on my list for next time with underlining and stars around it. I’m not sure why I didn’t get dry bags when everyone and their dog warned me about it . . . “I’m better than them” thinking perhaps. Ah well, I’ll sleep less well in just one sleeping bag after having eaten my humble pie . . . I also think I’m going to have to stop acting tough and go ahead and take an Advil tomorrow since my back is killing me . . . We’ll see what another sunrise brings.

Cote out

Entry # 9 – Fifty K

May 10th, 2010
N 41° 02’ 31.5”               244.83 km total                Mile 190
W 89° 24’ 55.7”              50.08 km today               32 Nm today
Top Speed 12.5 km/h  Moving Av. 7.7 km/h   Overall Av. 6.4 km/h
Start time 9:30               End time 5:45

Fifty K! While Mr. Kershaw might be able to do it on skis in two hours and change, it took us a full day to get it done and it was an exceedingly good day at that. We were on the water from 9:30 and had short stops at 10 (new batteries in the GPS), Noon (Shore lunch) and 2 (pee break). At 5:45 we call it and made camp in the wind hoping to beat the rain. As I write, the first droplets make their music on my tent, reminding me of the sound of my paddle blade knifing through the water as my muscles sing to be so used. Today was an end to delays and it’s my hope that it’s the day where we finally hit our stride. It feels like we’re finally falling into a routine and here’s hoping that things will roll from here. We discussed how much time I have left and though my partner is confident that we can make St. Louis before I go, I’m going to continue to push. I’ve already learned a lot from this trip, from the dry bags thing to today’s: Two sets of clothing, a wet and a dry. The wet can be flimsy since you’ll be moving enough on the water that you won’t be cold and the dry needs to stay absolutely dry, and should be warm as well. For the rest of the trip, I’m going to be using swim trunks and my paddle shirt for my wet set, and a wool sweater, long sleeve tee and Colombia pants (with belt + leatherman) for the dry. I still haven’t quite figured out the socks thing, but I usually don’t wear them during the day, and just put them on at night. That said, I’m still on my 1st pair. I brought a second pair, but I’m holding out for a real emergency on them, since even if my socks are slightly wet, they are wool, so they’ll still be warm.

The partnership seems to be clicking too, with each of us understanding the other better all the time and we’re settling into a solid routine. It just seems odd that it took a week to figure all this out.

I almost forgot to mention that I took an Advil at 10, Noon and 2 to keep the back pain daemon at bay. It shows you that we’re really starting to push the limits . . . Also, my internal dee-jay had “Cuz the chicks dig it” on loop all day. Primarily for the “Pain hurts, but only for a minute” line I suspect.

Cheers,

Cote

Entry # 10 – Hats off to the River Rat

May 11th, 2010
N 40° 46’ 45.3”                   278.51 km total                    River Mile 170
W 89° 32’ 41.3”                   33.68 km today                    20 Nm today
Top Speed 10.7 km/h      Moving Av. 7.3 km/h        Overall Av. 4.7 km/h
Start time 10:15                 End time 5:15

I stopped myself from pushing too hard today, even though I had a great opportunity to, with a short hop left across the last stretch of lake Peoria and ample time to complete it before dark. That said, my partner was worried (with good reason!) about capsizing and the weather is picking up. We’re currently camped partway across Lake Peoria, and we’ve been fighting a very nasty crosswind all afternoon, so heading out into the open water in an attempting to make it to the other side while we’re at our most fatigued would be cutting it a bit too fine. I feel good about the decision to stop, but I can’t help but fret about our numbers, and worry about how much distance is left between us and St. Louis. I’m thinking that if I want to push for more distance, the best way I can do it is by attempting to get us on the water earlier; since we can get in a good few more hours of paddling there that we’re not getting right now (plus it’s typically calmer in the mornings). My partner is an avowed late riser and while I didn’t think that trait would ever chafe at me, on this trip, it does so I shall have to engage whatever diplomatic skills I possess and see if I can make an early riser out of him.

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Last night was rain, as predicted, and in torrents. I woke up to more rain and a campsite that had been turned to mud. I let myself lie in bed for a while this morning since the rain had kept me up during the night and I was still sore from our epic 50 k from yesterday. When we finally did get underway, we made fairly good time to the town of Chillicothe, where we stopped for lunch at Bananas’ Pub (The bar with a Peel. Hah!) At this not-so-prestigious place, we re-filled our water jugs, each bought a pizza and sampled some of their 0.50$ draught. Fifty cent Draft! That’s almost criminal, so we each had two, and I left more money than was strictly required on the bar since I felt bad about putting so little money down (two beer and a pizza for less than ten bucks? How are they making any money?) At the pub we met a self-described: “Old River Rat” – whose name I never learned – who was full of advice about the river. He was a fantastic resource, even though I only understood half of what he said since there was a great deal of river jargon in there. (“Oh she’s down two tenths, but ya’ll should be good for a while, that rain’ll give her a boost of at least a tenth or two . . .”)

When we left the pub, we went to a local gas station, and refilled our supply of cooking fuel. Upon returning to the ‘yaks, I discovered that I didn’t know where my hat was. I emptied out the kayak, making sure it wasn’t in there, then retraced my steps and asked around at the pub, but no-one had seen it, and they told me that I didn’t have it on when I left, which fit with my recollections. I was sure I had walked in with it, since I remember taking it off, but I wasn’t surprised that it hadn’t been seen, since it was 0.50$ draft day, so it was pretty busy in there. I returned to the kayaks a dejected man, mourning the loss of a good hat (with a Canadian flag on it!) that had followed me on several river journeys.

So we push away from the dock and within ten minutes, lo and behold, there’s a Suzuki fun runner (or whatever they are called) pulled up on the side of the river honking its horn frantically. At first I had a “what the . . .” moment, but then the driver hops out waving his arm over his head, clearly clutching something with a faded blue colour. At this point I recognize the driver as the River Rat I met at the bar. So I let out a cackle of glee, paddle over and collect my hat! Apparently, someone had been sitting on it and when he got up to visit the restroom, my hat fell to the floor. The ol’ Rat then snatched it up and ran downriver to get me my hat before we hit lake Preoria, God bless him. It made my day, if not my trip.

We’re currently camped 2/3 of the way across upper Preoria Lake, with not much but open water paddling in store for tomorrow, though I haven’t done my daily perusal of the maps yet. I’m currently seated on a beach with the remains of fish that could swallow my fist scattered everywhere. I’m drying what portions of my gear that I can in the dying rays of the sun and contemplating my exit from this adventure. . .

Cheers,

Cote

Entry # 11 – The Pekin Incident

May 12th, 2010                      1913
N 40° 28’ 28.7”                       332.49 km total                        River Mile 137
W 89° 53’ 23.1”                       53.98 km today                         36 Nm today
Top Speed 14.0 km/h          Moving Av. 9.1 km/h              Overall Av. 5.0 km/h
Start time 8:30                       End time 6:30

Dear Diary, today Sorouche almost got us arrested . . . Good start to the day, we were on the water by 8:30 and into the lake Peoria Narrows by 9:30. The current picks up there in a big way, and with a burst of effort, I got up to 12.5 km/h. The water opens up after that before narrowing again at Peoria. We bypassed Peoria – which was the biggest town since Chicago – both for the size, as well as the lack of easy access points. (Well, that and the fact that it was barely 10 am!) The current speeds up a fair bit though, and it stayed that way for the remainder of the day. With a good current, and the winds from the lake but a distant memory, we were keeping the ‘ol speedo above 10 km/h. This kept up until around 11:30, when we stopped for lunch at Pekin, Il. (which is pronounced Pea-kin by the locals, though I can’t do the length of that “e” justice in writing). The town was so named (I’m told) since when they founded it, they thought they were at the antipodal point from Peking, China (modern day Beijing). They have since discovered that this is not the case.

Upon disembarking from the ‘yak, and checking his hatches, my partner smelled gasoline, which led to us taking the stove / fuel bottle / pump apart to see why it was leaking. After ten minutes or so of this on the cold and windy dock, we decided to fix it somewhere warm. So off we trudge through the streets of Pekin with an open fuel can and some unrecognizable mechanical parts. Did I mention that we’re smelly, unshaven and that my partner has Middle Eastern features and a clearly un-American accent? After a bit of wandering, I inquire just where he’s going to be fixing the thing, and he responds: “In the restaurant, it will save time”. I go: “Ooo-kay”. So we end up at a coffee house called CJ’s, and if you’re ever in Pekin, be sure to stop by, it’s a charming place with a fantastically quirky atmosphere. (There are neckties hung on the walls of the men’s room for example). Now, maybe I don’t know much about coffee shops, and perhaps eight days on the river deadens the taste buds, but the hot cocoa I ordered at CJ’s was heavenly, and had me quickly staring forlornly at the bottom of my empty cup, wishing I’d ordered a large . . . The Ruben I had was first class as well. But enough about gastronomics! On with the story!

So we’re in this classy place, and I’m trying to be unobtrusive: Sitting in the corner, keeping my voice low, etc. My partner, meanwhile, has a bright red bottle labelled “FUEL” sitting on the table as he fiddles with a gadget. I put the bottle on the floor at least, but the smell of gas is spreading and my compatriot is QUITE preoccupied, with the fuel dispenser (which, to be fair, delivers, not just supper, but breakfast as well), with the free wifi that CJ’s offers, and less so with ordering food. Soon a large party comes in and sits next to us and one of the ladies is making “what’s that smell?” motions. Eventually, my partner fixes the gasket and re-assembles the bottle / pump combination. This gets the attention of the people at the next table, and one fellow in particular asks: “What’s that thing?” in what could be described as an unfriendly tone. I’m quick to inform him that it’s our camping stove, but he persists in his interrogation, asking what’s in it. My semi-evasive response of “fuel” isn’t the most helpful either. He then asks: “You’re not opening that in here are ya?” “No-no, he’s fixing it” (and nevermind that said process requires opening it). Then there was some stuff about it being a fire hazard and him being a firefighter and even that it was against the law to have it inside. He starts to ignore me, and press Sorouche directly, which escalates things dramatically since his down home Illinois accent and Sorouche’s Parisian one were a volatile mix of another sort. Eventually, Sorouche gets frustrated with the firefighter’s rude tone and ups and brings the bottle out of the restaurant as requested.

Now this isn’t quite enough for our firefighting crusader, who, upon Sorouche’s return, asks him if he’s: “Got any more in that there bag?” Now, bear in mind that this bag is a tiny hydra-pack that barely has room for Sorouche’s camera and passport. My partner is well and truly flustered by this point and forcefully asks the firefighter if he wants to check the bag. The firefighter is taken aback by this, and falls back on: “It’s illegal, I could call the police!” In his very French way, Sorouche says: “Go ahead!” with a dismissive wave of his hand. This causes the fireman to go back to his table, though he’s far from pleased.

So, we finish our meal, pay our bill and as we’re stepping out of the restaurant, we get pulled aside by a detective with the Pekin police force. This fine gentleman informs us that there’s been a complaint about us “waving around some sort of Gas can . . .” We explain ourselves (with the detectives listening to me this time, so there’s less of a language barrier), they check our passports and ID’s and let us go. That said, this “checking” took a good half hour while a beat cop kept his eye on us. He’s where I learned all my Peekin’ trivia. Once the officers were satisfied, we went to the library for e-mail and internet (The Habs are in game 7 vs Pittsburgh!) While there, Sorouche was approached by a sympathizer who happens to own an art studio / centre in town. He introduced my partner to a local newspaper man who took down our story (hopefully more for the “trip to New Orleans” angle than the “Firefighter hassles kayaker” one).  (Edit: Look here to find the story as shown in the paper).

Once the story was taken and our internetting was done, we stopped by the art studio to say thanks for the support and learned that Todd, (our sympathizer, who owns the place) had named it a “speakeasy” which I found rather amusing going along with his mildly anti-establishment behavior. Artists always want to be rebels I suppose . . .). At the speakeasy, we chatted for a while, got some advice on the river to come and I got to tell my hat story! All told, we were in “peeekin” for three hours but even so, the current and utter lack of wind allowed us to make 50 k plus today anyway. Stories for the grandchildren, not getting arrested AND 50k paddled? I’ll call that a solid day.

Now we’re camped out under a streetlight near a boat launch since it’s the only marginally high ground we could find and the weatherman warned of “Flash Flooding” tonight. Oh and after the whole mess with the stove, we re-assembled it with a gasket backwards, and now it doesn’t work at all. We’ll search for other options tomorrow since cold Tuna sandwiches are a poor substitute for our usual pasta + beans. If the current keeps up (and I see no reason why it shouldn’t) I think we can make St. Louis before my time is up. I’ve taken to giving myself minimum / reasonable / optimistic goals for the day and todays were River mile 150 / 145 / 140. Since we sit at 136, I’d say that we did allright. Tomorrow’s goals are: 125 / 111 / 100? (The minimum is to get to St. Louis on time, the reasonable number is 25 river miles and the optimistic. . . is what we did today, aside from being a nice milestone.

Cheers,

Cote

Entry #12 – A Sail!

May 13th, 2010                  2132
N 40° 09’ 13.8”                   8385.01 km total                    River Mile 105
W 90° 14’ 32.8”                   52.52 km today                       32 Nm today
Top Speed 12.4 km/h       Moving Av. 8.0 km/h           Overall Av. 4.9 km/h
Start time 8:50                    End time 7:22

Long day today.  Woke up to rain in a parking lot and as we packed up (after a cold breakfast), we were warned by a passerby that the water level in the river was going up by 5 feet before the end of the day!  Needless to say, we hurried our way through packing as it’s much better to be floating when the flood waters arrive.  Once on the water, we met a fellow adventurer moored in the middle of the river (though outside the main channel).  Dave Auburn is his name and the CAN-DO is his ship.  It’s a custom built 30ish foot cutter, and I want one.  After swapping stories for a bit (and finding out that the Habs BEAT Pittsburgh!) we traded e-mails and wished each other well.  Us kayakers continued on to Havana, Il, which is the most American place that we’ve come across yet, with cobbled streets, arching trees, an insidiously American feel to it and even a Ferris wheel in the middle of the main street!  We had lunch at “The lunchbox cafe”.  You remember lunchboxes from grade school?  The ones with He-man and Barbie and the Ninja turtles on the side?  Well this cafe had those printed boxes everywhere in the 20′ x 20′ space that comprised the restaurant.  During lunch I had my first experience with the American version of Iced Tea and I don’t know how they can drink the stuff.  I mentioned to my partner upon leaving the establishment that I think that much of America is built around places like that, as I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the clientele is local, and has a very set routine, from the time that they show up, to the number of glasses of awful iced tea they drink down to how they like their sandwiches cut.  As a whole, Havana is indeed the most American place I’ve ever been.

Following lunch, we followed many clues, chased down a number of wild geese, and left an irritating amount of shoe leather on a treasure hunt for a replacement stove.  We eventually found one at the American version of Giant Tiger, where we also bought some groceries and some clothes.  All told, we spent four hours in Havana, but we managed to make the reasonable goal for the day anyway.  Tomorrow’s goals are 100 / 80 / 70.  If we surpass tomorrow’s minimum I may need to come up with a new system, since that will mean we’re a full day ahead of schedule.  On balance, I’ll take the trade.  My partner talked tonight about also stopping in St. Louis, since our pace has him worried that getting to New Orleans will take the rest of the summer, which he really can’t afford.  Additionally, he’s got a premonition about the rest of the trip and, let’s face it, doing the Mississippi solo is a bigger deal than he realized.  I’m trying not to influence him either way, since it really is his decision, but I’m not sure how well I’m succeeding . . . Oh, I also did the cooking for the first time, and I might do the rest too, since I sort of feel bad not having done any yet.

Cheers,

Cote

Entry # 13 – Ticks?

May 14th, 2010               1920
N 39° 47’ 36.8”                444.96 km total                  River Mile 68
W 90° 35’ 58.0”               59.95 km today                  37 River Miles today
Top Speed 12.9 km/h    Moving Av. 8.8 km/h      Overall Av. 6.6 km/h
Start time 9:30                 End time 6:11

Beardstown is a weird place. We stopped there for lunch, but we had a hell of a time finding a place to tie up since there is a twenty foot concrete wall surrounding the whole place. It’s like a medieval town, except that the enemy that THIS place is keeping at bay is the river. The cafe we found for lunch had many newspaper clippings of floods from years past, so I suppose that the wall is there for good reason, but it was utterly strange. I can’t help but wonder why it is that a town needs to be in a place that floods all the time . . .

Lunch at the cafe was good, and though the fish specials we ordered had beans, I wasn’t disappointed since these beans had loads of brown sugar and bacon added, so I ate my portion, and Sorouche’s too. As much as I’ve had a lot of beans lately, these were fantastic, and though I was very full after the meal, I don’t regret it in the slightest. Oh, and the waitress was nice enough to replenish our water supply as well.

I’ve started to think of the difference between “kilometres paddled” and “River Miles” to be something like the way time passes in Narnia, i.e. you never know what the conversion factor is. We got a lot of distance in today, and we stopped early at a good campsite. This campsite was so good in fact, that it allowed us a wash so camp is in good spirits tonight.

So far on this trip I’ve seen two ticks – in my tent, no less – and though I’ve killed them both, it DOES make one rather nervous. I’ll need to remember to twitter that once we get to St. Louis: “Just finished paddling the Illinois River. I need someone to check me for ticks. Volunteers?”

Cote out

(Edit: We smashed the “Optimistic number” for the day, and at the rate things were going, this was about the point where I stopped worrying about making it to St. Louis on time so I stopped keeping track of goals for the day from here on in.)

Entry # 14 – Current!

May 15th, 2010                 2100
N 39° 10’ 43.5”                  517.83 km total                      River Mile 23
W 90° 35’ 57.8”                 72.87 km today                     45 River Miles today
Top Speed 12.6 km/h     Moving Av. 8.9 km/h           Overall Av. 8.0 km/h
Start time 9:50                  End time 6:54

What a day.  Crappy weather the entire time: Rain, overcast and none too warm.  All the things we washed yesterday are still wet and so shall remain.  For all that though, we covered a lot of miles today due to a steady pace and an ever increasing current.  We set new records for distance and pace today that leave us two days out of St. Louis so long as we keep anything like a reasonable pace.

Sorouche had a rough day today.  Aside from having mostly wet gear (he did a more comprehensive wash than I since St. Louis is a rest stop for him and not the end of the journey), he also fell in the creek while attempting to hop out for a leak.  He was only in up to his waist, but it was sort of comical just the same.  I can say that the episode was not his fault in the slightest as the bank was ridiculously slippery, so the spill didn’t come from a lack of care on his part, but I can tell you that it makes for miserable paddling nonetheless.  As always though, the man keeps on with a resilience like none I’ve never seen.

In yesterday’s entry, I forgot to mention the day’s highlight:  In the morning we were pulled over by a conservation officer looking for our boat registrations.  That’s right, even human powered craft in the state of Illinois need to be registered.  That said, this requirement only applies to residents of the state, so once we showed her our Ontario driver’s licenses, she let us go, but the event DID involve us heading to shore and digging through all our stuff to find the receipts that Ralph Frese had given us (since he mentioned that was all that we’d need) before she let us know that non-residents were exempt from this regulation.

It’s another good camp tonight, and with the cooking duties now shared, I feel less like a passenger and more like this team is truly working better together all the time.  We talked in camp tonight of future plans, and this adventure has me looking forward to other outdoor adventures and wondering if I can make a career out of it, since I seem uniquely suited to it from a temperamental perspective as well as from the skills that I already have.  That said, I AM looking forward to that first real shower in St. Louis, two days hence (fingers crossed).  Tomorrow though, at long last: The Mississippi!

Cote out

Entry # 15 – Mississippi!  (Finally!)

May 16th, 2010 0626

I dreamt of Halifax last night. It was odd though, since it was a Halifax that I’d never seen. My walking companion was Sorouche (though he turned into an old work friend later). There were some very strange establishments (“Sinful Holes” was one, and you can imagine what they sold THERE). There was also a set of fountains with golems that danced and there seemed to be a re-enactment of a star wars film being staged as a parade. . . There was also (apparently) a guy who led me to Leathersmith Designs and a few restaurants (Cable Wharf, a pizza joint and a bar were all joined together, but the entrance was somehow through a bathroom . . .). For some reason the whole thing gave me a grand feeling of accomplishment as well as a touch of nostalgia. I can’t wait to get back to the real Halifax once this trip is done (which adventure will quickly follow on the heels of this one) and share my experiences with my friends there. . .

May 16th, 2010                2019
N 38° 54’ 01.8”                  575.77 km total                           (Mississippi) River Mile 206
W 90° 13’ 25.0”                 57.94 km today                            35 River Miles today
Top Speed 14.5 km/h     Moving Av. 8.9 km/h                 Overall Av. 5.4 km/h
Start time 9:03                  End time 7:37

So we’re on the Mississippi.  It’s raining to beat the band and I for one, am willing to wait for the morrow to eat.  The camp smells like fish and I may need to grow gills by the end of the night if the rain doesn’t stop.  We did find a campsite roughly 5 feet (1.6m) above the water level, but it IS flood season . . . I suppose that I should count myself as lucky that even with all the rain we’ve had, this is the first time that we had to set up camp while it was raining.  That said, we stopped in Grafton for lunch, and let me say that it’s a real happening town.  The town sits at the junction of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and there are a large number of yachts and pleasure craft that put in there for the atmosphere.  We ate at “The Rotten Apple”, a quirky place with an interesting atmosphere.  The thing you notice most when walking in is the fact that there are dollar bills stapled to pretty much everything.  If you provide the bill, they will provide you with a marker and a stapler, so you can leave pretty much any message you like on the walls there for the low cost of 1 $ US.  Sorouche and I decided it would be fitting to leave some aspect of Canadiana there, and if I had a Canadian five, I would have left it.  We settled for a Maple Leaf covering Lincoln’s face (which took multiple practice attempts on a napkin since it’s hard to remember what the thing ACTUALLY looks like when you’re not used to drawing) along with our names and a comment about the Kayak trip.  The other thing that I appreciated about the place was their 12 craft beers, and I want to go back and try the rest of them . . .  (edit: I may or may not have sampled enough during lunch to make walking back to the kayak an . . . interesting affair, never mind getting in and paddling the thing.  A few hours of paddling sobered me up enough to find a good campsite and set it up though).  I also got to watch game one of the Chicago vs San Jose series, so all in all, it was a more than satisfactory lunch.

Camp tonight is making me happy that this is my last night. I don’t know if my partner will forgive me, but I’m tempted to just have a granola bar and call it a night. (edit: In the end, we discussed it, and did go without supper since the rain simply would not let up, and cooking inside a one man tent is a recipe for disaster).  I’m going to try sleeping sans air mattress or sleeping bag tonight.  We’re working with just the liner due to the extreme wet and associated humidity and both the air mattress and sleeping bag are down filled.  I’ll let you know how it goes. . .

Cote out

Entry #16 – St. Louis!

May 17th, 2010                  0608

So not much sleep was had last night, with the combination of hard ground and incessant rain.  I wasn’t cold though, oddly enough.  The radio is chattering on about flash flooding and promising yet more rain so I suppose I may as well get out of bed since it’s not going to let up.  Even though the night wasn’t terribly restful, I’m cheered by the fact that we did more of the Mississippi than I anticipated last night so I’m confident that we’ll get there today.  St. Louis here we come!

May 17th, 2010                  1311
N 38° 37’ 36.8”                  614.75 km total                      (Mississippi) River Mile 180
W 90° 10’ 59.4”                 48.98 km today                      26 River Miles today
Top Speed 20.0 km/h!!      Moving Av. 11.6 km/h           Overall Av. 11.0 km/h
Start time 9:03                    End time 12:30

I’m sitting almost directly under the famous St. Louis Arch (Insert picture here).  Contemplating the end of what I can properly call an epic journey.  Fitting that the last day would be the scariest, as the Mississippi is a BIG river.  Where the Missouri river joined it is where I got up to 20 km/hr which is more than a bit crazy if you ask me . . .

(edit: In the journal at this point are contact information for two people, along with a drawing of a girl with a camera on a bike, which I’m not going to attempt to re-create here in order to protect the innocent, and you guys wouldn’t like my drawing skills anyway).

That was random.  Good though.  Three cyclists just came by and chatted with us since they thought that we were awesome with our kayaks on the Jefferson national memorial lawn.  We got an offer of a place to stay out of it and met some interesting folks too!  They had just done the Kansas-Missouri trail on bikes and were taking a leisurely cycle around St. Louis.  Meeting fellow adventures / crazies is always good for my morale, and gives me hope that I’m not completely off my rocker for wanting to do things like this.

I’ve started to pack up my stuff for the trip back to Canada, and am getting used to the idea of NOT kayaking.  I think we might just lock the boats to a tree here and get some lunch / try to find a place to sell my boat etc.  Even though it’s a cloudy day, I feel very exhilarated!  I’m looking forward to a day or two of sightseeing in St. Louis and then heading home.

Oh, I should mention that my partner is having a bad day.  He just lost a memory card with roughly half our pictures on it and is pretty much inconsolable.  He told me to write something derogatory towards him in here, but I honestly think that he’s being hard enough on himself that there is no need for that. . .

May 17th 2010  1645

Finding an acceptable place to stay in St. Louis is proving more difficult than anticipated.  We found a real dive that I don’t want to stay at (it’s a home for the homeless sort of deal, with plenty of street people just loitering around the entrance, and dirt and grime just everywhere.  It gave me the creeps it did).  The only hostel that we have even heard of is too far away and we have yet to sort out what we’re doing with the kayaks for the night, which are, by the way, still out by the arch . . .

Cote out

Entry # 17 – The Arch

May 18th, 2010      0749

So we settled on the Drury Inn as it’s centrally located (at a 5 minute walk from the Arch) as well as being relatively inexpensive. They charged us 119$ a night, PLUS they include supper and breakfast and three adult beverages every night. To top it all off, we have our kayaks stashed in a conference room too! I can’t wait to see THAT picture. Just finding the hotel and getting our kayaks and gear off the street was so much of a relief that once it was sorted out, I let myself be lazy for the remainder of the day.  My partner though, kept up his relentless pace, doing laundry and figuring out where he has to go to get his stove repaired, etc.  That said, today I need to shift gears again, as I have yet to post my “Kayak for sale” sign anywhere.  Once I do that though (and avail myself of a free breakfast) I’m going to give those cyclists a call and see if they are willing to play tour guide for a day. . . Oh, and there’s that flight home thing I need to arrange too . . .

May 18th, 2010      1654

So things continue at a frenetic pace here. I spent the day sorting out flight details and I’m now flying home through Georgia, which seems sort of counterintuitive, but with the price tag, (200$ to Buffalo) I’m not arguing. That said, I still don’t know the exact method of my transport across the border but that doesn’t worry me overmuch. I just spoke with a fella named Frank who owns a printing shop in town and is willing to store / buy the kayak and even pick it up tomorrow at 8:30 am. All of this is giving me that rush of “getting things done in the nick of time” that I’m afraid I’m starting to get addicted to. That said, I had lunch consisting of an appetizer, two pints of a lovely local brew called agave ale from the Cathedral brewing company, and a burger at the “Dubliner” a fantastically Irish pub. The bartender was pretty awesome and thanked me for keeping his record perfect (Every Canadian he’s talked to likes our health care system better).

I probably shouldn’t have left the kayak sale to the last minute, but I’m not sure how else I could have done it, and in all honesty, I’m just happy that SOMETHING worked out. I hope the fellow is honest enough not to steal / sell my kayak but at this point, what choice do I have? I’m filled with a devil-may-care attitude at the moment, I have to tell you. . . Okay, enough of that. I really do need to go check out that arch in daylight while I still can . . .

May 18th 2010 1928

So even with the limited time that I had at the Jefferson National Exposition memorial, I am filled with a sense of awe. To begin, the St. Louis Arch was built in 1967 and is a feat of engineering and craftsmanship that rivals any I’ve laid eyes on.  It’s over 600 feet tall and made of stainless steel.  The base(s) are longer than any house I’ve lived in and the welds between the plates are arrow straight as high as your eye can decipher.  They even left the splatter of the welds in place so as to not take away from the rawness of the thing (Not to mention, to not ruin it with buff marks from a grinder).  It glints in the sun and the 1st quarter moon was a fitting backdrop as I gave it my examination.  The grounds are also respectfully clean of other buildings and structures so as to not take away from the majesty of it.  The museum they have onsite (directly below the Arch) is dug into the ground and it’s a history of the western expansion of the United States, from 1800 onward.  I was more than impressed by the efficient layout of the place and by the sheer weight of history behind it.  The exploits of Jefferson, Lewis and Clark all seemed real and poignant.  I truly wish that Canada had such an appreciation for its past and the willingness to present it in such a careful manner, though I suspect Canadians wouldn’t make it quite so grandiose.

Overwhelmingly, I was humbled.  This, indeed, is the expression of an empire at its height, saluting its founders and celebrating its greatness.  Yes, it may have become decadent in the intervening years, yes, there are many ignorant people and much ugliness that resides here, and yes, they ARE supremely arrogant, but here and now, and possibly for the first time, I can fully understand and appreciate exactly what Americans have to be so proud of.

Cote out

Entry # 18 – Phone troubles and the end of the line.

May 19th, 2010                  1941

Buffalo Airport, NY state

I’m sitting here at the Buffalo Airport, waiting for a bus to take me to the border after jet-setting my way across the country.  Did you know that since the cell phone revolution, no-one bothers to maintain pay phones anymore?  It’s as though obsolescence isn’t enough for anyone, and they are actively chasing dinosaurs like me into extinction (edit: having cooled down, and bought a phone in the intervening time I realize that that’s exactly what they’re doing.  Of COURSE they’re trying to make me buy a phone.  That IS their business after all in any case, back to the rant).  I tried to call my sister (so she would know that I’m coming) with a credit card and six, SIX different payphones.  Some, the card physically wouldn’t fit into, some couldn’t read it, those who could were unable to connect me for some other unknown reason and when I, in frustration tried to talk to an operator, the line was cutting in and out, so he brokenly advised me to try another phone.  Since all this took up a half hour of the forty-five minutes that I had to wait before my bus left for the border, I gave up so as to not miss my ride.  (edit: Insert a sudden change of location here as my bus pulled up unexpectedly at this point).  I’m not seated on the finest public transportation that Buffalo has to offer:  the handi-bus.  (It’s even got all the straps and things for wheelchairs).  Yes kids, as this epic trip draws to a close, I can say that it even included a short bus!  See you back in Canada!

Edit:  And that folks, was the last entry in my Chicago to St. Louis kayaking journal.  I want to thank Sorouche profusely for putting up with my quirks and my attitude at times and for being a patient teacher in the ways of the website, zero footprint camping and not taking no for an answer.  That last one especially, since without it, the impossible would remain so, instead of becoming merely difficult.

Oh, about the rest of my journey, I ended up walking across the border, which went without a hitch, and I can tell you that slowly crossing the rainbow bridge while looking over at the iconic falls was a poignant ending to a watery trip and a joyous sight welcoming me back home.

Since that time, I went up to the family cottage (properly pronounced: Camp) for the long weekend and then took a weeklong vacation to Nova Scotia before flying out to Europe.  If you’d like to know about that last one, or if you enjoy my writing style, have I got the website for you!  I set up a website of my own just for people like you to stop by and keep tabs on me.  Said website can be found here.  Or, if you’d rather, type it in yourself:  youaintcote.wordpress.com Hope to see you there!

(For real this time):

Cote out

1 Response » to “Matt’s Journal (day to day)”

  1. paul says:

    Do you realize that Pekin is best known for their Illinois basketball champion team in 1965 or so? They were called “The Chinks” (get it? Pekin – Peking), and they refused to change their name until at least the 80s.

    Nasty place, Pekin is.

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