Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Current River Float Trip, May/June 2014

I.  Preface.

I'm listening to house music in the southeast corner of a hundred-year-old home in University City, MO.  B comes in, to investigate.  We're investigating each other, all the time.  Who you text-a-sizing with, B?  What are you looking up now, B?

I started by watering the lawn this morning—really what I watered were hodgepodge patches of my yard that I hope become lawn.  Then I held my annual plant spa.  I take all of my houseplants outside and I get the hose out and I mist them down to get the housegrime off of them.  I sprinkle in some osmocote plant food pebbles.  I prune them, which is difficult in that I am lopping off some pretty hefty parts of these poor little plants, most of which probably don't get enough light.  I take a weeding tool and worry the soil a little.  I water them.  I blast their pots on the "flat" nozzle setting to remove the scale and I clean out their saucers.  I add soil if need be.  They get a little bit of direct sun as I work on them.  The sun was strong this morning.  The plants look their best on their spa days, gleaming green, their hair cut back, in clean terra cotta.

Then I caulked, went through a tube.  I like to go through a tube when I open one.  It rained a little afterward (actually it poured for several minutes and I started to fret).  But this stuff isn't water soluble and it also happens to be the best caulk in the world.  It's the Loctite masonry/concrete sealant.  Gray, non-self-leveling. I was caulking all sorts of cracks in our house's stucco and plugging nascent gaps between stucco and wood trim.  In some cases I caulked gaps between two pieces of wood.  I'll put this caulk on anything.  I've thought about eating it.  I applied some to key spots along the base of our house where water could get in where a concrete skirt meets the foundation and it has met the test of a couple years' worth of weather.  Anything else I've used in similar situations has ended up pulling away from one side or another.  Not this stuff.  It smells vaguely of chocolate.

B comes in to say that there's no way Madison Bumgarner is 24.  "He's 28," she says.  I say, "Yeah, that's the case of a player from America maybe fudging his age.  Appalachian.  He does seem older than 24."  He's been rocking a beard lately and looks like another version of Adam Wainwright, who's 30.  Or so.

I'm listening to DJ Bene and there's a snifter of gin in my hand.  The Crads game is going in the kitchen.  I can hear it when Bene breathes but he ain't breathing now.  Do it, Bene.  Go!

Oh, I-44, wide-open Missouri, Missouri South Central, we comin' baby!  I scrounged for dinner.  I had tuna salad from Wednesday, with Triscuits and an English sharp white cheddar that B got from Straub's last week when her mom was here.  Extra points for actually eating what we buy—long live Pyrrhus!  Then I ate some tortilla strips with baked beans.  Good scrounging.  I re-upped my gin.  I'm a happy sot.

B sliced up the Companion bread.  And bagged (double-bagged) the rye.  I stuffed each bag into a bucket.  She's putting some raisins in a ziploc.  I think we are going to be under-capacity on the big cooler, which I figure will only have to carry foodstuffs.  Eggs, bacon, pastrami, butter spray, veggies (carrots, cukes, and radishes), and apple slices.  We could end up putting tomorrow night's beer on top of that, and let the mini-cooler go empty but I doubt we'll really accomplish that.

I could drink this St. George gin all day, every day, until my face became a Valentine and my nose exploded.  I've not had a cigarette since Memorial Monday, on which day I had three, though I can't say I really enjoyed any of them.  I so want to like tobacco.  I feel like I do like tobacco, in retrospect, but in the moment's I'm smoking, I'm not sure how many cigs it is that I kick back and really savor. I think about that cig in Seattle I really wanted but never had.  I was gonna smoke it down on the waterfront but when we got down there there were all these bums around and I didn't want to take out a cigarette amongst them.  Monteagle is a good place for cigarettes.  I haven't been there since June 2012.  Sometimes they make me woozy, sometimes they make me sick.  But I'm still on the train and I have no plans of getting off.  There's a place for them, lots of little places.  It's just a matter of finding that little slice of space and time where a cigarette is nonpareil.

When I'm writing, it's like Henry James or Eliot said, or as Ruland wanted us to see them saying—it's about taking ourselves out of the process—stripping—and telling about what's left after we've gotten that done.  Ego down, description up.  That's the ideal.  Sure, I use a lot of "I" and I want to cut down on that, but it's a means to an end.  I want to be a vessel.  What is actually happening?  I'm seeing, yes, but what am I seeing?

My pen has a magnet on it.  I'm crutching on one of those frumpy husband cushions that I've had since—when?  Years.  It's been on some moves.  For moments like this—when I want something to slump on—it's very useful.  Bene, you do it!  You go!  I look up at the so-called "can" light in the ceiling of this room and I recall taking an intentionally blurry photo of it and sending that photo to Roy.  The photo included in the background the smoke alarm.  I said to Roy, "UFOs?"  And he comes back with, "Looks like recessed lighting and a smoke alarm to me."  Ha ha.  The joy of text!

I'm not sure how I've achieved this certain state of satori tonight.  I'm beat but I'm winning.  I'm all twisted in bed but not barking.  Waino is getting hit around too much.  It's painful.  B's making herself a sundae.  Ted Drewes custard and her homemade butter scotch.  It's so good I have to resist it.  I'm really just content here with this pen and paper, and Bene, and the Beefeater she put in my little snifter, along with an ice cube.  I could be working on one at this point, but I'm putting pen to paper and I don't care if it's drunk drivel.  It's product and it can be refined if need be.  Aluminum, bauxite.

The Beefeater is not in the same class as the St. George.  If you've had both, that goes without saying.  The St. George is a natural spring, a gospel, a holodeck program you never want to exit.  The Beefeater is kind of like the pitch you have to listen to if you want to go stay at the resort condo for free, or $25 a night, whatever it is.  It's still worth it, but still.

II.  Saturday Morning, Departure Inc.

Saturday morning, americano in hand.  I checked the baseball news and set my two fantasy teams for the weekend.  I've got iTunes going.  Van Morrison first, now Nirvana.  The Vonage is going to meet us here, perhaps at nine.  I let loose last night, a little impromptu.  I feel fine this morning but I didn't sleep well, lots of tossing and turning.  Yet, I dreamed pretty good.  And I got caught in a strange middle state where I kept telling myself to wake up (like, for real) and look out the window at the garage, to see if anyone had opened it.  Ever since childhood, when our neighbor's house got robbed and I listened to their dog, Domino, bark in a frenzy, and I told my dad that I thought something wasn't right over there, because Domino only barks at strangers...ever since then I've been on guard.  I held a baby in my arms, in another dream.  He was heavier than I first thought he'd be, but he stopped crying when I picked him up.  No, Dr. Freud, that baby was not me, he was a not-too-distant cousin.  Squirt was there, but he might actually have been a little boy himself.  It's hard to tell, in hindsight.  For a night in which I didn't sleep well, there are a lot of dream threads filamenting their way through my head.  Dreams are only supposed to crank up during REM sleep, which is supposedly a deep sleep.  I'm skeptical of that dogma, as you can tell.

It's 6:45.  I have to get the car loaded yet, and shower, and do a few due diligence things around the house.   Plus, I might leave a little time for writing, if I'm so inclined.  Maybe that's just the coffee talking.  Either way, it's a good feeling—solicitude for the muse.  The forecast down there (Eminence, MO) calls for rain chances of 60% later today and 40% tomorrow, when we float the Current.  We had spotty storms here yesterday—it was really the whole panoply of potential summer weather, run the gamut.  Like I told B, "If nothing else, we can all hang out in the Vonage tent."  It's enormous.

III.  Sunday Morning and a Saturday Aft Recap.

We're up.  The birds are going.  One cardinal is especially insistent that we meet the day.  We're at the Round Spring campground, a National Parks campsite.  All of this land along the Current is national parkland, comprising the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.  It's kind of like Venice, except inland and without buildings or gondolas.  So there are park rangers here, a couple at least.  One was doing rounds on foot, a real young-looking guy.  The other ranger came up to us while we were down at the river's edge late Saturday afternoon.  We were wading in that cool, clear Current water when he asked us if we'd seen an old, red Dodge pickup.  B immediately said she had, and then I remembered first hearing that rusty low-rider, and then seeing it chug its way up from the river access area.

"About how long ago was that?"

Thirty or forty-five minutes we said.

"But you saw that truck, in the park?"

Yeah, we said.  He thanked us and moved on.

We saw little fishes in the river.  They weren't more than a couple of inches long, with big heads and black bands, three of them, spaced out, starting about mid-body and then on back toward the tail.  The fish were shaped like catfishes.  They blended in expertly against the bed of gravel that endlessly lines the river.  Pat had taken a couple of chairs down to the waterline.  He skipped rocks for awhile.  Last night I dreamt I skipped one that had just about made it all the way across the river before it turned around and came all the way back and made landfall twenty feet down the bank from me—crazy.

I've had a Double Shot (coffee) this morning, and B is drinking one now.  I've already taken a few ibuprofren.  A woodpecker does its throaty ca-a-aw-aw-kkk.  It's a little foggy this morning, not quite cool.  We had amazing weather yesterday.  The forecast was calling for 60% P.M. T-Storms, and we heard one remote peal of thunder, but it never rained.  It was partly cloudy, with big white billowing cumulus clouds and some wispy mid-level clouds (stratus?) strewn about here and there.  We left St. Louis around ten and had gotten our tents set up here by 15:30.  We got off of I-44 to stop at the Sonic in Steelville, and then we took Highway 19 from there south, all the rest of the way.  Salem is a cute little throwback town, south of Steelville on 19, and the last "major" town between here and anywhere north.  I was riding with Pat.

We stopped in our tracks to let a funeral procession pour out onto Highway 19 and slowly make its way toward the town cemetery.  The odd thing was that, once we hitched onto the tail end of the procession, we noticed how all of the cars on the other side of the road pulled over as far as they possibly could, and halted, as the procession passed them in the opposite direction.  It was like we were behind an ambulance or a fire truck going through town.  Neither of us had ever seen that before.  I wondered if that was a regular thing in Salem or if someone special might've died, that everyone in the town knew, respected, and continued to respect by halting for them as the procession made its way to Valhalla.  I told Pat that I wouldn't try pulling over like that in St. Louis because the person behind me would never expect me to do so and might become one with my bumper.  Pat might tell you about the cop who was directing traffic at the next light, how he was reminiscent of that wrestler, "The Big Boss Man," in that he had an enormous gut and was kind of shoddily dressed.  Almost like the uniform wasn't for real. Then as he drove away, we could see the seatbelt, the part that goes into the buckle, hanging out from the bottom of the door, like the mechanism to pull it back in had been worn out long ago.

Anne and B told us their best story from their drive.  About how a buzzard picked up a big ole chunk of armadillo on the shoulder, flew low and wobbly across several lanes of traffic but couldn't hold onto that 'dillo surprise and had to drop it along the median.  B said if it had dropped the carrion on her car she probably would have driven off the road.

The sun is asserting itself a little.  This fog is going to burn off quick.  The stars were infinite last night, and we saw them all.  But the fireflies, which are just starting to feel froggy and emerge from their winter woods hideouts, stole the show.  Across the breadth of the cold, dark river, in every direction, thousands of them lit up, just for an instant, another instant, and the instants became a continuum of sparkle.  I said it reminded me of being at Busch Stadium when McGwire was on the brink of breaking the home run record.  Every time he swung, myriad camera flashes would ignite, spaced out by milliseconds, filling the stadium from brim to bottom.  That was 1998, before cell phone cameras, a simpler time.  We saw him break the record in person that September night, me and Bill Williams, whose line I stole to grace the banner of this blog.  We were just sophomores in college then, living the dream....

We opted out of our original campsites here, 46 and 48, which on the map looked to be right on the river.  Nooo, not really.  They were kind of small, rocky, and set down off of the road that works its way through the campground.  Me and B went to talk to the camp host, a retiree with Florida plates.  I knocked on the door of his RV.  No answer.  Then he happened to drive up on a golf cart.  He really reminded me of Bruce Dern a la "Nebraska."  He said, "You can take any site you waant, as long as it's not reseerved."  He was pretty laid back.  All we did was go and grab the ziplocs that were clipped to our posts at 46 and 48 and go and clip them onto our new home-for-two-days at site 41.  I know what you're thinking.  "Two sites for one?  That doesn't sound like a very good exchange."  Well, we're on 41 but we are also sprawled onto the likes of 50, an "unofficial" site, not listed on any map—or app—anywhere.  The reason, in the words of camp host Dern is that, "It's so daang small."  I guess it'd be small if it were a stand-alone site, but coupled with 41 it opens a whole prime corner of the campground, a corner lot that would be worth quite a bit if this campsite were a Monopoly board.  It's a grassy area, in the midst of a campground that isn't that grassy on the whole.  We're on a grassy knoll minus the conspiracy.  We have two picnic tables, two fire pits, two lantern posts, and one rather well-positioned tarp thanks to the P-hole.  It's gonna give us shade when we need it and keep us dry when we need it.

We've been taunting that rain a little.  It'll probably let us hear about that a little later.  B made awesome reubens last night.  Legend has it that the first reuben ever made was done so in Omaha, by Reuben Kay.  I remember Rob Morrow telling that story in the movie Quiz Show, during a scene when he was playing poker.  Ohhhh!  Anne's iPhone alarm just went off.  I'm hungry and I've got work to do.  I've got to make a morning cookfire for bacon, eggs, and coffee.  The kayak rental company is going to send someone to pick us up at our campsite at 8:30.  So much more to say, and a fear that I'll never say it.  Oh well—

IV.  Sunday Morning—Gonna Float.

Shannon County, Texas County.  Our van driver graduated in 1980.  He’s talking with the guy in the front passenger seat about taxes down here.  There are nine of us in a van going to Akers Ferry, our kayaks on a trailer out behind us.  Coolers, life vests, Chacos, and sunscreen.  Besides us and Vonage, and the driver, there’s a family of four in here with us.  It’s the husband that’s in the front passenger seat.  They’re staying at Round Spring campground, too.  Right across the road from us. 

The guy asks our driver if there are still hippies out here, living in communes—off the grid, like rainbow people.  “Yeah, they’re still there,” says the driver, “out in, oh, some of the southern parts of Shannon County.”  We pass a vista and as I look to my left (south) I recall it distinctly from the bus ride to the put-in spot for the Nick Adams Bachelor Party Float.  So maybe we put in at Akers Ferry then, too.  I cannot recall—I wasn't really paying attention to the geography then.  That’s the last time I was on this river.  I had dysentery after getting bad ice in the Dominican Republic.  It was a hellish experience.  I wanted the float to end but we just…kept…going….  Then we camped that night—in Kentucky. 

We’re on Highway 19 going north, winding.  It’s partly cloudy, beautiful really.  Stratus clouds.  “Uh oh,” says the dad, “I think we lost a kayak.”  The driver takes a quick look in the driver’s side mirror.  “Nope—it’s still there.”  And he chuckles, in a good-old-boy sort of way.  He doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.  “Sorry,” says the dad, sheepishly.  “I’m gonna shut up now.”  The driver chuckles again and proceeds to tell about how he did lose two kayaks the first day he ever made this run—he’s a trucker by trade, you see.  Morning light coming through the woods is hitting me systematically in the face light a strobe light.  If it’s not a hayfield or a cow pasture, it’s all woods and rivers in this part of Missouri.  The windows are fully down up front and the breeze is coming back to me in the last of three rows of seats in this van.  The trailer is squeaking behind us, sounding like a mouse complaining about carrying a heavy load.  It’s much easier to write in this van, on this sheet of paper, than when I tried something similar in Jamaica. 

I’m going to have to dry-sack this paper when we get on the river.  I can’t risk it getting wet, bleary, blotchy, lost.  Speaking of bleary and blotchy, that’s kind of how my face looked, reflected back at me in the window of the car this morning, as I was locking it up.  We pass a nice big, green lawn and I imagine hucking discs out there.  We brought two coolers, the mid and the mini, and three two-foot bungees.  We each have a Nalgene and at the last minute I opted for bringing one of our Schnucks distilled water handle-jugs (filled with water at the campground, from an old-style spigot pump). 

We turn left on KK.  “There’s really a ferry?” says the guy up front.  “Is it free?”  “Yup,” says the driver.  It’s the last ferry still running on the Current, he says.  A woman’s voice over a walkie talkie breaks in and says, “I need one canoe going to Cedar Grove, two men and a small boy, and we need a small jacket.”  I brought my goggles along, too.  Not a mask—lap-swimming goggles.  Pat is gonna have his GoPro going.  One picture every ten seconds!  GoPro or go home.  The driver and the guy are keeping a sporadic conversation going.

“Trailer squeaks bad though, don’t it?”  says the driver, and he chuckles.  He’s a big boy, our driver, the trucker.  Been all over the lower 48 and Canada.  He talks about being in Quebec and people there speaking French.  He’s wearing a camo trucker’s hat.  The only people in this van without hats on are the two kids—one boy and one girl.  Pat is chatting with the mom a little, just bein’ friendly.  She says the kids are seasoned floaters by this point, floating since they were three or four.  This year they are taking the leap up to kayak from canoe.  We pass a lot that has a bunch of school buses and canoes, hallmarks of the river economy here.  It’s Jason’s Place Campground, Pat says.  There are stand-up grills abounding and I think about B serving up bacon and eggs this morning, with that sourdough toast.  Yum.  I also had some of Anne’s bran muffins (with dates).  I’m set.  Had a Via made with hot water from a kettle we set on the grate overhanging the fire pit.  Had some water, a Zyrtec.  There is no cell service up here whatsoever.  Not even does AT&T service reach here.  I worry a little, feeling that disconnect.  The river will help with that.  I see so many fields, tall with grass, early hay.  In October I could pass these same fields, and they’d be cut, with hay bales plopped poignantly here and there. 

We’re at Akers.  Welch Spring is a couple of miles upstream.  Pat says, “The water looks warm here.”  The driver says, “Looks—can be deceiving.”  And he chuckles.  It’s going to be a great day.  I can feel it.

V.  Lost Transcript from Sunday Night.

I lay in the tent Sunday night, after our incredible ten-hour float, looking out at Cassiopeia and her twinkling friends.  It was a twenty-two mile float, about eight miles too long.  But we made it.  We beached our kayaks at the river access point at our campground and sloughed home, uphill, to our site.

Pat made 'ritos and he did a hell of a job, slinging those turkey tacos in the dark.  We were all spent.  It was kind of a shame.  When we got back to our site B was asking me what time I thought it was, the light losing itself below the horizon and I said, "Six thirty."  But it was seven thirty and my heart fell a little.  I smoked my first cig of the day and sighed seven times. I had been on a hell of a run, not having been at work in a week, but it was all coming to a horrible crashing end.  I couldn't run any farther.  Pat and I went down to the river, glanced at the fireflies, called it a night.

I pulled the fly back from my side of our tent, and tried to set it back on the top of the tent, so it would stay up there, but I didn't fasten it in any way.  I got in, and just lay there looking out through the mesh at the stars.  That's one great feature of our Eureka Spitfire II—if the fly isn't on the tent you can lay in the tent and look out at the stars through mesh—but we don't use it much.  It was highly pleasant.  I was trying to keep myself awake.  I was chicken-scratching on my paper, two looseleaf pieces of paper.  I thought it was all gonna be gibberish.  One of the first things I wrote was about how I could "hear the river in the trees."  The wind, the river were one.  They sounded the same, and they will never cease, neither of them.  I scrawled and I scratched and then I fell asleep.

At some point the wind flapped the fly back down to its natural spot and I sweated and tossed and turned in the tent.  I wished I had fastened the fly up where I had set it before I got into the tent (maybe with magnets?)  I got up when it started getting light.  I looked at the paper I had written on, and it was actually legible.  I put that paper in the secret zipper pocket of my Orvis shirt and I thanked the stars for keeping that writing legible.

[But fast forward for just a second, to when I get home Monday and take that Orvis shirt and put it in the wash basket.  I lose my mind, I forget myself, and the paper, my precious scrawlings, go through the wash.  And they are lost—to me anyhow, to you.  They are in the river, and the river is in the trees.  That is all I have to say about what I wrote Sunday night, gazing at the stars.]

VI.  Monday Morning.

Cloudy.  It didn't rain yesterday.  Maybe this morning we'll get the rain we've figured was due all trip long.  It's a little humid but not foggy like yesterday morning.  In the dream I was having, nothing was going right.  I was scrambling to be leaving a place—ahh: raindrop.  Scrambling to leave a place and yet there was all this beer we were leaving behind and I was grabbing all that I could.  It's raining.  [I pause to put a few things under the Pat tarp, the rain is holding off yet, but our luck is running on empty.]

A barred owl briefly got close last night.  I could hear several of them further off but only once did I hear a call that seemed to be from within this campground.  A breeze.  There's one other person awake in this campground, that I saw.  If we were at a campground that didn't have RV hook-ups, I'm not sure that there'd be more than a handful of other people in the campground, and none of them would be awake yet.  It reminds me of my days at IMSA and how, on Saturdays, I'd wake up real early, and no one else would be awake, and I'd walk over across the street to the supermarket called Eagle, and I'd get myself an apple fritter from the bakery.  And then I'd come back over to campus, and sit on a bench, and there'd still not be anybody awake, and I'd sit and eat my apple fritter, and I would be really happy, because I'd feel special—because I was the only one awake.  How could no one else be awake?  They didn't know what they were missing and they never wised up.  It's like that was who I was, the guy who woke up early, except no one knew.

The river was a jewel yesterday, and I'm going to do it justice—but wow did the ten hours we spent floating commandeer the rest of the day we didn't spend on the river.  After we finally got back here I split some wood for the night's cookfire, probably a little wild in the head, and eventually I changed out of my trunks.  We ate, the ladies retired, Pat and I walked down to the river for a few minutes (it was pleasantly dark, the distant suns were many).  And then we walked back up here and went to bed.  That was it.  Anticlimactic.  We never used those rodeo tickets we had, the will wasn't there.

I didn't tip on the river.  I did put my goggles on at one point and swim a little—more like dive for a few seconds, sometimes against the current, to see if I could find anything of interest.  I didn't.  There was a sunken jar of JIF.  The Current water is cool, and especially if you are just downstream of where any of the numerous springs feed in, it can feel pretty cold.  As we kayaked along, I liked dangling my feet or my hands into the water as it carried me along.  B is up. 

At numerous spots the river splits into two or more alternate channels as it courses around a sudden island in the river.  Relatively early on in our river odyssey, Pat and I opted to take one of these side channels as it branched off to the right.  Even within that side channel was another little island, presenting us a choice of trying to float what looked like a pretty shallow run or having to duck severely under a tree that was hanging its limbs right down to the waterline.  We slowed ourselves down and were hemming and hawing about it, but before we came to any conclusion Pat startled a mean-looking snake that was hanging out over by the shallow area.  It hissed at him, he said.  I wasn't real close, but I was close enough, and I thought the snake looked pretty serious.  I don't know what kind of snake it was, and it isn't as though Pat was trying to get a real good look—he was trying to paddle slow enough in reverse not to raise its ire even more.  So we scooted under the tree limbs, the leaves of which sure looked like poison ivy to me.  [Author's note: I've seen trees like this a lot on disc golf courses—it's as though it's one big poison ivy tree.  And so I did a little research when we got home, trying to answer the question as to whether poison ivy can be a tree.  It can't.  It happens that the box elder tree (a kind of maple) has leaves that look an awful lot like poison ivy leaves—similar shape, with some leaflets of three.  Poison ivy can grow into a tall shrub but it does not grow into a full-fledged tree.]

I tell B that if it starts raining for real, me and her are gonna have to break down our tent real quick.  Otherwise there isn't much for her to do right now.  There's no fire yet, Vonage is asleep.  And we're not really in pack mode yet.

So I'll try to give you a quick digest of what else we saw on the river.  Pat and I saw a huge bald eagle just south of Pulltite (Anne turned around and saw it, too, when Pat and I erupted in delight).  We saw thousands of bank swallows, a couple dozen belted kingfishers, plenty of cardinals, and on numerous occasions we saw a group consisting of a mother wood duck (a smallish, brown duck with a white "tear-drop" shape around her eye) and her six or seven little wood duck chicks (where do the drakes all go?)  For the first time in my life I saw an American Redstart, which I described in my lost notes as a mini oriole—black head with with orange shoulders, a small bird.  For awhile we tracked a blue heron slowly down the river.  B, at our vanguard, would get close, and the heron would flap its way downriver a hundred yards before landing.  She'd get close again, and again it would fly downriver another hundred yards.  We also saw several green herons, a smaller heron that doesn't stick its neck out much: colors of brown, green, and bone.

There were stretches on the river when I didn't paddle much—I just wanted to relax and drift.  Sometimes I'd turn my kayak around and drift while looking behind us, upriver, for a different perspective.  I don't believe we dawdled.  None of our stops was very long (thanks to Vonage for those Pearl Café drunken noodles, OMG!)  Best I can explain how we ended up on that river for ten hours is that we faced a stiff headwind much of the float—if that was an unusual occurrence it could explain why a float estimated by the outfitter as taking 6-8 hours wound up taking us ten.  That, and maybe the fact that the outfitter underestimates the float time so as not to scare people away.  [Author's note: It was a 22-mile float, clearly stated as being a 22-mile float on the outfitter's website.  The estimate at 6-8 hours is well shy of what I believe it would take a kayaker to cover 22 miles of river, assuming the kayaker wanted to relax a bit.  That said, many two-day floats are listed as covering 22 or 24 miles, so we should have known what we were getting into.  Also, I checked my river data app when I got home and the data for "Current River above Akers, MO" indicated that the river was pretty well below its normal height for this time of the year.]

B says she would like to have a rash guard, like Anne wears.  A rash guard is basically a water-safe sunburn preventer, as far as I can tell.  I got burnt in a couple of spots yesterday.  I forgot to put sunscreen on the V area under my neck.  So I got burnt there even though I had kept on my long-sleeve Orvis shirt for most of the voyage.  I also got parts of my feet pretty red (Chacos tanline) even though I put sunscreen there initially—it could have washed off pretty easily and I never reapplied because I didn't want to mess with it and I figured I had no way of drying my feet so it would be pointless anyway.  There were patches of clouds, off and on, the whole way—not blankets of cloud layer but big clumps of cumulus that came and went, allowing for pockets of direct sun that weren't overwhelming.  The cumuli seemed low.  Much higher up, seemingly not moving, were the furrowed type of cirrus clouds, just beautiful.  It was these clouds I was staring up at when I was just drifting—they seemed the venue of something special.  The weather could not have been much better, except for that wind I suppose.  But I won't do that long of a float in one day again any time soon.

I guess I'll get to work on making the morning cookfire and maybe B will drive home and let me to write more in the car.  The day moves on, relentless, like the river.

VII.  Driving Home.

 We're headed out, north on 19.  It's 8:25. We saw 54 on the side of the road by Carr's.  [As I attempted to explain in the Lost Notes, 54 is a poor underfed mutt that had the number "54" either spraypainted or branded into his left side.  Pat and I saw this dog down by the river not too far from the 19 bridge toward the end of the float.  It led me to say, "What is wrong with people!"  Needless to say, seeing this poor dog made me want to go and snatch him up and give him something of a life before it were too late.]  It's still cloudy but those raindrops I felt this morning were the full extent of any rain.  We busted camp pretty good, but I found a tick and a spider in our tent.  I did feel something crawling on me pretty good at one point last night and that spider could've been it.

B asks me if I'm gonna mention her tipping.  I say, "Well, if I'm gonna describe what happened on our float, I'm gonna have to mention you tipping."  Eagle aside, the aftermath of B hitting the water was probably the most fun I had all day—all contained in about 60 seconds.

It was a quicker, narrower stretch of river where she flipped, one of those segments where the river splits in two to course around an island.  We all chose the same chute to go through and I went through it second behind Anne.  I yelled out, "Class Two rapids!"  I don't know anything about rapids and how they're classified—I just liked yelling that out whenever we went through a particularly playful stretch of the river.  B was after me and got pinned sideways against a limb of a tree that had fallen into the water (there are too many of these to count along the way).  She braced herself against the limb but the river under her was going quick enough and hard enough to rotate the kayak out from under her.  She went in.  Pat was behind her, made sure she was alright.  He said he was afraid she'd hit her head, maybe against the limb.  She banged her knee pretty good in the process, and she was startled by the cold of the water and the suddenness of tipping, but she was alright.  [Another dog on the road as we proceed up 19.]

I tried to rest my kayak against a protruding limb mid-river, in a relatively shallow spot, and I was gonna wait there to try and collect the sundry items loosed from B's kayak: the mini cooler, her seat cushion, her Nalgene, the water jug, and a coozie with a spoilt shanty in it.  But the current was going to take all of these things well wide of where I was positioned so I grabbed the nose of my kayak with one hand and lugged it behind me as I romped toward where I thought I could intercept the fallen booty.  It was shallow enough [another dog on the road!] so that I was able to stand upright in the river without losing my balance and I was able to grab the cushion, the cooler, the water jug, and the Nalgene without much trouble.  Anne got the coozie.  I was laughing real good—the pursuit of the floating items and the coldness of the water was exhilarating.  That minute was as close as I got to euphoria the whole trip.  Ten or fifteen seconds later, as I was making my way back to a gravel bar where we were going to regroup, I saw this white object floating along, a foot or so below the surface and I figured I might as well grab it.  It was B's tank top (easy: she still had her bathing suit on).

Pat tipped later.  We've floated four times now, and that's the first time I've ever seen him go over.  There was a low-hanging branch that B had just gone under, limbo-like, and he said he was going to try to go under the limb, too ("B-style").  Except he wasn't able to get low enough and he was then caught by the same principle that took B under earlier—he reached up to brace himself against the hanging limb but of course the river under him didn't stop.  He first got turned sideways and then his kayak rotated under him and he was in.  (Mind you, I am not on some kayak high-horse here.  I have flipped several times on floats but this would make two or three straight floats during which I did not tip....)  I got his flip flops.  He didn't lose anything else.  He even had a wet cig hanging from his lips as he made his way down toward where we were waiting for him.

I would gladly do a shorter float again sometime soon.  That was 14 miles, so nine sounds about right. [ I mentioned, that was 22 miles, so 14 would be fine!]  As for an estimated float time, four to six hours is probably a better range.  The folks on the van with us, who were "only" doing Akers to Pulltite, said their float took them seven hours.  And, sure, they had the two kids with them, and they were doing some fishing, but the mom said they didn't really stop that much either. 

We enter the town of Gladden.  A hayfield in growth mode.  An old Subaru riding our ass.  A huge, beautiful cow pasture—tap the brakes!  A wild turkey struts around on the road in the opposite lane.  I saw several good-sized rainbow trout in the stretch of river south of Pulltite.  Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I want to start fishing again.  I want to catch those trout, clean them, have B cook them in a cast-iron skillet on an open fire, and I want to eat those trout.  I cannot imagine doing something more satisfying.  The Subaru passes us but now a Taurus quickly takes its place on our rear bumper.  Now the Taurus passes us and now it's just us here on this country road, and it's nice again.

VIII.  Monday afternoon.

It's 15:30.  We just crushed some Wendy's.  We got back at about 11:30.  As we drove (B got us to Steelville, then I took over) I watched my phone and waited until I got phone service, to see what messages I got.  There were two about Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals rookie, one from Roy and one from my bro.  I don't get many texts from my bro—to have gotten one, and to have not responded to it for two days, gave me a sinking feeling of regret.  And I guess I never told Roy that I was going off of the grid and he had gotten a little concerned that I had not responded to his texts for a couple of days.  Eventually he sent me the "Are you alive?" text.  He also texted Pat and B to make sure I hadn't crashed out somewhere.  Sorry, Roy!

We curved our way along 19 north, managing not to hit any of the dozen or so turtles we saw attempting to make their way across the road.  I don't think that, on a turtle to road-surface basis, there is another road in the entire country with more turtles trying to cross it than Highway 19 in Missouri.  But I doubt that study ever gets funded, so I guess we'll never know.

The other phenomenon we witnessed, first on 19, and then on 19/8 thru Steelville was an onslaught of "mail carrier"-designated cars.  We must have seen seven different "mail carrier" vehicles within a thirty-mile span.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  It reminded me of the mail carrier Pat and I saw on the way down to Round Spring.  In that instance, it appeared that the driver/mail carrier was sitting on the "passenger" side of the car, so as to have easy access to the mailboxes—but it sure looked like the steering wheel was still on its traditional "driver's side" of the vehicle.  The mail carrier was all stretched across the front seat holding the steering wheel in place.  It looked very awkward.  Pat said he thought the pedals had been moved over to the passenger's side, but for whatever reason, the steering wheel had stayed put.

We've got the car fully unpacked and we've gotten most of the gear off of the deck and back inside the house.  The tent footprint is draped across a ladder in the garage.  It's still kind of dirty and needs a washing, which I should do by hand, as opposed to doing it by hose. The tent footprint I made for our Eureka Spitfire II consists of two hand-cut pieces of 6-mil plastic sheeting, held together at the edges by long strips of duct tape.  The edges are pretty much sealed tight by the tape, but not entirely.  So if I go spraying it with a hose I believe I'd get some water in between the two sheets, which I don't want.

It's nearing the end of my week off of work and in addition to the dread of that thought, I've got my standard post-camp melancholia (thoughtful sadness).  It's a sense of bereavement really. I am soon to be bereft of things I want to do and I am facing things I do not want to do.  What I really miss about camping, now that I'm back here in the southeast corner of my hundred-year-old home in U City, MO, is the openness, the out-of-the-way-ness, the trees, the campfire, the river, the time, the breeze, the birds.  Of course I don't miss and will barely even mention the pesky gnats that berated us constantly as we broke down camp this morning—swarming in our faces, looking for a way into our eyes and ears.  My salvation in camping is that I know what to do with myself "out there."  Or if I hit an idle moment, I can write, or take a walk, or play with the fire, or find things to organize a certain way in the buckets or the camp kit.  At work, I don't know what to do.  There are any number of things I could do—but none of them seem very necessary.  Maybe this is just "grass is greener" talk.  Could be.  Can't camp forever—gotta come back to something.  Right?

Salem is nice.  Steelville is nice.  Could we really live out there?  For real?  What if we moved out there and it was terrible, a huge mistake?  And we had already quit our jobs and we'd sold our house here?  What then?

I'm fighting a doze.  I'm lying down writing all of this post-script.  The ground out there was stony hard, and we were on a slight slant.  I didn't sleep well.  I missed the little neck pillow I have with me here now to put between my knees as I try to fall asleep on my side.  I tried to put my top leg over onto B the first night.  She rejected me and I said, "But I like to put it there."  Apparently I said that loud enough for the Vonage to hear because they kidded me and B about it the next day.  I am a little embarrassed but it's...oh, just dozed there...lost my train of thought....  I am afraid that if I fall asleep now I will not get back up and I really want to watch or listen to some baseball tonight.  Dozing again.  Done for now, anyhow.

[Later that night B finished "Last Puzzle and Testament", a crossword puzzle mystery by Parnell Hall.]

IX.  Melancholy Music Man.

There are no directions to
sleep, so how does one go there?
It's one and I'm not there.
I'm sad and gassy and awake.
There was a fly buzzing around
this room, in love with the light.
I so wanted to kill it, tried.
But I was making too much noise,
for B has arrived at sleep,
like she always does, one
room over.

If I can sleep I'll sleep
with this pen in hand, and
dream of birds, the
female wood duck, the
white teardrop around her
eye as she leads her little
brood down the river, always a-
ware of turtles.

The End.
St. Louis/Eminence, MO.
May/June, 2014.

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