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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

More current than she could paddle out of

Day 3.

In the morning, Risa caught a small fish but as it was a Northern Pikeminnow, which are practically inedible, we chose to release it and eat granola and powdered milk instead. Larger fish of various kinds were jumping at dawn and dusk but almost none took any interest in lures or flies. We put in and resumed our rhythm -- Risa forging ahead, dipping her paddle blades just enough to keep a bow wave for hours, The Cowboy meditating awhile, then catching up with longer strokes. From time to time we would ship paddles lengthwise and grapple gunnels with our hands and drift along side by side, eating granola bars and commenting on the pumps.

There are thousands of pipes sipping at the Mighty River. Power poles march down to the water -- each delivers high-voltage electricity to a pump mounted on a frame of one kind or another. Some are on an axle with tires, some on rails and iron wheels like the small railcars in old mines. The water is drawn up through an eight to twelve inch pipe and distributed to the fields through irrigation pipes and rain birds. The streams flow out through the air as much as eighty feet, lazily circling over the crops.

Lately there has been more wheat than in the last fifty years or so, but much of what is irrigated here is industrial scale grass seed, turf, hybrid poplars, and corn destined for ethanol or high fructose corn syrup. What's going on is not especially good for the river and its creatures, the soil, or us. And even the electricity, which everyone thinks of as all hydropower, includes a large dollop of coal in every gulp, from a plant far upstream on the Even Mightier River.

Our personal objection, of course, was that the pumps were almighty loud.

We paddled to a city river-park to refill our bottles and re-charge The Cowboy's cell phone in a picnic shelter. The shelter's only other occupant was a man slightly younger than us, who had with him a bicycle and trailer, with many of the comforts of home packed on the trailer, reminding Risa of Alvin Straight from The Straight Story. His unemployment benefits had run out, he said, and he was on a shakedown cruise with the bike, around town, before setting out to go and see his son.

"Where's your son?"

"Maine."

The Cowboy thought to ask him if he had everything he needed for the trip.

"Well, I didn't get a tarp. I'm wishing the money had stretched to a tarp. It's not dry all summer everywhere the way it is here."

"Well, let me tell you. My kayak is way overloaded and I will not be needing a tarp. Come on down to the boat with me and help me out by relieving me of my tarp."

That is the kind of person The Cowboy is.

Portrait of The Cowboy. Shot through the mosquito netting on Risa's front porch.

We waved and floated away under the city's bridges and around the bend.

For lunch we made two stops at semi-developed campgrounds maintained by Risa's organization, the Riverkeeper, and signed the guestbooks which we found there. The stories told by the other boaters that had signed the guestbooks made fun reading.

After this we came to a ferry. It was our responsibility to avoid getting run over, and Risa sprinted ahead. Behind the ferry was an island, and Risa suddenly found herself in more current than she could paddle out of, drawing her into the back channel. So she signaled to The Cowboy, who changed direction and followed her just before he would have been carried off by the main channel out of sight.

Riffles like this one are usually not especially dangerous, but they do take concentration. One paddles steadily, to keep the bow of the kayak pointed downstream. Otherwise, one might find oneself broached broadside onto a rock, or strainer, or shoal. About which more later ...

Against increasing wind, we came to an island covered by willows and ash trees and grass four to five feet tall, and made camp in a sandy area under the willows, by walking down enough grass with our paddles to set up the tents. It seemed quite cool compared to the 91(F) heat on the nearby beach.

After a 20.5 mile day, we were 70.5 miles from home.

Beavers swam back and forth in the night.

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