Final Day, Most Challenging Day

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Friday, May 26, was our last day on the river for 2017. We have had a great week. Because we were in Evansville during the worst weather day, we were able to enjoy an accidentally well-timed break as described in a previous post. We thought that was the end of weather delays.

Just when the weather forecast suggested that we would have calm waters on Friday, it changed according to the finicky nature of weather along the Ohio River. It promised in the morning to kick up a good wind of up to 16 miles an hour by mid morning. Unfortunately, it did not disappoint us. Fortunately, the current was still flowing well as they have been releasing water from the dams upriver to control the water from spring rains. If we had not had the current on Friday, we would have quit early in the day as we had to a few years ago.

But we persevered against wind and saw that we were making good progress, though slower than previous days. It was still hard. Karen steers the boat and feels the winds challenges more than I. I just keep paddling and she calls out for me to change sides as the wind pushes the stern this way for that. It is mentally exhausting as well as physically exhausting. And having wind constantly in one’s face just gets annoying after a few hours!

So we were happy to discover a narrow channel between the shore of an island and the banks of the river. It was calm in there and we hoped to rest for a few hours on the shore. However, the banks of that slower water were so muddy that we couldn’t get out of the canoe. I tried a couple of times, once sinking in to above my ankles and wondering if my shoes would come out with my feet…or if my feet would even come out! So, we just pulled close to shore, ate some food, laid back on our reclined canoe seats and waited. The wind was not going to abate. I could not imagine sitting in the channel in the canoe for the 4-6 hours it might take for the wind to lessen. And the bugs, which eat me while ignoring Karen, were annoying. I insisted that we try to make a go of it, slow and easy.

We paddled out of the channel and were hit with the wind again. It was ok for a while because we were still moving but the waves got higher and higher. One or two of them brought images of “The Perfect Storm” to mind as I, sitting in the bow, saw the water come over, and then the bow plunge into the next valley of a 2-3 foot wave. I was quick to say, “we are heading to shore and getting on shore one way or the other!”

Thankfully, we were able to get to an area that was still muddy but not impossible. The flies start biting, the wind was still kicking, and the sun was high and hot so we decided to pitch out tent and hole up there until we felt confident we could manage another five miles to Uniontown, KY. We napped, watched the river pass by, checking they weather report, looked at maps, pretended we were in a sweat lodge, and eventually decided the wind had died enough to head out again.

The wind had abated some but it was still strong. The huge waves were gone but the gustiness of it was still very irritating so those last five miles on the river were the least enjoyable and we had little hope from the map that Uniontown would provide much of a camping experience for us. There was a ramp and that was all we knew.

Little did we know as we paddled those last hard miles that the sweetest hospitality still awaited us. We pulled into the lagoon behind the ramp, saw one of the many herons we see along the way, and landed on a beach of little note seeing nothing but a barge loading dock and the omnipresent flood dike between us and we knew not what. Within moments, we had a new friend and guardian angel, Brian. He pulled up in his black truck and asked where we were coming from. Long story, short, he drove us up into town and left us at Hannah’s Place, the local restaurant. By the time we left Uniontown the next afternoon, we had spent about six hours in total at Hannah’s, meeting all shifts of waitstaff! Anyway, that evening we washed up in the restroom and got dinner and then learned that Brian had already paid for our meal. Several times in the next twelve hours, he checked in on us, alerted the local police officer that we were camping on the lagoon (Police Officer Jeffrey was also at the restaurant later so we got to meet him as well!), and when we were packing up to be ready for Mitch to fetch us and take us back to Rome, Indiana, Brian stopped one more time and said he had a gift for us each and presented us each with a small Indian arrowhead to remember our stay there. He grew up there and has wandered the fields looking for arrowheads for years. What a sweet reminder of what turned out to be one of our best overnight stays.

We had arrived weary and ready to end our trip with no particular note. We left energized, cared for, and grateful, once again, for the surprises and the kind people we have met on our journey.

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