Dreaming of Summer

Usually it is January when I write a post about the frozen Connecticut River and my dreams of paddling the Ohio River in the summer. Winter thaws and abnormally warm temperatures have given way to two Nor’easters in the last two weeks. Now, March 18th, we are in the grip of an Arctic blast that took the temperatures below 0 F. Tonight it is due to be even colder but they have called off the storm for next week. I don’t know who “they” are but the internet no longer shows three days of snow as it did last week. “They” play with us.

I am among those who do not mind the snow, overall. I don’t like to drive in it but if people are safe, I can enjoy it’s beauty. I don’t like the ups and downs of recents winters, however. But it is the latter part of March and it will all be gone soon enough. In just over two months, Karen and I will be out on the Ohio once again…and for our last week long trip before we hit the Mississippi River. 17 or 18 years ago…we are never sure…we first talked about paddling from Western New York to New Orleans. Time and age have made us wise, and we have decided that this big adventure will end this year. In May we will paddle another 130 miles or so and then in October we will complete the last leg to Cairo, Illinois.

We both have a sense of melancholy about this year. We are not ready to give up our adventures together but we will likely stick closer to home as we find other adventures. The Susquehanna River, the Hudson River, and the Connecticut River are all nearer and easier to access. They should keep us busy for some time to come.

For now, the Ohio River is the focus. I continue to marvel at how the people along its banks have watched out for these two strangers paddling through their homes. Only once have we really felt in danger and that was from the weather. Father Dan took us into his church. Countless other times we have received the grace and kindness of strangers. Cookies, bottles of water, ice on a boiling hot day, dinner, a place to camp, anti-itch lotion, conversation, a swimming pool, an air conditioned cabin, a hot tub, a ride. When we needed something, it was there.

Today as I reflect on the river, I think about Facebook posts from those we have met along the way. I realize how very different my views of the world are from some of those whom we have met. Facebook is a place where those differences are strong. Yet, I am interested to read what others believe. I repost, like, or simply try to absorb with an open mind those posts representing another angle on life. And I know that, if my life were in danger, anyone of our new friends on the river would seek to protect me regardless of our political views. I wish everyone could have a riverside view of our nation. I think it would help us overcome our differences, not fight about them. We would eat each other’s food, listen to each other’s stories, question our own perspectives, and perhaps each of us might change a little bit because we respect the other one.

One of the most common questions we are asked about our trips is: “Are you ever afraid?” Well, yes, there was another time. It was the wild animal night that got our hearts racing. We were afraid that night. But overall we have not been afraid. Over 1,000 miles of paddling and 17 years, we have met the best of what humanity has to offer on that river. I look forward, once again, to what new friends may come into our lives this year.


Thank you, Mitch

IMG_8847.JPGOne of the great people we met last year on 12 Mile Island in Louisville was Mitch. He helped us out by providing a shower at the boat club and then touring us around Louisville. This year he went above and beyond by driving with a friend from Louisville to Uniontown to pick us up. That was 5-6 hours of driving for him on a holiday weekend! It was great to see him again and meet his friend Justin. We enjoyed a Mexican lunch together and retelling our stories and listening to his stories of kayaking. Mitch, you are so generous. It was great to see you again! Sorry I cut off your head in the photo!!

Good Bye for Now

Cincinnati. It ends as it began. Karen and I arrived last evening at the airport hotel in Cincinnati.  We enjoyed hot showers (I took three in the last 12 hours!) to get the river mud out of our systems and off our toes. And we enjoyed, maybe, a quick cold dip in the outdoor pool. We spent some time looking over the river maps for next year.  Having completed 147 miles this week, our plan is to complete all but about 8 miles of the Ohio River next spring. In looking at the maps, we see that the fleeting of barges appears to be getting more intense as we approach the Mississippi River. That makes sense. We ran into some of that reality on Friday. It makes for a less glamorous paddle but it is what it is.

We are confident that we can do at least 130 miles next spring. That will leave us a final 8 miles to do in the fall when we hope to return with some friends and family to celebrate our accomplishment, our friendship of 25 years, and the connection we have felt with all who have “Paddled with Us” these past years.

So, Karen has just pulled out of the hotel parking lot with Wonder on top of her car just as she approached the airport a week ago. That trusty canoe has traveled more miles on top of her car than on the water. “Wonder” doesn’t seem to complain about that but I believe that she is quite happy and content as her stern hits the waters of the Ohio, just as Karen and I are quite happy and content. Call it projection, if you want, but our canoe has taken on a life of her own.

It is bittersweet to think of finishing this trek of almost two decades next year. But we tempered those feelings this morning by waking to a discussion about which water adventure will continue to bring us together at least once a year. The answer for today, though it may change, is to set out eyes upon the headwaters of the Susquehanna River in Otsego Lake (aka Glimmerglass) in Cooperstown, NY, and see how far we could go there. It would be a different trip as the waters are wilder and we would have to portage some or all of the dams. We will see. But lest the Ohio get jealous that we are already turning our sights to other rivers, let Her know that we will never forget the beauty, the challenges, and mostly the wonderful people we have met along its 981 miles of muddy, twisting waters.

Final Day, Most Challenging Day


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.

Have a Good Journey

Yesterday we took a break in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, where we walked around the park and found public restrooms. This is one of our more serious games: seeing how often we can use public bathrooms or portapotties. We did well on this trip! But I digress….
We headed back to the canoe. An older woman stopped us and said she was down at the river with her almost 92-year-old mother and the mother was interested in our story. So we decided to go up and tell them both what we have been up to. The mother thanked us for telling our story and, in her words wished us “a good journey.”

We were both struck by her use of these words. Usually when we tell people about our trips, we get varied responses. Sometimes people say “have a safe journey.” Sometimes people say “be safe.” Sometimes people say “that sounds like such fun.” Sometimes people say “I don’t think I could ever do that.”
But June used different and distinct words. She said “have a good journey.” It struck me that because she was almost 92 she had a good sense of life’s journeys and she didn’t have to worry about us or warn us to stay safe. She just wanted us to have a good journey. And that is exactly what we are having.
And to top it off, we had dinner last night at Hannah’s Place in Uniontown, Kentucky, where we ended our trip this year. We also had breakfast this morning here. In fact, we are here for a third time having a Pepsi waiting for Mitch, our ride back to Karen’s car, to arrive. On the wall of the bathroom here we found this small mural (photo attached).IMG_0920.JPG&! I It was just perfect.

Day Five

It was hard to leave our warm and dry hotel room to head back on the river. The forecast was for winds up to 14 miles an hour. But once up, we had our gear packed in no time and a hotel shuttle returned us to the marina. We took down the wet tent, chatted with our host, Katie, and learned that her father had dug out the marina 54 years ago. All in the family. She graciously agreed to take photos of us as we headed out. The day quickly became one of our favorites. The current helped against the wind and the wind itself was not too difficult. We were on the river at about 8:50. We paddled a total of 26 miles, many more than we had even hoped for. The day brought some other pleasant and interesting surprises. A fish jumped over the boat right on Karen’s lap. The wind was at our back enough to sail for a while. And we were treated to some cookies and scones by the woman who owns The Cake Stand in Henderson,  KY. The day ended with the discovery of a cute island campsite. We looked forward to a campfire and s’mores as well as cooking a hot dinner and the turnips and beets we had bought a couple of days earlier from an organic farmer who pulled them right out of the soil for us. We were disappointed to discover that the lighter had gotten wet and would not work. Karen did have a magnesium striking stone with her and amazingly was able, after a couple of attempts, to keep a small fire going. We built it up and enjoyed all of the above including not one but two s’mores. We felt we had earned them! A beautiful sunset was the icing on the cake.

A Day Off the River


Last year we took a break from the river in the middle of the week because it was really hot. This year we found ourselves taking a break in the middle of the week because it is cold and rainy. We were not expecting the cold part of that. So last night we paddled into a marina in Evansville, Indiana, and we were able to pull our canoe up onto their docs under cover. They allowed us to use their bathrooms including a shower which was a wonderful gift. And then we set up our tent up on the grassy knoll behind the metal shipping container. About 4 AM this morning the rain started and it’s now 8:30 PM and it is still raining. We were surprised early this morning to find a friend of a friend in the driveway of the marina. He offered to take us into Evansville and treat us to breakfast. We ate at Penny Lane Café and then Gary drove us to the visitor center which is in they called building shaped like a pagoda. We went up on the roof and looked at wet views of the Ohio River. And we met another couple from Texas and visited with them for a while. Gary then took over to the Evansville others stadium which is also the stadium that was used for filming A League of Their Own. By the time we had driven around Evansville and made the stops it was time for lunch so we went to a local German restaurant. Gary returned us to a campsite and we spent the next couple of hours learning about and touring the LST 135 which is permanently docked Right next to where we were camping. We learned about this interesting World War II vessel and the history of Evansville in the making of hundreds of LSTs.

Since much of the tour of the boat was outside, we were cold and wet by the time we were done and decided that wisdom demanded that we spend the night in a warm hotel. The tour guide from the ship and his wife volunteered to drive us from the ship over to the hotel in downtown Evansville where we are now hunkered down for the evening with our laundry and wet camp gear draped all over the place.
We consider days like this part of the adventure and, as usual, we found interesting people with interesting stories…and also offering us hospitality! We are grateful for all the days we have on this river and with its people.