Third Leg – Ohio River One

5/16/11

Woke up in the Holiday Inn in Monroeville, PA, at 4:30 am to meet Kyle at 5:30 so that he could get us to the river before rush hour in Pittsburgh.  We were at the river at 6:30 am where there was a TV station filming the rising waters of the Allegheny/Ohio Rivers!  It was foggy and drizzly.  We began to question the sanity of going out on the river in flooding conditions.  The river was not actually at flood level in Pittsburgh but it was lower on the Ohio and that was the direction we were going.  There was debris, including whole trees, swiftly racing down the river.  Did we really want to compete with them?  Fortunately, the geese and goslings along the river in downtown Pittsburgh distracted us and in some ways gave us courage.  Kyle must have thought us crazy but we prepared to get onto the river.  Saying a brief prayer for safety together, we shoved off.  Almost immediately we were glad we did.  From the river itself, the fast moving debris was moving no faster than we were so we felt less threatened.  There is also something about that first time we shove off on each trip this is special.  It’s an accomplishment.  We planned and we did it!  And we were once again in the hands of the river.

At this point, we started our journey on the Ohio as it starts at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.  The light mist lasted about thirty minutes.  The waters were calm with a very good current.  The skies remained cloudy.

We approached the first lock at about 8:30 am.  Karen had called ahead and the guy w ho answered the phone said:  “Are you serious?!”  Then she told him we were in a little canoe wanting to be locked through on a misty May morning.  It was great to call the lock ahead of time because they filled the chamber before we got there, hopefully  saving us some time.  However, when we got there, there was too much debris and they couldn’t open the small lock so they filled the large lock and we paddled in.  So much for saving time.

One other amusing bit of dialogue.  When we came out of the second lock, there was a tug with 5 or 6 men fixing a buoy that had strayed due to the strong current.  When they asked where we were going  and we said “Mississippi,” he said:  “We have lots of busses that go that way!”  Well, we were happy in our canoe, taking the slow boat, so to speak.

As paddled along, I saw something that looked like a dead fish…when Karen saw it, she determined it was a dead rat.  Perhaps a fatality of the rising waters?

There were some of our stops along the way:  Fish and Game Commission Launch site, Neville Island.  We also stopped in Sewickley and called the next lock.  We stopped for lunch by an old abutment (lock?).  We stopped in Rochester and talked to a man in orange on a bike.  He thought we should be biking!  We managed to find portapotties, decent ones, in three places along the route.  Avoiding going in the woods with wetsuits is always advisable.

We saw four deer, numerous goose families and great blue herons and ducks.  We saw big barges, mostly gravel and coal, lots and lots of trains (coming from the hub of Pittsburgh, we presumed) and lots of jumping fish.

We hit some mid-afternoon head winds but they were not too bad.  We found a campsite up Raccoon Creek (seemed like forever because it was the end of the day but it was probably only a mile)—it was a private boat club, not yet appearing open for the season.  We left it as we found it and are grateful to the owners.  It was from the site that we saw a very small water fowl and family threatened by a predator.  We still don’t know what the bird was but it was tiny.

From there we sent Chelsea photos for the blog.  She was our IT person from afar and it worked quite well.  We were also very pleased with the Pocket Rocket stove that Karen’s children had given her for Christmas.  It was perfect for boiling water for tea and freeze-dried meals.

5/17

We ate breakfast and headed back down Raccoon Creek to the Ohio.  We were back on the river by 9:05 am.  The creek was in a beautiful gorge which we could enjoy much better after a good night’s sleep than when we were paddling up it the night before.  It was 1 ½ miles to the next lock and dam, Montgomery and Cumberland.  As we approached it, we saw a strange thing floating ACROSS the river.  We speculated on various possibilities and then realized it was a deer with antlers swimming across the river.   We wondered (of course) what would have made that deer want to jump in and swim across the river…easily ½ miles if not more at that point.  John was a man at the lock with whom I had spoken some days before and he was there to greet us.  John explained to us the difference between a high dams and a stationary dam.  We saw a 15 barge tug going up the river and taking the bend in the river.  A 12 barge tug got to the lock before us so we were locked through the smaller lock.  It rained on and off but gently much of the day.  However, we were wet and cold when we found the  Boathouse restaurant where we could get dinner and inquire about where we might camp.  Fortunately, the owners of the restaurant also had the keys to the boat club next doors and let us sleep inside where we also got warm showers.  One of the many blessings along the way.

Brittany was our waitress at The Boathouse.  Other helpers:  Mike and Scott.  It was one of them who gave us the quote of the day: “You know we have showers.”  Blessed words.

The next day, we found another boatclub called the Ohio Valley Boat Club where they let us use the bathroom and eat under cover…their docks had been totally clogged with debris from the rains and someone was out trying to loosen it and get it to go downstream.

Quote of the day from a tug captain:  “Not a great day for that!”   I shrugged and he laughed.  We don’t do this for great days….if we did, we would long have quit.  Weather dampens us but does not stop us.

Later down the river we saw what was clearly a dead beagle floating along belly up.  Curiosity got to us and we approached it only to discover it was a very realistic looking stuffed animal, bloated from its trip down the river.  We saw lots of other floating things, ball and baskets, all caught up in the rising waters.  Some of things played leap frog with us…we would get ahead and then they would get ahead.

As the day progressed, we saw a huge power plant with five cooling towers along the river.  We saw lots and lots of coal by truck, train, barge, conveyor belts and shovels.  I reflected on the need to harness solar energy…though it means lots of people out of work in the coal industry.  This led to a discussion of the politics of energy!

May 18th:  we did 36 miles…the river helped a lot!

We didn’t see our first barge until 10:20 am.  There were fewer barges and fewer trains as we got farther south.  And there was much more wilderness along the banks with some scattered industry.  Rain and lightening took us under a highway bridge for about 1 1/2 hours.  We had tea and rested and napped for a bit.  Coming into Wheeling we started looking for a campsite.  The current was very swift around an island.  We scoped out a park but there was no pricy and houses all around.  It was getting darker and more ominous but we paddles on to find Gumby’s Cigarette World, recommended to us as a place that might help us (!!!) by two men on the previous island.  We struggled with the current to get to the dock before the river took us too far.  There wasn’t much left of the dock and what there was both Karen and a somewhat rabid looking raccoon tried to maneuver.  I waited in the canoe for what seemed like eternity, waiting to hear if Karen has snagged us a tent space.  It was my punishment for leaving Karen several times at the end of a lock, looking for a lock master!

Needless to say, she came back empty handed and we continued down the river at a rather high speed. The sky was getting darker both because of the approaching evening AND because of the approaching storm!  Lightening in the distance made us all the more eager to find a place to rest our heads.  We headed for what the map indicated was a camping area and a ramp.  Well, either the high waters or time had taken that away so we continued down the river along the barges moored to the sides of the river.  Wheeling is, of course, very industrial and is not the place to look for a camping spot!  The skies continued to darken and were it not for the lightening, we might have just put on our running lights…something we haven’t done yet…and let ourselves drift down river all night.  But that was not an option.  We finally found a public ramp in Bell Aire, OH.  Paddling fast to get across the river before the current took us beyond the ramp, we pulled in and chatted with a fisherman whose first words were:  you don’t want to camp here.  There are “druggies” that come down here at night.  Oh, goodie.  Kindly, he took us to a gas station to use the rest rooms and toured us around this somewhat desperate feeling town showing us the Catholic church.  Then he took us back to the canoe.  We stood there for a bit wondering what we had done and how we were going to handle this situation and wondering if we would ever tell our husbands!  Check out this previous post for more details.

I can’t remember which day we got to the Pike Lock and Dam but we had a fun experience there.  When we exited the lock chamber in our little canoe, several fishermen were there to watch us paddle out.  We had the opportunity to talk to them for a bit and discovered they were quite amused to see our little boat come out and then to learn that we were paddling to New Orleans!  They wished us well and off we went!

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