Atlantic to Pacific Journal

   Mississippi River 

June 27 - Ferren Landing to Grand Tower, IL

I was on my way, with all my gear, at about 6:00AM! I got to Mound City at 8:45 and Bob was there waiting. The night before, I told him I'd be there at around 8:30, so I was close. He'd been there since 7:30, watching me at different spots paddling down the river. He said I looked like a buoy floating down the river next to all the barges.

Well, Bob followed me across to Thebes and at Olive Branch, IL where we stopped for lunch and a guy there said Thebes was going to be a tough place to start from. Current was bad for a number of miles and felt it was a whole lot better to move upstream to Grand Tower, IL. Now this was not planned and I felt like I was cheating myself by not being in the river, but Bob said he would stay with me up to Grand Tower. Again, I could not turn him down. In fact, he said if the river is going to be that bad he'd take me all the way to St. Louis so I could do it the other way. I know that is why I consider him such a great friend. More concern for others than himself.

Well, we got to Grand Tower around 3:00, me pedaling away and Bob following. Grand Towers had a nice campground so I decided to stay there and try the river in the morning. I needed to let Bob be on his way. Tough to say good-by, but heck,,, too much of me was rubbing off on him. He'd misplaced his sunglasses three times today!

A note: Last December one of Bob's daughters emailed me and asked if I'd write my thoughts about Bob. She was asking a number of his friends to do this and she was going to put it together in book form and give it to him for Christmas. What a great gift. I never got mine done and have felt bad about it ever since. I tried four times, but nothing sounded right. Today I found out why - a friendship like Bob's I cannot put in words. Don't even have to say much to each other. I just know (proven today) he's always there for me and I hope he knows the same is true of me! Just a couple of words Bob: you are a very special man and your family and friends know it!

June 28 - Grand Tower, IL to Chester, IL

I felt a little guilty doing so much unplanned biking yesterday, so about an hour after Bob left, I put my canoe in and paddled. I pretty much floated downstream rapidly about 5 or so miles, just to see how it was going to be paddle upstream. Tough, but doable. I am so high in the water that I cut though the current pretty good. I figured I was paddling at about maybe 3 miles per hour or less. Just about ones hiking pace on the PCT. This meant it was going to be a full day to get in about 25 miles. If I could do 25 miles a day, I could make it to St. Louis before I fly home.

The day went well. I put in at about 5:30 and I was on my way for my first full day on the Mississippi. Turns out things went better than expected. Once I figured how to avoid the heaviest current, I could make some time. Just needed to put a little more mustard behind the paddle! Plus there was no wind, which really helped.

I made it to Chester at about 3:00. Better than I expected. Mileage was somewhere around 25 to 30. Decided to take a motel here and get ready for the final push to St. Louis tomorrow and then home. Should be able to make it!

Chester, Il to a sandbar approx. 25 miles north

Biked my way back to the river from my motel at about 6:30AM. The day before, after fighting the Mississippi River, I came out of the water at Chester thinking the day was over, but it wasn't. I had a 2 mile climb up to Chester on a road that seemed as steep as the Ohio River banks. Today I get to go down that hill, with the hope that I stop before I get to the river! Made it!

The "goal" now is to take 3 days to go approx. 7o some miles to St. Louis. I do not fly home until July 3rd so there is no reason to get there before then. So, I'm looking to go approx. 25 miles each of the next three days.

Today I did that. I took numerous breaks. Well, at least one in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, plus camping on a sandbar at about 6:30PM.

The current is tough at times, especially going around the wing dams. Close to shore away from the wing dams I can make pretty good time. I figure on the average I'm doing maybe 3 or probably less miles per hour upstream.

By the way, that is how I figure a day's work. Up until now I've averaged over 50 miles a day not by my great super strength, paddling skill, etc., but just putting in the time to get it done. Whether that is good or bad, I figure a day is 15 hours and in that 15 hours I will be on the go for at least 12 or 13 hours. (Sometimes all 15). So, even at a 4 mile pace fast walking pace I can get 50 miles in.

Maybe in these three days I will be able to break that will of always having to push forward. It worked today, although it seems I'm just twiddling my thumbs on this sandbar when I see the sun still high in the sky!

June 29 - One Sandbar to the next!

Slept in this morning (Working on this slower pace) until 7:00AM. River is calm except for the current moving in the wrong direction. Very peaceful setting as I ate my morning oatmeal breakfast. Good thoughts.

The Mississippi River water quality seems very much like the Ohio River to me. What is different is the Mississippi banks are not as steep, especially on the IL side. There are many sand bars, which work great for camping and there is little trash along the banks. On the Ohio it looked more like a city dumping site. Also, on the Mississippi there are many more fishermen and just as many barges as the Ohio.

The day was much like yesterday. Did not push hard and even took two breaks in the morning and a nap around 1:00PM. At day's end I figured I was about 25 or maybe less miles from St. Louis.

July 1 - Sand bar campsite to St. Louis Arch (ALMOST)

Up and at 'em at 5:30. I will try not to push, but St. Louis is in my sights. Good day today. More wind is at my back and it seems like I'm moving faster. I should be in St. Louis around 6:00.

About three I saw some fishermen fishing from a wing dam and decided to go over to see if they could give me some information on getting out of the water in St. Louis. One of the guys said there was a good place just north of the arch next to a casino boat, except for one problem. It was 4th of July and St. Louis closes the waterfront down so I could not get out. NICE! My first thought was if I'd pushed I'd have been here yesterday and not have had a problem. Next thought was I must re-adjust and react according to the situation. (I do very little planning, but a whole lot of re-adjusting!)

Well, they told of a place I could get out just short of downtown so that was going to be the plan. Get out there and find a motel and go check out the fireworks.

I found the place to get out and got my bike and trailer set up and started out to find a motel. Which I figured couldn't be too far since I was pretty much in downtown St. Louis. I did find a few motels fairly soon, but even at my standards I passed on them and pedaled a few miles farther, until I found an area without iron bars on each business window!

Settled in for the evening and decided not to go out just to see fireworks since I'd have to retrace my steps through the iron bar district at night. Instead I spent a very relaxing evening thinking about all that's happened and looking forward to taking some time off after tomorrow

July 2 - To the ARCH and St. Charles, MO

Up at 5:00AM and down to the river. I wanted to get by the arch and out of the water as quick as possible.

Doing this today is going to work out for the best, for it is Sunday and I should have less traffic on my bike portage over to St. Charles.

Got in the water around 6:00 and worked my way towards the arch. Just a beautiful morning. What a sight when I first saw the arch glistening in the sun. Snapped a couple of pictures and continued to work my way to the front of the arch. This is something to see and hopefully my pictures do it some justice.

Well, the first chapter is history. It went a whole lot better than I expected. When I first started out, like I've said before, I was hoping to get as far as Paducah, but once I got a handle on what one could do in a day, the goal became St. Louis.

Now I must get over to St. Charles and find a place to store my gear before I leave for home tomorrow. I'm going to St. Charles because it's close to the airport and it gives me a chance to scout out the Missouri River. The plan is to take 180 through St. Louis to the 370 Missouri bridge and onto the KATY Bike Trail which is part of the Lewis and Clark Bike Trail and runs from St. Charles to Kansas City.

Got to St. Charles with little trouble. Again, being Sunday, there was little traffic. As I came down off the370 bridge, signs directed me to the KATY Trail. The trail had an excellent dirt hard pan surface and was very easy to ride on. A lot better than the C&O trail along the Potomac River. As I approached town I ran into Erv Ermeling who was part of what I assumed was a large 4th of July volunteer group preparing for the day's events along the waterfront.

Once Erv understood what I was doing he introduced me to Linda Roche, T.S. Slattery and Larry Muench. Larry was a City Council member and after pictures he took off in a golf cart and came back with a city pin, which I wore proudly all day and will on my way home to Superior.

St. Charles is a neat town. So far my favorite. The above people and I'm sure many others have done a fantastic job in organizing this 4th of July event which goes on for three days. It's easy to tell they are very proud of their community and rightly so. Along with the nice waterfront it has a neat historic district and for the gamblers, a huge riverboat casino.

It also has the perfect place for the storing of my gear! Bob Maxwell has been real concerned about what I was going to do and I'm sure wondering why I wasn't. Over the years I've learned not to bother worrying about such things. For some reason everything seems to work out. If not, back to re-adjusting! In this case it worked out again, for I found a motel right next door to a Bass Pro Store! Yep, they greeted me with open arms and said they'ed be honored to store my gear until I got back.

Over the years I've bought a lot of hunting gear from Bass Pro. My wife LuAnn and our good friends, Charlie and JoAnn Wright go to Branson, MO every spring and always make the stop in Springfield, MO at the orginal Bass Pro Store. Anyone who's a hunter or fisherman or just plain outdoors person must at least once go to Springfield and visit Bass Pro. If not Springfield then to St. Charles. This is an awfully nice store. (Good thing I'm traveling lite) Thanks to Matt Prost for making this possible, and also to Bret Donaldson, Brian Belter, Matt Beckman and Rich Dalton.

As much as I look forward to going home, I also look forward to my return to St. Charles. I plan on spending a day here before I start out and I hope I get to see Erv, Linda, T.S. Larry and the Bass Pro people again. Maybe even make a dollar or two at the casino!

Time to get to the motel and rest up, enjoy the evening and head home in the morning.

I will be at home for three weeks and returning to St. Charles on July 23. In the next day or so I will post some of my reflections about this first segment of the trip.

Again, thanks to all of you who I've met along the way. I will not forget you.

HOME For the 4th of July

July 8th

Well, I arrived at home on Monday, July 3rd. Good to see family and friends again. LuAnn and I spent the 4th of July with friends and family at a small lake outside Superior, WI. Our friends, Charlie and JoAnn Wright and Jim and Sandy Waletzko each have a lot on the lake and for the last 8 or so years have spent the 4th of July holiday camping out with friends and family. Lots of fun swimming, boating, fishing, water skiing, shooting off fireworks, etc.

Our daughter, Heidi Samarzia and her husband Nate and children, Devin, Drake and Ryah were there as were the families of both the Wrights and Waletzko and others. Everyone had a great time. The children had a blast. Norm, Charlie and JoAnn's son-in-law, took the twins, Devin and Drake fishing and they did well. They told their mom that they had to kiss each fish they caught before they released it so it would bite their hook again. Needless to say, Norm got a little dirty look from Heidi.

As much as I'm glad to be home it also is tough to adjust at first. Same thing was true when I came home for short breaks on my bike and hiking trips. Tough to explain but it takes a few days to get back into the swing of "one's normal daily life routine" so you don't feel like an outsider. It's getting better, but now I'm already anxious to get back to paddling. Before I do go back I hope to play some golf and I need to make sure everything is on track for the Ryan Hoff Memorial Golf Scramble. We had a meeting on Thursday with the committee and everything seems to be falling in place. They do a great job in making the tournament a success, and LuAnn and I are very thankful. The key for me before I leave is to know that LuAnn is comfortable that all is okay in the preparation for it. The tournament is August 12th and I will be returning on August 8th for it. Sometime in one of my later journal entries I will give more details.

Plans are to fly back to St. Louis on July 19th and continue my journey. I will need to make a big decision once I get back. I've been able to find very little information on people that have attempted such a journey as I'm doing. I know of only two that have attempted an Atlantic to Pacific journey and they were not able to complete it back in the 80's. As for doing the Lewis and Clark trip from St. Louis to the Pacific I've come across one such expedition by a young man, Norm Miller, who completed it in 2004. Norm had to go up river to Yankton, SD and come down stream because of river current and the danger of going around the wing dams. In fact he flipped his canoe at least once in his attempt to go upstream.

You can read about Norm's struggle with the lower Missouri River at: http://www.lewisandclark-2004.com At Yankton, SD the Missouri starts the first of I believe 5 lake reservoirs which continue through the Dakotas and Montana and make paddling upstream doable and safe. So when I get back the first day will be experimenting with my ability to continue upstream or do as Norm did and move up to Yankton and come back down.

On the Mississippi I did have a couple of challenging times dealing with wing dams, but nothing that I was not able to get around. What I hear is that the current is tougher on the Missouri and the water swirls a lot more around the wing dams. In any case, my decision will be based on safety, which I promised LuAnn and my family I would do. Another first for me!

Time for some golf.

Tomorrow I will write one more entry about the yellow lab that visited my campsite at Grand Tower.

The Yellow Lab - July 10th

I mentioned in an earlier journal entry that I would tell you about the picture I've posted of the yellow lab sitting next to my canoe.

The picture was taken at the campground I stayed at in Grand Tower, IL. I was having one of those days, wondering why I was doing this, doubting whether I could paddle upstream against the Mississippi current, etc. In short, just down in the dumps, which happens on these kind of adventures and one must work their way through them. Some of these times are tougher than others and this was one of the tougher. I'd said my goodbyes to my friend Bob Maxwell and now again I was by myself so that played a little into it. Also, I'd been thinking about our son Ryan a lot today. Not sure why, but I was just missing him a lot today.

Anyway, I went to bed that evening a little down, wondering if I could really do this, whether I should pedal the highway paralleling the Mississippi to St. Louis because of the current or even just quit and go home.

Well, that evening I was awakened by a dog wandering around next to my tent. In this camp ground I'm way off from the rest of the trailer campers all by myself so I just thought it was a dog that wandered over from one of the trailers and really did not pay much attention to it at first.

Then at about 1:00AM I was awakened again. This time the dog was lying down right next to my tent and sort of crowding towards me. It was doing no harm so I fell back asleep and when I awoke at first light the dog was still there. I noticed it was a yellow lab. I opened my tent and in came the lab like it had known me forever. I played and petted it for awhile and then started to get my gear together to prepare for the day's paddle. The yellow lab stayed right with me the whole time, following me everywhere.

As I was leaving the campgrounds to go down to the boat ramp the person in charge of the campground stopped to wish me well. I thanked him and told him I'd found a new friend. He said others had talked about the dog last night and had wondered if it was mine. He'd told them he didn't think so because I was in a canoe. I asked him if he knew who the dog belonged to. He said no-one in the campground and that no one had ever seen it before. Strange! Anyway, I said goodbye to the campground host and I and my new friend started off for the boat ramp.

At the boat ramp I was thinking it sure would be nice to take the lab with me. He'd make the down times a lot more bearable, but knew it was impossible. So, we just played a little more before I pushed off. The yellow lab followed me along side the river bank until it was blocked by a bluff. I turned one more time and said, "Thanks, Scout. Thanks for letting me know you and Ryan are okay. Thanks for lifting my spirits, I'll make it now!"

Yellow Lab        Ryan and Scout

       Yellow Lab next to my canoe                      Ryan & Scout

Sadly, we had to put Scout down about a year after we lost Ryan.

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The generosity of these companies contributed to making a successful adventure...

Balance Bar

The Atlantic to Pacific Journey was greatly helped by a generous grant from Balance Bar.

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Jeff Foster Trucking

Jeff Foster Trucking, Inc. provides national top quality transportation services.  The corporate office is located in Superior, WI.

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ZRE Racing Equipment

"Faster, Lighter, Stronger, Better" high performance canoe paddles from Zaveral Racing Equipment.

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Bass Pro Shops

World's Leading Supplier of Premium Outdoor Gear

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Very Special Thanks

Rich Designs of Superior WI for my "Atlantic to Pacific" decal!!!

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Spectators 

A great place owned by my friend Pat Paquette.