What the Mississippi gives…..
Helena, Arkansas. 7th October
Thanks goodness for friends. I mean true friends that don’t blink or demur when tasked with taking up more of the load. And there has been much, much more load to take….
Early in our journey, although we were not truly cognisant of it at the time, we were incredibly lucky with the weather and the river. Sure, we had bad days – indeed some truly testing days. But we also had a lot of fine weather for at least the first six weeks and given what we now know, we got away with it, especially crossing some of the big lakes. However, the river dragon has stirred and decided that a) the removal of rest days was nothing, b) the significant increase in daily miles right through to the end was something we could take on the chin, and so c) the dragon decided we needed something to truly test us.
The first suggestion of a change in the weather was last Friday night when we were all woken by our mobile phones with a message “Tornado alert. Take shelter”. Of course, we did nothing, but hoped that Graeme and Gillian in the RV had locked their doors. But it did herald a shift and an unwelcome one. The prevailing wind in the southern US in October is North Easterly. We have not only a South wind, but it is strong – very strong – gusting continually and, to cap it all, it is fixed in position for at least the next ten days. Let me put this in perspective for you.
Yesterday was 39 miles. Today was 37 miles (all days now very much longer mileage – you know why). This equated to approximately 15 hours of pulling into a relentless wind, battering us to the extent we had to push the oars forward into the wind. We have the further joy of endless tugs, now pushing packs of barges up to 42 in number. The power and energy required to push these creates swells that threaten to swamp the boats (we have to pump them out at most rest stops), plus whirl pools that fling the boats one way or another or try to spin them round. We (well at least I) climb from the boat hunched and aching, then try to stretch out taut backs and hamstrings. It is not in any way fun and this is the prognosis for as long as the forecast shows…..
But the friends just keep coming, smiling, pulling like bastards, buying drinks and dinner and generally propping us up. Simon Woods, a very old friend, came from Singapore via Tokyo, to LA, then to Salt Lake City, then Memphis, got up and rowed yesterday. Oddly, after 22 miles into a beast of a wind, he felt curiously tired (cannot imagine why) and my darling god daughter Magenta took over for the last 17 miles. Staggering. I was on my knees, they said they loved it. Nuts.
Today we had the family team of Andy Trahar and his sister Frances, along with her husband, Will Docker. Now these are pros (in the nicest sense of the term). Andy is a silver medallist from SA as a schoolboy and Will won the PE at Henley in 1999 with Radley, so they were keen to get stuck in. Paddy and I took the other boat and we hauled our way down the 37 miles, with me and Paddy grumbling under our breath at the wind and the Family Boat declaring the whole thing a blast. AT least they did for the first five hours, then were unusually subdued for the last two…. We finished, exhausted and exhilarated, with Andy and Will expressing some degree of surprise that two old geezers like us had managed two and a half months of this and glad they are done!
We have the irrepressible Charlie Green joining us tonight and he knows he has two long days ahead. If nothing else, the influx of new jokes will be hugely welcome.
I am counting down the days now and I have, I think, around 17 more days of rowing at least ten of which will be direct headwind. If I am entirely honest, it is hard to write the blog at the end of these sessions without them becoming unremittingly dour. I promise I don’t mean them to be, but as a reflection of my physical and psychological state, it ain’t far wrong. As I mentioned before, I will bend, but not break, but am trying very, very hard to husband the dwindling resources.
You never know, the dragon may relent and eventually say “these guys have done ok. Let’s blow them down the last leg into New Orleans and have a party”!Amen to that!