Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Leaving Baton Rouge the realization that my trip was nearly over hit me.  I was only 100 miles away, so close the tides had started to affect water levels.  The shipping traffic had increased dramatically.  There were refineries everywhere lining the rivers edge filling the air with petroleum odors.  Large ocean going vessels started to travel up the river.  The long beautiful sandbars that had once been around every corner started to give way to eroded shoreline and deep water stretches.  The river was changing; it was no longer the same river I had come to know.  The gulf was rapidly approaching with every stroke of my oars.

The next few days brought slow but noticeable change.  More barges and ships appeared with every mile I moved south.  The barges started to take up more and more of the river.  Consisting of not only north and south bound traffic but small fleeting tugs that started to clog the river.  Fleeting tugs are small tug boats that move barges fairly locally.  They generally don't have the same experience or respect for travelers along the river.  The relative short and repetitive trips they take make them come to believe that they own that stretch of river.  Making them ever more pushy and annoying.  By the time my last couple miles started disappearing in my wake, a happiness started to come over me that I would no longer have to deal with these short haul boats.  Even more than that though, the idea of being on land not having to get back in the boat was so appealing it was almost intoxicating.  For the last five miles, I was all smiles.  It was a 105 degrees, no wind, I had gone through two gallons of water, and it was only 4pm but I was grinning from ear to ear.

Approaching the town where I was suppose to take out, I started to look for the mile marker to find the exact location of my boat ramp.  Though when I got closer, it became abundantly clear the boat ramp that was on my map was no longer there.  Half of the boat ramp was gone, washed away in some recent flooding event.  Another failure of my maps, an all too common occurrence during my trip was not going to stop me today.  I had chosen this boat ramp as it was one of the last public access boat ramps.  If I didn't get out now, I would have to travel south of the city, very south, and that is not something that I wanted to do.  I had arranged with my family and friends that I would get picked up here today and at this location.  A date that would be hard to change at this point even if I wanted too.  So there was only one choice.  Empty the boat, take off the pontoons and carry it up to the half of the boat ramp that was still there.  The only problem being that completely empty it weighted more than I could possible carry or drag up a hill by myself.

My father and mother had been traveling and visiting places on the way down to pick me up.  Columbus, Nashville and Vicksburg were a few of the places that they had visited on their own little journey.  When they arrived late Thursday afternoon at the broken down boat ramp with a trailer, I knew my journey was over.  Friends of theirs from New Orleans had come out with a trailer and a willingness to help.  Marc, Kathy and their son, Chris, were great, and it helped that they didn't mind getting a little muddy.  Just as we started to unload the gear, storm clouds rolled in from the south drenching the already muddy ground.  It rained for the next half an hour as I carried my things to the truck.  The others stayed in the trucks to avoid the main brunt of the rain; there was no use in everyone being wet.  I think it was a fitting and a peaceful end to my journey.  Unloading the boat by myself, one last time in the wind and rain.  Thunder and Lighting crashing down in the distance, heralding my arrival.  I was done. 

I want to thank all of you who have helped me along the way, with food, shelter, and other miscellaneous boat related things, shared your stories with me, and most of all your encouraging words and unwavering support! I couldn't have finished this journey without you and I truly am indebted to the sheer kindness of all of you.  

Together, we have raised $5240 and rowed 1880 miles for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  This money will go to help find a cure for Parkinson's and help all the patients struggling with this disease.  So Thank You.

I have enjoyed this journey, and really have gained a renewed faith in the American spirit.  I truly believe that  if the public so desired  we could and would find the cure to Parkinson's Disease.

Thank you for following the blog and this journey. Good luck on making your dreams a reality and thank you for being part of mine! 

Take Care and Much Love, Michael. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Baton Rouge and my second couchsurfing experience

Arriving into Baton Rouge, I found a sandy beach somewhere on the northwestern shore of the Mississippi right as a storm was rolling in.  I had already arranged for my second couch surfing experience here in Baton Rouge before I had arrived.  I met Karien just over the levee after about fifty mosquito bites. Karien was a nice 21yr old Cajun redhead from southern LA, about an hour south of NOLA.  She had moved to Baton Rouge to go to LSU.  As the main campus for LSU, Baton Rouge is a big college town with lots of partying.  Its was the weekend before the first week of school.  Everyone had gotten into town and the bars were full but it had been awhile since I hit the shore so a shower was the first order of business.  The second was obviously food and drink.  At a local tavern, Chimes, I had my first experience with gator.  Alligator is delicious; I love gator; it taste kind of like chicken, only better.  It is now one of my favorite foods.  We tried many local beers, my favorite being the Abita IPA.  Over the next day and a half, I relaxed a lot as the last four days before I arrived were all fifty mile days.  My body needed a rest and time to recuperate for my short push for New Orleans.  Karien was wonderful and helped me with anything she could.  Couch surfing is great, who ever came up with this idea should be put up for some kind of award.  The web site has allowed me to have a wonderful experience in a city that would otherwise be a fairly uninviting river town.

Some real swamp people.

bang, bang, bang, I woke up at 1:00am to gun fire about fifty feet from where I was sleeping.    I was camping right next to the bayou just north of Baton Rouge.  Before I went to bed, I had noticed that there were tracks on the sand that I had never seen before.  I was pretty sure they were gator tracks but what do I really know about gators.  I had rowed fifty miles, and it was going to be dark in 10 minutes so they would have to share their space with me for the night.  I believe they spend most of the night in the water anyways, so I wasn't that worried about getting eaten.

If anyone out there has seen me when I wake up, I can be kind of confused and waking up to gun fire is not such a great feeling. You could tell by the gun shot the person was firing a small caliber bullet like a .22 or something like that.  Sitting in my tent, I wondered how a .22 could kill a gator.  It seemed a little dangerous to try and kill a gator with a .22.  I looked out of my tent and there were two men.  One with a pistol and the other with a bow; both were drunk as can be.  They had big head lamps on their head looking at the shore trying to find things to shoot.  For a while I thought that maybe I should call out to them and try to get an interview, but in the end I decided not to poke the drunk, armed rednecks.  After a while, it started to look like they weren't hunting gators. I think they where hunting frogs but who really knows.  They kept me up for a half hour with their lights and guns, but eventually I fell asleep after they disappeared into the swamp.  Hopefully no more swamp people cross my path tonight. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

First couchsurfing experience

I had never heard of this before but there is a website were you can go and find people that will put you up for the night for free.  It was wonderful; I just searched and found a bunch of names, sent out some emails and a hour later, I got a phone call.  Adam had recently gotten out of the Navy and lucky me, he worked at an outdoor store.  This was great because I needed some things for the rest of my trip.  I stayed with him and his roommate, Andy.  Staying for not only one night but four, hanging out, going to bars, and meeting their friends.  I even went to a rooftop party at this ritzy hotel, had a UFO sighting at a local bar, and spent a whole day riding around on a bike through Memphis.  I definitely enjoyed my time in Memphis and would go back if I ever have the chance.  I hope to see ya guys later.    

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Memphis yacht club

When I rolled into Memphis, I was so happy to make it there in one piece.  It was wonderful to find a Marina up and operating.  The staff was very helpful in getting me up and in working order.  This was no small task considering I had a broken paddle and torn off support for the pontoon.  Chuck, the manager, drove me a half hour to get my boat fixed at a welder in the country.  He also took me to get some great BBQ.  Another man gave me all the epoxy and hardener I needed to fix my paddle.  Within the span of a couple of days, my boat was as good as new.  People weren't lying about southern hospitality.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A wake in the current

I was rowing along on my way to Memphis when I saw a kayaker off in the distance.  I immediately thought Harry Swanson, the 65 year old man that had just taken a week off, had already caught up with me.  I was amazed, but as they came closer I realized this wasn't Harry.  The first kayaker that paddled up to me had long dready hair and was all smiles. He, like me, was happy to see someone else on the river. Eventually, I met the rest of his crew. There were four of them all together: Bowman, David, Rob and Max, the camera man. I was amazed to hear how fast they were moving.  These guys were doing 60 miles a day with almost two hours of breaks. That settled it for me.  If I was ever going to do the Mississippi again, I would have to take a kayak. They were raising money for homeless people in Mississippi; all three of them were from Mississippi and went to school there.  They were all about 22 or 23 years old.  Max was studying to become a priest, and they were all very religious. When I heard that, I was kind of surprised considering their dready appearance.  Though it sunk in to me at morning bible time that ended with a little prayer circle.  I hope it helps me get to Memphis safely. If you want to check out their site and their trip down the Mississippi, it is awakeinthecurrent.com.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day one post snapped paddle

The very next day I am chugging along thinking how lovely my splint is working as my oar.  It was a cool overcast day which was a great change from the norm.  I was in a very good mood and only 60 miles from Memphis.  I think the gods felt that things were getting a little too easy for me so they sent me the tug boat from hell.  This thing was pushing 35 fully loaded barges up stream.  Half-loaded barges will normally throw a four to five foot wake traveling up stream.  With a fully loaded tug, they can throw a five to six foot wake.  I was running without a radio as my batteries were dead; I didn't see him coming around the corner and chose the wrong line for my boat.  You generally stay to one side of the channel or the other. The red or green buoys.  Both have the advantages and disadvantages in different circumstances. What I am trying to say is that on sharp turns with a tug coming up stream, you do not want to take the outside line but after you get to a certain point there is no changing your mind.  You are committed because crossing over would just be suicide.  So as I was coming into the turn, the barge was exiting the turn but since they are pushing so much weight and they have to slow down for the turn they end up just sitting there for three to four minutes without even barely moving.  This tug just pushed that five foot wake back at me as it was trying to get around this corner.  Also, unlucky for me, there were barges all lined up on the shore so there was nowhere for the wake to be absorbed. It just kept bouncing back and feeding into the system, creating a quarter mile of 6-8 ft chop coming in all directions.  This was by far the worst situation I have been in especially with an oar that was hanging together with duck tape.  At this point I am paddling as hard as the oar can take and also trying to line up with the biggest waves so i can take them head on.  It helped a bit, but I ended up taking on a lot of water.  Once I made it a little more than halfway through this gauntlet, I heard a horrible sound...Snap!  It was a metal scraping sound.  My back left support for the pontoon had broken off.  Now truthfully, I thought I was going to die.  I thought if the firm support to this pontoon breaks off, I am going for a swim.  I am a very good swimmer but never tested my strength against 7 foot waves, current, eddies and undertow.  All of which came together to make that "disturbance."  Thank god the other support did not break off and the pontoon stayed mostly in place through the rest of it.  The really weird thing was when I got out of it; there weren't any waves.  A dike was holding it all in one little section of river.  My little corner of hell I guess.  Again, time to duct tape the other post that I had left from cannibalizing the canopy the other day.  This came in handy for this mend job.  At this point, I knew nothing could keep me from Memphis.  So onward, I rowed.