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8/3/2010

Read the rest of the stories



Leo King, Shawn's father, arrives at the motel. We introduce ourselves and I knew already that Leo was about my age and had been in the outboard engine business all his life.

I knew we were going have some stories to swap on the way to the river this morning. He has a collection of old motors that I would love to see when I have time. We stop at a convenience store to re-fuel the boat and get ice.

Mike is pumping the gas and I get the ice. When I start toward the cash register, Leo says, "King Marine has already bought the gas today." When we get to the ramp, Mike takes my picture with Leo.

Right before he backs us into the water, Leo tells me, "You've got my cell number, if you have problems, call and we will come help or get you." Just another example of the wonderful people we encountered on this trip.

Shortly afterward, we run out to the middle of the river to clear the bridge columns then slow a little to take pictures of Cape as we go by. We pass mile marker 39 and text our family and friends to let them know our progress.

The hills along the river are starting to flatten out and the river starts making wide sweeping bends back and forth. The GPS shows a cut off at the bottom of one of the bends and we decide to take it since it will shorten our route by 2-3 miles.

Right before we turn into the cut, we hit a submerged log. There's a big crash, the motor flies up and an 8-10 foot log that neither of us had seen rolls up to the surface behind the boat.

We check the prop but there's no damage. They say the one that gets you is the one you can't see, and this one apparently was submerged right under the surface.

PHOTO GALLERY

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Half-way down the cut-off there was a mud/sand bank and I noticed hundreds of birds fluttering in and out of small holes in the bank. We slow to take pictures, apparently they are some sort of swallow, perhaps purple martins.

We pop out of the cut, the waves have different rhythm and I tell Mike that there's a towboat around here someplace, and there it was a couple of bends ahead of us. The river is running strong through this area with a lot of turbulence near the wing dams.

I take pictures but can't capture the river "running downhill." You can see it and feel it but probably the only way to get a picture of it is to turn the boat upstream, hold it in place with the motor, and lower your camera down right above the water.

We soon pass mile marker 12.2 which means we are only 12.2 miles to the Ohio River. The GPS indicates another cut off and with the river at flood stage, we are confident there will plenty of depth.

It didn't save much distance but we take it, more for the change in scenery than anything else.

Another milestone

We turn into the Ohio River and put 845 miles of Mississippi River in the rear view mirror. It was a unique experience to see the river gradually change in little over a week from a small, scenic (and clear) river running between hills, to a wide expanse of muddy water moving powerfully downstream.

We stop to take pictures and text our family and friends. In a few minutes, both our phones light up with congratulations. We let the boat idle just a few minutes; we take some pictures and the current quickly carries us far downstream.

The river is big above where the Ohio joins it. Below the mouth of the Ohio it is simply awesome. Drifting along, I'm reminded of the old mariners saying, "The ocean is so big and my boat is so small."

We take pictures, but a camera at water level can never capture the immensity of this river. Words are inadequate, you just have to drift downstream in a small boat and experience it.

There's an observation tower right on the point where the rivers meet and we think about climbing it to get some pictures, but decide the tower is not very tall so the sun shines right up the river and wouldn't let get us shoot good pictures in the direction we wanted to.

We then turn into the Ohio River and head for the right bank since there's a lot of tow traffic on the left side plus, wind is sweeping down the river and making for a bumpy ride.

I hug the right side to get in the wind shadow and notice my GPS is indicating I'm running on dry land. The river is so high that there's 15 feet of water on what would normally be dry land. Mike and I notice dark clouds building up on the north side of the river and spreading to the east.

The sky is clear in front of us, so I'm hoping we can outrun the storm since we are traveling upstream against the current. We're running 20-21 mph instead of the 24-25 mph we ran coming down the Mississippi. Mike comments that we are going to lose this race.

A loud bang is heard underneath the boat, like someone hit it with a hammer, and at the same time a 3- to 4-pound Asian carp jumps three feet in the air next to the boat. We decide the bang was caused by another fish jumping underneath and hitting the bottom of the boat as we passed over him.

Soon, our GPS indicates we have covered 75 miles and a storm is sweeping up river. We start looking for a place to put our nose on the bank. I see a casino on the left but there's no good place to tie off, plus we would have had a muddy bank to climb up.

Probably not many customers show up in small boats, so another mile or so above the casino there's a launch ramp and small cove beside it that gets us out of the current. Heavy rain is 200 yards below and we scramble to get our rainsuits on.

Mike fixes us sandwiches and we eat lunch as rain pours down, along with thunder and lightning. We text our family and friends. Soon after, we get weather reports from Scott and my brother telling us the storm is spreading southward, but we probably will skirt the edge of it on our way to the Kentucky Dam.

The rain lets up and before we leave I need to answer the call of nature. It is no easy task to accomplish this with a parka jacket and bib-type rainsuit on, but I finally get everything unzipped and hop on the locker at the front of boat.

I was just about to raise the water level in the river when I noticed a police car that had pulled up to the ramp, pointed straight at me. He or she had to know what I was getting ready to do, so they put the car in gear and left quickly; I continued to do what I had set out to do.

We pass Paducah, Ky., in light rain and stop. Our texts read, "Waltzed into the Tennessee River." We continue the 22-mile run up-river to the lock and hail the lockmaster as a southbound tow is ready to come through.

When it clears, the JV Vesco, northbound already at the lock before us, allows us to enter the lock ahead of him, thus adding the captain to our "the beer is on me list."

We make a short run across the Kentucky Lake Dam and pull into Kentucky Lake Marina, tying off Dumarse and calling the Kentucky Dam Resort for a shuttle to pick us up.

The usual routine is to open our laptops and read/answer e-mails. I had made a comment in one of my e-mails that on my next big adventure, I planned to try to rig up a webcam on my boat. My wife reminded me that this was going to be my last big adventure of this type, married to her. I put that in my description of the day.

I look at the fishing forum and they have a U.S. map showing our progress with a red line down the river from Minnesota. It's then that I realize we have come almost halfway from near Canada to the Gulf.

The weather report is for light winds, so our plan for tomorrow is to start early and run as long as the wind lets us. Kentucky Lake is a very big lake and can get extremely rough if the wind blows out of the south or north.

I was very concerned when I planned this trip about the wind, and was fully prepared to take a couple to catch favorable wind conditions. I have heard of a secondary channel that runs near the western shore, and asked for information yesterday from any of the guys who monitor the fishing forum.

My phone rings, and it's Bobby Kilzer, whom I had met several years ago at the All-American fishing tournament. Bobby lives near the lake and was able to tell me where the channel started and advised me to follow it all the way to Paris landing. He gave me his cell phone number and offered to help in any way if we needed it.

He also advised that lake is at summer pool, and we could really run almost anywhere with no danger of hitting anything. Very important in an aluminum boat when waves get up.

Jon Hardin, a fishing guide who lives near Pickwick, also e-mailed me with the same offer for when we come through his area. It is nice to know that if you have problems, there is help out there.

The offer to top all offers was made by David Parks, who lives in the Decatur, Ala., area. He was going to pick up some barbeque from Big Bobs (a fine BBQ place) in Decatur and bring it 90 miles across north Alabama and meet us on the Tombigbee.

We couldn't make the timing work, but when you got folks willing to haul you out of the lake and/or bring barbeque, you are rich in friends.

123 miles today, 1,002 total so far. It's 10:30 p.m. and Mike's asleep. I'm not far behind.