Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kayaking the Mississippi River - The Great River Rumble 2003

The Great River Rumble is a non-profit group of friends who love to paddle together. Each year a committee is formed to plan all aspects of that year's trip, and all are invited to join, former paddlers and newcomers.

I joined the group in 2003. Most of the 115 participants met in Burlington, IA, where 55+ boats were loaded onto this trailer and we boarded two highway cruiser buses for the journey to Savanna, Illinois where our river journey began. On my previous kayak trips, we had to carry all our own gear in our own kayak which severely limited what you could take. The Rumble has a huge rental truck and land crew which delivers all camping and personal gear from one campsite to the next, making for more luxurious evenings. Many people had huge tents, cots, or blow-up mattresses, large coolers, and even screened canopies.



We camped in the Mississippi River towns of Savanna, IL, Clinton, IA, Port Byron, IL, Buffalo, IA, Muscatine, IA, New Boston, IL, and Oquawka, IL, and all the towns were most hospitable, providing camping areas and assisting our "landing chairmen" in making arrangements for meals, showers, ice, and other necessities. Some meals were in local restaurants on our own and some were catered by local civic, church, or scout groups as fundraisers. A few mayors even visited us and town residents often welcomed us from shore as we approached. One problem is that railroads often follow the shore and even abut our camp areas. The worst was in Savanna where over 60 trains a day pass through town, each blowing the whistle at every road crossing. Try sleeping through that!



We traveled through six locks on our trip. Twice we got right in, but had wait times of up to two hours for the others. In this photo below, the lower doors are opening and we are on our way out. When pleasure craft are in the lock, ropes are hung from the top for us to hold on to. Several of the lockmasters spoke with us as we locked through, and numerous cameras were snapping above us at this unusual sight of 70+ canoes and kayaks in the lock.

A safety crew composed of three power boats and a pontoon boat assured the safety of the paddlers, leading, following, and guarding our sides. A county sheriff police boat even accompanied us on the final six miles into Burlington on the last day. 

We averaged 20 miles a day for the seven day trip, with the longest day being 26 miles and the shortest about 13 miles. We generally stopped three times a day to get out of the boats and stretch -- once in the morning, an hour for lunch break, and an afternoon stop. Usually the landing was muddy (sometimes your feet sank as much as a foot in the muck) but occasionally we found nice sandy beaches as below, and many went out into the water to cool off. Water fights between boaters using water guns were another diversion on the long days of paddling, as well as another way to cool off.



Whenever possible, we left the main river and took side channels or sloughs. It was nice to leave the commotion of the Mississippi with all its power boats, huge barge convoys, 

Here I am as we leave an Army Corps of Engineers campground where we took a lunch break to avoid a wicked storm a few miles ahead of us and allow it to pass through the area. Several storms just missed us as we paddled, but their strong winds did kick up some heavy wave action which made for roller-coaster paddling. Since paddlers of various capacities were on the trip, the leader, Rex, set a fast pace but then waited for all to regroup every 45 minutes or so. A "sweep" canoe brought up the rear and the power boats and the sweep boat were all in radio contact with the lead boat.


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