Day 37: Integrity. The storm, the tarp, and the fear.

Day 37: Integrity. The storm, the tarp, and the fear.


Great River Bluffs State Park to a few miles before the Iowa border.

I woke up at 5am by chance and caught an amazing sunrise. The colors were so rich and long lasting. I snapped a picture and fell back asleep. I would sleep till around 7:30. I woke up to find that the people who’s place I was staying at never arrived. I am betting it was a weekend home. I made my breakfast packed up my gear. I was sitting on a chair wanting to update my blog, but the idea of being on the river seemed cooler and better. I had a few miles to get to Lock and Dam #7. I made quick time and cleared it without a problem. The water is still high enough that they are leaving the flood gates wide open. I really wanted to run them, but it is not worth the troubles or fines. I arrived in LaCrosse, WI. I pulled up to the flooded River Front Park. I tied my boat up to a banister and went for a little walk. I asked this girl about the town and food places. She suggested a few places and said she would watch my boat as I took off to get food. I grabbed my camera bag and off I went to explore downtown LaCrosse.

I made it to a Jimmy Johns for a cold sub. I like my prepared meals, but sometimes a cold sub just hits the spot. I worked my way back to the boat. It was still there and looking sexy as ever. I sat down next to a shaded tree. There were 3 other girls and a little baby. I chatted them up about the city of LaCrosse. It seemed cool, but I had some river miles to eat up. As I left, the current became stronger and I took off. I think I may have popped a wheelie in my boat because I was moving so fast. I criss crossed the river trying to find the quickest current. Both sides had some good points. I ended up burning throughout the energy that the sandwich gave me pretty quickly. I headed over to a beach on the Wisconsin side. There was another boating couple relaxing there too. I talked with them about the upcoming locks. I had my course set, but I also enjoyed relaxing after they took off. I was getting ready to go when I saw another boat heading over to the beach I was on. This guy had a big boat that likes to throw big wakes. I noticed that as he pulled up. He inquired about my journey and then he offered a question.
He asked if i would like a ride to the next dam. I asked him how he suggested that happen. He said he could help me get the boat into his boat and he would drop me off right before the dam. I was tempted by that idea. I, politely, turned him down. He said he would not tell anybody. I told him I would know. I set out to paddle the ENTIRE Mississippi river from the source to the sea. I could not say that if I did not do it. So, I bid him farewell and took off.
I set my sights on the Minnesota Slough. The slough is a rougher waterway that is like the backcountry for hiking or skiing. It is perfectly doable. It just requires a little more work. I charged forward and over the spillway. I chose the correct line because the others were filled with trees. I was in the slough and the pace was calmer. The water trails wove in and out of the forest. I had about a 25% charge on my phone. I was using the GPS on it to get my bearings on the tails. I was moving along through with the GPS and trail markers on the tree trunks. These markers were blue with white paddlers to help navigate the direction. I was working my way through the water trails when I began to see a couple of eagles. I pulled out the camera to see what I could capture. I managed to get a couple of shots before they flew off.
The sun was beginning to go down and the fact that it was behind a bluff did not help. I was nearing the midway point. To this point, the way was pretty well marked. My phone was losing juice and I began to memorize the map. I knew once the sun went down, I would have about a half hour of good light. I looked on my map to see my exit back to the Mississippi river, but the trail markers were not matching up. I backtracked in the hopes I missed it and could get out. The second half of the slough was a lot tighter and with specific waterways. Some went through while others dead ended into another lake. My patience began to draw smaller as I knew I could be in trouble. I was in the middle of a water forest and I was hearing thunder in the distance. None of this was looking good for me. I found some power lines that ran across the river. I decided to make a go going east towards the Wisconsin side. I figured I would hit the Mississippi river and I would be getting away from the storm heading my direction. I usher my boat ore the grass areas and the water lilies towards what I thought would be a sure way out. It was not. It dead ended and I was forced to go back to the middle area. This is when I really began to hear some strong thunder and see some cloud-to-cloud bolt lightening. The sun was gone and I was losing sight of any of the blue markers. I began to get worried and I was not happy about the situation.
I followed the power lines back and headed over towards the Minnesota side. I looked on the map and it said there was the Bluff Slough on that side. I was running out of choices quickly as the storm was growing and heading my way. I made it across. Another storm cell appeared to the north and it was heading my way. This one had more direct lightening and I was still in a wide open body of water. I got to shore only to realize that there was not one. It was just a mound with some train tracks above it. This was no place for me to set up any type of shelter. I jumped back in the boat and began to move at an accelerated pace. I headed back towards the last known trail sign. At this point, I had about 10 more minutes of light left. I was debating if I should make a go and try to outrun the storm and get out of the slough. As I decided to make a strong go at leaving, I looked back over my shoulder. A very bad situation was upon me unlike any I have experienced before. I saw a cloud-to-water strike and I immediately turned around to get to shore as fast as I could. It was at this point, I was really scared. I dropped my flag pole and powered it as strong as I could towards shore. That thunder I was hearing earlier was a super cell and the smaller one up not was just a big thunderstorm. I could not see the size or intensity because of the bluff. I could however see a major down pour coming and the lightening was lighting up the night sky. The lightening was the only way I could see where I was going because the clouds blocked out any bit of light.
The cracks began to get closer, more intense, and much more frequent. By more frequent, I mean it was non-stop. I felt one dry wave of air after another move over me. I was terrified because I knew what came after that. I did not want to get hit and check out. I gripped my paddle and charged over anything in my path. I had one more lake to cross before shore. It was beginning to rain and the lightening was not letting up. The thunder was getting louder and I was moving as fast as I could. The lightening was lighting up the otherwise dark shoreline. I was going through what I needed and where it was. This was my experience kicking in. I rammed the boat through some broken down trees as I hit the shore area. I popped my skirt, put on the deck cover as it was pouring down heavily. I could see the lightening in the corners of my eye as the claps of thunder rained down on me. I could not get on shore fast enough. I grabbed my rain coat and tarp from the front hatch. I covered it up and grabbed my tow rope. It is a 50′ rope used to tie my boat up to anything I needed. I climbed up this wet and muddy shore line as I threw down my life vest. The rain was soaking me to my core as I tied the tow line around my waist so my boat would not float away. I had on my jacket and wrapped the tarp around me leaving part of it for ground protection. I was on shore but not out of danger. I curled up into a small ball and felt the hard rain beating my tarp. I was reducing my risk as much as possible. I used the life vest as a  pillow and tried to stay dry from the intense storm. I calmed myself by thinking of old songs and possible harmonica songs. It helped as my tarp was being lit up like a club. I rolled to my side and dealt with it. I managed to fall asleep while it was still beating down on me. This was shaping up to be a wild adventure. The lightening was slowing down, but there was no chance of getting any more gear out of my boat. I realized that my rain coat and the tarp would have to do for this evening. I was cold and wet, but I was getting warmer under the tarp by trapping the warm air in it.
Once the storm past, I woke up to clear skies above me. I saw one shooting star and a lot of satellites. I will remember that feeling as I was sleeping below the grass. After turning in my sleep, I realized I had slipped down this hill and my feet were almost in the water. I had to get out of my warm tarp and reposition. I moved up the little hill and stomped some divots in the soft ground/mud for my body to rest for the remainder of the night. I re-wrapped myself up and slid into place. I realized I may slip again, so I placed a stick across the bottom of my butt and stomped some holes into the ground so my heals would hold for the remainder of the night. I laid there as I began to hear more rumbling. I thought, “Not another storm”. I was right. It was not a storm, but a freight train. It was approaching from my left. I had nowhere to go, so I pulled the tarp up on my left side to protect myself from any debris. The train rumbled by and all I could do was smile and enjoy what was happening and where I was. I don’t get camp spots like this too often. I ended up falling asleep and waking in the same cocooned position. What a day!!

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