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They Gather at the North Side

They Gather at the North Side
I am a lucky man.
Pa always said that there’s no such thing as luck. Luck is just your hard work finally payin’ off. People like us, the ones who think we’re lucky, we just don’t connect our past actions to our future successes. Sure you could roll the dice down at Geno’s and get a 4-5-6 and scoop the whole damn pot up in one go. Winnin’ those twenty bucks over and over again would be luck. But then when the boys down at Geno’s don’t want you coming around no more, and Geno is selling you all the sliver slices of the pie for a buck twenty still, you feel downright unlucky.
I got my own brand of luck goin’ on at Geno’s. They call me Unlucky Lonny Pickett because I roll nothing but duds, 3-5-6 or 1-4-2. I lose a quarter here and a buck there, but I got them boys down right endeared to me. Pa always called that ‘making connections’. Ma called it networkin’, whatever the hell that means.
So anyways, I keep on losin’ and losin’ and Geno and the boys keep feelin’ sorry for poor ol’ Lonny Pickett. All of a sudden I’m gettin’ the biggest slices, and Geno gives me the ‘friends’ discount of ten whole percents off. The boys too, swell fellas to the last, start spreadin’ word that ol’ Lonny Pickett needs to make a few more greenbacks because they want that good ol’ boy to keep comin’ round and rollin’ the dice with them. I agree with them. My truck is rustier than the abandoned metal works downtown. It needs an oil change and a few new brake pads from Meineke, too. I got me a dog, a hell of a mutt I might add, goes by the name of Chester. Poor Chester’s got to eat, I says. They say, “Let me see what I can do for ya Lonny.”
It went like that for a few years. They’d get me a job here and a job there. Paintin’ houses, layin’ copper wire, mowin’ laws and plowin’ driveways. Real small time shit that I’m more than happy to do. I thought that would be my life, so damned if I’ve ever been more surprised in my life when I got that lucky phone call.
“Hey Lonny?” the voice had said on the other line.
“Oh yeah how ya doin’ Jeb?” Jebediah was a good man who sometimes came by Geno’s on poker night. I did some weather panelin’ for him on his new home a few months ago.
“Lonny I got me some good news for you. You ready for this because I think you gotta be sitting down when you hear it.” I sat down and nodded. He must have seen it through the phone ‘cus the old boy didn’t wait a tick before speakin’ again.
“I got you a whole farm, me and the boys pitched in. Even Geno kicked in a quarter.”
A whole quarter from Geno? “What do ya mean you got me a whole farm? Ain’t no farms here in town. Ain’t no way I could afford one acre neither.”
Jebediah laughed. I hate it when people get the giggles on the phone, the lines never make it seem real. Canned laughter, they call it on the TV. “I know how hard you’re having it right now Lonny. We all do. You got some good pals, man. We’ve been saving up a little bit of what you’ve been losing over the years playing the dice. We had a whole bundle put away so Patrick went down to the police auction - and you know Sullivan right?”
“Course I know Sullivan. Bastards been puttin’ me in the drunk tank every night for a year now. Says the law won’t let me drive after havin’ a few no more, which I think is bullshit if you ask me.”
“Ya well I’d cozy right up to the copper because the old salt did you a right favor. Two acres, Lonny, a ways up Mill Street. Cost us only two Benjamin Franklins.” I had paused for a bit when he said it, tryin’ to think over the words that I heard through the phone. Did this son of a gun just say that I’m gettin’ myself two whole acres and I ain’t gotta do nothing for it?
“You son of a gun, did you really get me two whole acres and I ain’t gotta do nothing for it?” I said. I say a lot of things that I think. There ain’t enough time in the day to have your mouth and brain battlin’ over every word.
“We did Lonny. Thank Patrick and Geno and Sullivan and the rest. You’re gonna have to work your butt to the bone but you’ll be swimming in green soon enough. Governments been buying crops from all the farmers ‘round here for years now. You don’t even gotta sell the shit you grow, just give it to Uncle Sam and he’ll do the rest.”
“Why’d it only cost a cool two hundred, Jeb? What’s the deal there? That lands worth probably a hundred times as much.”
“They couldn’t sell it Lonny. It’s been in the police auction for years and years. Patrick haggled Sullivan down, told him to just get it off his damn books already instead of trying to force it on some poor sod for twenty thousand buckaroonies.”
“Why was it on the police auction though?”
There was silence for a bit until Jeb cleared his throat, “Last owner got killed there. And don’t worry, it ain’t no haunted farm house. The old boy died out in the field. They say he was feverish, wandered out into the woods, and some wolves got to him. It was family land, the Plunketts, I think the name was. Don’t know much more than that other than that the last Plunkett probably should have brought a gun with him before doing a foolish thing like fighting off wolves in the middle of a downpour. Wolves don’t even eat crops.”
“Ya, silly bastard. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph I don’t know what to say Jeb.”
“Ain’t gotta say nothing, Lonny. All you gotta do is pay us back some day and we’ll be roses.”
I hung up the phone, thinkin’ to myself if it was either networkin’, makin’ good connections with the right people, or just good ol’ fashioned luck that just got me the opportunity of my life. I think it was a little bit of all three.
Anyways, that’s how the call went back in February. It was high summer now, perfect growin’ season, and my crops were gonna come in nice and good. Sweet corn, wheat, pumpkins, squashes, cabbages. I figured that instead of growin’ one thing I’d spread out and see what took. At least for this first year.
My Pa was a farmer. Didn’t own one, but he worked the land like he did. I think that’s where I got my green thumb. I could always grow somethin’ to be fat and juicy. My own belly would win me first prize at the county fair if I entered myself in the livestock competition. Even Chester would get me a good price at the butchers.
Chester’s been havin’ a ball. The mutt mostly has bloodhound in his veins, but I think he’s definitely got some wolf in there too. He was dyin’ in town. Dyin’ to get back out to the wild. He took off like a bat out of hell the second I let him out of my piece of shit Chevy the first day that I took up residence on the far end of Mill Street. Damn thing took a whole lap around my acres, two or three times, livin’ as high as a kite caught in an updraft. Saw him chase a pack of deer off the north side of the field too, barkin’ and spittin’ at them until they took their little white tails between their legs and bolted into the woods. That was good, in a ways. Deer like to eat crops, but I don’t want Chester killin’ the poor things. I was never one to hurt animals. If they want to help themselves to a cabbage or two, I’ll oblige mother nature. I’ll start keepin’ Chester on a leash if he’s gettin’ too violent with them deer.
Days were now full of toilin’ and hard work. I was used to laborin’ but not like this. See if I’m helpin’ Jeb put up panelin’ or shovelin’ Mrs. Hutchinson’s driveway, sweet little blue-haired gal by the way, I get myself some smoke breaks and good ol’ fashioned American break time. When a man’s back is sore and his brain is a thumpin’, he’s got the right to take a rest after a good two hours of work. Ain’t no break time out here in the field, tho. Pa taught me that. Says there used to be an ant and a grasshopper. Ant worked hard all summer while the grasshopper sat on his butt. Winter comes around and the grasshopper freezes to death, hungrier than a coonhound before a fox hunt. Ant is peachy clean, enjoyin’ the fruit of his labors down in his little anthole. Be the ant, my Pa said, so now I am. I ain’t gonna be hungry this winter after Uncle Sam buys up all this corn for five cents more than market price.
I knew the work would be hard. I knew I’d have to borrow and beg to get myself a good tiller, maybe hire a few of them lazy local boys to break the dirt for a dollar or two an hour. Patrick and Jeb and Stu and the rest of the boys came ‘round to help me fix up the house - a nice little three room shack that’s much too big for just me - and they even helped clean up the barn - an old leanin’ and musty place full of spiders and moths. Little by little the place came together. Some of the other farmers even stopped by to gawk and whistle.
“Well dang I never thought to see the Plunkett’s place all lit up at night like that again,” said one of em. He was a bearded fella that looked like the stereotypical Iowa farmer. He was even chewin’ on a piece of wheat stalk when he said it.
“Why do you say a thing like that?” I asked him kindly enough. “It’s a honey pot,” he replied. “Lands fertile, stronger and richer than any dirt ‘round here. The Plunketts supported a whole family for three generations on just two acres. They could grow cabbages as big as your head during dry seasons.”
“Honey pot?” I says.
“Yeah, yknow, a honey pot. Flies smell the honey and get themselves all stuck in there. Then you just close the lid and they’re trapped.” “What do ya mean trapped? Does this place got spooks or somethin’?” I asked in a panic, starin’ at that barn. I never liked that barn. It was too scary to go in at night and I kept Chester close when I had to go pokin’ around in there during the day.
“Lords no. Ghosts ain’t real. Shoot, everyone knows that. The lands cursed tho.” He opened his hands and started tickin’ off his fingers as he told me the family history, “One of the Plunkett boys met his maker by hitting another Plunkett boy’s truck during a nasty rainstorm a while back. That other boy caught a fever walkin’ back in the rain and never got better. They had a girl when I was just a little fella who fell down a sewage pipe. They found her a few months later. Their Grandpa, the original owner of this here land, was said to be the last casualty of William McKinley’s war in Cuba. The very last one. Got shot by a Spanish national right before the ceasefire was called. They had another boy go off to ‘Nam and get shot in the back by his own squad over a false alarm. Plunkett clan was dwindling one at a time until it was just Robert Plunkett. He went missing ten years ago, said that he just walked right off into the woods and never came back. I ain’t calling that unlucky, but you notice a pattern here.”
“Well I ain’t nothin’ but luck,” I said beaming. “Cept down at Geno’s, but dice don’t count. I’m the luckiest summofabitch ‘round these parts. I got me a big ol’ farm that my friends bought for me, a good mutt, and my health.” I patted my belly which was gettin’ rather thin at this point. Sweatin’ through the summer gettin’ the place ready for winter saw to that. “Only thing keepin’ me from being the luckiest man in all of Iowa is a lady friend.”
“Well shoot, shoulda said so earlier,” said the farmer warmly. “I got’s me a cousin... or niece... I don’t know what to call that particular branch of the family tree when it’s your cousin’s daughter. But anyway, she’s a sweet gal. I’ll send her by sometime.” “Thank you kindly, I do appreciate it, I do.”
And that’s the story of how I got this fine young thing sittin’ next to me at supper now. Her name is Courtney, a city girl name, but she was all country. She ain’t the prettiest I ever saw, got a face that looks like someone took a tiller to it. But she’s a good woman with a flat belly, a round caboose and a set of milk jugs that could keep a baby cow fed and happy. Took to Chester right away too. Biggest surprise ‘bout the whole thing is Courtney’s twice the farm hand I am. She got the rusty tractor smokin’ and rumblin’ after workin’ on it for only a day. That night, she cooked me up a whole tray of cheddar biscuits with some homemade white gravy and chip steak stewed in onions. Woo-wee, was I the luckiest man in the whole damn state. The courtin’ was peculiar. City folk take their dates ‘round to movies and such. I was thinkin’ about takin’ Courtney to see one once, but the drive-in only had “The Towering Inferno” and I was hopin’ to see “The Longest Yard” since it had Mr. Burt Reynolds playing God’s game, football. So the dates never happened, but Courtney was fine with that. We spent the nights out on the porch like an old married couple instead, forgettin’ the fact that I was now on the wrong side of thirty and my woman was barely twenty-five. It was one of those nights in late August, with a summer storm ragin’ and Courtney bundled up all close to me, when I realized I got myself the beginnings of a family. Never thought I’d have one of those. I thought I’d live and die as a vagabond. I proposed to her the next night usin’ a shiny piece of chicken wire as a ring.
She said yes. I was the luckiest man in America.
A week later she told me she had a bun in the oven. I said “Sounds tasty” and nearly walked away without realizin’ she meant a baby, not a loaf of bread that she was bakin’ up for me. I rushed to Courtney and kissed her all over, huggin’ her tight and smellin’ her hair. I never wanted to let go.
That was the last day I was happy.
See there’s some things you forget about when you’re gettin’ a farm up and runnin’. It was all peaches and roses when I was plantin’ the seeds, but now I needed ‘em to grow up. They became my babies, every last stalk of corn, every head of cabbage. I was worried ‘bout ‘em. So I was right to be furious when I saw the deer munchin’ on them in early September. Poor things were probably hungrier than the wolves chasin’ em, and they wouldn’t be comin’ round my farm unless they were desperate. It made me feel bad when Chester chased them away hollerin’ and snappin’ at their heels. But, it was necessary. I decided to put a bag of chicken feed out in the woods, thinkin’ that that might stop them from eatin’ up all my corn.
It didn’t work. Next day I roll out of bed and found that Courtney was already up. I come out of our bedroom to the smell of pork belly crispin’ up in the fryin’ pan.
“Woo-wee that’s smellin’ mighty fine,” I said to her, kissin’ her neck and touchin’ her belly. “How can I be so lucky to wake up to a smell like that?”
“Sure you keep thinking you’re lucky Lonny,” she says to me, “but them deer out there say otherwise. You best be shooing them along before they do anymore damage.”
Well if I wasn’t tee’d off before now I was spittin’ fire. I slammed open our back door and lo and behold there were four of ‘em goin’ to town on my cabbages. The greens were growin’ mighty but ain’t nobody would buy a half chewed cabbage, not even the government. I ran out in my skivvies screamin’ sweet Jesus at them but they didn’t even budge. It’s like they weren’t afraid of humans no more. Chester came flyin’ out of the house and chased them deer so far away that he didn’t come back for a whole hour. But, when he did, he seemed hurt. I was worried sick ‘bout him but me and Courtney checked him all over and couldn’t find a scratch. He limped around just the same and slept the rest of the day in the barn.
It went like that for a week. Dang things were more darin’ than James Bond goin’ into Goldfinger’s casino. I’m pullin’ my hair out at this point picturin’ all that cash they were eatin’. Courtney was all jokes the first few times, tellin’ me I should put up a scarecrow, like that would work on deer, but now she’s all worried too. Says that if the crops fail then that’s it. There wouldn’t be no food on the table and no cash in my pockets. I’d have to go back doin’ odd jobs all over town, which I wouldn’t mind much, but damnit I’m gonna be a father soon and I got to be responsible.
So I bought a gun.
I mean I ain’t ever gonna use the thing on one of them poor dumb animals, but maybe if I fire near them they’ll get the hint. Deer are supposed to be scared of the man’s boomstick. It should be ingrained in their instincts by now. And I won’t keep it in the house neither. My Pa taught me that… when he got killed by his own hand gun back in ‘64.
I was nineteen then, just leavin’ home for the first time. A fledgling that got shoved out of the nest, more like it. Only when I brushed myself off and flew back to the nest, it wasn’t there no more. See I was out workin’ two towns over, puttin up a retainer wall in this ditch they were diggin’ by highway 35 when I heard the news. Two burglars got into my parent’s house, and when they were rootin’ around tryin’ to find anythin’ of worth in my Pa’s shack, my Pa comes burstin’ out of the bedroom like the Devil himself. He was wavin’ his gun like a big shot when they rushed him. Durin’ the tussle one of em got a hold of his Colt and blasted a basketball sized hole through my Pa’s chest. That’s how it happened accordin’ to Ma.
She passed from a broken heart not two years later. Since then it’s just been me, Ol’ Lucky Lonny Pickett. Swore to myself that I’d never touch a Colt or any other pistol, so I got me a rifle instead. Thirty aught six with a walnut handle. Got it real cheap from McElroy cus he knows how hard I’m havin’ it down on the far end of Mill Street. Says I can pay him back when spring comes, and I ain’t no welsher, so I ain’t lettin’ those deer eat my cash source.
Courtney’s been laughin’ at me since I brought it home. “Boy whatcha gonna kill with that thing?” or “Chester better watch out cus you’re more likely to shoot him by mistake then hit a deer on purpose.”. I ain’t so bemused by it so I started shootin’ at cans to get my aim straight. I shot at different times in the day and night so I could get used to it. My eyesight is keen and I got a dead eye shot, but I dunno if I can even shoot one of them little guys. Bambi keeps rollin’ through my mind whenever I see them millin’ around. I just don’t got it in me.
My routine changed. Now I’m wakin’ up an hour before sunrise and stayin’ out well past twilight waitin’ for these suckers to show up. I missed them one day, they probably came by in the dead of night, and I woke up to seein’ half my cornstalks all trampled over and picked at. Damn things. I’ll have to start keepin’ Chester outside. It’s gettin’ cold now but he don’t mind one bit, and it’ll only be til harvest comes ‘round in October.
So I did, and that very night Chester is clawin’ at the door and howlin’ bloody murder. I wake up and the bedside clock says it’s 3:30 in the got dang mornin’. Cowardly mutt. I grab my rifle and swing the door open and Chester bolts in like brown lightning. I look outside and what do I see but a doe and her fawns chewin’ up my cabbages on the north side of the field. Must be the glint of the moon doin’ somethin’ weird with the light cus them deer’s eyes were red. Red like blood. I swore one of em snarled at me when I started yellin’ at em. Chester comes slinkin’ out of the bedroom with Courtney closin’ the door complain’ about beauty rest. His furs on end and he’s doin’ that growlin’ that dogs do when they ain’t sure if they can take on what they’re growlin’ at.
The deer weren’t movin’ so I went out hootin’ at em trying to scare em away. They didn’t budge. Damned critters. Deer are supposed to be scared of humans, not the other way around. But somethin’ about them, the way they were lazily chewin’ up my crops while starin’ right at me, it got to me. Made me awfully frightened. A frightened man with a gun does terrible things.
I raised the thirty aught six and took aim at the mother. My hands were shakin’ fierce and I don’t think it was the coldness of the night. I felt like I was on a safari and I was shootin’ at a lion chargin’ at me. Somethin’ deep down inside told me that these deer were more dangerous than any lion protectin’ his pride. The sight was right on the mother. I held my breath and squeezed the trigger, but at the last moment my ol’ soft heart kicked in and I pulled the gun down. The muzzle flashed with a bang that scared the Jesus out of me. The deer scattered quick as that. Well most of em did. Courtney, wonderin’ what the noise was and where the hell I was, found me a few minutes later. I was cryin’, face red as a beet. In my arms were one of the little ones.
I shot a fawn.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Bambi don’t start with Bambi gettin’ offed by a dumb leatherneck. They take your hunting license away for that shit. The least I could do was go into that barn and find me a rusted shovel. Took me most of the night to crack through the dirt that I never bothered tillin’ and make a hole big enough for the little guy. The sun was comin’ up when I was done and I couldn’t be more thankful for it. Cus all through that night I saw those eyes. Hundreds of em, it seemed like. They were all staring at me from the woods. Just nothin’ but pairs upon pairs of those red, bloodshot eyes. A week went by and no deer showed their faces around my property. I thought I finally had em licked but I knew better. Chester wouldn’t sleep outside no more, and when I forced him out there, the dang mutt would claw at my door for half the night before hidin’ inside the barn. Courtney says he must have tangled with somethin’ awfully big or somethin’ that scared the baby Jesus out of him cus no bloodhound would ever hate bein’ outside.
Damndest thing started happenin’ too. I buried that fawn on the north side of the field by the cabbages. There was somethin’ about that spot, a miasma, I think they call it. I got me a chill whenever I walked over there. The crops were dyin’ around that spot. It’s like they were just shrivelin’ up and fallin’ over. The bushes and undergrowth were all turnin’ white too, like they just got hit by a fresh snowfall. On a whim I tried to pull Chester over there and he nearly bit me when I was walkin’ him close to the spot. I decided to show some respect, so I made a cross with the name Bambi scrawled on it. Stuck it right above the fawn’s grave. I think that might help break the curse, cus that’s what I feel like is happenin’ here. I cursed my already cursed land when I shot that baby deer.
Tomorrow is harvest day. What crops the deer didn’t get to came in mighty fine. Courtney added it all up with the help of that nice farmer she’s second cousins with. Says that altogether the government would pay me enough money to keep this place runnin’ permanently. I’m tryin’ to be happy about it, I should be happy about it cus that’s more money than a lifetime of shovelin’ driveways, but I just can’t shake that awful feelin’.
You know that feelin’ you get when you’re bein’ watched? Now picture a thousand people watchin’ you, that’s what I got goin’ on in my gut right now.
It’s midnight and I can’t go to bed. Courtney is in there snorin’ like a lawnmower but I’m out on the porch with my rifle and my dog and a big ol’ cup of joe. I’ll be awfully tired for harvest day tomorrow, but I ain’t gonna risk those deer comin’ back and eatin’ up all my crops as a last minute act of revenge.
I fingered the rifle nervously, checkin’ the barrell to see if it’s still loaded like the last six times I checked. I got me enough ammunition to down a hundred of ‘em, but I don’t think that would be enough by a long shot. The wind keeps pickin’ up and blowin’ these icy strands through my body. Chester is shakin’ next to me, but I don’t think it’s the cold. I feel it too. It ain’t the cold. It’s somethin’ else… like a presence was around me.
Then they started to emerge. First only one, a buck that couldn’t be older than four years. It sniffed around the north side of the field, where I got Bambi buried, and bleated long and loud. That bleatin’ went on forever, like a war horn callin’ the army to action. I am far beyond perturbed at that. One of those fight or flight instincts started bubblin’ in my belly and I decided this is it.
I got up from my chair and started inchin’ towards that bleatin’ son of a bitch. Chester found some courage and got to my side, growlin’ low at the buck. It saw us comin’ and started bleatin’ right at me, like it was yellin’ at me or somethin’. Accusin’ me or somethin’. “I’m sorry,” I said, takin’ a few more steps forward. I was almost at the grave. “I didn’t mean to. Its mama was eatin’ my crops and I missed. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
But the deer kept on bleatin’ at me so I took aim. One shot would scare it away. I put my sights well above the buck to the treeline behind him when I saw it. Those eyes. All those eyes. Little pairs of red lights as far as I could see watchin’ me from the woods. I froze. Chester started barkin’ like a rabid dog. The deer kept on bleatin’ and now more were leavin’ the woods. A mighty stag, must be a ten pointer, came bowlin’ out all snortin’ and red eyed. More followed him. Does, bucks, fawns, yearlings and younglings. They came out like the Devil’s army. I cursed to myself, rememberin’ that I left all the ammo up on the porch.
The stag was indignant as all hell. It moved over to the grave and started pawin’ its hoof on the ground. I didn’t know what to do. I bent down low to Chester and patted him on the side. “Get out of here, get to Courtney.” I said that cus she was the only thing I could think about right now. Her and the bun in her oven. Chester didn’t need to be told twice. He took off, tail between his legs, and ran straight through the screen door.
I moved closer, I’d have one chance at this. The stag had to be the leader. I took aim and held my breath. “Sorry Pa,” I says under my breath, and fired. Bang. It fell over deader than a doorknob, snappin’ the cross I made for Bambi in two. I breathed a sigh of relief. The bleatin’ buck backed up a few feet but didn’t scatter. Cautiously I approached the grave, aimin’ the gun at the bleater.
“You get. You go on and get and don’t come back. I don’t want to hurt ya but I gotta if you won’t leave me alone. Go on. Get!”
Then three more stags came out of the forest, all bigger and meaner lookin’ than the one I just shot. I stared ‘em down, long and hard. Seemed like an hour passed but I know it was just a few seconds. I felt the hair on my neck rise. Slowly, I turned around. There were at least sixty some odd deer, and they had me completely surrounded. A fawn, just a little guy, charged at me. I side stepped him but then another buck hit me from the side, sendin’ me to my knees. I turned the rifle over and shot, wingin’ the son of a bitch and sendin’ him bleatin’ into the woods. But they kept coming. Deer charged past in a fury. Their red eyes left streaks in my vision. The stags started trumpetin’ and pawin’ the ground.
I took one last look at the farm… my farm… my dog, my wife, my baby. Lucky Lonny Pickett isn’t so lucky anymore. The stags charged and that was the last thing I remembered.
They said that Courtney found my body the next mornin’ after dead sleepin’ through all the gunshots. I fell right on top of Bambi’s grave, all mangled and trampled. She couldn’t even recognize me.
She’s got a new man, a good fella by the unfortunate name of Hank Hankerson. My baby girl is three years old now and is apparently Chester’s favorite playmate. Oh and the crops came in great. Courtney pulled in a pretty penny from the first harvest which funded the next five. They said that the next years crops were even better, particularly the ones she grew on the north side of the field where I died. Says it’s the lushest area on the whole dang farm. Only problem though is the deer keep comin’ by and eatin’ all the crops. She says Hank is gonna have to start sittin’ out there with a gun and scare em off. I wish him good luck on that one.
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[Table] IAmA Person on day 44 of Paddling the entire Mississippi River

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Date: 2012-05-29
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Questions Answers
How do avoid the larger river traffic (barges, ships, etc..) that might not be looking out for something as small as a kayak? Any close encounters? The barges stay in their marked channel well and are not a huge problem. I was in a few large pools this last weekend when everybody took out their motor boats. A bunch of drunks in speedboats are scarier to me. I had a guy Sunday come within a few feet of me. I almost threw my paddle at him.
When I was passing through Burlington Iowa 2 boats collided a few miles down from where I was camping. 4 people died and I have been much more cautious since then.
I had a barge sneak up on me from behind near the Wisconsin, Illinois border. I about pooped my self when it blew it's horn at me. Stupid Iowa NPR had a segment called "steamboat stories" that had that sound every time it started and would send shivers up my spine.
Not that I'd be pulling rank with a barge, but don't you technically have the right of way being that you have no motor? At least sail boats always have the right of way. Barges stay in their channel that is well marked by bouys. I might have the right of way but that means nothing if they can't see me.
Simple question- Why are you doing this? Also, any pics to share? Generic answer I give - "Because life is short and I wouldn't want to live it without having paddled the Mississippi"
Personal answer - "I need to get back to nature to figure out some stuff after Iraq"
Reason Now - "I want to come back next year and help a wounded warrior to become the first paraplegic to paddle the entire river. The amount of freedom I feel everyday is breath taking and I want to share it with someone who deserves it"
*edit - I am uploading an album to imgur now.
I want to come back next year and help a wounded warrior to become the first paraplegic to paddle the entire river. Please let us know when you get to the planning phase of this. I'll gladly kick in some money towards it. First thing when I get back. This is my new biggest priority besides not dying on the river.
Personal answer - "I need to get back to nature to figure out some stuff after Iraq" If you find yourself in New Orleans next Saturday, I will buy the booze. I will be there in 4 weeks.
The first answer is good enough for me, but each one after gets better and better. Best of luck to you :o) The ups is that I go as far as I want everyday, stop when I want and have time to really discover myself. I also can sing as loud as I want to a Kesha or Pink song on the radio while I am paddling.
Another question if you will? - What are the ups and downs to doing this solo? (Note: Solo, not alone) The downside is it is very lonely. When I first started out I would not see people for days and was alone which was ok and I felt fine. Now that I am somewhere where I see people all the time I feel lonely. Every person I meet asks me the same 3 or 4 questions.
Where do you jerk off? In my tent, the hammock makes it hard to maneuver.
When will you pass through Memphis? I reddit work literally on the banks of the river just south of the I-55 bridge. In about 8 days.
1) What are the expected total costs (gear included)? 1) The boat and gear ran me about 2000 dollars. 400 dollars for the ticket to Minneapolis, 300 to the guy who took me to Itasca. Then about 20 dollars per day I was on the river.
If you ever need a ride from Minneapolis to Itasca again, please just come to /twincitiessocial or PM me. $300 is ridiculous and I know that we could find someone to tote you up there for much less. I gave him 300$ because while I was waiting to go up I was bumming around the Mall of America, killing time. A cute girl asked me if I wanted to go to a casino and I said yes, because I love buffets and knew I could eat whatever I wanted. Waiting for the bus back to the mall so I could catch the shuttle back to my hotel I put 20 dollars in the Ghostbusters slot. I won 600 dollars. I don't really gamble and so I bought a nice hat and some nicer sunglasses for my trip. The guy who gave me a ride would have done it for free but I felt he deserved more and so gave him half of my winnings.
Is your name Huck or Jim? I am glad you did not write out Jim's name like Mark Twain did.
Would that even be possible? You'd exert so much energy per mile compared to going downstream... Everything from Minneapolis to St. Louis is flat because of the 29 locks and dams. It makes the river more like a staircase than a slope.
I noticed there was a picture of you inside a lock. Do they actually let a tiny boat like yours through the locks? Do they open and close the locks just for your little kayak? It seems a bit excessive but they send me through all by myself. The people at the locks are the only people I regularly talk to and are usually cool guys. In the locks with the bigger drops it feels like Star Wars with the giant gates opening.
But I mean you're going against the current regardless. Do kayaks skim the water so it wouldn't be too difficult? I guess I imagine paddling downstream somewhat like tubing down a river. Am I wrong? Back when the river was small and shallow there are sections that are class 2 rapids that would be very very difficult to paddle upstream. Also Saulk Rapids a couple of days north of Minneapolis would be almost impossible to paddle through. I think a rowing skiff would work best on most of it.
Pool 26 represent. FYI, St. Louis's sewer company, MSD, dumps raw sewage into the Mississippi. Hows the water quality now that you've come to our fine city? It has been nasty since Minneapolis. Everybody's poo goes into the river.
How do you get on reddit? I am at a hotel today. I have a smartphone and reddit is fun on it.
1) how are you going to paddle to pensacola? is it safe to take your boat through the gulf? 1) I plan on paddling the inter coastal most of the way from the mouth to Pensacola, my boat is very stable and can handle the gulf if I need it to.
2) do you like living in pensacola? do you consider it part of the deep south? 2) I do not like living in Pensacola, I plan on moving back to SLC. Pensacola is a great place to visit but not so much to live in, and yes it is very deep South.
Do you stop and visit some places you pass? If so, did you stop in the quad cities? (that's my hometown) I paddled through the quad cities at night. Your hometown is probably the most polluted area on the Mississippi. The water smelled like paint. I broke my paddle in the quad cities and was not very happy there.
How did you break your paddle? Going through the last lock in the quad cities I had to pee very bad. There is a rocky area just left of the locks when you exit. A lock can take 30 minutes and I had to go really bad. When I was paddling into that rocky area my paddle hit a rock and the blade broke.
Twin cities resident here! Did you see all the dogs along the shore chasing balls and having a merry time just before passing Fort Snelling? I did. They were on my left as I paddled by. Dogs love to come to the banks and bark at me. *edit - I keep a detailed journal while I am out here but you just reminded me of something I might have never remembered had you not asked. Thanks.
Had I been there that day this may have greeted you. Link to imgur.com I do have a serious question though: how has gear weight played a part in your selection of gear? How much does all of your gear weigh sans kayak? How often do you stop to resupply food and how much food and water do you carry with you? I do not have to worry about weight like I do when I backpack. My kayak alone weighs around 65 pounds. My gear is probably around 45 pounds now and I have about 15 pounds of food. I carry usually a weeks supply of food that is mostly mac and cheese and stovetop stuffing for dinner with pop tarts and candy bars for the day. Water is more difficult than food. I have a 10 liter MSR water bag and a 4 liter platypus bag. I have not been able to filter or treat my water since Minneapolis, and usually fill it up with a hose.
Do you not have a good enough filter & treatment for the water or just don't trust it given the water quality? You can't filter water from an oil slick.
So yeah, antiseptic. Hand sanitizer would be cheap and relatively light. I worked in Yellowstone after college at the Snow Lodge. Fly fishing is an art I will never master. If you ever have a chance to go out there and fish the Snake River or the Yellowstone River, take it. I am glad your eye is ok now.
I have plenty of other questions as well: when it's time to sleep do you simply pull off and sleep on shore? I know there has been some torrential rain lately, how has this effected your trip? Any weather situations that have forced you to stop for the day/had you scared shitless? When I was crossing Lake Cass it began sleeting on my and the winds were causing 3 foot waves. I fell in. I had a bag with fleece pants a fleece jacket and a pak-towel in case of this. After I got into dry clothes I paddled upriver to a lodge I saw earlier. I went into the shower and could not touch the water with my hands without intense pain. Without having been prepared I could have died that day, but luckily I didn't.
I usually just find an island on the river and set up there.
Do you have it setup so things stay in the kayak if it tips? Yes everything is strapped down and in waterproof bags.
What is this monkey swing you speak of? I take one arm and grab a tree branch then swing way back so my poo does not hit my feet. I call it the Monkey Swing because I feel like a monkey swinging from branch to branch.
How was La Crosse? Did you stop there by any chance? I did. A beautiful girl at the awesome river park recommended a pizza place and I ate four very large slices. La Crosse was a beautiful town with a great river front.
What did you do with your boat while you went to get the pizza? The rocks up to the park are pretty steep and it was such a nice clean place I felt like it was safe there.
Awesome! It's my hometown. (I'm in Ohio right now for school.) I'm glad you enjoyed it! What pizza place was it, do you recall? Good luck on the rest of your journey, sir! It was across from a bar called the library.
Beautiful women, recommending pizza? I must go to this place. She had just come from a food co-op also.
Australian cricket legend and World War II fighter pilot Keith Miller put things into perspective when he was asked how he handled the pressure of international cricket. His reply: "Pressure? A Messerschmitt up your arse is pressure. Playing cricket is not." My question: Does your currrent undertaking feel like a walk in the park compared to your time in Iraq? Do you think that this challenge is made (or feels) easier in some way by the experiences you made during your service? Apples and Oranges. We relied on each other a ton over there and it was a shared experience. I feel that my time in the service gave me the confidence to try to achieve something that might seem impossible.
Are you going through the locks when you come to them? Or are you going around on foot? I am going through the locks. I pull a little cord right before them that signals the lockmaster and they put me through just like a barge. I sometimes have to wait upwards of an hour and a half for the barges to go through first. Before Minneapolis I would have to carry my boat around the dams, sometimes up to a mile.
How do you carry the kayak? I've found them a lot harder to portage than canoes. I usually take 2 trips. First I carry all my gear then I use a handle on the side of my kayak to carry it.
Once you conquer the Mississippi what will be your next adventure? I want to come back and help a paraplegic be the first to paddle the entire river. I have had this on my mind for the last month and I think it could be done. The biggest obstacle is portaging around all the dams in Minnesota.
Someday I would like to ride a bike from Coney Island, NY to Chicago then take route 66 to LA. Then I will have done my personal triple crown. Walk up the country, float down then peddle across.
Are you worried about how violent the river becomes in Louisiana? That undercurrent is a killer, literally. Yes I am. 5 people have died on the river within a few miles of me since I have been out here. 4 in Burlington Iowa and one near Hannibal, MO. I stay very near the shore to avoid barges and to be safe. I am very aware that it will be dangerous but will continue anyways.
Most people who die on the river do so because they leave their life vests and brains on the dock to make room for more beer. I have never been or will be on this river without my life vest. I keep a small drybag on my vest with my phone and wallet in case I get separated from my boat.
Are you doing your ama from a mobile device on the water or are you taking a break right now? I am taking the day off. I am at a holliday inn with a business center. I do check reddit every couple of nights from my phone but have to conserve my battery in case I need my phone for an emergency. I stay in a hotel about once every 10 days and this is the second time I took an entire day off. I woke up today and was unable to close my fingers in a fist without a ton of pain and thought it would be a good idea to rest.
Where is your kayak while you are in the hotel room? Did you take it in with you? A marina here is letting me keep it there overnight. Sometimes I hide it among the trees on the shore when I run into town.
How much gear have you ditched so far because you overpacked? Haven't ditched any gear but have lost or broken; solar panel, gps, laptop, gloves, knit hat, kayak paddle and a fleece.
What piece of gear do you wish you had that you don't? What piece of gear has surprised you most? What piece of gear has disappointed you most? I wish I had a spare kayak paddle. My kayak paddle dissapointed me when it broke but the worst piece of gear I had was a Brunton Solar charger. It just straight up did not work even with 12 hours of direct sunlight.
Cat can stove? Cat Can Stove! I don't think anything inflatable could make it down this river because of all the debris.
Do you have any plans for future excursions? I want to do the river again but to act as a guide for a paraplegic and help him/her around the dams and such. It has become clear to me out here that life is better when you stop worrying about yourself and start helping others. If I could share this freedom with someone who might feel confined by their chair then that is a pretty good life.
One day I want to ride a bicycle across the country to complete my triple crown. Walk up, paddle down and ride across. I want to touch the South Pole before I die.
Ehat do you mean by "walk up"? Can you elaborate? When I hiked the Appalachian trail I walked up the country from Georgia to Maine.
When you camp on the side of the river, do you just do it wherever? did you have to organize/reserve locations, or do you just hobo-style it? any problems with authorities ever? I usually stay on islands and pull my boat all the way off the water. No one can really see me.
What kind of wildlife do you see?? At the start there was an amazing amount of wildlife. My favorite was a small furry wolf that was drinking from the riverside. I have seen a ton of deer, ducks, geese, loons, herons and beavers. I also saw a whooping crane. I have a picture of it.
How enormous are the whirlpools? I heard the Mississippi gets massive whirlpools, if so, have you ever gotten stuck in one? They can be upwards of 20 feet. They can be frustrating because there seems to be no good way to paddle around them without being spun around a bit. The more speed you have when skirting by them the less effect they have.
How fast does the Mississippi move? Like, you say you're paddling down it, but could you conceivably just float down it? From Minneapolis to St. Louis the river is controlled by locks and dams. Usually the wind comes from the South and if I do not paddle it pushes me upstream. The current picks up a ton after St. Louis because there are no more dams and floating becomes an option.
Tell us about the stuff you need to figure out about Iraq. What have you been doing since you came back, and why the need for adventure right now? The weight of being responsible for other people's deaths weighs heavy on my heart. I worked for the company that made the drone I flew for a while until they told me I would have to go to Afghanistan. I went back to school for a bit and waited tables. I knew in my heart that I was an adventurer and the only way to get back to that is to dive in.
How polluted is the Mississip? Outside of the cities it is not too bad. I have been by probably 25 coal power plants and tons of factories. The quad cities treats the river like a dump. The water is polluted beyond belief but local groups keep the shoreline decently clean, except in Minneapolis.
As someone who is looking at the filthy bastard right now, (Muscatine, Iowa) what made you choose the Mississippi? I grew up in Memphis and used to hang out at the river. I am just one of those people that when they see a mountain they want to climb it.
Ever read the story "Big Two-Hearted River" by Hemingway? You sound a bit like the character in that. Enjoy your journey and thanks for sharing. No I did read The River Why, Down the River, Huck Finn, and A River Runs Through it though.
How swole are your arms? I lifted a while before this and my arms have actually gotten smaller but more toned.
Any close calls with shady people? Any times where you feared for your safety? Thank you for your military service. Whenever I go through a larger town or city there are people who hang out under the bridges. I avoid them.
Once you get to the mouth in Venice, Louisiana. Would you like to have a beer with me? Sure.
How often do you listen to Black Water by the Doobie Brothers? I heard it on the radio about two weeks ago and sang along. The stroke by Billy Squire and Drift Away are 2 good paddlin songs too. You can usually find me singing along to Brittney Spears and Ke$ha to be honest.
How easy would it be to do this? Like how much experience do you recommend having before you set out on this journey? You need a decent amount of paddling experience for this and must know how to read a river.
Cool.... Where would you get started for all of this? Join a local paddling club. I went through the Memphis canoe and kayak club's courses on whitewater canoeing and kayaking in the 90's growing up. Even if you don't own a boat your local club will probably help you find something to paddle. When I am on my kayak it moves like another limb of my body. When you can paddle and not think about it you are golden. I used to work for an Outdoors shop in memphis. After work every day I would go to a small public lake at shelby farms and paddle for 2-3 hours. I did it because I loved it, even though I just went around in small circles. I did not know at the time that it would lead to this. Start small and dream big. I love the feeling of being on the water. Some people love climbing rocks. If it is el Cap, Everest, a solo sail around the world or maybe a float of the Mississippi that is your calling you will know.
Have you been smacked by any Asian carp yet? Yes they do hit my boat daily. Since lock 19 in Iowa they have been everywhere.
Very cool, I think it is very cool to see someone actively crossing things off a bucket list! Too many people just talk about doing those things but are never serious. Thank you for your service as well! I was paddling north of Minneapolis when I saw a couple of kayaks in front of me. I paddled to catch up and there were about 40 people paddling down the river. I had not seen anyone else paddling before and I was excited. They were a river club from Minneapolis that was out for a day paddle. One of the nice older ladies offered me a place to stay but I did not take the offer and paddled another 10 miles after they got out.
Just curious, how did you get by the Coon Rapids Dam in Minnesota? I imagine you just pulled out some where and put back in down river but I'd be interested to hear how anyway. There is a ridiculously long trail that goes up and down over 2 old rail beds, across a concrete path, down a steep hill, across a 2 foot wide bridge, up a hill with a tree fallen in the middle, then down a long path, that turns into another long path, that finally goes down a hill into a parking lot and then down another steep hill. The path was covered in ticks and there was dicarded panties and broken liquor bottles the whole way. I described it in another response as "rapey". It was not a good time.
How long do you plan on this trip taking? And did you do anything special to prepare for a journey of this magnitude? 70-80 days Nothing too special to be honest. Having gone through SERE-C in the Army helped as well as a lifetime of trips in the outdoors.
Welcome to St. Louis! Just wondering if the river's as muddy everywhere else as it is here? We even have a cake named Mississippi Mud Cake, so, yeah... lol. I used to drink the water and see down 6 feet. Since Iowa it has been bad. Remember playing "hot lava" as a kid. It is like that but with cancer.
Why? I once heard that the afterlife might be a separation from time and you live your life over and over again. Do yo measure life in dollars or in sunsets?
To an alien my life has purpose. What do you have. If it is kids and love you win. If not . . .
Because I own things that money could never buy.
Did I miss the imgur link to OP's pictures? The link is in my comments.
I work at a kayak rental shop in Cleveland, on lake Erie. Im assuming the boat is about 17 feet because you are obviously an experience paddler. Is that right? It is 14 feet.
Did you bring any weed? No :(
Bummer man. I might find a stealth grow on the banks one of these days but I wouldn't want to steal it. I will keep on looking though.
Real men paddle FROM Pensacola TO Minneapolis. If I could find someone to fund it I would turn around and paddle back when I am done.
I'd love a brief overview of the gear you're using. The kayak is a Jackson Cuda Sit on top. I was using an Accent kayak paddle until the blade snapped in the quad cities. I use an Accent paddle board paddle now. I sleep in either my REI 2 man tent or on my ENO hammock. I cook with a denatured alcohol stove. I always wear my life jacket which I have a dry bag attached to hold my phone and wallet. I have a rather large river knife attached to my vest also. I use a Marmot 30 degree sleeping bag with a Thermarest Z-rest for my bed. I had a solar panel and a gps but the river took those from me a month ago.
LOVE my ENO hammock! Slept in it all weekend... Good luck brotha! The ENO hammock is my favorite piece of gear.
As would I! I can't imagine using a sit on top for expedition paddling...a sea kayak feels so much more cozy to me. I picked the Jackson Cuda because I can stand and paddle it like a paddle board. I didn't go with a traditional kayak because I was afraid my legs would not be able to handle months inside a regular kayak.
Good luck, sir. I hope you find what it is you're looking for. You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a... a cow... on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.
Post that shit everywhere :D Maybe our numbers will swell abit. And the trivia team will grow.
Please tell me that's not a fishing pole. I hope you don't plan on eating any fish from that river. Polluted nasty poop fish! That's my poop you are kayaking with! (I live in STL) I would not eat anything south of the quad cities.
You are still north of myself - but when you reach Cairo to Caruthersville (spelling) anthing along that stretch - Basically the Convergance of Ohio and Miss - to where I44 crosses the River. Thanks. I will be passing by probably Friday. I could definitely use a new kayak paddle but I think my mom in Memphis has a spare she will lend me. Mine broke in the quad cities and I have been using a paddleboard paddle like a canoe paddle. It is a mess and I can't close my hands fully anymore but I kind of like it.
You need anything because I could probably get it to you. You can come out and we can high five if you want.
So - regarding Paddle and whatever - looks like I can swing heading North along the river on Thursday - so we are not constrained to a Friday crossing timeline. So outside of the Paddle - any "inland" favorites you desire let me know and we will try and work this out. I talked to my mom and I have an old paddle of mine at her place in Memphis. If you just want to come say hi that would be nice.
Because of the width and the height of the Cuda, a 240cm paddle would be best if you're going to provide a replacement. Maybe the Bending Branches infusion with the soft grips... I was using a 240 before because of the cuda's height. When you set the chair in the low position it is actually not that tall. It is an amazing vessel.
You should launch a Kickstarter campaign to write/document your travels. Perhaps when you do the trip again with a Wounded Warrior. The Wounded Warrior project could perhaps help too. If I could raise money I might. I am well read and well educated but I feel no need to share this. If I could help someone by being popular that would be good. I would rather just die with this than let someone sell it.
I plan on writing a book but I do not like attention while I am doing it. I have already written over 120 pages in my journal but I feel the river is the true story, not some asshole like me going down it If I do ever publish a book about this I want it to be like cannery row, a bit of the wild slipping on the knife. Some days I just wish I was like the kid in into the wild and if I die out here it is worth writing about.
I'm pretty sure I recall you posting your "ride wanted" ad in the twinscitiessocial subreddit or something of the like. Glad to see you found your ride! I recently traveled alongside the river just in Minnesota alone and am really jealous of your trip. No questions here, just good luck! Give some love to mn_redditor. Without him I would not be here.
When you come through Vicksburg, Mississippi, let me know! I will send you a message when I am close.
Did you get bitten by a snake. I fear most bodies of water because of this T_T. I have only seen two snakes in the water, both while waiting for locks. There will be more.
Oh my gosh HEY, i know you! I work at the Four Points you stayed at in MPLS and drove you around in the shuttle :) So fun to see your post on here and see the pictures of where you've been! Hey thanks for the radio station advice. You were a cool chick.
I admire your exercise in Zen. I find mine climbing rock walls. Enjoy the solidarity, risk, and enlightenment. The process of present moments is what matters. The best days are the ones where the hours melt like minutes.
When you get back the zombie contamination will be over. I always wanted to be patient zero in the zombie apocalypse. Maybe the foul waters of lousiana will cause this.
Last updated: 2012-06-03 02:11 UTC
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