The Mississippi Big Bend, just north of the confluence of the Missouri.
1. You have to expect a wide range of weather conditions. The organizers can give some broad guidance on what you might expect, but hey, the weather is the weather. In this case we were expecting a strong heat dome and high temperatures. We had a couple 100-103 days, and one afternoon when we landed, the temperature was 105.2. That’s still better than the 115 I would have had to endure if I had remained at home. Being 69 years of age, I know our bodies’ abilities to cope with excessive heat diminishes as we age. I’ve never done well in high temperatures, so I was concerned about the combination of high exertion and high temperatures, but we all managed with some thought. We were cautioned that we would be sweating large amounts, and that we should have plenty of water, salt or electrolyte additives, at least a gallon of water, wicking clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hat that could be frequently soaked. I went through 6 qts of water on couple days, or a bit better than a quart an hour. Many paddlers carried large water guns to soak each other, and when we took rest breaks, a lot of people sat or laid in the river to cool their core temperature. In the end, we managed to get through, and I even came home more confident about paddling in such conditions. Now, instead of sitting home because it’s too hot, I know I can safely get on the water and manage the conditions.
2. One problem with mid-summer events is trying to sleep in a tent in high heat and humidity. We were encouraged to bring a battery-powered fan, and most did. I posted about the new O2 Cool fan I purchased, and it was fantastic---for the first two days before it failed. While it didn’t help me on the rest of the trip, Gander Mountain seems to be standing a hundred percent behind the fan and are already sending me a replacement and a FedEx return authorization.
3. When dealing with large crowds of people, you will encounter all types of personalities. The great thing about paddlers is that they are ALMOST always supportive and friendly. They lend a hand wherever possible. Most are patient, even deferential, in waiting their turn at the ramp or standing in line for the shuttle. So, don’t get angry and carried away when you find the rare few that are hard chargers who believe that God created heaven and earth just for their benefit. It’s better to yield than allow them to damage your boat. It’s just a fact that people’s personalities don’t change when they get on the water. If they are aggressive drivers on the interstate, they will also be aggressive paddlers on the river.
4. You can safely assume that most people on the water don’t know the rules of the road. Yes, I know paddlers are an independent lot, some even independent to the point of anarchy, but there are rules in everything, whether baseball, football, or paddling. And they are there for a reason. Rules are the natural consequence of injury and death. I was in a meeting situation with one paddler, and I told him to go ahead, and that he had the right of way. He responded, “Oh, I don’t mess with those rules.” As a retired commercial mariner, I will state flatly that if you don’t know the rules of the road, you have no business on the water. I don’t care if your vessel if 2500 tons or 25 pounds, the rules are there for everyone’s mutual safety. If you don’t know the rules or choose to ignore them, you are a hazard to everyone else on the water---period.
5. Be prepared to embrace, or at least endure, the circumstances you meet. Conditions may not be what were on the trip’s promotional brochure. We experienced two of those situations. One, the river was at an all time low. At least according to one man, who had lived his entire life on the river, and who said he could not remember it being so low. The USGS gauge put the river at 2.3 feet. That’s an absurd change from last year when the trip had to be cancelled due to flooding. The low water levels put us in the river bottom, or in places like to Auxvasse River where the bottom appeared to have no bottom. We encountered frequent shoe and leg sucking-mud. No matter how much we tried to flush our feet clean when getting in the boats, most boats had enough nutrient-rich muck in their bottoms to sprout vegetables. The second situation occurred in the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The organizers had done a trial run of the trip and found the meeting of the rivers to be as smooth as glass. We even looked at the confluence of the rivers from the top of the Lewis and Clark observation tower---smooth as glass. Instead, the Mississippi seemed to say to us, “Your trip on my waters is a short one, so here, I’ll make it memorable.” More on that later.
So, anyhow, nothing here should discourage you from joining such a trip. If you are thrown a curve, it just makes the stories about the trip more interesting,