Trip # 23 - Lewis's Last Stand: Canoeing the Mississippi River from St.Louis to Memphis

September 26, 2009 to October 3, 2009

230 canoe/float miles; 145 river miles portaged


Part 1

Days 1 through 3

St. Louis to Fort Defiance, Illinois (at the Confluence)

Day 1: Saturday September 26, 2009 - St. Louis to Herculeneum, Missouri.


<< I (being lazy and, as usual, out of the loop) spent the morning getting organized and sightseeing.

< The Missoula contingent, Wayne, Gruver, and Austin, finished unpacking the van and packing the supply boat.

< Is that Austin looking at the very dark line of clouds approaching??


<< The St. Louis riverfront under the I-40 bridge doesn't have the same feel as it did back when the steamboats crowded the landing !

< Left: looking north up the Mississippi River

< Right: looking south down the Mississippi River


<< Ralph, Chris, and Kevin - three of the Washington D.C. contingent. Eager.

< We pushed off about 1:30 p.m., just as the rain began. We started in a busy section of the river; there were lots of barge tows.

< We didn't have our "river eyes" yet.


<< After the chilly, slow moving line of thunderstorms passed, the sun begins to come out.

< We start drying out and warming up.

< I had to improvise a rain cap, not having packed one. Low "plastic" bagger ??


<< We landed on a beach near Herculeneum and set up camp.


<< All ends peacefully.

< Ah!

Today: a sudden transition from our dry, ordinary land life to a chilly, rainy, windy, and busy river life. Finally towards the end of the day: clear skies and a warm camp.

30 river miles today; 30 river miles total.

Day 2: Sunday September 27, 2009 - "Dewed" at Herculeneum. On to Ste. Genevieve.


<< We were covered with a heavy dew by morning.

< "Dewed" became the word of the day. As in "Hey?? Dewed??"

< Lesson One: Think about the dew before you decide to sleep under the stars or in a tent.


<< It was a beautiful morning. We did not make an early start.


< It was sunny and warm all day. The river broadened out and we had a nice float.


<< Relaxing as we float down on the supply boat in the afternoon.

< Generally we would start the day canoeing, but sometime after lunch, depending on weather, time, or distance remaining for the day, we would tie our canoes onto the supply boat and ride her the rest of the way.


<< We were hoping to re-supply at a marina at Ste. Genevieve, but it was silted in and closed. So we all (Ralph and I seen here) walked up to town for some rest and shade. It was hot.

< Just about all the towns along the Mississippi River are set far back from the river. Generally their earlier incarnations were destroyed by floods, either their their landings left dry by changes in the course of the river or their original sites swallowed up as the river eat away at their landings.

< The original site of Ste. Genevieve was closer to the river than today's site, and was moved back because of flooding. Even after setting back, most river towns, like Ste. Genevieve, are protected by levies.

< I retold the story of my ferry crossing of the Mississippi just above Ste. Genevieve at least 15 years ago. The wind picked up mid-crossing and turned the flat Mississippi into a white cap covered maelstrom. I remember feeling "concerned" about whether the little ferry would make it to the other side in the ruckus.

< I did not know I should have paid more attention to my own story. (i.e. this foreshadows an interesting event on day four).


<< Ste. Genevieve is famous as an old french settlement with "post in ground" and "post on sill" construction.

< This a picture of a reconstructed french colonial house (originally circa 1790's) in town, one of several. The french had a large presence in Illinois and along the Mississippi River in the late 1700's. Picture by Robert Mueller.

< The park ranger at the Felix Valle House State Historic Site was quite helpful.

< Austin and Jim joined us on the river this afternoon. They had ridden the van down from St. Louis. Wayne went van-side at Ste. Genevieve.


<< Ralph and our nice big beach/campsite across the river from Ste. Genevieve.


< Gruver cooking up some good food for dinner.

The wind picked up in the evening, the beginning of a long windy spell.

30 river miles today, 60 river miles total.

Day 3: Monday September 28, 2009 - Paddle and Portage to the Confluence


<< Today instead of "dewed" we are "duned".

< The wind blew hard all night and we were on a long beach. The sand is pretty fine here.


<< Chris and Ralph in the morning sand

< Lesson Two - don't camp on long beaches that don't have wind breaks.


<< We canoe and float down to Tower Rock ( the "rock" slightly shorter than we anticipated). At the boat ramp at Tower Rock/in Wittenberg, Wayne gives the bad news.

< We have too many miles of river to cover in the days we have left, so we have to portage and make up some river miles via land.

We take apart the supply boat, load the gear, and head south. Tonight, our destination is Fort Defiance, near Cairo, Illinois, at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. A retired river pilot, who helped us at the landing, tells us to avoid Cairo at night.

Just before we pull out, Jim gets a call that his mother has taken a turn for the worse. We drop Jim off in Cape Girardeau, MO., so he can get back to St. Louis, and fly back to Butte, MT.

We arrive at the Confluence long after dark.

40 canoe and float miles today, 100 river miles total.

85 land miles = 80 river miles portaged.

  • To: Lewis's Last Stand - Part Two
  • Last Update: January 24, 2010