Day 56 (July 25) was probably the most uneventful day of the trip. We woke up on a sandbar and did our morning routine. During our almost 9 hours of paddling we decided to take a shortcut rather than go all the way around an island. I realize that this is usually a currentless route but we needed to break up the day somehow. Between the island and mainland there were three man-made jetties that created some basic rapids for us. The excitement was short lived. We each took in a little bit of water which woke us up from the hot day of paddling. We paddled all day and finally stopped at another sandbar with maybe an hour and a half of daylight remaining. I cooked baked beans in a can as soon as we landed and Gabe must have went to bed right around 7 pm. The sun was still beating down so I'm not sure how he slept like that. Another rainless evening which meant we got to use our quick pop up mosquito net tents! We paddled 56 miles for the day.
We both woke up sore as usual on Day 57 (July 26). I haven't been blogging about it much but we generally wake up with our hands so tight that we can't close our fists. Getting up from a seated position causes us to cringe with pain from our backs and butts being sore from sitting. Gabe already has back issues so I'm certain that this likely isn't the therapy a doctor would recommend. We push on everyday knowing that there isn't much we can do about it. Today we had a goal to aim for Greenville, MS. We were down to our last container of water and needed to resupply on food and fuel as well. During our entire trip this will only be our third fuel canister, they sure do last a long time! We hit the water and tried to maintain an average speed of 7 mph so that we could get to Greenville early and get resupplied and settled in a camp spot before dark. We arrived in Greenville around 3 pm after paddling 43 miles. It was blistering hot when we got away from the breeze of the main channel. We pulled our kayaks out on an industrial boat launch that looked like it was no longer used, covered our kayaks with the camouflage tarp and packed all our valuables in our backpacks. Just as we started walking to town, we realized that we were fenced in to a very secure industrial plant. We tried to stay hidden and Gabe jumped a fence with barbed wire over the top. I chose to lay down and crawl under the fence instead. We felt that our kayaks were certainly secure at this site. We started walking to town which was nearly three miles away. After the first mile both of our shirts were completely soaked with sweat. We decided that it would be impossible to sleep outside in this weather and that we would catch a taxi to the cheapest motel. The cab arrived and he dropped us off 5 miles later at the motel. I asked what we owed and he said "$25 each." My immediate response was "are you shitting me!?" I explained that we are traveling doing charitable work and don't have much money. His response was, "the best I can do is $20 each." We tried getting him to lower it but he refused. Gabe paid the man and we walked in the motel lobby blown away at how bad we just got ripped off. We asked for a room and they said it wasn't clean yet and that we should come back in 15 minutes. We noticed at least 4 or 5 very sketchy men wandering around the motel drinking at 4 pm. We decided to walk a few blocks down to McDonalds for a early dinner. We hung out at McDonalds for well over an hour, enjoying their AC. When we returned to the motel to get our key and TV remote (must be a commonly stolen item) we walked to our room to find the cleaning lady had just started cleaning. We leaned against the wall under the shade and watched as she brought garbage bags full of beer bottles out. Several other people staying at the motel stared at us as they wandered around aimlessly while drinking their beers. We walked inside and acknowledged the fact that we were likely not in the best area of town. We knew there was definitely some sketchy business going on just outside our room when we saw a guy standing out on the corner keeping an eye out for cops. We went to bed wondering how we were going to get back to our gear the next day without spending another $40.
I woke up at 6 am on Day 58 (July 27) and didn't bother sleeping in to enjoy being inside. Neither of us slept under the blankets of our beds last night for the fear that they were unclean. The entire room was run down. Drawers missing, dressers that look like they came from the 70's, bathroom door that didn't lock, lights that didn't work. The strangest thing was the color of the tap water which had a yellowish tea look to it. Apparently this is how everyone's water in the city looks. After doing some research, the locals like to say that's where their talent for the blues comes from - "it's in the water." We drank bottled water. I immediately started looking for other taxis in the area. There were only 2 or 3 to choose from and I figured they all probably worked the same. On our walk back to McDonald's, I spotted a well dressed man walking into the entrance of a strip mall that had been abandoned for the most part. The section he was in was renovated and looked to be the only one kept clean and modern. On the outside window it read "King James Bible Baptist Church." I told Gabe that after breakfast we should go talk to him to see if he could offer us any help. On our walk back to our motel I knocked on the door and Pastor Charles Hamilton greeted us each with a hand shake and asked how he could help us. We explained what we were doing and our desperate need for a ride back to our gear. He handed me a pamphlet and said that he had two services to conduct this morning and that he would love it if we came as guests, and that he would certainly be able to find us a ride after the service. I figured it was the least we could do so we walked back to our hotel room and packed all of our gear and brought it over to their church. Everyone looked back at us as we set our gear down and quietly picked a spot in the back row. There were approximately 30 people attending the service and shortly after our arrival the pastor had us introduce ourselves. Each individual at the service came back to shake our hands and thanked us for coming to their service. Some of the younger kids said they wished they could come with us. It was a real great community of people and everyone was incredibly nice. The service lasted an hour and a half and had a lot of good messages. The style of preaching, Southern Baptist, was like something I had never witnessed before, so it was a cool opportunity to get to experience something so different. After the service Pastor Hamilton had one of his assistants drive us back to our kayaks free of charge! Greenville was interesting and I'm glad we had the opportunity to experience everything. We paddled in some more hot weather again to a sandbar where we set up camp, completing 37 miles. We had to set up our real tents. There was a 30% chance of rain. Before bed I messaged our contact in Vicksburg, MS, Layne Logue. I asked if he could assist us with a water resupply because we were running low. He said he would be happy to help and that we would talk in the morning.
The storms woke us up at about 4 am on Day 59 (July 28). The wind ripped out a couple of our stakes and tried lifting our tents. I quickly rolled towards the side lifting up to keep it on the ground. The lightning flashes were bright and the thunder was right over us. We were in a pretty bad spot for a storm - on the edge of a sandbar near the middle of the water. I wondered if people could anticipate being struck by lightning. The storm lasted until 7 am which prevented us from getting on the water as early as we wanted to. We got on the water at 8:40 AM and it was another hot day. I pulled out the maps that I had and realized that we were not 50 miles from Vicksburg like I originally thought the night before. After adding everything up, we were over 76 miles away. I quickly tried to contact Layne to let him know that we might not make it that night, but my phone had no service. We paddled for several hours and then a message arrived on my cell phone from Layne. He said that he had a friend interested in helping and contacted some other friends who managed to get us a free room at a nice hotel along the river. Well now that we had a room waiting on us, our motivation increased quite a bit. It was a brutally hot day and a shower and room with AC sounded amazing. I finally got service and messaged Layne to let him know that we might not get there until late, but we were not stopping until we got there. Today was the closest we came to running out of water. We were forced to ration our water almost halfway through the day. When we still had 20 miles left, we were each down to one more bottle full. We both developed headaches and knew that we were dehydrated. We drank the remainder of our water and asked Layne to have some water waiting when we arrived. 7:00 pm rolls around and we were still six miles away. About 30 minutes later we heard a yell from the left bank. I looked in that direction and spotted a kayaker waving their arms. Layne had paddled out to us to escort us up the Yazoo River to the boat launch where we would be getting out. He handed us each a cold bottle of water which was amazing, and took some pictures of us and we continued on towards our end spot for the day. After about 12 hours of paddling, we came around the corner and saw well over 20 people standing on shore clapping and waiting to greet us. We jumped out of our boats and were immediately handed beers by a Marine veteran. There were at least seven or eight veterans there. Many were Marines. It was the greatest reception we've had so far. We were told that there was a catfish dinner going on that evening but I was under the impression that this was something that was planned well in advance and just happened to land on the day we were arriving. In actuality, a woman named Patty Mekus, who is the president of the Southern Heritage Air Foundation, had not only gathered all these people with Layne for our reception but also planned a catered meal from Rowdy's which included LOTS of catfish and plenty of side dishes. We arrived at the Vicksburg-Tulluah Airport where the dinner was being held. Inside a huge hangar they had tables set up and dinner waiting for us. It was my first time having catfish and it was great! I ate a big pile of it. We sat with the family of a Marine and a gentleman named Chester Masterson who was with a nonprofit organization called Warrior Bonfire Project (www.warriorbonfireproject.org). They assist Purple Heart veterans by taking them on outdoor trips all over the country. It's a newer organization but seems to be doing very well. Patty gave us a tour of the WWII museum - shek knew every little detail of each object in there along with a lot if great stories. We wrapped things up with strawberry shortcake for dessert (amazing) and said goodbye and thanked everyone for putting together such a perfect night. Everything they planned was a huge surprise and was far more than we ever expected. Our experience in Vicksburg will never be forgotten. We returned to our hotel room and enjoyed a night of sleeping in a cold room!
We grabbed some breakfast from McDonald's with Layne on Day 60 (July 29), then went back to the hotel and had an interview with The Vicksburg Post before squeezing in one final shower and returning to the shoreline to push back in the water. Our departure was as great as our arrival. We had a group of at least 12 help us unload our kayaks from the truck and help us with our gear. We thanked everyone again and waved goodbye to the great city of Vicksburg. We paddled all afternoon (33 miles) and into the evening before spotting a picnic table on a patch of grass that was cut. We pulled over in a spot that had sand between all the rocks on the levy and found that we were a few miles from Port Gibson, MS. The place we stopped had a sign that read "Grand Gulf Military Park, No overnight parking, gates close at sundown." It didn't say no camping so we popped our tents up and settled in for the night. The sun went down and we were just finishing cooking dinner when a tan truck pulled up with Grand Gulf Military Park markings on the side. I kindly greeted the gentleman with a smile an he did not look happy. He said "I hope you boys don't plan on camping here tonight." I turned around and looked at our tents and everything we had and said, "Yeah, that was kind of the plan." I informed him that we were kayaking the Mississippi River an had been on it for over 60 days. I assumed it looked like we were homeless as I was cooking a can of spaghettios over a flame when he walked up. He told us that he was the park ranger and that we were in a state park and that there was no way they would allow camping and that we shouldn't even be cooking here. With the sun down already I asked him what our options were. He said, "You get back in the water and move on down river." I laughed and explained that the sun was already down and it would probably take us 40 minutes to repack everything. There was no way I was getting back on the river in the dark unless I had a death wish. He didn't seem to care though. Lucky for us there was a couple on a motorcycle that stopped by earlier in the night told us that they were just cruising around and stopped at a campsite just a half of a mile up the road. I asked the park ranger about it and he confirmed that yes it existed. He had no intention of making it an option for us if I hadn't asked. He just kept insisting that we need to be gone. After realizing that maybe we weren't homeless, he offered a ride up to the campground so we could stay there for the night instead. He then asked what we were going to do with our boats. I explained that they are well hidden on the levy and no one would know they were there. He said, "Nope, you're not leaving them there. This is a state park and no boats can be left there overnight." I explained that they each weighed about 200 pounds and that there was no way we were going to haul them to the camp ground. I told him to forget it and that we would just get back on the river and risk dying then deal with him. We started packing all of our gear and he could tell we were angry. He wandered off and called his boss who gave him approval for us to keep our boats there for the night. We were angry, but took the ride up to the camp spot anyway. If he would have just asked his boss in the first place that entire headache could've been avoided. When we arrived at the campground, he put us on in spot in the middle of the dark and we couldn't see a thing around us. We popped up our mosquito nets and laid down. Shortly after I heard something about 4 feet from me making some noise. I look over and from the light of the moon could see an animal tugging on the strap to my bag. I slapped the bottom of my tent and it slowly walked away and towards my feet. Then it stopped and stared and I slapped the tent again. I believe it was an opossum but wasn't real sure with the bad lighting. It slowly wandered off and I went to bed. We were warned that wild hogs were in the area.
I didn't sleep much at all that night. On Day 61 (July 30), I woke up at 3:45 am to the sound of something large pacing around in the woods right next to me. I also heard something splash into a pond that must have been nearby. I laid in my mosquito net wide awake until 6 am when I could finally see my surroundings. Fell asleep for an hour and then got up for the day. I woke up and noticed there was a large pond maybe 50 yards from where we were laying and an abandoned house that had caution tape around it about 100 yards behind us. The pond was littered with signs that said "No Swimming." Obviously this could be a great home for a family of alligators, so thanks again for the excellent camp spot, park ranger. We got back in the water before 8 and ate our breakfast as we floated downstream. I've been very carefully scanning the banks of the river the last several days hoping to see an alligator. No luck yet. We were told that we would need to sneak a few hundred yards off of the main channel to spot the big ones. After 45 miles we stopped in the last river town in Mississippi called Natchez. Layne connected us with a river guide, Adam Elliot, who met us for lunch at a restaurant called The Camp. It was a great recommendation by Adam because all the food was as fresh as it comes. They bake their own buns each night, get the tomatoes from a farm across the river, and cut and cure their own bacon for several days. Nothing was frozen at this place and you could certainly tell. It was the best burger I've had on the entire trip. Adam kindly covered our bill and offered us bananas and fig newtons before we departed. It was nice to have some additional snacks! We pushed back in the river and paddled another six miles down to a sandbar island and set up camp for the night. We paddled 51 miles total.
We should be just north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana by Saturday!