We pushed into the water and made our way down to the Keokuk area on Day 38 (July 7). Last night I called the lock master and he said that they would be able to assist us with portaging. When I was three miles away I called and a different guy answered and said they were short staffed and couldn't provide us with any help. He said unless it was an emergency, he wasn't going to make himself or the other guy on duty get in the water. He advised us to pull off at the marina we were next to and find a ride or make a 1500 yard portage near the lock. We took our luck and aimed for the marina. We pulled into a boat launch and caught the first person we spotted, Renee Meredith. She was a member at the marina and said she had some errands to run but would be happy to come back with her daughters truck to give us a lift. We waited in the marina for maybe 30 minutes until a gentleman named Charlie Everingham approached us. He said that Renee sent him down to assist us. We loaded our gear in his truck and he have us a ride down to Victory Park, just below the lock and dam. We got back in the water after lunch and had a sudden increase of logs bumping the bottom of our boat. After an Asian carp came flying out next to me, I realized we would have some additional company on the river from this point forward . Each paddle stroke caused fish to jump out of the water for about two miles straight. We paddled lightly for the fear of getting hit in the face by one of them. We knew we would encounter these at some point and they are as big of a pain as I imagined. We paddled within three miles of our next lock before I gave them a call. The gentlemen advised us to aim for Fenway landing and to get over a small levy into a canal that ran parallel to the river. Unfortunately, we had already passed that landing. We quickly aimed for that shoreline anyway and approached the long grass that was once a levy. It was too thick to paddle through so I backed up and slammed into the berm with all my power. I then hopped out with one foot and pushed through the shallow grassy water to nearly the other side. I was covered in spiders and many other water bugs when I returned to my kayak. Vasquez then did the same behind me and jumped out to push me into the running water on the other side. He forced his way down as well and we were in calm water again. I immediately felt burning on my left forearm and hand and thought that I must have passed through some poison ivy. I rinsed it and pushed on for several miles. I looked again and my skin was now reacting - I had several very itchy welts forming on my forearm and hand. I refrained from touching them. After another hour of paddling I looked down and the welts had disappeared. They no longer burned or itched. I'm still uncertain as to what caused that reaction. If anyone has an idea, please post a comment below. We rode the new channel all the way into Canton, MO. Once we arrived in Canton, we rode past stop signs where the water was level with the word STOP. We could reach up and nearly touch the railroad crossing lights. We even floated over a fence where the barbed wire was visible in some spots. We found an opening in their levy and paddled up to it. We met several people and some said camping would he difficult in the town. It was already past 7 pm and a huge storm was rolling in, so we had no intentions of getting back on the water. Lucky for us a woman named Linda Duncan and a man named Gary Golden came to our rescue. They owned an apartment complex and one of their tenants had just moved out. They said we would be welcome to take cover at that location for the night. They delivered us and all of our gear to the apartment and retrieved some lawn chairs to sit on and brought a cooler with a few beers and soda in it. I gave Linda a hug and shook Gary's hand and thanked them for all of their generosity. Linda said she had a son our age and she hopes that others would do the same for him if he was in that situation. They own a restaurant downtown and said they would like to buy our breakfast the next morning. Gabe and I ate dinner and returned to the apartment just in time before the severe weather hit. It was wind like I had never seen before, and storming like crazy. I don't know if our tents would have held up in a storm like this so I said an extra prayer thanking God for our fortune that evening. We watched the storm from the shelter of the apartment garage for awhile and began to plot out our plans for the next few days. We paddled 34 miles for the day.
On Day 39 (July 8), we woke up and walked to Linda and Gary's restaurant, Art Cafe. They made us a free breakfast and we sat and talked with a local gentleman named Elmer. Linda connected us with a local newspaper journalist who conducted an interview with us about our trip. We gave Linda a hug and thanked her for taking such great care of us on a night that would have been horrible to camp in. Gary drove us and our kayaks back down to the river and handed us a lunch that Linda prepared for us. Ham and turkey sandwiches, chips, a pickle, and grapes. Everything was wonderful! We ate our lunch before getting on the water and paddled towards Hannibal, MO. I contacted the lock master at lock and dam 21 and asked for portage instructions. He said that there weren't any real portage choices and that we could paddle over the spillway if we didn't mind going over some rapids. It certainly wasn't my first choice but we thought we would try it. As we approached the spillway a few hours later, I contacted the lock master again so they could keep an eye on us as we passed their dam. We stuck as close to the Missouri side as possible and went over the spillway without any problems. I then called our next contact in the Hannibal area, Vernon Cash. He is in the Navy and served on the same base in Afghanistan that Gabe and I were on. He directed us to the best route around all the obstructions that were flooded on the river side of the levy. We approached a railroad bridge just before Hannibal and it didn't look like we would fit under it due to the high water. We found a spot to pass under and the bridge was only a few inches over my head. The current got very strong but we paddled hard to a small passage way that went over the railroad tracks. After paddling 35 miles for the day, we met up with Vernon and he helped pull us out of the river. We noticed a gentleman named Steve closing up his garage just a few feet on the other side of the flood gate that prevented several feet of water from flooding the town. I asked if we could keep our kayaks there until the morning and he kindly said yes. Vernon drove us a few blocks away to a hotel that he purchased for us! We unloaded our gear and headed to a local Mexican restaurant. We spent a few hours there exchanging military stories. Vernon mentioned that he has visited at least 52 countries, thanks to the military. He refused to allow me to cover the dinner check. After all, he did just purchase a hotel room for us and it was the least I could do, but he declined. We went back to our hotel and hung out for a few more hours. We thanked Vernon for all of his kindness and company during the evening. He connected us with his reserve station down in St. Louis if we ran into any issues.
After breakfast at the hotel on Day 40 (July 9), we walked through downtown and stopped by Mark Twain's childhood home. Everything in Hannibal is focused around Mark Twain and the river. We went down to get our kayaks from the garage that Steve allowed us to store them in overnight. He kindly let us refill our water supply there as well. We put our kayaks in on the slope of the levy. We paddled down the street to an opening where the railroads usually are and had a small crowd watching and taking pictures. A woman yelled out and asked where we were headed. I responded with, "the Gulf of Mexico" and she laughed as if I was joking. She then asked, "Where are you really headed?" I laughed and again told her, "the Gulf of Mexico." We paddled down a road and back into the main channel. Our first lock and dam was less than 10 miles down river. The lock master said that their facility was under water and that we could paddle through their entrance and exit gates to their parking lot. The current wasn't bad in that area which made for a smooth route around that lock. As we approached and exited a few chutes we hit some crazy water. Lots of spinning and churning water, which is always interesting. We were lucky enough to avoid some of the more violent areas that we could see from a distance. I paddled as hard as I could for an hour and a half today, maintaining around 9-10 mph. It allowed us to arrive at the final lock much quicker but it was a little exhausting. Our final lock had no good options to get around it. The spillway had a lot of trees obstructing most of the path and the dams were clogged with trees. We were forced to pull out of the water about a quarter mile from town, completing 36 miles for the day. We walked into Clarksville, MO to figure out our options for camping that night. I noticed two corrections officers outside. They were assisting with the town's disaster relief by filling and stacking sand bags. I approached the corrections officers for advice on where to camp and they directed me to the church doors a few feet away. He said of group of Americorps workers were in the church and could help us. I walked in and explained what we were doing and that we were wondering if anyone had any suggestions of places we could camp for the evening. One of the women in the room, Linda Blakey, said she would make a phone call for us but in the mean time we should grab some plates and help ourselves to their tables of food that was prepared for the volunteers helping with sandbagging. All the woman were exceptionally kind and offered us anything we wanted. Linda approached us shortly after and said that there was a hotel in town that was no longer operational but that we could camp on their lawn. She left a message with the property owner and then informed the sheriff when he walked in a few minutes later. We walked back down to the north end of the lock and used our portage cart to drag our kayaks a little over a quarter mile. Once they were in place we returned to the church to see if they needed any help with cleaning up. We took out several trash bags and the woman said for us to make sure we were back at 8 am for breakfast. We smiled and thanked them again for all of their assistance. We returned to our kayaks and put up our little one-man tents. Clarksville was excellent to us but we are happy to be getting back on the river as we approach St. Louis!
We should make it to St. Louis by this weekend!