Kayak in the River

“Maybe freedom really is nothing left to lose. You had it once in childhood, when it was okay to climb a tree, to paint a crazy picture and wipe out on your bike, to get hurt. The spirit of risk gradually takes its leave. It follows the wild cries of joy and pain down the wind, through the hedgerow, growing ever fainter. What was that sound? A dog barking far off? That was our life calling to us, the one that was vigorous and undefended and curious.”
― Peter Heller, Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River

A while back, on my trip to New Orleans, my son Lee and I were in Crescent Park, hanging out for a few minutes, looking at the giant muddy expanse of the Mississippi River and the ships, tugs, and barges cruising past. A guy in an open-water kayak paddled by, going downstream, and I snapped a photo, wishing I had my longer lens. Other than the familiar automatic action of raising my camera and pushing the shutter, I didn’t think any more about it.

Ryan Caruso in his kayak, Mississippi River, New Orleans

Now, back home, I’m looking over the photos I took on my trip. I checked out the kayak zoomed in a bit closer and noticed it was covered in sponsor’s signs – including one for “Operation Smile.”

Ryan Caruso in his kayak, Mississippi River, New Orleans

It didn’t take much internet searching to learn that this was Ryan Caruso, kayaking a thousand miles from South Padre Island Texas, to Panama City Beach Florida, to raise money for Operation Smile – a charity to provide needed surgeries to children around the world.

He tracked his route here, and kept a blog of the trip. Lee and I saw him on Saturday, July 15 right at 12 noon – here’s his blog entry for the day:

JULY 15: Day 23

By 8 in the morning, my sailboat friend, which I finally learned his name but I will call him whom I’m calling “Military Man,” caught me up. We talked for a moment before he passed me once again. A half-hour later, I had entered the industrial harbor of New Orleans. For 5 miles, I passed barge push boats (no barges just the boat), sitting along the channel being fixed or repainted or pulled from the water to inspect the haul.

I radioed to the Harvey Locks letting them know I was five minutes away and slide in almost immediately into the lock. The guys running the lock were very interested in the voyage, and I explained as I always do what I was doing and why – it’s all for Operation Smile. They told me to make sure I updated New Orleans Traffic Control when I got onto the Mississippi. The lock filled with water and only my kayak, as the lock was empty besides for me, rose 6 feet so as to be level with the mighty Mississippi before the lock doors opened. One of the gentlemen of the lock lowered down two cold water bottles with the caps tied to a rope. The key to my heart – well, two keys to be precise.

“New Orleans Traffic Control, this is 18-foot white kayak entering the Mississippi from the Harvey locks and will be following the eastern bank to the industrial locks. Just giving you guys a heads up.”

“18 foot … what kind of boat?”

“A kayak, sir.”

“Kayak?” A chuckle. “Kayak, this is Traffic Control. Thank you for the update. We will ensure traffic knows you are out there.”

For the next hour, I left the radio on to channel 12 so I could listen to water traffic on the Mississippi. I heard a lot of the barges talking about the “kayaker.” They must have had a hard time seeing me because other boats would always have to update different boats of my location. I was asked to wait while a ferry boat started up and took of into the center of the river but after awhile I safely entered the inlet for the industrial lock.

A barge with chemicals was currently entering the lock and since no other boats can accompany barges with dangerous chemicals I was forced to wait. My sailboat friend was there, and the lock had told me to enter behind him. Military Man had been waiting for an hour and together we had to wait another one.

I pulled off the ICW after only 26 miles. I found a spot where the wake barrier rocks had fallen away and I slid into the main land. These rocks make landing impossible if I don’t want to destroy the haul of my boat. Yanking the boat through thick marsh and tall grass, didn’t take long and soon I was walking the 15 minutes to the main road. Upon reaching the main road, I only had to wait a minute or two before my Uber arrived to take me to Walmart. I feasted on Taco Bell across the street – since there was no Cajun restaurants near me – and then made my way to Walmart.

As I waited for the Uber back to my kayak, rain came down like I hadn’t seen in days. I dove into the passenger seat as the rain hammered the window. By the time we made it back to my hidden kayak, the rain had stopped and I slowly made my way back down the old forgotten gravel path. After arranging the food into dry bags, I realized I may have bought too much. I guess I will know tomorrow when I pack the kayak in the morning.

I leave the safety of the ICW for the next 5 days, tomorrow. Hoping for calm winds and no stories to write about.

So when Lee and I saw him, he was following the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. He had entered the Mississippi at the Harvey Locks a bit upstream, and was paddling down the river past us until he reached the Industrial Canal Locks only a bit farther. At that point he would leave the river and enter the channels of the Intracoastal Waterway again (and stop to take an Uber to Walmart for supplies).

What an amazing thing. First, his kayak voyage – an impressive feat. Add to that the fact I, from only a glimpse of a kayak on the river, could track down the whole story while sitting here at my laptop.

On the Bayou

Goodbye Joe me gotta go me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne the sweetest one me oh my oh
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
—-Jambalaya (On The Bayou), Hank Williams

Bayou St. John
New Orleans, Louisiana
During the Bayou Boogaloo festival

Bayou St. John, New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John,
New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John, New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John,
New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John, New Orleans, La

Bayou St. John,
New Orleans, La

What I learned this week, November 22, 2013

5 city bikes that roll you through town in style
The latest in steel-framed, fender-clad, and leather-saddled bikes at a variety of price points.

Some of the ones that caught my eye:

Shinola Runwell

Purefix Bourbon

Public V7

If I could afford a new bike – this is what I would buy right now:
Xootr Swift

I love reading (and writing) short stories. Apparently, I’m not alone.

2013: The Year of the Short Story

In Dallas, a deafening slurping noise as the town goes crazy for Asian noodles

I’m going to have to go visit Sulphur Springs and use the public restrooms.

The Ten Sexiest Riffs in Music

You’ve probably already seen this – but it is the coolest music video I’ve ever seen. Be sure and check out all the channels.

Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone – Official Video

For some reason, I really like “The Price is Right” channel… maybe it’s just Drew Carey lip-syncing Dylan.

A cow-orker is retiring at the end of the year (an awful lot are) and he stopped by my office for my help on getting his replacement up and going. I asked the innocent question, “Do you have any plans for retirement.”

He got all excited and launched into a long lecture on kayak fishing and, especially, about the particular kayak he is getting ready to buy – the Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14. I have to admit – the thing is pretty cool.

The most amazing (to me) feature are the foot powered propulsion fins. Two flexible extensions underwater are moved by pedals to propel the kayak forward. Pretty cool… but not cheap.

The Dallas Wave

Sunday I hiked the mile or so from the Corinth DART station down through the Trinity River Bottoms on the new Santa Fe Trestle trail. Underneath the new/old bridge is another feature, the contentious Dallas Wave.

You see, in its constant struggle to become… what?… a real city, Dallas decided as part of its plans for developing the Trinity River Bottoms to put in a whitewater feature.

The Dallas Wave with a DART train going by overhead... and the skyline in the background. (click to enlarge)

Before it gets to the artificial rapids of the Dallas Wave the Trinity is a lazy, calm stretch of flat water.

The whitewater of the Dallas Wave with the lighted ball of Reunion Tower in the background.

The water is very high from recent rains - at least four feet above normal. The Standing Wave is almost completely drowned.

BTW, those of you in remote locales who might be wondering what I’m talking about – there’s a very familiar piece of footage I’m sure you have seen. The first few seconds of this introduction features a flyover of the Trinity River Bottoms.

At any rate, the city went ahead and put in their whitewater – basically sticking a couple of concrete dams and walls into the otherwise calm and lazy Trinity. The results don’t bode too well – the rest of the development is stalled for a decade or so because of Federal Regulations promulgated after Katrina. The Standing Wave was constructed and it ended up costing millions of dollars more than planned.

And now, the thing is closed. It turns out that it is too fast and dangerous for canoes to run. The sport kayakers seem happy with the thing, but other folks seem to think it’s a deathtrap.

Now that I’ve seen it in person, I have no opinion. The river was so high the lower wave was completely submerged and the upper wave mostly so. The water looked to be at least four feet deeper than in most of the photographs I’ve seen. It looked like a bunch of fast but navigable rapids to me.

So we’ll see. The lawsuits will fly, the construction will finish, and the water will keep on flowing. The river will always be the same, although with constantly different water.

Trinity River Project’s Standing Wave: Great, Now City Hall’s Trying to Kill Us

The Trinity River’s ‘Standing Wave’ Crashes into Reality

Drowning the Whistleblower on the Doomed Trinity River Wave

Dallas Wave park raises wasteful spending debate

$3.9M Dallas Wave Wipes Out

Dallas Wave whitewater park on the Trinity remains in limbo

Wave goodbye to the Dallas Wave opening

Despite all this, the Kayaking community have been enjoying the Dallas Wave for a year.

Pre-Super Bowl Party on the Dallas Standing Wave

Dallas paddlers get a taste of the Trinity River standing wave

Trinity Park Standing Wave Kayak Course

New Orleans Architecture – Lower Garden District – Kayak Storage

In art – in the life worth living – there is always a struggle between beauty and functionality. I love finding examples that combine the two.

In the Lower Garden District – St. Andrews and Chestnut – Someone is using a beautiful old wrought iron balcony to store a couple of kayaks. I’m not sure why, but I really like that.