November 10th began with a bountiful bowl of oatmeal and peanut butter, a staple breakfast for our crew. We set off from a sandbar only forty miles from Memphis city limits, surrounded by a bright and colorful sunrise. After our month of cold weather, the warm atmosphere was a welcome change.
We paddled most of the day, entering Memphis mid afternoon. We kept our canoes at the Memphis Yacht Club off of Mud Island and were treated to a dock for our canoes, fresh water, and a parking lot to air out and un-sandify our weather beaten tents.
Rick Ferguson, the former president of the St. George's Independent School, met us after our canoes and gear were taken care of. He drove us to his family home in Germantown, Tennessee, where he and his wife treated us to Rendevouz Barbecue. We met up with Bill, a teacher at St. George's, and two of his students who were interested in meeting us. That night we shared our story, enjoyed the fine company of the night, and fully experienced southern hospitality.
After a full night of rest and a lazy 7 am wakeup (we wake up at 4:30 every morning!) Rick drove us to St. George's independent school to meet with two classrooms: an 11th grade Citizenship class and a 12th grade Environmental Science class. We presented our stories and broke into small groups to answer individual student questions. We were all incredibly impressed with St. George's students' maturity and level of critical thinking. They seemed exceptionally college ready. What does college ready mean? What does one need to do to become college ready? If you have any questions YOU would like us to answer, please leave them in the comment section below!
That night, only ten miles outside of Memphis city limits we found a campsite on "Dismal Point"- a sandy sliver of land on the Arkansas side of the river which we had been told would be safe enough for us to camp on.
At 1pm all three tents awoke with a start. High winds from the north were whipping sand at our tents and ripping our tent stakes from the ground. Liz, Nick, and John's tent acted as a buffer for everyone else's tent and, overcome by the stresses of wind, a tent pole snapped and sliced through the rain fly. The crew got to work repairing the tent. Not everyone was able to be so visibly helpful, however - winds were so strong that at least one person had to be in the tent at any given moment or else the tents would fly away!
The whole next day we were windbound and couldn't leave the sandbar. Winds roared down the river at a sustained 25 mph with gusts over 50 mph. This storm was called a "Northern Blast." What is a northern blast? What causes northern blasts? What sorts of information should we have considered before setting up our tents? Why is it difficult to canoe in high winds?
The next morning we woke up to chilly weather and a heavy frost. We were happy to get back in our boats and continue our journey after being held up by the weather, and the cold air helped us paddle hard. We set out for Helena, Arkansas 60 miles downstream. Sixty miles was our most ambitious goal yet and we managed to clock in at 61 miles just before dark. Mad Dog from the Quapaw Canoe Company met us at the Helena boat launch and took us to the Quapaw Canoe Company. Mad Dog showed us around, told us stories about previous river travelers and let us see his beautiful Mississippi River inspired wall murals.
Jordan and Zach, friends of friends, met us later that evening and brought with them the cutest dog we ever did see. To our surprise, they told us she was a stray dog that had taken in to protect from frosts and if we could give her a good home, they would love for us to take her with us. Winnie Helena Barge had a new home: our canoes! We bought her dog food, trained her in necessary commands to keep her safe in the canoe, and gave her plentiful belly rubs. She immediately felt at home and seemed love the canoe.
For the past week we have been putting in between 45 and 55 miles each day. With bright sun and tailwinds each day has felt like a summer weekend with good friends. A couple of days ago we passed into Louisiana though today we are spending a night in Natchez, Mississippi to catch up on blogging, documentary work, and meeting new people. We already met a group of canoers who call themselves The Strayers, two men in a sailboat who call themselves Marsh Barge, and a man and his son who gifted us freshly caught venison and hog. We are continually humbled by the people we meet along the way and can't wait to see what our last week on the river holds!