Baton Rouge is a great town.
My host, Michael, keeps telling me that it isn’t all like the part I’m seeing. That it does sprawl out into typical American suburbia, that isn’t all that much different than many other places. However, Michael’s home is located in an old section of town called “Spanishtown.” The neighborhood’s history dates all the way back to the days of the Louisiana Purchase. Somehow through luck, a long history of ups and downs, and now a very close knit community of concerned citizens, this neighborhood has remained intact. Spiritually it has remained in tact as a real community of neighbors that know and care about each other. Structurally It has remained intact (via constant fighting with developers) as it was when it was built into its “modern” state in the early 1900’s. The beautiful Craftsman style bungalows and large trees that line the streets give the neighborhood so much more soul and character than so many of the new sprawling subdivisions. It is true, “They don’t build em’ like they used to.”
Located just five blocks off the water, what’s also great about this part of town is that it’s located within a stone’s throw of the sparkling downtown “business” district and everything you need (and some things you don’t need) is within easy walking distance. Today I was able to get breakfast and free wifi internet access at the “Main Street Market”, then check out some of the town’s beautiful architecture, stop in on the local printer to ask about charts and maps for the Gulf, and walk down to the waterfront to see what is happening down there. A visitor could spend weeks here and not get bored and never need a car.
My visit at the printer was actually a highlight. Michael recommended “Baton Rouge Blueprint” as an excellent source of any charts or maps I might need of the next leg of this journey. I’m not sure he knew how knowledgeable and helpful the owners are. What I expected to be a quick stop in to see what they had ended up being an hours long visit where I was served up a mother load of local knowledge regarding the entire Gulf coast from Texas to the Florida border along with many antic dotes about local slang and food. It turns out that the owners, George Simon Sr. (pronounced See-moan) George, Jr., and his soon to be wife Jamie are very active sport fishermen who have fished and boated along the coast all the way back into the 40’s. Jamie added more to the knowledge base by having also grown up on the coast in the Mississippi/Alabama region. They are super people and a reminder of how valuable real shops run by real people are over the sterile corporate box stores that are becoming the norm now days. Mom and pop shops like this may cost a few cents more, but man it’s worth it. I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten much out of the pierced nose college kids at Kinkos in the way of local coastal knowledge or even where to find a good lunch. “Uh…Mc Donalds is down the street.”
The way it’s looking now (assuming the temperatures ever get back up to normal) as soon as I get myself out to the open coast along the Gulf things are going to get very fun. The problem remains on just how to get there… That’s tomorrow’s project.
Start: 6:00 AM- On the river mile marker 324
Finish:5:15 PM - Baton Rouge
Daily dist: 95 miles
Total dist: ? miles
Weather: Mostly cloudy with strong cold north wind - one of the coldest days so far
Notes: Rather than taking time and energy to set up and tear down camp one more night I opted to push through and get to Baton Rogue in one long day. I've been wanting to see how far the wind and curent could take me anyway.
With all my complaining of all the bad people of the world I had lost sight of the many people that have gone out of their way to help me out with this trip. Even after all the sponsor support, donated money, free meals, hot showers, places to stay, rides for new gear, and logistical support, I already have a growing list of people who have stood at a boat landing in nasty foul weather waiting for me to arrive so they could take me home and warm me up. First it was my parents shin deep in show in Boscabel Wisconsin, then it was Elmore Holmes on Christmas Eve in the driving rain in Memphis, and today it was Michael Beck in the bitter cold wind at sunset at a boat ramp in Baton Rogue.
Thank you everyone for all your help, I couldn’t do it without you.
To top things off Michael didn’t even know I was going to arrive until about 3:00 PM this afternoon. I’ve been out of cell and internet contact for the last three days so I had no way of telling him when I was due to arrive until I finally got a signal this afternoon. We had been corresponding off and on for a few months but all he knew was that I was due sometime this week. Michael was one of the first people to respond to my initial announcement of this trip and shameless request for places to stay along the way. With his spare bedroom and location just six blocks from the river, Michael has made a hobby of taking in wayward river paddlers giving them a chance to dust themselves off before they push on to the end of the river just a few days away. After such a long day on the water I was grateful to have a place to stay tonight. Ironically here in Louisiana (with the wind chill) we are experiencing the coldest temperatures I’ve seen since we high tailed it out of Wisconsin after the big winter storm caught us last month. The weather is supposed to remain bad (with rain added to the mix) for the next several days so I’m glad to have a place to stay off the river.
The plan right now is to plan. With the transition into the Gulf of Mexico only two or three days down stream I need to get the details of the next phase of this trip sorted out. I’ll be sorting through my kit, repairing a few things and purging out a few that I haven’t used in the last thousand miles. In addition I need to round up charts and info for the route from here to the Florida Everglades and gear up (or down) for somewhat warmer weather. I figure I’ll be taking advantage of Michael’s hospitality for at least a few days then moving on by next weekend. Along with preparing the next leg of the trip I’ll be updating a few things on my website and exploring Baton Rogue itself. Michael already walked me around his (very safe) neighborhood and showed me some of the many things there are to see within walking distance. There certainly is a lot to explore in this town. He said I could stay as long as I like but if I’m still here in February he’d start charging me rent.
Start: 6:30 AM- 30 miles above Natchez MS
Finish: 2:30 PM - On the river
Daily dist: 65 miles
Total dist: ? miles
Weather: Clear with brisk north wind - chilly when I slow down but warm when I match speed with the wind.
Notes: Very nice day on the water.
Today was delightfully routine…just me and the river… a bend up ahead to navigate all else moving into the past.
I was up at 4:30 AM ate breakfast, broke camp, and was on the water by 6:30. Try as I might I still haven’t improved on my morning routine time. It simply takes two hours to take care of everything I need to do in the morning.
Once on the water I maneuvered into the main flow of the river and began my system of running down the river.
Start: 6:30 AM- On the river
Finish: 12:30 PM - Vicksburg MS
Daily dist: 45 miles
Total dist: miles
Weather: Partly cloudy and chilly nice NE tail wind.
Ever since it happened last night I’ve been wondering how exactly to go about telling my mom without worrying her to death. Lord only knows she’s been through enough with all the misadventures I’ve been through up to this point. I figured I’d wait till morning when I was safe and warm with a full belly. That’s where I am right now, in a river boat casino restaurant with the crumbs of a cheese burger on the plate in front of me. I’m taking advantage to a wall outlet to top off my batteries one last time before I push off to the embracing safety of the winter-cold Mississippi river with all it’s whirlpools, wing dams, barge traffic, and wind blown waves….all things that I know and am ready to deal with.
My problem seems to be with towns and the people therein.