The morning sun is on my left shoulder. Its weird and unsettling. I’ve been out here a week and everyday without fail the sun rises on my right. (sitting backwards) I passed around a hairpin curve and was now heading due North entering the 20 mile New Madrid horseshoe bend. This is the only section of the river where it flows north.
The hairpin curve was the site of Island No Ten, washed away by the river years ago. In 1862, early in the Civil War, the island was a confederate fortress and along with New Madrid, defended and controlled any passage by it. In March of that year the Union Army took New Madrid then a fleet of Union Ironclad gunboats bombarded the island for three weeks until the confederates surrendered. Three weeks later Admiral Farragut captured New Orleans, giving control of the river delta and all north of New madrid to the Union.
The New Madrid levee and floodwall are higher and more intimidating than Cape Girardeau. At the far end I reached a long boat ramp and tied up to a floating steel dock that looks like a commercial dock. At the top of the ramp a gray haired man with a big belly sits in the shade and opens a tall boy beer. It’s hot and 11 am. “I ride my tractor here every morning and watch the river.” he tells me. He tells me where to find food and water and I pass his old riding mower with no engine cover and a small wagon attached.
I set out on a three quarter mile expedition to Subway for Air conditioning and sandwiches. The two teenage girls working there figured I wasn’t from around there (probably because of the Pigpen cloud that enveloped me) and were very interested to hear my story. A stop at Casey’s general store for more supplies.
Back at the boat, a fit guy with a goatee was standing next to the dock with a couple of bags and immediately started talking to me. “I just drove up from (somewhere) in Louisiana. I worked a month had three days off and they call me back!” he told me in a deep baritone with a heavy Louisiana accent. I didn’t ask but he had a confidence and air of authority that I assumed he was the Barge skipper. As he talked a 30 foot grey speed boat came up and docked. They were with the barge company. I quickly said that Little Joy was my boat and I would be leaving soon. No one cared not even the guy with two new ‘Posted Keep Out!” signs that he hung up on the entrance to the dock. The skipper climbed aboard and they took off in a hurry but not before each of them acknowledged and complimented the boat. I see these boats from time to time, which are used to shuttle crws back and forth to the barges, and I hope they see me because they really fly.
My phone is dead so I don’t have pictures of anything. I head back down the Levee to the small local history museum. The only employee says ‘Are you one of my paddles?’ I nod. “Well great! The bathroom is there, you can fill jugs outside with the hose would you like a bottle of cold water? Yes please and thank you.
He tells me that New madrid is known for two things. The Civil War battle and Earthquakes. “Earthquakes?” In 1811 there were 3 earthquakes which are considered the largest in the US east of the Rockies. There have been thousands of minor ones there since.
I sit in a small dark room to watch the short video mostly to recharge my phone and sit in the AC. He wants to talk. I’m really worn from the heat. Where’s my charger? Shit. Eventually I head back to Subway where it was last seen. Nope. Casey’s? Nope. The park where I stopped to use the bathroom and shade? Yep. Meanwhile I walked way to much in the midday heat and wasted 2 hours. I never did really get my phone charged.