We departed our tick-infested campsite shortly after 6 a.m. under lightly cloudy skies and a relatively warm 75 degrees. It was only a short paddle to the Dresden Lock and Dam at RM 271.5 under flat water conditions. Unfortunately, a down-bound tow had priority lockage so we had to wait two hours before we were allowed to use the lock to descend to the next downstream pool. We would have gladly portaged around the dam to relieve the boredom but were informed by the lock tender that a portage path was not available. So JJ lied down backwards on the packs in the center of the canoe to try to make up for lost sleep while I paddled the canoe over to the left shoreline and maintained watch and wrote in my journal.
Air temperatures rose quickly during our morning paddle and had reached 94 oF by mid-day at Seneca (RM 253). My thermometer on my floatation vest read 106 degrees, but that measurement was influenced by direct sunshine. The only consolation was we were paddling in a westerly direction so we didn't have to face the morning's hot sun and its reflection on the river's brown colored surface. However, that comfort was lost in the afternoon as the sun descended in the western skies.
Several fleeting areas and terminals were present along both banks at Seneca. An enormous concrete grain silo towered over the northern bank near Highway 170 and provided a prominent landmark to the otherwise flat landscape. Downstream, a small heard of Jersey cows waded along the right bank in a tightly grouped pack taking respite from the hot mid-day sun and generally ignored our passage.
Storm clouds were brewing in the western skies as we entered the two and half mile narrow access channel to Marseilles Lock at RM 247 shortly after 2 p.m. The channel was separated from the main channel by Bell's Island. According to our navigation charts, the natural river channel on the north side of the island contains rapids and the narrow channel that led to the lock was apparently dredged and straightened to bypass the rapids. Halfway through the lock's access channel we observed the Corps of Engineers busy deepening the canal with a small mechanical dredge. The wet gray bottom deposits were placed on an adjacent deck barge with tall sidewalls to contain the muddy ooze. The dredging operation contributed to a moderate increase in turbidity as we noticed a 15 cm decrease in transparency downstream of the excavation project.
A down-bound tow was pushing two 300-ft fuel barges into the Marseilles Lock chamber upon our arrival shortly before 3 p.m. This meant we had another long wait to use the lock. However, this was not our immediate concern since the skies were darkening quickly due to an approaching thunderstorm. We initially planned to wait out the storm along bank above the lock, but the lock tender radioed us about a half hour later and warned,
"There's a mean storm approaching based on what we're seeing on radar, you guys are welcome to come over here and take shelter."
We quickly accepted the kind offer and immediately proceeded to the lock's upstream loading dock where we could secure our canoe along a concrete wall. We found a long length of two inch diameter braided nylon rope neatly coiled along the shore and used it as a bumper by draping portions of the rope over the edge of the concrete to protect the side of the canoe in the expected waves and wind. We secured the bow and stern just as the downpour commenced, then sprinted to a phone booth-sized control shelter on the lock's wall about a hundred feet away. The wind blew hard and dime-sized hail and sheets of rain fell from the blackened skies as we peered out from the confines of the hot, humid glass shelter house. JJ sat comfortably on an old steel stool and admired the aged large lock control switches on the panel before him while I stood and held the aluminum door slightly open to allow the rain-cooled air into the stuffy sauna-like chamber.
The deluge and lightning subsided after about twenty minutes and we waited another ten before leaving the protection of the shelter house. We returned to our canoe to find more than two inches of water sloshing around the bottom. Worse, to my dismay, I discovered I had left my camera bag top open and my 30-year old Konica camera was drenched and no longer functioning. I let our a few choice words of dismay while JJ tried to console me as I began to draw out water from of the stern of the canoe with a manual bilge pump. After ten minutes of vigorous pumping we ready to continue our journey and departed the loading dock as moderate rain returned. The considerate lock tender quickly opened the gates at our approach and we waved to him as we entered the lock. We were finally paddling in the dam's tailwater at 5 p.m.
We found rafts of wood mulch floating along the right bank below a barge terminal about a mile below Marseilles Lock. The odor of the red resinous shreds of wood and bark provide a distinct odor to the warm humid evening air. The rain finally ceased as we approached the entrance to Four Star Marina at RM 242.2 shortly before 5:30 p.m.
We secured our canoe to the marina's dock and climbed a walkway to a nearby bar and pool hall which also served as the headquarters for the marina and nearby camping facility. A middle aged women bartender and short order cook greeted us and provided a campsite just north of the facility and adjacent to an outbuilding containing a shower and toilet. The ground was wet from the recent rainstorm and large puddles of muddy water rested in the depressions. We found slightly higher ground with wet grass near a stinky decomposing possum to deploy our tents then headed for the outbuilding for a needed shower. The water was hot but contained appreciable iron sulfides, which also produced an objectionable odor reminiscent of rotten eggs. Well, at least we felt cleaner after our showers.
I suspected JJ was ready for a break from freeze-dried dinners so I treated him to some "real food" at the bar. He ate 12 inch deluxe pizza (by himself) and I had a grilled chicken sandwich with French fries. We both washed the food down with ice cold Pepsi. What a luxury, no cooking gear to clean! We overheard local gossip from patrons sitting at bar stools and occasional shouts of joy from a nearby pool hall while we sat quietly at a small round table and tried to hear news on a wall-mounted TV. We both used cell phones to update our wives of our health and wellbeing then retreated to the comfort of our tents just outside the back door of the bar. The wind had switched, the skies had cleared, the odor of dead possum was no longer present and we were full of food - a great end to a hot and wet day of canoeing.