Concordia to Hawesville, Kentucky (RM 686 to 724)

September 13, 2003

I awoke to high winds and light rain at 4 a.m. Neighbors on an adjacent lot to the south arrived home at 11:30 p.m. and disrupted the wooded upland with loud music and singing for about on hour before peace and tranquility returned to my riverside encampment. I departed Hubler's scenic waterfront at 5 a.m. and headed into light headwinds, overcast skies and occasional spits of rain. Just before shoving off from their dock, I stuck a handful of granola bars under a seat cover of the Hubler's pontoon boat, a small retribution for my shoreline asylum.

Cattle waded out from the right bank to greet me at Rome, Indiana (RM 701) at 7 a.m. The rest of the residents of the small quiet village were apparently in bed for no activity stirred on the bank or at a riverside marina. The downbound Delta Queen passed me at the next major bend (RM 705) and I called on the captain to let him know I saw him coming and planned to stay mid-channel to take a picture as he passed. He promptly responded, "No problem skipper, now you have a safe trip down river." After snapping the picture, I paddled towards shore to avoid its tremendous stern wake.

The Hoosier National Forest rose up a few hundred feet above the Ohio along the Indiana bank below Rome, Indiana and as a result, development was rare or very minor. Last night, Jim Hubler indicated I would find Ed Whitcomb's lone dock along a reach of the river that bordered the national forest land. Sure enough, I spotted a lone dock on the right bank about a mile dowstream as I rounded a bend to the left just after the Delta Queen passed me. High on the hill, some distance back from the river, stood a small green cabin embedded into the thickly forested hillside.

I pulled up to Ed Whitcomb's small, narrow unimposing wooden dock just after 10 a.m. I noticed an old canoe turned on its gunwale and propped up against a tree near the river's edge. Just as I stepped out of my canoe onto the dock to stretch my legs, a blue SUV pulled up on the elevated wooded bank behind the dock. Out jumped a tall, lean, healthy looking elderly fellow with snow-white hair wearing short-sleeved shirt covered with colorful small fish and frayed shorts cut from an old pair of blue jeans. He was followed by similarly aged attractive woman and a younger middle-aged couple, of which the gentleman carried a small wicker picnic basket.

"Are you the John Sullivan who is canoeing the Ohio," the elderly gentleman asked smiling as he descended the earthen bank to the dock.

"Yes sir, and you must be Ed Whitcomb. It's very nice to meet you," and extended my hand to greet him as he stepped onto his dock. He then introduced me to his friends, Mary Evelyn Gayer and Gary and Lynn Dauby. The Dauby's, owners and operators of Blue Heron Winery, pulled out a bottle of Lambrusco and cheese and crackers from their wicker basket.

"You do like cheese don't you", asked Mary.

"Hey, I'm from Wisconsin, I'd love some," I responded.

Ed produced a copy of his book and signed it for me as the others were preparing for the picnic. The welcome was overwhelming and completely unexpected. We sat down and consumed the exquisite red wine and talked about the river. I enjoyed their visit immensely and could have spent hours talking to these nice people. Gary and Lynn even invited me to their home in Cannelton, Ohio if it met with my schedule. I thanked them all for their warm welcome and the riverside picnic and departed into moderate headwinds with renewed vigor and lifted spirits. As I paddled away from the Ed's dock, I thanked the Lord for last evening's encounter with Jim and Shirley Hubler, who made this short Sunday morning celebration possible.

Heavy rain and strong head winds slowed my decent around the 15-mile bend in the river at Cloverport, Kentucky (RM 711) where the river cut a course in the shape of a big toe. I stopped briefly at Rock Point Marina (RM 719) on the right bank in the early afternoon for snacks and a brief rest from paddling. Just downstream, while I was being lowered 25 ft to the tailwater of Cannelton Locks and Dam (RM 720.7), I realized that I had left a pint of Gatorade on the marina's dock and became angry with my forgetfulness.

Rain showers continued on and off in the mid-afternoon and I decided to pull out early at the Hawesville, Kentucky public access site (RM 723.9) just across the river from Cannelton, Indiana. I set up my tent at the edge of the parking lot some 30-ft above the river's current elevation, yet 20 ft below the top of Hawesville's nearby floodwall. I had the opportunity to quiz several catfish fisherman as they pulled their fishing boats from the river. They all complained of high muddy water, which seemed to have plagued them all summer long, though one commented that river elevations were finally returning to normal for this time of year.

At 6:14 p.m., Officer Patton from Hawesville Police Department pulled up in his squad car and beeped his horn to get my attention as I was inside my tent writing in my journal. He remained in his car and looked me over cautiously as I proceeded to stumble out of my small green tent.

"My left foot fell asleep," I assured him and proceeded to stretch it in attempt to get the blood flowing again as he squinted and looked at me with dark piercing eyes.

"Where you from and how long you plan on staying," he said with a slow southern drawl.

I introduced myself, described my journey and my intentions of staying one night.

"Well, okay, that'll be fine, I'll let the Hanckock, Kentucky dispatch know you're here. You just call 911 and ask for Hankock if you have problems."

"Problems? Should I expect problems?" I asked as I glanced around the empty parking lot.

"Nah, you should be fine," he assured me, then he asked, "You packing a piece?"

The question startled me and I'm sure a look of concern spread across my face as I responded with a resounding, "No" and then I asked, "Do I need to?"

He replied, "Well probably not, but if I were you, I would have a gun. I never go anywhere without 3 or 4 concealed weapons, 2 that you can easily find and 2 that are well hidden." I thanked him for his advice but admitted I would find it hard to know when to use it.

"Gut instinct, you'll know," he replied. He wished me a safe journey and then drove off slowly back to safety inside Hawesville's mammoth concrete floodwalls. I returned to the security of my thin nylon fortification wondering where he kept his "well hidden pieces."

Skies cleared and cool northerly winds swept up the river and shook my tent vigorously as I secured my gear and finished the last of my evening chores. I took one last look around the vacant parking lot and retired for the evening as twilight faded to darkness. "Let's see, call 911 and ask for Hankock," I thought to myself and then placed my cell phone within reach of my sleeping bag. I directed my thoughts to meeting the former Governor of Indiana and his friends and soon forgot about the "problems" that concerned Officer Patton. 

Ohio River Soundrels - "The second objectionable element on the Ohio was the presence of tramps, rough boatmen, and scoundrels of all kinds. In fact, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are the grand highway of the West for a large class of vagabonds. One of these fellows will steal something of value from a farm near the river, seize the first bateau, or skiff, he can find, cross the stream, and descend it for fifty or a hundred miles. He will then abandon the stolen boat if he cannot sell it, ship as working-hand upon the first steamer or coal-ark he happens to meet, descend the river still further, and so escape detection"…
"To avoid these rough characters, as well as the drunken crews of shanty-boats, it was necessary always to enter the night's camping-ground unobserved; but when once secreted on the wooded shore of some friendly creek, covered by the dusky shades of night, I felt perfectly safe, and had no fear of a night attack from any one. Securely shut in my strong box, with a hatchet and a Colt's revolver by my side, and a double-barrelled gun, carefully charged, snugly stowed under the deck, the intruder would have been in danger, and not the occupant of the sneak-box." 
Nathaniel H. Bishop, Dec 1875, from Bishop 1879