I slept like the dead after my first jam-packed day in Memphis and I’m coming back to life slowly. The city below my hotel room window is still fast asleep, but I have an early date with the River and the friend of a friend.
Yesterday, at the end of a laugh-filled and surprise-filled day, my new buddy Diana Threadgill (who will be another day’s tale), suddenly said, “Oh my gosh! You have got to meet my friend, Joe Royer! I am calling him right now!” Then, quicker than I could say, “Serendipity,” Joe and I had made a plan to meet early this morning to get out on the Mississippi River in his sea kayak.
The River is nearly a mile wide at Memphis and it looks every inch of that as Joe and I settle into his 22-foot sea kayak. The dark water looks smooth and glassy, but I know very well the strength of the current underneath it. After a few quick instructions, we paddle out of the small harbor into the vast, open River. My heart clutches a bit – I’ve never experienced the River from such a perspective. Sitting at river level, with just inches of boat on either side, the commanding power of this great River is stunning.
“The River has a reputation for being dangerous,” Joe says from the stern, “but if you respect it and learn the proper skills, it is safe and fun.” Joe has done this hundreds of times and he is as comfortable here as I am behind the wheel of my car, so I relax into the soothing rhythm of our paddling. The kayak slices silently through the current and of all the ways I have been with and on this River, I have never felt such a sublime intimacy with it.
Suddenly, the quiet is shattered by the familiar moan of a barge horn. I can’t see it yet, but it sounds very close. In the next second, it appears – and the thing looks colossal! It looks to be racing right toward us at breakneck speed! I’m on full alert and ready for Joe to maneuver us closer to shore, but he paddles on at the same tranquil pace. I glance back at him and he smiles. There is no way he is not aware of its presence, so I wait. Another blast of the horn and my spine tingles and my hold on the paddle becomes a white-knuckled death grip, but still there is no reaction from Joe.
The barge has rounded the bend now and is pointed upriver and we are clearly a safe distance from it. As it churns past us, however, I see the wake angling out from behind and it looks like a mountainous tidal wave! It rolls toward us and I quickly store my camera where it will be safe and brace myself. I hold my breath and prepare for the onslaught. The kayak makes an agile and seemingly effortless turn slightly toward the wake that now is looking to me like a freakin’ tsunami .……and……. with a gentle rise and fall, we are up and down and once again cruising on flat water. It was almost nothing! I nearly laugh out loud with relief and embarrassment. If Joe has noticed my greenhorn anxiety, he kindly makes no comment and we simply paddle onward.
With my heartbeat back to normal, we glide beneath the Hernando de Soto Bridge. Above us are six lanes of morning rush hour traffic on Interstate 40. I think about the hundreds of commuters in those streams of vehicles and the contrast between their experience of this moment and my own is so profound that it brings a rush of emotion. After 66 days of keeping company with this amazing River, I am still sometimes overwhelmed at my good fortune to be making this journey.
P.S. While you’re here – if you haven’t done so yet, I hope you will sign up to be notified when new posts go up, either by email in the box to the right or by RSS. See you next time! Thanks for traveling with us!