First 100 Miles on the Ohio

The Ohio River holds distinction as the most polluted major waterway in America. Each day I slowly learn why as the steel, titanium and chemical factories discharge a frothy putrid foam beside me. One gyre of plastic and woody debris was composed of beer cans, a Gatorade bottle, bits of Styrofoam cup, one torn yellow softball and a floating purple tampon tube. Occasionally I’ll pick up a bottle floating down beside me but it seems useless when the shoreline is ringed with cans and plastic bottles. The remains of floating docks, old moorings and a remarkable number of mangled white plastic lawn chairs frequent the shallows,a reminder of the destructive power of Ice when the spring thaw returns.

Regardless of my environmental concern for the river, there is still quite an abundant biodiversity in plant species and fauna thriving along the riparian buffer. Each day I hear the cry of eagles in the trees or am treated to a hovering inspection by an osprey or red tailed hawk. The hatching mayfly lead to many carp breaching the surface with a splash. In the trees, a plethora of birds dart and dash snatching up the flying temporary treats. I quietly paddle upo flocks of yearling Canada Geese, now barely able to discern which is the adult. The cry of a belted kingfisher kicks back across the choppy water while a dusky great blue heron inspects the scene cautiously.

One saving grace for my body has been the umbrella sail. Earlier today saw 21 of my 25 miles for the day completed under sail. It is tricky to balance out sidewinds and how best to handle gusts by squishing the umbrella low to the deck to remove some surface area. Speeds far greater than my ability to paddle leave a gurgling of water and a V current off the bow and behind, a 2 ft wide swath of flat water. I’d estimate a few gusts today to 25mph and my resultant cruising speed combined with current to be around 10-15 mph. That’s darn fast for a loaded plastic boat and one skinny fool.

Finding camping has been pretty easy but in areas where the river runs straight, it scours deeper and the banks are steep and rocky. The best suitable islands have been a wildlife refuge or privately owned unlike the Mississippi which had a number of Sandy islands perfect for a quick camp. The rail roads and highways run along both sides of the river so there’s rarely a quiet night of rest without screeching train brakes or the din of road noise. A few previously flooded areas were more promising with less low brush and poison ivy. Without the frequent floods, the banks are often filled with more poison ivy than other rivers I’ve seen. The Vining ivy makes it challenging to find suitable trees to hang the hammock but I’ve only been forced to sleep on the ground a handful of times.

The most memorable camping spot was just 4 Mi from Pittsburgh as night fell and a marina came into view. As it grew near, I could see half the dock had been cast ashore by the spring floods and a half submerged powerboat point to the sliver of moon above. Exiting my kayak for the first time on to a floating dock, I pulled the kayak aboard and flopped down on my sleeping mat after a long day. The glittering factory and distant skyline of the city a reminder of how far I’d come and much farther I have to go.

to go.

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Pittsburgh

It was late afternoon as I paddled into Pittsburgh culminating my trip down the Monongahela. There were many power boats and jet skis messing about as well as the Clipper Fleet’s large sightseeing paddle wheels. Their circuit was predictable so I waited for them to toot the whistle and pull put before proceeding downstream.

At Fort Pitt and Point Park is a fountain sporting a rainbow in the low fading sun. It was a joyous moment shared with nobody but I felt accomplished and rewarded for the effort. Next up are 800 or so miles on the Ohio River and a lot more tow traffic to watch out for. Made it 40 miles down to Chester, WV for a package pickup and hope to dodge some afternoon showers if the shore suits. Solar panels arent working so I’m stopping more for internet. Be well!

Lower Mon to Pittsburgh

The upper Mon was quite a peaceful paddle. After passing Morgantown, things become decidedly more commercial with fueling docks, coal power plants and tows heading up and down. On the weekends, recreational boats ply the waters and send up wakes, jet skis roar by and zig zagging tubers dance about the water. Respites from the sun come by way of old railroad tunnels and shade beneath bridges and overhanging vegetation.

A wild and wonderful WV unicorn!

Below, the old Stern wheelers have mostly been retired but I spotted this one at the old Lock on the Mon. While passing through Pittsburgh I saw a restored and modernized Stern wheeler being used as a pleasure craft. What a sound that wheel makes thwack-thwacing.

The camping has been easy with my hammock, each night finding a new spot along the river and pulling the boat high enough to keep from tow wakes getting it. The Mon was a real treat to paddle and relaxing. It took me about 7 days to go from Fairmont to Pittsburgh as the weather was dry and sunny and days long.

Upper Monongahela

It was a bittersweet farewell as the silhouette of my parents waving from Fairmont’s dock drifted out of view. It was surreal to finally be back on track headed down the river after all these months.

The first night brought a powerful storm which raised the water level by 6″ by morning. At the Opekiska Lock and Dam, I was surprised to find submerged logs in the arrival area and barrels floating st the head of the lock. What gives? Turns out the first two locks are only open special days throughout the year and I had just missed the fourth of July openning. The 2500′ portage made me wish I had brought along those portage wheels I made! In that tiring day between steamy showers I portaged both closed dams. There are still bruises on my shoulder and hips from the boat. Both were through the woods and over the broken bottles and drifted plastic.

Afterwards the remaining locks have been a breeze by using VHF radio and Marine Ch.13 to call ahead. The cavernous presence and eerie groans and reverberation of the lock and moving water remains a most peculiar environment for a kayaker. There has only been one active coal barge so far heading up river, the remainder moored and being unloaded or loaded at facilities on the rivers edge.

The wildlife has been abundant with bald eagles, red tailed hawks, kingfishers, egrets and many voracious smaller birds swooping on the hatch of mayflies. Here are some mayflies clung to a mooring.

Yesterday I was faced with the final closed lock at Charleroi when one of my Dad’s friends, George, waved at me from the far side of the river. Howdy! I paddled over and he offered to carry me around in his truck. How sweet is that? I felt like royalty for an hour as we found a new boat ramp and he caught me up about stories and histories in this region of his youth.

The blooming Rhodies’ smell sweet as they litter their petals downstream. Past Morgantown there were fewer and I’ve seen none on the Ohio.

Steal mills, metal recycling yards and chemical plants lead to some noxious smells along the way. This does a little to improve things.

The umbrella sailing has been magical and the food healthy and bland. So far a great trip.

Only The Beginning

While recovering from my broken collarbone, I put the time toward preparing my boat, gear and body for the upcoming journey at hand. The overall goal of over 4000 miles seems enormous but when broken down to individual days becomes easier to comprehend. My buddy Mike and I got in a solid 2 day paddle on the Shenandoah where my Prijon performed flawlessly. Should I be concerned my phone wants to autocorrect it to prison? In the summer heat to come, I’m sure some days it will feel like one.

The final layout went well And I think I’ve got it all packed up just how I wanted. I’ll have to play around with trimming out the boat as the day goes on. Two extra extra food drops will be mailed ahead downriver as a treat. My first two weeks will be spent paddling down the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh where it joins the Alleghany forming forming the Ohio. La Belle Riviere. I have discontinued my phone plan so future posts will be over wifi and SPOT.

Gear List

· Bow Hatch

  • Kitchen

  • § Twig Stove (REBUILD)

  • § Fuel Stove

  • § Fuel Can

  • § Cup/Pan/Utensils/Scraper

  • § Spices (shrink/simplify)

  • § Food Backpack

  • § Hand Sanitizer

  • § Aluminum Foil

    Boat/Gear Repair Kit

  • § Gorilla Tape

  • § Needles/Thread/DentalFloss

  • § AutomotiveGoop

  • § SuperGlue

  • § Zip Ties

  • § Hose Clamp

  • o First Aid Kit

  • o Water Storage

  • o Electronics Bag

  • § VHF Charging

  • § Solar Panels

  • § USB/GoPro Related Items

    ·Stern Hatch

    Sleeping Kit:

  • § Sleeping Pad

  • § Down Sleeping Bag 25F

  • § Bed Clothes: Night Cap, Socks, sleep pants, shirt

  • § Hammock

  • § Headlamp
    Clothing Bag

  • § 3 Pair Underwear

  • § 1 pair Wool Sock

  • § 1 pair black ankle socks

  • § REI Heavyweight Base Layer

  • § Under Armour Pants Base Layer

  • § Tan expedition Shirt

  • § Columbia Convertible Pants

  • § Swimsuit

  • § Knit Cap

  • § Mountain Hardware Hat

  • § Mountain Hardware Rain Coat

    Paddling Gear

  • § Kokatat hydrus 2Top

  • · IN PFD

  • o Survival Blanket

  • o Mirror

  • o Whistle

  • o LipBalm

  • o VHF

  • o SPOT

  • o Phone

  • o Survival Rope w/flint&steel

    On Deck:

  • o Umbrella

  • o Paddle Float

  • o Pump

  • o Spare Paddle

    • Map Case Bag:

    • o Maps

    • o Compass

    • o Sunscreen

Mississippi Source-to-Sea 2016

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Following successful scooter and bicycle journeys around North America, I decided to set my sights on The River.  In May of 2016, I prepared my gear into two ruck sacks and ordered an Old Towne Next solo canoe via eBay to the headwaters in Lake Itasca, MN.  The 70+ hour Greyhound ride was a memorable experience with many colorful characters and teenage Russian seasonal workers heading to the heartland.  Once paddling down the scenic and remote headwaters region, all the preparation and organization began to pay off.  Rewarded with incredible wildlife viewing and a serene paddling experience, I made my way down the great River absorbing the changes from the dense northern pine forests to the arid agricultural midwest.  The River itself acts as an educator in hazards from snags, rapids and strainers in the headwaters to towboats, metal cables and tankers in the lower river.  The journey ended just north of New Orleans where I decided to take out on account of the large commercial ships and difficult paddling for an open canoe.  It was only the first of my water-borne adventures and certainly not my last.

Original 2016 Trip Blog

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Scooter Journey

Original Ruckus Trip Blog (2014-2018)

The decision to leave the comfort of a steady life and assured income was difficult to make.  Endless possibilities stretched before me and the hardest thing was escaping the gravity of commitments.  Once on the road, those stresses were replaced by finding a stealth campsite each night and mother nature’s whimsy.  The wild and open spaces call loudly and change dramatically in the sunrise and sunset of life.  Taking these valuable journeys and building my observations at this age may present entirely new perspective when my hair has turned grey.  As the seasons tumbled through the latitudes, I followed comfortable winds in search of the great unknown.

From 2014 to 2018, I criss-crossed the continent aboard a 49cc Honda Ruckus named La Tortuga racking up 70’000 miles.  With my home on it’s back, the little scooter carried me to the farthest reaches of the continental road system, north to the Arctic Circle’s Inuvik and Prudhoe Bay, down to the rum-soaked southernmost tip of Key West, out on the Rock’s Screech scented easternmost point at Cape Spear, Newfoundland, and wet on the westernmost road at Anchor Point, AK.   Averaging 110 miles per gallon, the cost of travel is quite low, even factoring in the spare parts to fix something about to break in the middle of nowhere.  I can count the number of hotel rooms I’ve stayed in on one hand over four years of travel.

The magnetic nature of La Tortuga opened up many possibilities with new acquaintances and friends throughout the continent.  When I envisioned my journey on the little bike, I anticipated a distanced lifestyle and solitude, yet discovered friends on every horizon and cemented bonds that will last a lifetime. In March of 2018 on the last day of a transcontinental cruise, the bike was attacked by a pit-bull in NC and I suffered a collarbone fracture and subsequent surgeries forcing a pause to the Ruckus travel. The bike is parked at a friend’s fortress of a compound while I take time to heal my bone and transition to a long distance Kayak trip around the southeast.

Original Ruckus Trip Blog (2014-2018)