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CONQUERING THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI: Day 12 -- Some bridges you go under are more important than others

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

Day 12

Sleep well, but wake up at 5:15....I can sleep eight hours at home but six-seven hours is about all I can manage on this trip. Before Mike got onboard, I blamed it on worry, now I attribute it to being pumped about the trip... Mike manages another hour with pillow over his head and I catch up reading all comments on Bass fishing home page and e-mails... I never expected this trip would generate the interest and the encouraging messages it has... I suppose a person like an athlete would get used to all this applause but I'm not not accustomed to it yet and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't enjoy it....

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We get our stuff all packed up and go down to lobby... It's 6:45 a.m. and we drop our luggage at edge of lobby and start to enter the restaurant. ... A not-too-friendly woman at the rope across the entrance stops us, points to sign and says the restaurant does not open until 7 a.m. ... We ask if we can go in, sit at one of the tables and possibly get some orange juice... This time she says, in no uncertain tone, the restaurant does not open until 7... This, along with no internet service -- and rooms weren't cheap -- irritated the hell out of me --don't take much to irritate ornery old men -- and I thought it was an opportune time for me to check out and tell them how to improve this place.

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Basic problem with Pickwick (and Mobile Delta Marina) is that it is run by state employees and pleasing customers is not their highest priority like it would be if a "for profit" company was in charge... The state has invested a lot of money here to attract businessmen as a corporate retreat, plus golfers and boaters ... The restaurant should be open earlier to accommodate golfers with early tee times and travelers who need to leave early. ... Obviously, you have to have reliable Internet if you want to attract businessmen... There are exceptions, but if Internet doesn't work at a motel, it's because you have a cheap system and really don't care if it works or not... All of which I explained in a later e-mail to the resort hospitality manager... Never received a response, either...

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7:40 a.m. ... Idle out of resort and head up Pickwick Lake to our turn down the Tombigbee. Lower end of Pickwick is really pretty, clear, deep water, high bluffs with some really nice -- and expensive -- homes on them. Unlike some areas, the homes are not obtrusive and don't ruin the beauty of the bluffs. We stop at Bay Springs marina to re-fuel and get ice. While we are refueling, we get to talking with fishermen/women in two bass boats who are also at the dock trying to fix a trolling motor problem... They ask where we are headed and then want to know all about our trip... I make my comment that about 80 percent of people think you're crazy and 20 percent want to go with you... One of the guys said, "I'd give anything to go with you" and his wife said, "You're not going without me"...

When we leave marina, we are in the Tombigbee, and first few miles it's a pretty, winding waterway. Then we enter, in effect, a long, mostly straight, ditch lined with rocks... It has trees and some greenery on the banks... It's not ugly, but it's still a long wide ditch. When Corp of Engineers built the Tenn.-Tombigbee system back in late 1970s/early 80s, they had to connect the upper end of the Tombigbee River with the Tennessee River and there is really no other way to do it except with a ditch... This was true pretty much entire length of this river. It's prettier in some sections, but compared to the other rivers, it's just not a river you travel for the scenery...

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9:40 a.m. ... Pass mile marker 420 -- 30 miles downstream from mouth of river -- and enter Bay Springs Lake... This is probably the most scenic lake along the Tombigbee. No high hills or bluffs, but clear blue/green water, tree-lined banks and coves extending off the lake...

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10:10 a.m. ... Slow down and approach Whitten Lock... Lockmaster tells us he has two pleasure boats inside and will be about 20 minutes... Text family/friends progress report... About three hours is all I can go without sending a progress report, otherwise my phone is going to light up with "Where are you? You OK?" messages... When we get in lock, LM asks where we are going, then comes over and leans over lock wall and asks about our trip... Tells us he will call the next lock and tell them we are on our way... Mike and I had been concerned that we would spend more time waiting on the 13 locks we had to go through on the 450 mile length of the Tombigbee... Towboat traffic turned out to be very light on the river and lockmasters could give lessons to the fast food operators on how to get customers through quickly...

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11 a.m. ... We approach Montgomery Lock, gate is open and green light on... We tell lockmaster on radio that we are entering... Gates close and we see the little golf cart they use coming around to the side of the wall we are tied to... Right behind the golf cart is a large -- looks like German shepherd -- puppy running along behind him... Lock employee -- or lockmaster, never knew which -- stops to check couple things on way and dog stops and sits obediently beside the cart... When he gets to wall over us, puppy sits beside cart... He asks about our trip, then tells us he is a turkey/deer hunting addict. He is a fisherman too, and is going to have to replace his engine soon, so he's real interested in a four-stroke like ours... We tell him we've been really pleased and I ask him if he has ever heard one of these engines run... I punchstart button and he's amazed at how quiet the engine is when idling... Mike and I can carry on conversations running wide open ... As gate opens, he tells us he will call next lock and ask them to have gate open for us... As we are idling out, the golf cart is traveling up other side of lock with puppy doing his best to keep up with that "awkward puppy lope."

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10:40 a.m. ... We meet our first "sno-bird:"a trawler -- a 35-60 ft fishing boat that a lot of people convert to a cruising/travel type boat....Many people who have these boats take them south for the winter and live on them, then cruise back north for the summer... Probably the boat of choice for people making the "great loop," which is up the east coast via intra coastal waterway, across the St. Laurence Seaway/Great Lakes and down the Mississippi/Tombigbee to Florida. We met numerous "sno birds," all headed north in next two days...

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11:55 a.m. ... Arrive at Rankin Lock and LM advises it will be a few minutes until lock fills...

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12:20 p.m. ... Idle out and thank LM on radio, who replies he is calling next lock for us... Meet first tow of the day just downstream... Only seven miles until next lock and we decide to run there before taking lunch break...

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12:45 p.m. ... Arrive arrive at Fulton lock... We have few minutes to wait while a northbound pleasure boat locks through, so we break out the sandwich supplies... I am the designated "cheese peeler"... Somehow, the swiss cheeese slices had almost melted together, and while Mike does everything else, I separate two slices from the block with a knife and less-than-sanitary fingernail... Neat conversation ensues while we eat lunch... When Mike and his younger brother were kids, I took them on duck hunting/camping trip on slough, just off the Mississippi River. The river rose so much during the night that the water was lapping at edge of the little pup tent we sleeping in, when we woke up, the campfire was already drowned out and we had to scramble and move everything and build another fire before we could cook breakfast... We talked about that and several other camping and duck hunting trips we had taken... Special times then, and a special time now -- for an old guy -- to relive those experiences with his son the day before Father's day...

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1:25 p.m. ... We pass under Highway 78 bridge... An important bridge because last fall, a duck hunting buddy, his brother and I were on our way to a North Dakota hunting trip... I told them to slow down because I wanted to look at a river that I would be coming down next summer... I'm not sure if he believed I'd actually do it, and I'm not sure I believed I'd actually do it either... I get Mike to take a cell phone picture showing me and the bridge disappearing in Dumarse's wake... Send it and text message that we had just passed under that bridge I had made him slow down for... Few minutes later, I get a text message that he remembered and some words of encouragement...

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2:10 p.m. ... Exit Smithville Marina after refueling (7 gallons) ... Temps in 90s and it's hot when we aren't moving.

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2:15 p.m. ... Enter Wilkins lock and exit 20 minutes later.

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2:55 p.m. ... Approach Amory lock... There's an old cabin crusier just above lock with two adults, several 12-15-year-old boys and an aluminum boat tied to it with a rope... Mike thinks it might be a troop of Sea Scouts in a boat that had been donated to them... They are waiting to lock through also, but seem to be having trouble with their engine... We call ahead to Waverly Marina in Columbus, Ms., to make sure they will be open and we have room to tie up for night .... Nice lady I talked to said if we are not open, come to the first houseboat where she and her husband live... Also tells me I can catch cab into Columbus... Lockmaster tells us to enter lock and cruiser pulls in behind us... We use one rope to tie off, they use several...

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3:20 p.m ... Exit lock and lockmaster advises us there is dredge at mile marker 366 that may have river blocked...

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3:30 p.m. ... We approach dredge and hail him on channel 16 (emergency channel) asking permission to pass through southbound...He advises us he will swing the dredge boom over and to pass on his starboard (right) side... A few minutes later, the boom swings out of the way and we idle by....

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4:00 p.m. ... Radio Aberdeen lock as we approach, and he advises us 10 minutes and we can enter... We are right above lock where he can see us and asks where we are heading... We tell him Albany, there's a slight pause, then he asks, "Where did you come from?" ... He's a real personable guy, asks several questions about our travels while we are in the lock and wishes us a safe trip remainder of way...

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4:25 p.m. ... We exit lock and head down river where a T-storm is building to the southwest where we are heading...

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5:25 p.m. ... Tie off to Waverly Marina and hit kill switch... Suggest to Mike that we refuel, so we don't have to deal with it in morning, so he climbs up steps to marina to have them turn gas pump on and find out where they want us to tie off overnight... I text family/friends that we are off water and in Columbus, Ms. ... It's sprinkling rain, but not enough to put rainsuit on... Actually, it feels pretty good because it's hot... I hear gas pump come on, and while I'm putting gas in boat, two older couples and a young couple come down steps from the little marina restaurant... They ask where we are headed and I tell them a little about our trip then they start asking questions about everything... It develops into a conversation about Columbus, and although I haven't been there, except to pass through, in many years, I remember all the great beer joints that used to exist out on east Highway 82 from my years traveling in the state... The older guys remember them too, and we swap a few remembrances, careful not to incriminate ourselves in front of the wives... Mike comes back and I ask him if he has called a taxi, and he says, "No need" ... marina owner (Cliff Yarbrough) has offered use of his truck, just put some gas in it and bring it back in morning." ... The couples I had been talking to tell us the marina has the best hamburger in town, but when we get our stuff loaded and get back upstairs, they've just closed the kitchen. ... Hard to believe someone would just hand his truck keys to two perfect strangers, but we put our stuff in back of truck and head to Columbus, 10-12 miles away...

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Marina is about 10-12 miles north of Columbus, and soon as we enter town, we find a Best Western with several restaurants in vicinity... As usual, we open our laptops and check e-mails, and I get one of the neatest e-mails I will receive on whole trip... I've got an old friend that I've traveled all over the country with -- fishing trips and vacation trips with our wives -- and tried to talk him into going on this trip and he flat refused, telling me I was crazy -- not once, but several times... He's on my list of family/friends that I've been sending progress e-mails to, and today I get an e-mail from him that said, simply,"you are dumbest (expletive) I know, but I wish I was there with you"... I've been watching the oil spill with growing concern, afraid they may close off the intracoastal to pleasure boats... I had asked for information on Bass Fishing Home Page, and couple guys who live in the area tell me it is still open, so I feel little better about that... Mike and I get back in truck and find a Chili's restaurant right down street... Don't remember what I ate, but it wasn't really good or really bad. We talked about our day and both of were pleased that we had traveled so many miles and gone through so many locks today so easily... One of guys on BFHP had told us that weekend traffic was light on this river and we should be able to go through each lock with minimum delays, because there's just not much barge traffic....I had estimated it would take four days to travel 450-mile length of the Tombigbee, because of having to go through

13 locks, but we think if we can make it to Demopolis tomorrow, we possibly can make to Mobile Bay on third day... Lights out pretty early...