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LMRD No 407

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Storm, A Flood, An End

Expedition Update: Retreat!

Y’all, due to dangerous above flood-stage conditions at New Orleans (and other factors) the 6 members of the Rivergator Expedition voted unanimously to end the expedition at our most recent camp, the Bonne Carre Spillway.

Sorry for any un-answered emails or messages, but we have been in a minor state of chaos and confusion. And now we are feeling the lingering bitterness as we face the realities of mother nature, and making “the safe choice.”

Even though our hearts and imaginations yearn to follow the river to its ultimate conclusion, the Bonne Carre Spillway is a good metaphorical end place. Its the second possible connection to the Gulf, Bayou Manchac being the first. (Neither are directly connected except at flood stage, but both are possible routes, portages involved).

More about our decision: the many factors challenging us seemed to be stacking higher and higher, and we reached the point that to continue seemed foolhardy and asking for trouble. How many lives does the voyageur have? We had already used up several lives in the last week alone, and the danger-factors seemed to be stacking higher.

What were the factors involved? Flood stage was the first and foremost. To continue would go against one of the basic tenants of the Rivergator, it’s not safe to paddle the Mississippi above flood stage. Second was the wind, and falling trees. in the space of one week we have had two trees fall directly onto our tents (and two additional near-misses). It is a miracle that none of us were crushed. Repeated severe storm systems was third. The fourth major factor was personal: my mother-in-law was hit by a car, which broke her legs, and my wife needed my assistance.

Many valuable lessons learned, which will be shared in future dispatches. For now, please know that we are off the river, and returning home, and send our big river blessings to all of you! Thanks for being there with us, sending emails, and blessing our journey with your thoughts and prayers. (Thanks also for the well-wishes to Mrs. Emma Crisler. The operation was successful, and she is going home with us for a month of healing. The Port Gibson Reveille will continue publication via her dedicated staff!)

PS: Regardless of pull-out place, we consider this expedition to be successful for the fact that we have achieved our highest goal, which was 1) to celebrate the completing of the 1 million words for safe paddling on the Lower Miss; and 2) to share the river with as many people and in as many media outlets as possible. Around 50 people joined us on the water during this 6-week expedition, and the story has been shared in dozens of magazines, newspapers, blogs and radio stations. A full count will be later tallied and shared.

We are very thankful for our good friends Paul, Michael, and Marylee Orr at LEAN/LMRK -- and Adam Elliott, owner of Quapaw Natchez -- for their assistance on this stretch of river. LEAN = Louisiana Envirnomental Network. LMRK = Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper.

Please keep reading below: Boyce Upholt, expedition writer, resolves our departure with an interesting take on the nature of civilization, and the losses we have made as a society for safety & security.

Rivergator Celebration: The journey continues….

Day 46: A storm, a flood, an end

By Boyce Upholt, May 4, 2017

You might have read that it's been quite windy down here lately, quite stormy. You might have read that the river is getting high. It's closed to traffic in St. Louis; the levees are busting in the outer reaches of the valley. The flood crests are racing south, and New Orleans just hit flood stage.

And we are pulling out.

Last night, amid the thunderstorms, a tree came down and smashed a tent. It's the second time it's happened this trip. The first time, the tent was empty. This time not so: Lena was unhurt, but trapped, but a few different inches in position and the story might have been different. Add to that two close calls, where falling limbs missed tents by inches: four times is enough. The river will be there, whenever the time to finish comes.

We camped last night on a bit of lawn at the edge of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, an emergency stop as the storms came in. It's a place of life and death: the first and most important line of defense in the fight to keep New Orleans from flooding, a protector of thousands of lives. (It will likely be open again, to divert the high water, in just a few weeks.) But death hangs in other ways, too; there was a cross planted beneath a tree, just behind our camp, to honor one of the many suicides committed here. There were haints creeping around our camp, John said. I'm not sure if they were protecting us, or doing something worse.

If this journal has been documenting our time between the levees, I have begun thinking about life beyond the levees, too. As we've made our way down Louisiana -- as the batture gets thinner -- the life beyond the levees gets harder to ignore. From the water, you can see the power lines and steeples of the old small towns that still survive amid the clustered industry. At night, from camp, you can hear the radios and revving engines and shouted comments of people back on the banks.

My time on the river, over for now, has shown me all the richness that exists between the levees. But it has taught me to appreciate this life beyond the levees, too. There are the luxuries: lattes with almond milk, and beer on tap, and free-flowing electricity -- these days I'll include that a luxury, too. And then there are the essentials, too, the presence of loved ones, and the nightly security of a strong roof over your head. All this is worth ending this trip early. I wouldn't want to lose this all, and I like to think there are people beyond the levee who wouldn't want to lose me.

Down the river, you learn the cost of such a fine life. To get what we have, we've drained the swamps; we've built vast power plants and refineries, farms and neighborhoods; we've clear-cut forests and killed off species. There must be better ways, and I hope to help find them. But until I'm willing to risk it all, and live with the howling winds between the levees, I'll have to recognize that I owe something, too. Here's to finding the way to pay that debt.

Boyce Upholt Journal: Between the Levees

For more of Boyce’s writing, photographs, stories in magazines, and other essays and links, go to Between the Levees: "America's Great, Misbehaving River - and its Walled-In Wild" go to:

Chris Battaglia’s Villageurs:

Villageurs: Click here for Expedition Film-Maker Chris Battaglia (Magique) awesome expedition website!

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