South to Wheeling.

Day 3–Ohio River, Mile 46 to 90.

Woke up in camp to a clear blue sky, sunshine, and bitter cold. Frost covered everything. I made a quick breakfast and loaded the boat to get warmed up and underway. Fortunately, the wind that was such a problem coming north from Pittsburgh was now at my back and I quickly made my way downstream. Unfortunately, when I arrived at my first lock of the day a long queue of barges had already formed. After waiting for nearly an hour in the shadow of a massive coal plant, with smoke stacks that occasionally blocked out the sun,  I was told that it could be another 1-3 hours before I could lock through. With this news I pulled over, scrambled up the bank and portaged around the lock, waiting 3 hours in the cold wind seemed like terrible idea.

The locks, maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers, are massive chambers attached to dams. These dams were built for flood control  and to even out the flow of the Ohio for shipping by creating a series of pools with a uniform depth that run the length of the river.   Like much of the river the priority of access to the locks goes to industry. After all the barges around have had their chance to lock through I paddle up and two huge steel doors open. I paddle in, tie a rope off, the doors close, and the water level drops. Doors open on the bottom and I paddle out, safely below the dam. I admit that being lowered down a river is a bit strange after boofing off waterfalls in the river’s headwaters.

My destination for the night was Wheeling, West Virgina. A few weeks ago while traveling on the Amtrak between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia I met a man named Jerry who invited me to stop in and stay with him when I passed through town. With the forecast for a snowy night I was more than happy to take him up on his offer. He also arranged for me to meet the local TV station upon my arrival downtown. Though after 15 cold minutes with the anchor woman we ended up getting bumped off the news by two DUI’s and a girl’s softball game.  Jerry and my other lovely host, Helen, live in Wheeling’s 4th ward and are in the process of trying to stop the city council from demolishing their century old homes for new baseball fields.  The city would be foolish to chase these wonderful people and their neighbors away for a thoughtless redevelopment project.

I took today off from paddling to give my body some time to adjust to constant paddling and thaw out–but tomorrow morning it’s back into the river–bound for a warm place to stay in New Martiansville, WV.


About banksofthebasin

Brett grew up in South Jersey, moved to the coast of Maine to study human ecology, and then spent a year traveling on rivers around the world—from the frozen arctic to the mangroves of south Asia. Before setting out on Banks of the Basin he baked bread in Pittsburgh and kayaked the beautiful rivers of central Appalachia.
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