On March 25 I floated onto the Ohio River and left the Pittsburgh skyline behind. The ground was frozen. The air was crisp. The river frigid. And I was damn cold. The ice that covered my drysuit and paddle had been a curiosity as I put in on the city’s south side a few hours earlier, something the sun would chase away. But as the day worn on each time a layer of slush rolled off my arms a pang of doubt crept into my tiring muscles. What was I doing out here? Why did I need to start this trip now, while winter still held fast? The river would be there in a few weeks. The power plants would still be polluting. I had a warm bed, a girlfriend, plenty of work, even a few beers left in the fridge.
But as I paddled downstream, bound for a campsite in West Virginia, the routine of paddling flowed into me. Each stoke pushing me downstream towards the coast. Factories—operational and abandoned—guarded the shores.
I stopped once to stretch at a flooded riverside park. Though already receding the height of the water, at nearly five feet over the banks, amazed me. I remember thinking I had missed the spring flood. I mentally recalculated how much longer it would take to get to New Orleans without the added current of the flood pulse. I added ten days.
Now over 200 days later I’m preparing to take to the river again. With fifty miles on the Ohio and over 900 left on the Lower Mississippi. In addition to restarting the river’s story here at banksofthebasin.com I will be following the river as a young explorer for the National Geographic Society documenting the changes brought to the river by last spring’s record flooding.
Check back over the next few days for some reflections from my time on the Ohio and for the trip’s start date. As always thanks so much for following along and supporting the trip.
See you on the river–Brett.