high-fiving Asian carp

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We had a really fun night at Bob and Wita’s in Alton. Their house is on a bluff with a great view the river, and they were amazingly warm and generous to us: we had dinner with them and their neighbor Barb, and heard lots of stories about Alton and growing up in Calhoun County (Bob grew up on a farm there that didn’t have electricity until 1955!!!), and it was also great to sleep indoors after these days of dealing with the rain, that’s for sure!

We headed back up river this morning to Pere Marquette State Park, where Mary put in on the Illinois River (just for a bit of variety) and paddled down to Grafton, which is the confluence with the Mississippi, and I took over from there. It’s a gorgeous run through this whole area: beautiful limestone bluffs line the river on the Illinois side with just enough room for a road with a great bike path that goes all the way from Pere Marquette to Alton.

Two days of rain caused the river to rise twenty feet! The river looks fat and happy, it’s carrying lots of stuff down the river, mostly tree branches it grabs off the shore, and I certainly don’t have to worry about the water being too low to be able to get through the back sloughs. There’s just more river everywhere, and it’s moving faster even here in the Alton pool (the last lock and dam is just below Alton.)

About halfway through my trip, I got ambushed by several schools of Asian carp. (It’s an invasive species that’s been a problem ever since the 1993 flood, when they escaped the pens they’d been kept in before that.) There must have been about 100 crazy fish jumping out of the water, hitting the boat — one even hit my paddle. They get stirred up by any movement in the water and just jump straight out and up in the air, and they are big! It’s as if they’re all on crack or something. You can hear them jumping behind you, which is bad enough, but when they jump in front I’m really glad to be wearing a spray skirt. I definitely wouldn’t want one landing in the boat with me. It’s like something out of Guindon, or perhaps Tobit.

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I arrived in Alton at a launch directly under this beautiful cable bridge, and Bob and Wita took Mary and me on a drive to view the sights of Alton: we stopped for a beer at Fast Eddie’s, a huge bar downtown, very fun; looked at a lifesize sculpture of the gentle giant, a resident of Alton who was 8’11”; drove around the campus of the community college and the town park, visited the site of the final Lincoln-Douglas debate, and then had a really excellent dinner downtown. A very fine time in Alton, which is doing a great job of maintaining its own unique identity even with St. Louis looming just a few miles downriver.