I awoke this morning to a very gray and overcast sky. Rain wasn't in the forecast but it was clear I would get rained on as I was taking down camp and eating breakfast. The city park in St. Charles, MO, that sits next to the Boathouse has a shelter close to where I planned to launch today so I decided to roll up the tent and drag my bags down there to keep dry. I had been in contact with Dan Hansen, my pickup in St. Louis and ride home to Nebraska, and he wouldn't be to the Columbia Bottoms boat ramp until after 3:30 p.m. Thus, I had most of the morning to kill.
As I was moving the last of my gear a woman approached me about my use of the shelter. Her quilting club uses the shelter every Thursday for their potluck and group meeting and she was hoping that I wasn't going to be taking all the tables. Since I expected that I would be on the river by 11:00 a.m. I said there wasn't going to be a problem. She left to go get her supplies and I sat down to read the USA Today that was donated to me by a businessman from Madison, WI, when I was eating dinner the night before at the brewpub.
I had nearly finished reading the news (nothing seems to have happened in the world since I left home) when she returned. We sat and chatted a long while about our lives. She came to St. Charles in the 1970s when the historic district was a run down and nearly abandoned area. She, her husband, and a group of friends set to work refurbishing buildings and opening businesses and trying to make a go of things. Over time the area became the gorgeous little artistic area I walked through the day before.
After she sold her businesses she turned to writing as a profession. She's written several books (sorry, I don't remember the titles and I'm so bad with names that hers has also left my brain!) about the food and culture of St. Charles and Missouri. She has also become active in the national quilting scene serving on the board of the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. Oddly enough, she's also traveling to Lincoln this weekend for a quilter's event.
Since she was at the shelter and setting up for the potluck I trusted her to watch my bags while I walked to the historic district to buy a coffee. I also poked around a bit and took my time getting back to the river. When I arrived the other quilt club members were arriving with food for the potluck. My intended departure time was 11:00 a.m. but they convinced me to stay for lunch.
So, there I was eating some fine home cooking and serving as an honorary member of the local quilt club. I'm not sure which I enjoyed more; the conversation, the food, or the creative quilt designs each member stood up to display during the meal.
Unfortunately, I had to take my leave as my pickup was scheduled to arrive at the landing sometime after 3:30 p.m. and I still had 25 miles to paddle. My spirits were soaring pretty high at that point (after all, how often does a man get a potluck lunch on the river with the town's premier quilters?) and I settled into a pretty fast paddling pace. The seat and life jacket didn't sit too well today but I still made it down to Columbia Bottoms by 3:45 p.m. to see Dan Hansen waiting. He had just arrived when I pulled up. He offered me a celebratory beer (cold!) and then we loaded the gear and canoe and headed on our way. We did stop at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and I was pretty glad I made the decision to end where I did. The water is high, fast, and wide on the Mississippi right now and it looks like a good decision was made.
I'm now sitting in an air conditioned home in north St. Louis and I'll be heading home tomorrow. It took 18 days to get here and I'll be home in half a day. Quite contrast in travel modes, no wonder the automobile caught on like it did!
I've already had some nice emails of congratulations for which I'm grateful. All in all, it was a pretty good float trip and if St. Louis had been the original destination then I'd rate it as a 100% success. Aside from that one factor I couldn't have asked for a better ride than the one I've had the last 18 days. Looking back it now seems so easy (I'll ignore those first few days when I nearly quit) and I sure met a lot of great people along the way!
P.S. There's a nice little story about my trip posted on the Nebraska Wesleyan Univ. website (http://www.nebrwesleyan.edu/press-and-media/news/16866). I didn't know it was on there until I got an email about it today.