The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

We should have died after wrecking our raft in February 1983.  I wasn’t wearing neoprene like I do now in cold water.  The wreck threw us in the river, Sean on one side of the pylon and me on the other, we popped up and called out to each other, “Sean!  Sean!”,  “Here I am Johnnie!”  We pulled pieces of wreckage together and tied it best we could with our ropes.  My guitar was floating close by so I pulled it in.  A daypack with some essentials that later helped lead to our rescue.  We saved some frozen chickens we had bought that morning in Memphis.  We heaved ourselves as far as we could out of the numbing currents, which meant getting our chests on one of the barrels, which kept flopping and twisting in the boils and eddies of the main channel and we floated past a mid-channel bunch of islands along the appropriately-named Dismal Point Dikes.  A low ceiling of grey-blue clouds with feathered edges had slid in and now covered the sky and the wind was gently moving out of the north.  Everything was peaceful after the drama of the day.  We swirled around Cow Island Bend and into the State of Mississippi where a spectacular land mass called Cat Island divides the river in two like a blunt sword.  We were reaching the end of our physical abilities to stay warm.  We no longer felt cold.  It would have been so easy to let go and just float away into the liquid hands of the mother river, and if we had at that point it would have been painless and pleasant.  The void awaited us as closely as the skies above and the river below.  Sunset was approaching.  The river gurgled along smooth and unperturbed.  We were both at the weakest and possibly the lowest points of our lives, barely hanging on by a soggy thread.  I’ve never shared this in such detail before today, but it seems now that I had reached a state of some kind of fluid nirvana.  Everything was gone that I had previously known and had sustained me, except for the wreckage of the raft, and I was ready to let it go.  It was that easy.  I could have let go then and died peacefully, and without regrets.


But then the sun descended below the cloudy ceiling.  A last stream of sunshine edged out underneath the grey mass, gathered strength, and then glistened outwards from over the extensive Arkansas floodplain to our west and bathed Cat Island and the endless forests of Mississippi in a wedge of yellowness.  And as the wonders of Cat Island grew bigger downstream, a brilliant sense of beauty and harmony hit me with this last ray of warm yellow sunshine and jolted me out of my coma.  It was the mystery and beauty of the earthly elements of this mid-continent wilderness, illuminated now by the low angle February light that filled the Mississippi Valley and flooded the Cow Island Bend with glorious array that shocked me alive and ignited in me a tiny spark of purpose.  We were illuminated with the same streaming amber light and I gazed at Sean’s face and our surroundings in wonder, and it felt like we had entered the land of milk and honey.  The noise and pollution of Memphis and the TVA tower and the crackling power lines and the terror of the crash and swirling cold waters were all a distant memory.  All that remained was Sean and the river, the woods and the sky.  It seemed too good to be true.  If there is a heaven I am sure we found it.  But I was troubled by two thoughts.  The first came to me as I gazed downstream upon the sands and forests of Cat Island now softly glowing against the cobalt blue sky by the setting sun.  I found myself wondering what it would be like to walk across the island and imagining what secret places were there contained within the sandy undulations and pristine pockets of willows, cottonwoods, sycamores and sweetgums and oaks.  The sand looked so soft and warm and inviting.  It looked dry.  I could see flocks of birds darkening the edges of the forest where they met the water, probably red-winged blackbirds settling down for the day.  And as my curiosity about Cat Island grew so did my troubled mind that I might not ever be able to explore this place of beauty.  My feet yearned to touch those soft dry sands.  The other thought that troubled me was Sean’s baby-faced innocence, also glowing in the last light of the day, peaceful and angelic.  I realized that he had reached the same state of bliss that I had.  I could easily let it all go at this moment and die peacefully.  But I couldn’t let him die.  He was simply too beautiful to let go to waste.

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Middle Mississippi & Bluegrass Hills / Bootheel 195-0, 954-850 ST. LOUIS TO CARUTHERSVILLE
Chickasaw Bluffs 850 – 737 CARUTHERSVILLE TO MEMPHIS
Upper Delta 737 – 663 MEMPHIS TO HELENA
Memphis to Tunica
736 LBD Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor
Buoys and Docks  
Floating Underneath a Bridge  
734.7 Lower Bridges/Engineer’s Bar
734.7 The Frisco Bridge
734.7 The Harahan Bridge
734.7 The Ghost Bunker
734.7 The Old Bridge (Memphis & Arkansas Bridge)
733 President’s Island
Fleeted Barges  
732 LBD Hole in the Wall ##2
727.3 TVA Transmission Lines
727.3 RBD The Wreck of the Raft
Tennessee Valley Authority  
725.5 LBD Entrance to McKellar Lake
7 Miles Up harbor Riverside Park Marina On McKellar Lake  
724 T.E. Maxon Wastewater Treatement Facility
Paddler’s Routes Below Memphis  
727 – 712 Dismal Point/Ensley Bar/Cow Island Bend Area
726 – 717 Armstrong/Dismal Point/Ensley Bar
720 Josie Harry Bar
718 – 713 Cow Island Bend
Goodbye Tennessee, Hullo Mississippi  
The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and the Blues  
711 – 705 Cat Island No.50
710.8 LBD Starr Landing
712 – 695 Paddler’s Routes Around Cat Island and the Casinos
Pickett Dikes Back Channel  
639.8 RBD Tunica Riverpark Museum Boat Ramp
Tunica Riverpark Museum  
Basket Bar Dikes/Porter lake Dikes  
693.8 RBD Lost Lake Pass
703 Buck Island (No. 53)
701 Gold Strike Casino
700 Fitzgerald’s Casino
Tunica to Helena
700 Basket Bar
Paddler’s Routes Through Commerce and Mhoon Bends  
695 – 690 Commerce Bend
692.5 RBD Peter’s Boat Ramp
690 Rabbit Island
Switching to thhe Helena Gage  
Dikes and Water Levels  
687.5 Mhoon Landing
689 – 685 Mhoon Bar
690 – 683 Mhoon Bend
682 – 679 Whiskey Chute/Walnut Bend
680 Whitehall Crevasse
Paddler’s Routes Below Walnut Bend  
Stumpy Island, Shoo Fly Bar and Tunica Lake  
Main Channel  
677.4 LBD Tunica Runout
Behind Shoo Fly Bar  
Stumpy Island  
Walnut Bend Boat Ramp  
Tunica Lake Boat Ramp  
679 RBD Walnut Bend Boat Ramp
679 – 677 Hardin Cut-Off
677.4 LBD Pass Into Tunica Lake
677 – 676 Shoo Fly Bar
677 – 674 Stumpy Island
674.5 Harbert Point
672 RBD Mouth of the St. Francis River
Primitive Landing at the Mouth of the St. Francis Rive – Conditions  
RBD 3 Miles up St. Francis River Three Mile Ramp
Daytrip: St. Francis to Helena  
St. Francis to Helena: Paddler’s Descriptions  
For Intermedite Paddlers: Right Bank Route  
For Expert Paddlers: Left Bank Route  
St. Francis River  
671 – 673 LBD St. Francis Bar
669 LBD Flower Lake Dikes
668 RBD (A View of) Crowley’s Ridge D
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
665.5 LBD Trotter’s Pass
663 RBD Helena Harbor
Helena Boat Ramps  
663 RBD Helena-West Helena
Quapaw Canoe Company – Helena Outpost  
Helena’s “Low Road” Into St. Francis National Forest  
King Biscuit Blues Festival (2nd Week of October)  
Helena to Friars
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
663 RBD Leaving Helena Harbor
Fleeted Barges  
Small Towns in Harbors  
Buoys and Other Stationary Objects  
Highlights of Civilization  
Pollution Within the Helena Industrial Reach  
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
657 LBD  
How to Get Into the Old Entrance of the Yazoo Pass  
LBD: Alternate Route to Vicksburg: Yazoo Pass  
Yazoo Pass Milage  
Rivers & Robert Johnson  
656 LBD East Montezuma Bar
657 – 654 RBD Montezuma Towhead
654.7 LBD Montezuma Landing
Shuttle Route Montezuma to Clarksdale  
652 LBD Friars Point
652.2 LBD Friars Point Landing (Unimproved)
What’s to Come Further Downstream  
Middle Delta 663 – 537 HELENA TO GREENVILLE
Loess Bluffs 437 – 225 VICKSBURG TO BATON ROUGE
Atchafalaya River 159 – 0 SIMMESPORT TO MORGAN CITY
Louisiana Delta 229 – 10 BATON ROUGE TO VENICE
Birdsfoot Delta 10 – 0 VENICE TO GULF OF MEXICO