Still early in the day on Sunday we left Pennsylvania and the river became a state line, with Ohio on the right and West Virginia on the left. It won't be until about mid-December when we are once again within a state instead of being along its border. Nothing really changed along the river when we crossed over, but we did get a nice big welcome from Ohio, as shown in the picture. As it turned out West Virginia was equally welcoming--we pulled up next to a dock after a long day on the water and almost immediately met a fellow who offered us his car in order to drive to town and get supplies. How could we refuse? We gratefully accepted his offer and he sent us off in his car, but not before he put a CD in his stereo so we would have some music to accompany our trip around town. Due to this good fortune, we were able to do some grocery shopping, stop at the hardware store, pick up some more gas, and grab a bite to eat--quite a luxury!
We have had a nice glance into the past all along the Ohio River. The charts we are using are a special edition commemorating the bicentennial of the famous 1803-1806 journey of Lewis and Clark. There is a special symbol on the chart whenever we pass a spot that is significant to the trip that Lewis took down the Ohio in 1803 on his way to meeting up with Clark in Louisville, KY. Generally, it is a place along the riverbank that Lewis mentioned in his journals, perhaps because he and his crew over-nighted in the area, were able to do some hunting, or found the natural features significant. This photo was taken off Buffington Island, Ohio around mile 217 (meaning we were about 217 miles from Pittsburgh) and the notes in our charts explain that "On September 16, 1803, Lewis recorded in his journal, 'thermometer this morning in the air 54 [degrees] in the water 72 [degrees] a thick fog which continued so thick that we did not set out until 8oClock in the morning.' He noted in his journal that he shot some squirrels while his men got the boats through the rifles at Buffington Island. They went to the north end, navigating by hugging the right bank going down the river." Also significant in this photo is the house slipping down the bank of the island. Bank erosion is a constant problem on a riverbank, made evident by this uninhabited barn poised to fall right into the drink.
We battled the cold and the rain again the next morning when we headed out bright and early to the Ohio County Elementary School to meet with three fourth grade classrooms. Afterwards, as we made our way down river, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the current had picked up, probably due to the recent rains, and we were able to make good time under bike power alone. With the 1 to 1½ mph push of the current, we could easily reach 3mph, and so we were able to pedal for much of the next day. It was a rare treat to note the buoys slightly bucking the force of the current as the water eddied around their stationary position (photo at left). The one downside to the recent rain was that a lot of debris, mainly broken trees branches, had been brought into the river, and our progress was a bit slowed as we zigzagged to avoid hitting the flotsam and jetsam.
Our next port of call was Louisville, Kentucky and we arrived Thursday evening. One of the more exciting opportunities along the river in Louisville is the chance to get a glimpse of the Belle of Louisville underway, like she is in this photo. Not only is she a beautiful vessel, but according to her website she is "now recognized as the oldest river steamboat still in operation. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, and celebrated her 90th birthday in 2004 ." The Belle has spent most of her life as a passenger ferry but also carried cotton, grain, and lumber as she traveled most of the larger river systems in America.
Wednesday evening, while Morgan was hard at work on boat projects, Aimee played hooky and went on an important investigative mission: a ride on an historical steamboat. A rare event was taking place: the steamboat Natchez (photo), from New Orleans, LA, was scheduled to race the Belle of Louisville , something which had not happened since the early 1980s. What occasioned the Natchez 's visit is a story similar to many others; a refugee from Hurricane Katrina, she and her crew had headed north with the hopes of raising money for the Bush/Clinton Katrina Fund. While the Natchez is relatively young--she was built in the 1970s--her steam engines were originally used by a sternwheeler in the early 1900s. Here, she powers by us later on in the week as she headed downriver past Brandenburg, KY. As one might speculate from the magnitude of the wake behind her, she beat the Belle without a problem. Indeed, her website claims she is “the undisputed champion of the Mississippi, never having been beaten in a race.” The two hour trip also included dinner, live music, and a chance to go visit the engine room where it was possible to see the giant arms that rotate the paddle wheel, as well as the equally large gears that control the angle of the rudder that is used
We finally bid Louisville adieu Friday morning. Before we could proceed much further down the river, though, we had to take the boat through the McAlpine Lock at Louisville—more complicated than it sounds because of high traffic and the strange set-up due to the islands in the same area. When we got through to the other side, we were greeted by a new challenge. Strong southerly winds and an approximately 20 mile long straight run of the river had whipped up the water, resulting in a choppy river with at least three foot waves—by far the roughest waters we had experienced on the Ohio. It took several hours and all our energy to make it a short ways downriver and we ended up just outside “the greater Louisville metropolitan area” that night. As we made our way down the Ohio the next few days, the wind dropped a bit in intensity and we were able to enjoy the river—including admiring these cows (photo) finding their own way to use the river as a giant drinking fountain. We were also able to help two locals aboard a small pleasure craft who had accidentally let their motor run out of gas. We passed over a gallon of gasoline that got them on their way—allowing us to reciprocate a small part of the many kindnesses visited upon us while on this journey!
That weekend, we passed several significant spots along the Ohio River, including the town of Cave-in-Rock. Strangely enough, this town is situated along a bluff with a giant cave carved into the side of limestone rock. As the picture shows, the mouth of the cave stands about 30 feet tall by 30 feet wide and opened into a carnivorous space that stretched back almost 100 yards. The lore surrounding the cave tells stories of bandits that used it as a hide out and as a place to launch surprise attacks on unsuspecting river travelers, who were often met a little up river by men claiming to "warn" them of the dangerous robbers. The travelers would take them on as help to assure safe passage, only to find that they were in cahoots with the bandits themselves. Later on, the cave was used a safe refuge for pioneers heading out west along the Ohio. Indeed, we found lots of graffiti in the cave with some carvings dating back to the early 1800s.