I finally did it! I made it all the way to the Gulf if Mexico, but not without some very harrowing and tense moments in the Southern Louisiana fog. Fog? Who knew? That was an oversight on my part. Forgot about the fog.
This is my amazing support crew that helped get me through the fog, through the Head of Passes, down South Pass to the Gulf, and back to Venice in a thick fog bank. What an epic finish to an unforgettable journey. Big THANKS to my support crew, the Bar Pilots and their crews in Venice and Pilottown, and to all of my supporters who cheered me on every single day!
My unforgettable crew and dear friends and daughter:
And the stellar crew at Pilottown:
Pilots at Venice Bar Pilot’s Association:
Our first attempt to make it to the Gulf was on December 4. We were doing pretty good on the East shore, although the fog was lingering on that side. By the time we passed Pilottown in the fog, we were engulfed. At one point we all heard a boat coming right toward us. I was out of the channel, and so was my support boat, but I didn’t know it. They were in only three feet of water. Hearing the boat coming closer and closer, but not seeing it, I was terrified they would be run down by a big fishing boat. I screamed at them to turn around. They appeared to be frozen staring into the fog. Oh. My. God. Will I witness their demise???? Thankfully, no. After the boat passed us by, we all knew we were finished for now. I got on the phone to Pilottown and asked them if we could come ashore.
“Of course, we will be expecting you,” they replied.
When we arrived 15 minutes later, they immediately took us under their wing, brought us inside, fed us from a smorgasborg outlay of food, shared their ‘mission control,’ and educated us on their system for bringing big ships up from the Gulf to New Orleans. Most importantly, they explained the Fog Predictor, which indicated a lift in the fog at 9:00AM until midnight tomorrow, December 5. We set our goal to the Gulf for tomorrow. They invited to breakfast, too. So nice and comforting, these river angels.
On the final dash to the Gulf, my greatest concern was the fog in the Head of Passes. This is a wide open space from which three branches of channelized water run to the Gulf. The Southwest Pass is the shipping lane for tankers, freighters, and container ships, Loutre Pass is mainly small craft and fishing boats, and South Pass fishing craft. Tankers come up SW Pass and cross through the Head of Passes to the West Bank near Pilottown. As you can imagine, in the fog, this is a dangerous route through which to paddle.
Just prior to leaving Pilottown, three Plaquemines Parish Marine Sheriffs pull up in their boat on their way down to Port Eads, located one mile upriver from the Gulf down South Pass. When I found this out, I somewhat pleaded with them to guide us through the fog through the Head of Passes with their radar. As you can see in this photo, I was gravely concerned. I could not get them to commit, for whatever reason, so we determined to just go for it with the support we had from the Pilottown crew, and the Venice pilots, who drive the ships up the Pass.
The Pilottown crew were phenomenal in communicating our whereabouts to the best of their ability. However, when they began asking the ship pilots if they had seen us, I knew we were on our own, so to speak. We had to navigate wisely through this stretch or catastrophe would be imminent. What we did know from my marine radio, was when a ship was coming up through the fog out of SW Pass, or down into the Head of Passes past Pilottown. Mark used his depth finder to try and avoid the channel, but at some point we had to cross.
There was a moment when we were immersed in fog and very vulnerable. I began to paddle with my GPS as my guide, which is what the crew told us to do. How scary is that in the fog???? Very! As my heart began to sink further into my gut, I mustered everything I had to keep my composure, as we all were doing at that time. At that very moment, we heard a boat coming right for us. Oh my God! Will it see us in time to stop??? All we can do is wait as it gets closer. Then, appearing as though angels from the spiritual realm, the Sheriff’s boat appears and immediately they begin pointing out the channel light at South Pass.
Miraculously, the fog began lifting at that moment and we could then see all three passes! What a moment of joy and relief that was, never to be forgotten.
I paddled harder than I had paddled on the entire journey, the 12-13 miles down South Pass. I took out my iPod and played river songs and sang at the top of my lungs, particularly Black Water by the Doobie Brothers. Playing music always gives me a much-needed boost of energy.
The highlight of my entire trip had to be when I saw my white pelican near the shore in South Pass. I couldn’t believe my eyes! He had come to see me through to the end, and provided that quiet comfort we both understood, that he had provided since day one of my paddling journey. I still shed a tear when I think about how perfect and complete this trip has been.
We had a clear shot to the Gulf, and most of the way back up the pass. We were not out of the woods yet. But we had made it to the Gulf of Mexico!
We made it about 2/3 the way up South Pass when the fog settled in again. We were on a race against time and fog. We absolutely HAD to get back to Venice before dark. We moved as one with eyes and minds on high alert. As you can imagine, the victory was oh so sweet.
Our home away from home in Venice, Louisiana. The Lighthouse Lodge and Villas comped our villa for all but one night, the night that April donated to the expedition. Big thanks to April Durnin for donating to the expedition two free nights of lodging (one night for two rooms) at this fabulous hotel. We could not think of one single complaint. The villa was extraordinarily lovely.
I will be updating this blog in the days to come. That will help me sort through my photos and videos, and reminisce on the pleasures of this incredible journey. Then, of course, I will write a book, or books. I would like to write a memoir, a curriculum book with lesson plans and activities focused on the rivers and natural environment, and a coffee table book with some of my best photographs. Oh, and T-shirts. I want t-shirts made ASAP. Maybe a calendar right away. So much to do!
I will follow up this post with some videos as soon as possible. Until then, I hope you enjoyed the adventure of my final days. I’ll be back to fill in the gap.
Shouting out a huge THANK YOU to each and every one of you who believed in me, the expedition, and who gave their heart and soul to support the journey. MWAH!! Much love to all, Janet Moreland XOXO
Do what you love and love what you do.
Love Your Big Muddy Expedition
3,700 River Miles
April 24, 2013 – December 5, 2013
First American Source-to-Sea Missouri River
First Solo Woman Source-to-Sea Missouri River
The Missouri River is the Longest River in North America
The Missouri/Mississippi River System is the Fourth Longest in the World.