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story.lead_photo.caption The Great River Rumble canoe and kayak trip heads down a backwater of the Mississippi River July 30 during the seven-day trip. The trip covered 106 miles on the Turkey River in northeast Iowa and the Mississippi. - Photo by Flip Putthoff

Editor's note: More than 150 paddlers took part in the Great River Rumble canoe and kayak trip on the Turkey River in northeast Iowa and the upper Mississippi River. The expedition covered 106 miles on July 26-Aug. 1. Flip Putthoff, the NWA Democrat-Gazette outdoors editor, was part of the group. Here are excerpts from a journal he kept along the way:

Saturday, July 25: Sitting here on the shore of the Turkey River in Elkader, Iowa. It's a small, pretty stream that runs through the heart of town. We'll start our trip here tomorrow and paddle down the Turkey and Mississippi rivers, finishing at Savanna, Ill., on Aug. 1.

At A Glance

Great River Rumble

The 2015 Great River Rumble covered 106 miles on the Turkey and Mississippi rivers.

Elkader, Iowa to Garber, Iowa: 19.5 miles

Garber to Osterdock, Iowa: 8 miles.

Osterdock to Cassville, Wis.: 14 miles.

Cassville to Mud Lake, Iowa: 17 miles.

Mud Lake to Massey Marina, Iowa: 17 miles.

Massey Marina to Bellevue, Iowa: 17 miles.

Bellevue to Savanna, Ill.: 15 miles.


We're camped in our tents at the city park in downtown Elkader, but it's not really camping. We don't make fires or cook. Arrangements for all our overnight stays are made months in advance by volunteers who come on the trip. Our stays are in riverfront parks or state or county parks.

Paddlers come from all over, but mainly the upper Midwest. There are people here from New York, Colorado and Texas. I'm the lone Arkansan this year. We average about 15-20 miles on the water each day. While we're on the river, our gear is transported by rental truck downstream to the next overnight town. Paddlers only carry what's needed for the day, such as water, lunch and sunscreen. The flotilla is 90 percent kayaks and 10 percent light-weight Kevlar canoes. The pace is brisk to cover the daily miles.

There's a big festival going on in town and the fire department is serving chicken dinners. Just had one and it was dee-lish. The Turkey River looks inviting. Everyone is eager to get started in the morning.

Sunday July 26: We had time to take down our tents and get our gear on the truck before the monsoon hit. We waited out the thunderstorm for about 90 minutes, then started our journey once lightning wasn't a threat. The storm worked in our favor. The river came up four inches and there's a nice current. The Turkey is similar to our own Kings River in Northwest Arkansas, with pools, shoals and wooded banks. We stopped to explore an old mill a few miles into the day

Covered 19.5 miles today from Elkader to the little town of Garber, Iowa. This evening we enjoyed a fabulous dinner prepared by the ladies of the Catholic church in Garber. How about this: Smoked pork loin with home-made rhubarb babecue sauce, baked potato, vegetable, salad, roll, dessert and drink all for $10.

Different groups provide our breakfasts and dinners through the week as fundraisers. If we overnight away from town in a state park, meals are catered. Paddlers are on their own for lunch. Most carry a sandwich lunch in their boats.

After our church-basement feast, several of us played the young bucks of the Garber Volunteer Fire Department in a rousing game of volleyball. Make that an amusing game. At least no one on our team broke a hip. Most of our group is middle age or better. Good to see a few teenagers and their parents on the trip.

Monday July 27: A short day today. Only eight miles from Garber to Osterdock, Iowa, population 59 if you count the mayor's dog. We're camped in a field between the Turkey River and the only two buildings in town -- a house and the Osterdock store-restaurant-tavern. We see a few more homes far away across the river. Must be suburban Osterdock.

It's hot with no shade in camp. Rumblers have migrated to the air-conditioned tavern. Others set up lawn chairs in the shallow river, under a bridge in the shade. We laugh and swim. A couple of guys light big cigars, up to their hineys in the cool water.

The guy across the street from the tavern let us set up our rumble shower in his front yard. Say what? A rumble shower is basically a portable cold-water shower we hook up to the nearest spigot. There's no enclosure. Bathers just soap down in their swim suits and clean up best they can. A refreshing rumble shower beats a hot shower on a sweltering day.

Our marching orders are to shut down the rumble shower by 4 p.m. so the restaurant doesn't run out of water while serving our dinner. We enjoyed delicious Mexican fare and plenty of it. Volunteers who arrange our overnight stops always warn the food providers that our group eats more than most people, just so they'll know.

That evening, a great three-piece band played outside in the shade of a big tent next to the restaurant. These tiny-town stops turn out to be some of the best. Osterdock rolled out a big red carpet for us.

Tuesday, July 28: Had rain and storms most of the day during our 14-mile paddle from Osterdock to Cassville, Wis. We waited out a storm on shore for 30 minutes. An hour later we bid farewell to the Turkey River and drifted into the Mississippi during a steady rain.

The Great River is more than a mile wide here. We see some big islands upstream. A power plant is on the far bank. Break time, so we pull off on a sandbar at the mouth of the Turkey. We have to watch where we stop on the Mississippi. Some bars are hard sand. Others look sandy, but they're really mud that that'll pull the sandals right off your feet.

The rain quit about the time we reached Cassville. Our camp is in a lovely park with a big bonus if you like trains. Our tents are close to a double set of busy, busy tracks. Whistles blow and trains thunder by every 20 minutes. Some are long oil trains carrying the crude to refineries. It's trains, trains, trains all through the night. After a hard day on the river, most of us slept like granite.

Wednesday-Friday July 29-31: The front that brought the rain is outta here. Gorgeous weather is with us now, with cool nights and daytime temps in the mid 80s. A steady north wind will be with us down the Mississippi River to our take-out at Savanna.

Locks and dams on the river above St. Louis form deeper navigation pools. The current is gentle, like paddling down a long lake. We passed through two locks on our trip. The upper Mississippi is beautiful, with clear water, bluffs and wooded shores.

Part of our journey is on the main river. We share it with power boats, personal watercraft and barges and tugs long as football fields. Sometimes we slip into a slough and paddle down the its quiet backwater. Egrets, herons and bald eagles are our escorts.

One slough ran for a mile through acres of water lilies. Thousands of water lilies, all in bloom on this bright summer morning.

While we enjoy the river, hard-working volunteers on our land crew move the rental truck and support vehicles to the next town. Everyone who helps out on the rumble is a volunteer. No one is paid. We all pitch in to do whatever needs done. The rumble is like a family of 160 or more together for a week. Some register for a day or two, but most go for the week.

Saturday, Aug. 1: Out take-out at Savanna, Ill. comes into view on a backwater off the main Mississippi. Some of our days have had themes, and the theme for today is honoring our veterans. All veterans paddled to the front and lead our group into the park to finish the trip. There are flags, applause and salutes.

A nice touch to the Great River Rumble is the farewell banquet at the end. We all clean up and enjoy a good meal and a lot of laughs one more time. The trip will shove off again next summer, long as the Mississippi is flowing along.

Sports on 08/20/2015

Print Headline: Shake, rattle and rumble

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