Missed Part 3 of the Joey Cargol series (click here to read Part 3)
Joey Cargol had reached Louisiana, his beloved state! He quoted the words of Clyde Edgerton, “Because I was born in the South I am a Southerner. If I had been born in the North, the West, or Central Plains, I would just be a human being.”
“From our food to our music, our architecture to our accents, our manners and our football, our insects and our humidity, there is no place like the South, and in the South, there is no place like Louisiana!” Cargol said.
He had spent a welcoming time with family and friends. Now it was time to get on down the river to finish the goal he had started. He was lighthearted but very fatigued. The past two months of hard wind, rain, river maneuvering and bad campsite experiences had taken its toll.
“It was hard to leave the company of family and friends, but the weather was turning and I couldn’t afford to waste time. Needed to make it down the river and the forecast called for steady Gulf storms to start moving in,” he said. He got underway and bucked a steady headwind all day. Although he was trying to get to Natchez before dark, it didn’t work out. He had to paddle the last 13 miles in the pitch black with a number of large tows dangerously moving around him.
“There are many river towns along the river, but Natchez may be my favorite. It was really the first town south of Missouri with easy access.”
At the Under the Hill Saloon, Ryan Scully, a fellow river pilot met him for a drink at the bar. The next morning after going to town to resupply, he launched out and continued south. The wind blew all day, foretelling bad weather ahead. He hit a monster storm cell just before dark and was only 20’ from the bank, but the winds wouldn’t let him get there. Soaked and exhausted, he set up camp at the first spot he could reach, which luckily turned out to be a great spot.
The next day, with the wind still blowing from the south, he made some tough miles, passing the Old River Control Structure which is one of the most important manmade structures on earth. It controls the amount of water that flows from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River. If the structure wasn’t there or if it would ever fail, the Atchafalaya would consume the Mississippi and cities below it like Baton Rouge and New Orleans would be left high and dry.
He made it as far as Tunica, Louisiana below the Angola State Prison when he decided to set up camp. He climbed the muddy bank and heard music coming from a distance. “I stumbled across Como Plantation and met the owner Charlie Cole who was building a Christian Silent Retreat on the grounds. A group of volunteers, the Mississippi Nail Benders were having a revival style supper after working on cabins all week. They immediately welcomed me and invited me to eat and relax. They gave me a bed and I was able to take a shower!”
The next day he decided to follow his heart and help do the Lord’s work by “bending a few nails.” “The West Hickman Baptist Church in Kentucky had taken such good care of me weeks ago and I knew that their church was built by a similar organization called Carpenters for Christ. God had used those volunteers’ hard work to shelter me earlier and now I had the chance to do the same for others. He has brought me full circle on this trip, and I have so enjoyed and been blessed by the path He has laid before me.”
Charlie Cole, the owner of the property took him for a tour of the grounds and showed him the beautiful Como Plantation, the only plantation home in Louisiana with an unobstructed view of the Mississippi. “The plantation and his plans for building a Christian Silent Retreat are amazing, I hope to return one day in the near future, to experience this wonderful place again.” That night, dry and looking out with a roof over his head, it poured buckets.
He departed Como Plantation late on the 1st of August between two large and rainy bands. “It either rained or threatened all day, and when it wasn’t raining it was hot!!! BUT, I had a great day paddling and an overall wonderful day on the water! I needed a great day like that. When I reached Wildwood Plantation, again I had a few friends surprise me. Billy, Eric and Becky Vogt were out on the beach waiting. The Glynn Family has owned the property since 1841. On the grounds is one of the most beautiful and “Louisiana” hunting camps you’ll ever see. The walls are covered in deer, alligators, ducks and every manner of native animals and culture.
The next morning, he entered the land of giants. From Baton Rouge south, large oceangoing ships that throw massive swells and dwarf a small canoe, become his new normal. “There is no getting used to getting run down by a ship in a canoe. I work on ships, but when you look over your shoulder and see only steel, you find out what your nerves are really made of. In addition, the tows were still on the river amongst the ships. I have enjoyed sharing the river with the tows and gained a greater appreciation and respect for the job they do.”
He started hearing many familiar voices come over the radio and had a few friends come and meet him on the riverbank. He set up camp below the Plaquemine ferry and crashed. The next morning he had a couple of nice surprises. The winds began to lie down and a current, though not strong, started pushing him along. With pilots aboard the ships looking out for him, the ship swells that he feared were rough but tolerable.
The fatigue of the trip, however, was catching up with him. He burned out near Burnside and decided to stop at the Belle Chasse Marine Transportation dock to sleep for the night. His wife was coming to meet him and pick up most of his gear to help lighten his load. While unloading gear on a barge, his drinking cup, a gold Krewe of Rex cup, fell overboard.
“I lunged for it and almost rolled over, tossing myself and all my gear into the river. It sounds crazy risking everything over a Mardi Gras cup, but your impulses are to save everything that falls in the water, plus I’d carried the cup all the way down the river and didn’t want to lose it. I got lucky as the cup landed bottom down and a deckhand who was helping me with my gear grabbed the boat. Having avoided a catastrophe of falling in just above a barge fleet, my wife surprised me with a stay at the beautiful Houmas House Plantation.
“After a good night’s sleep in a bed and a delicious meal at the restaurant on the grounds, I departed early. For some reason it was a lot harder to keep my speed that day, but the morning was cool and the wind becalmed. Of course, as expected, the afternoon heat came out with a vengeance. With no shade, I melted. I drank nearly a dozen bottles of waters and Gatorades, but was still dehydrated.”
People began popping up on the levees and river batture cheering him on. “It’s very humbling to have others go out of their way to come and see you especially in the summer heat. Even the tows got in on it, waving, blowing the whistles and taking pictures.” The well wishes lifted his spirits but his body was beginning to fail. “I was pushing hard, almost too hard. I had developed arthritis in my hands, muscle cramps in my arms, back and shoulders, and my feet were shredded and bleeding profusely.” He reached Kenner just before sunset and not a moment too soon.
The morning of August 5 was a special one. Cargol readied the “Lil Injun” with all the regalia befitting a ship of the line. He flew the ten flags of Louisiana, the flags of the ten states he had travelled through, the American, Louisiana, Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish flags, the City of Gretna flag and a pilot flag. The old girl was battered and beaten, but she had to look her best. After a couple hour paddle he pulled up to a cheering crowd of around 30 friends and family at the Fly behind the Audubon Zoo. “It was good to see so many familiar faces. It drove my adrenaline, all the aches and pains seemed to disappear. With more friends awaiting him a few miles downriver, he had to keep going though, so he wished everyone goodbye and shoved off.
“I expected a similar scene at the Gretna Amphitheatre, but when I pulled up I was blown away.”
Under the spray of the Gen. Roy S. Kelly, the Port of New Orleans’ fire boat, he came ashore to over a hundred screaming friends, family and strangers and who had followed him along his journey, even media cameras in the mix. Gretna welcomed him home with open arms. Hugs, kisses, high fives and congratulations were the order of the day. After passing through the crowd, a presentation took place under a large unfurled American flag hoisted by the David Crockett Fire Company No. I.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser made him a Louisiana Ambassador and Chereen Gegenheimer read a proclamation on behalf of Jefferson Parish. Mayor Belinda Constant, the entire Gretna City Council and Police Chief Arthur Lawson greeted him at the landing. After his historic voyage was complete, the Gretna resident was honored at the August City Council meeting where he received a Proclamation and the key to the city.
“It was all very emotional for me. My father, Patrick Cargol received the key to the City of Gretna as a junior in high school. As a life guard, he had rescued a young man who had broken his back and drowned, bringing him back to life through CPR. My father had wanted to come on this journey with me, and though he passed two years ago, he was with me every second.” Cargol had worn his father’s shoes all the way down the river and he was wearing them at that moment.
His journey has inspired many, and when asked about it, he responded, “You’ve only got one life, live it twice.” Even with the accolades given that day and a later one from the Rex Organization presented by Councilman Jackie Berthelot, Expedition H2020’s story wasn’t over and he still had many miles ahead of him.
He left New Orleans and headed down the familiar stretch of river he traverses daily as a river pilot in the Crescent River Port Pilot Association. In Belle Chasse he was greeted by another group of friends and family. As he passed the refineries and barge fleets, friends cheered and waved their hard hats, passing boats blew their horns, his VHF radio came to life with people calling his name and he knew he was no longer alone on the river.
“From there on out, I was amongst my people!”
“On August 8, I woke up in Pilottown with my body aching, my hands arthritic and stiff, my skin burned and stinging and all my cuts and scrapes throbbing and bleeding. Yet, I didn’t really feel a thing. I knew I was pushing on 0.0 AHP, the official end of the Mississippi River and my mind was consumed by it. I started out around 0730 and I reached the Head of Passes in about 30 minutes.”
He was done paddling the Mississippi River as most people considered it, but he was not done as he considered it. “I wanted to paddle every inch of the river, I paddled all of Lake Itasca which feeds the river and if it flowed out Southwest Pass and into the Gulf of Mexico to the sea buoy, I had to paddle it too! It’s the way I dreamed it when I was a kid and it had to be done!”
Halfway down the pass, he heard a large boat approach him from behind. His family was there to escort him the rest of the way. “The tide was coming in and the current was light which made paddling tough with the wind in my face. Looking back at the bad luck I had with weather this trip, all I could do was laugh.
Just before I exited Southwest Pass, my friend Lyle Panepinto flew over several times and then landed his seaplane right next to me. I felt so empowered by everyone’s well wishes, I blew past the jetties and into the Gulf of Mexico, out in open water and no longer in a river. The weather and seas were calm, calmer than the river. With giant smooth swells and no waves to slow me, I gave it all I had and in a short time reached the familiar sea buoy a few miles offshore.”
“I can’t explain that feeling. I instantly tied off and climbed the buoy. With my family and friends cheering me on, I climbed the buoy and rested a minute. With my journey complete to my satisfaction, I let it sink in. There was only one thing left to do, jump in the Gulf and I did. Surrounded by passing dolphins, I jumped. The warm waters engulfed me and the salty taste struck my tongue. This was no longer the cold muddy river I had spent so much time on, it was something very different.”
This is the end of the Joey Cargol 4-part Series, written from the words of the adventurer himself. TheGretnaGlance.com blog sincerely thanks him for partnering with us to share his interesting experience with our followers. If you would like to read his blog or see more pictures, checkout EXPEDITION H2020 on Facebook.