My Solo Trip to Meet Thousands. Floatzilla.
After about six years of enjoying kayaking via rental companies, I had finally pulled the trigger on purchasing my own. At the time, I had no idea how owning a kayak would be a catalyst of many of my adventures ahead, but I did quickly discover solo kayaking can be challenging with porting your boat from entry to exit point on the water. So, I signed up for meetup.com to find other local groups and yakers to join. I also used the site and a Canoe/Kayak magazine to find events outside of my area and that's when I stumbled upon the Floatzilla.org event. It's an annual festival in Davenport, IA to help promote the conservation of the Mississippi River and also to try to set the new world record for the Largest Flotilla of Man-Powered Crafts. I knew I had to go, even if I went solo.
On Thursday, August 13, 2015, I loaded my 12 foot Wilderness Pungo on top of my 4-runner, grabbed all of my camping gear and set out on the 550 mile drive to join thousands of other river rats. The trip would be a short one: first night spent on the road, nights two & three camping on the banks of the Mississippi River and the last one stopping somewhere on the way back home. It was the best plan to ease into my first experience of solo travel.
I arrived in Davenport early on Friday morning to find hundreds of kayakers waiting in the registration lines to get their welcome packages, launch maps and camping site map for Credit Island. I am not sure I had ever seen such a diverse crowd of participants. People in costumes and wigs, some looking like they just stepped off an REI poster and others as if they had been living off the land for years. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! I immediately connected to a group of ladies in front of me in line. They were all married retired teachers who took kayaking trips together once or twice a year. After discovering I was a lone traveler, they asked me to tag along to their campsite on the banks of the river.
We grabbed a drink that evening at a local pub and met up with a gentleman (John) who I had corresponded with on one of the floatzilla meetup groups. We made an early night of it knowing we had to rise in time to get to our launching points.
On Saturday morning, I met John at QC Coffee and Pancake House in Rock Island, IL to grab breakfast before heading to our launch site at Marquette Street. There were five different sites you could choose from depending on the distance you wanted to float. The ladies had decided to do a longer paddle which I admired but wasn't sure I was up to the challenge considering my lack of experience on the river. So I stuck with John for a 2 mile float to the main event site at Sunset Park.
The float was spectacular but what I loved the most was the instant camaraderie at the site where we would take the picture of record. All of these people of different backgrounds holding hands and grabbing boats to squeeze together as close as we could as the announcer told us the photographer would soon be ready to take the shot. Chatter and laughter filled the air between the banks as people got to know their neighbors or recognized others from past events. It was a great event that I'm glad I participated in. I even made the local newspaper, Quad-City Times in their write up. Unfortunately, we did not break the world record, but we did break the attendance record for Floatzilla that year.
The event was the highlight of the trip for sure, but I have a few honorable mentions too. I always try to make a point to talk to the locals to find out where they eat. I mentioned one already QC Coffee and Pancake House in Rock Island, IL. If you are in that area, this is a must eat and please let me recommend their cinnamon roll pancakes! (DELICIOUS). Another one, a dive dinner on the Skunk River in Mount Pleasant, MO, was quite the adventure to find. GPS will "almost" get you to Butch's River Rock Cafe until you hit a dirt road... then just follow the smell of some of the best bacon ever tasted! The service and food were great, but if you are on a diet they have limited selections. So go hungry and call it a cheat day.
On this first solo road trip, I realized how much I loved driving alone, talking to strangers, camping by myself and most of all I loved the freedom of making split decisions about changing course, which I did many times. Although this trip has been the only one to date that I met up with people or had a specific purpose for going, it will always be remembered as my discovery of wanderlust and what sparked my strong desire for solo traveling.
Until next time,
If you are a kayaker I recommend attending this event soon - Click here for more information.
DON'T FORGET TO ENTER MY GIVEAWAY GOING ON THROUGH JUNE 15, 2018