Angle to Key West: Lock 5 (10/4)

Below Lock 5, Mississippi River – October 4, 2012

I flew toward Lock 5 feeling like a rodeo clown in a bull-pushed barrel. Miles of open water above the lock gave the wind full reign to conjure waves that tossed me forward, smashed the Looksha through walls of water, and splashed over the deck. The river felt like a wild ocean and delighted in the effort.

The Looksha laughed with it, rising and falling, playing with the waves, enjoying the chaos that threw us toward the lock. I hung on and watched the concrete walls grow bigger, watched the closed gate rise up like the entrance to a castle, and knew I needed to knock.

“Lock 5, this is the yellow kayak southbound, any chance you can lock me down?” I called over the radio.

The speaker clicked and spewed a garble of words and static that the wind ripped away.

“Sorry,” I said, dropping my paddle and hunching over the radio. “Can you repeat that?”

Waves spun and lifted me into the air, dropped me down, and yanked me up again.

“This is Lock 5,” the radio called back. “Just a few minutes, we’re filling her up now.”

I dropped the radio and spun toward the lock, drifting closer, waiting to hear the grinding yawn of the metal gates cracking apart. Waves swirled and crashed around me, bouncing off the lock’s walls, turning the concrete channel into rising and falling chaos. As the gates broke apart, the water turned mad at the thought of my escape. It punched me up and sideways, down and back, a dozen ways at once, then threw me inside the lock like an angry child forced to give up its toy.

The grind of metal filled the air and the doors closed behind me. Everything went calm in an instant, like it had all been my imagination. Then I heard myself breathing, feeding oxygen to my still-pumping heart, and felt like I always do in that moment after a rollercoaster skids to a stop.

“A bit windy today, huh?” the lockman said as he tossed me a rope to hang on to.

“Just a bit,” I said, grinning back at him. “Just a bit.”

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