photos by Gabe Cotton
It is about 9:30 am, on a 55 degree Saturday morning in mid-October, and I am up to my shoulders in Gravois Creek. I have a rope wrapped around a gloved hand, with a paddle in my other hand, pulling a recently submerged canoe, half filled with dumped tires. Welcome to the River des Peres Trash Bash!
Gabe Cotton was one of 350 volunteers who came to the River des Peres Trash Bash, and his awesome blog post about it details every step of the way. We’re thrilled to reprint part of his story here, and happily report that his estimated 40 tires added up to 92 total tires removed, and his bags of trash were part of more than 4.33 tons collected that day. Here’s Gabe’s story, in his own words:
“Walking next to a canoe in the slow moving creek, I was making my way through the water, looking for that unmistakable round silhouette. Reaching down to pull out a tire, then taking a few steps to discover another one. It is a process of popping it loose from the mud, scraping the lodged dirt out from inside it, and then dumping as much water out before setting the tire in the canoe to be taken, after it is filled, downstream to where a group of volunteers was waiting to help load them into a trailer. I had pulled out about 14 tires from a 50 foot stretch of Gravois Creek, decided that was enough for a load, hopped in the canoe and started paddling my way to the people on the bank that were going to do the hard part. It wasn’t 30 seconds on my way that I heard the sound of rushing water. Had I thought about it, I should have stayed out of the canoe, guiding it to our landing point…but I thought that it might be nice to ride my way there, take a minute to sit and be out of the filthy water, and pull in triumphantly with my bounty of rubber and tread. Yeah, one side of the canoe had dipped below the surface due to all the weight in it, and my boat was taking on water.
At that point there is nothing you can do to stop it. It will continue to fill, and I felt that if I could pull it submerged with the air trapped in the upright tires to keep them afloat within its gunwales, I could probably get them all to where I was heading with just a bit more effort than I was planning. And that’s when I hit the deep part.
So there I was, paddle in one hand, rope in the other, swimming through the mucky water of Gravois Creek while pulling a submerged canoe with a trail of floating tires behind me. I had bitten off more tires than I could chew, and learned an embarrassing yet valuable lesson about capacity and enthusiasm that I wasn’t going to forget. Luckily I had a more seasoned veteran than myself by the name of Jay in another canoe following behind me, grabbing all the tires that had escaped. I made it to shore, unloaded the four tires I had left, and then pulled the canoe out and dumped the water, so that I could head right back in to go collect more.
This was my Saturday morning float trip on Gravois Creek in South St. Louis County, and disgusting as it was, it was one of the most satisfying adventures I have had that involved a canoe.
All in all, I estimate that Jay and I pulled probably 40 tires out of about a tenth of a mile of Gravois Creek. And there are still so many tires left.
It is a perverse and irresponsible satisfaction, that exposes one to bacteria and chemicals that we should all stay away from. The hook that gets you is when you see that pile of tires you removed heading down the road in a trailer on their way to their proper resting place, and not in the creek anymore. It makes you really see and feel the impact you can have on the health of a natural place.”
Big thanks to Gabe for giving permission to repost this. Make sure to check out all his writings in his blog, Camping Missouri.