Google maps is a good tool, but looking at something from space does not give you a good idea of the height of the bank of a river or the steepness of it. It does not tell you if the bank is made of sharp cut limestone or gravel. It will not indicate in any way that you will take one step forward and slide two back in loose railroad bed gravel. The fact that 6 foot tall weeds have grown in a area will not show on a satellite picture that was taken in the Winter. The hundreds of logs floating inside a lock chamber will not show in their images. Signs that read “This is a city sewer output, Stay Away!” Do not show up on Google Maps. There must be some scouting in the planning stage.
Water and food must be protected from river water. Do not eat on the river. If you are going to eat, stop, get out of the boat, wash your hands with hand sanitizer, then eat. Drink a lot but always sanitize the part of the water jug or bottle that you and your mouth will be touching. It is nice to have that coffee cup holder right in front of you, and take a sip once in awhile in the morning, but if you watch you will see when you paddle, water splashes onto the coffee cup and then can get in your mouth. I doubt it takes much to cause illness.
Don’t trust the river water to drink no matter how you filter it. The only absolutely fool proof way would be distillation and I doubt anyone has a set up for that on their boat. Buy good clean water. For me that is at least a gallon and a half each day. Put it in your plans, when and where you will get your water, and have back ups just in case.
Have a specific campsite for the night already arraigned. Do not set off in the morning and say to yourself, “I’ve seen so many great sites along the way, I will just pick one.” Know exactly where you are going and what time you are expected there. When setting up these sites with campgrounds, hotels, etc. Always give them a range of dates you will show up. You never know what may happen and you will be late, or early, or may have to stay a couple days instead of just one. Needing to send emails every other day because you’re running late is a pain.
Try to stay in a hotel at least every 4th or 5th night, just so you can do your laundry and shower, and sleep in a comfortable bed.
When choosing campsites when you are solo camping, think “Evacuation.” How would they get me out of here if I had to call for help? Islands are probably not the best. Places near roads are probably the best. Places where a ambulance could pull up next to you are probably best. Don’t have to hack you way out of a jungle to get help.
Know what you are going to eat, each and every day. No stopping at the carry out and loading up on sweets and donuts and slim jims and calling that nutrition. When paddling long distances you could be burning 4-6 thousand calories a day. Plan accordingly with good nutritious meals.
Check, and recheck and recheck your equipment before leaving. Even something as simple as a E-Tool not working can mess up your day. If it does not work then why carry that 4 pounds of gear. Write down everything you take on a packing list. Look at it, try to get double and triple function out of a piece of gear. Try to reduce weight as much as possible.
Be ready to paddle at night. You may need too just go get yourself out of a bad situation. This means a white light that can be seen 360 degrees and a good flash light. You also must have good maps, know where you are all the time.
Anything you bring made of paper, make sure it is inside something waterproof.
A solar panel is invaluable. Mine kept my phone charged which was my life line. It was my weather station, my map, and my communication device. (Bring an extra phone)
Every single thing must be tied down with straps in your boat. If something goes overboard it is lost.
Be prepared for huge waves on the Ohio River. Behind barges, and especially coming out of locks. If the wind is blowing that will even be worse. By huge waves, I mean 4 foot rollers behind some barges, and 2-3 foot chop below a dam. After you get used to them, they can be rather fun.
When navigating the river you must stay close to the channel. You can not hide in the trees on the side and expect to make any time. Half the time, close to the bank the water is running the opposite direction. Get use to the waves from the barges and get out there closer to them. When you see them coming, move away over to the side then point the boat back at the wake at a 90 degree and paddle back to the channel.
On the Ohio river, no matter what the season, Muck Boots are a must. You will be in mud every day. There are no nice gravel banks, even if there is gravel it will be covered in mud. If you get a rain that raises the water level, when it goes down there will be two inches of fresh mud. Even if it is hot sometimes, wear your muck boots, they will protect your feet.