Illinois River Trip...
Ray Macke built his own little cabin skiff and named it Therapy. This is an account of one of his many river adventures.
Illinois Waterway-Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River
The summer of has been fairly dry in the Midwest. Not the drought that some other parts of the country are experiencing but nonetheless still dry. We have had a few showers off and on but have not had the long soaking rains needed to recharge the soil and maximize the farmers crops and residents lawns. That is until today - the day we are leaving to tow my Cabin Skiff to Chicago intent on a trip south down the Illinois River. My plan called for a late Friday afternoon departure to make the 300-mile drive to the southern section of the Chicago area. Motel lodging was in order for the night. The next day I wanted to drop Therapy in at the Triplex Marina at the 320 mile marker on the Calumet Sag Channel. Along for at least part of this adventure were my wife, Vickie, my good friend and fellow boating enthusiast (fanatic might be a better word) Aldie and his wife, Janet. We have been friends for years and find ourselves on the water together a great deal of our leisure time. I couldn't ask for a better crew. Although the girls will take the helms occasionally they are usually content to sit back and enjoy the scenery. They do readily handle the fenders and mooring lines when locking and docking AND they do all the trailer work. Yes, they both are very skilled at backing the trailers down the ramp while us guys relax and wait to drive to boats on. You got to love women like that!
At this point I need to explain a little about the rivers we are planning to travel. The main river between the St. Louis and Chicago area is the Illinois River. Although it appears as one continuous stream the name actually changes several times along the way. From Lake Michigan there are two routes to reach this river. The southern path uses the Calumet River but again the name changes to the Little Calumet then the Calumet Sag Channel over its 30 mile length. The mouth of the river is the Calumet Harbor that is about 13 miles south of the downtown Chicago area. The northern route utilizes the Chicago River beginning at the Chicago Harbor Lock that opens directly on to the lake and flows through the heart of downtown Chicago. It too changes names when heading downstream to the South Branch Chicago River and then the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. When taking either path both rivers run about 30 miles to where they intersect and continue south.
Our plan was to spend Saturday making a loop from the marina up the Cal-Sag and out to the lake. Here we would continue along the shore up to the Chicago River where we would lock through and enjoy the sights while motoring through the skyscrapers. After about 75 miles total we planned to end up back where we started. Therapy would be left in a slip while we enjoy the rest of the afternoon and an evening in the Windy City.
A nice evening out was to be the reward for our wives. You see they were not going to make the trip with us as they had agreed to return home driving the 300 miles with the trailer. Surprisingly, convincing them to do this wasn't that hard. At first I thought that the evening in the city was the incentive that swayed their opinion. But as Aldi and I heard their plans for the time we were to be gone I began to realize that just being rid of us for a few days may have been the real prize! Overall, it was a good plan but with one exception - Mother Nature. We left home in a heavy rain that persisted about half way to Chicago. But even worse, the weather maps showed that the front was moving northeast and would reach the city on Saturday. Unfortunately they were right. No more than we left the motel that morning and the rain started. Therapy was still on the trailer so we decided to make our way to the marina in hopes it would pass. During one break I did go ahead and drop her in, only to be hit by another downpour before I had it secure. The bilge pump got a good workout.
By about noon we decided that the Saturday trip with the girls was not going to happen and we decided to head into town. Near the lock on the Chicago River is the Navy Pier. This was formally an active loading facility but now has been converted to a shopping mall / entertainment center. We decided it would be a nice place to mill around as it offered shelter from the rain but still outside access to the lake if the weather improved.
The pier is right on the Lake Michigan and gave us a view of what we would have encountered if we had made the loop. The wind was blowing in off the water at about 15 mph. I have next to no experience on really large bodies of open water and 3 feet waves are probably the worst I have encountered. I was humbled by the lake conditions. There were few "small" boats out there. I did watch one that I thought in the 30' range and it was rock and rolling far more than I would have enjoyed. As for being out there in the 18' Cabin Skiff - not me. Having it as a marina queen today was a good choice. The rain had stopped for the most part and we decided to kill some more time and take one of the free trolleys from the Navy Pier to the downtown area. We rode along and got off at the Sears Tower which stands right beside the Chicago River. Since we weren't going to be able to boat down the river at least we could take a look. The weather was looking a lot better at this point and I was starting to question my decision as to not boating today (but not about going out on the lake!).
Sunday dawned a beautiful day. The rain had stopped and the wind had subsided to next to none. We went to the marina and loaded our gear onboard and tried to dry out a few items that had gotten wet. After kissing our wives we eased back from the slip and pointed the bow downstream. My plan had been to make the loop with the wives on Saturday and then Sunday head on south. We were facing 10 locks in the process of getting home and I had made a guess that we would need four days on the river. I really didn't have to be back in the office on Thursday but there were a couple of items that would work out better if I were. As we were making our way down the 30 miles to the intersection at the 303.5 mile marker I started thinking about what I had sought to accomplish with this trip. I really wanted to run all the way from Lake Michigan to our homeport on the Kaskaskia River in Therapy. Now it appeared I would not be able to do this. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to complete my original goal. As we approached the junction of the two rivers I decided the heck with the office - I came to boat this river and I was going to do it! The older I become the more I realize that very few things in life are truly urgent. Often it is far more important to enjoy the moment rather than rushing on to the next perceived pressing problem. Well, maybe??. You see, there was a problem and it wasn't the office. (What is it with me and these trips. I always seem to find myself in some type of "situation" right off the bat!). Because we had planned to take the wives on the loop around Chicago I had only filled one tank to keep the weight down. I thought when we completed the ride I would top off both tanks for the run south.
When we didn't make the run on Saturday I abandon Therapy at the marina not thinking about the gas situation. When we left Sunday morning the marina was not yet open so we could not fill up. If we continued south there was no problem, as we would hit a marina before exhausting the 15 gallons. But heading back towards the lake was a different story. My cruising guide only listed one marina with gas between us and the lake - Windy City Marina (on the chart it is called Marina City Marina). The problem was while on the water taxi ride I had noticed a marina with a sign that stated "Gas No Longer Available." Was that Windy City? If so does that mean that there is no fuel between here and the lake? I ran the numbers several times and it keep coming back the same - we didn't have enough gas to make the lake and then back downstream to the closest marina. Now what? The smart choice would be to dump my goal and head south, so obviously I decided to head north to the lake. I rationalize that we will go upstream to the point where we still have enough fuel to turn around and make the marina. If we find fuel by then great! If we don't we can sulk away in defeat but at least we tried. As we make the turn heading towards the downtown area we are now on the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal. This is a very narrow channel that was cut through solid limestone in some places and lined with stone blocks in others to form its shoreline. Making our way towards the Lake fuel was still very much on my mind. As I pondered our situation another possible solution did come to mind. It seem logical that if we didn't find fuel along the river we could lock out on to the lake make our way to one of the marinas along the shore. On our Saturday trip we had seen a couple large marinas and surely they sold gas. I decided if necessary I would take a chance and continue beyond my chosen turn around point.
Yea, I was feeling lucky and today and for a change we were. At mile marker 323 we came upon South Bend Marina and they sold gas. The fact that we had to wait in line for two other boats and a couple of jet skis to fill were of little concern. I was just happy to put the added stress of running low on fuel out of my mind. We were back on course with full tanks and I am now ready to enjoy the trip. The spectacle of floating by these huge structures in my lowly little watercraft was awesome. And we weren't alone. It was now about noon on Sunday and the narrow river was alive with activity. There were pleasure boats galore and numerous commercial passenger cruisers showing visitors the sights and sounds of the Chicago River. People were out for the afternoon walking and sitting along the concrete walls that formed the shoreline. Although this was a "no wake" area the water was rough as result of being churned by all the traffic. All in all, quite a unique experience for an old backwater river pilot. We continued up to the lock but decided not to take the time to lock out and then back in. Instead we moved to the side and dropped anchor and had lunch. As we sat eating our ham sandwiches and chips we marveled at the skyline, clean water and the hustling activity of the city and waterfront.
I was extremely happy I had made the decision to complete this ride to the lake as it was well worth the time. A truly unique experience. But time was passing and there was now an extra 30 miles of river to cover while retracing our wake. Let the journey begin as we point the bow downstream.
Passing the intersection of the Cal-Sag (photo at right) we continue on down the Sanitary Canal. Industry is still fairly heavy along this section of river and the air continues to be fragrant. While at the marina on Saturday I noted a lot of debris floating down the river. I had assumed that the almost 2" of rain had washed out all the ditches and dumped their bounty in the water. I hate dodging stuff with the boat all day long and was somewhat dismayed at the thought. But I had been pleasantly surprised to find little flotsam on Sunday. But suddenly we located it. It started sparsely at first but gradually got worse. Finally, it was heavy enough that I decided to drop off plane and slowly plow through it. At first, I really wasn't paying much attention to the nature of the debris but traveling slow in a fairly unscenic area I began to look around for any entertainment. Predictability there was the normal sticks and scrap lumber. Plastic soda bottles, foam cups and glass jars were also in attendance. But then I noticed something odd. I discounted the first sighting as it was at some distance but a few moments later a second specimen floated by and rolled over in our wake. No mistake this time. Right now I am questioning whether I should mention this entire episode as is somewhat offensive. But I have decided I must defend my journalistic integrity by accurately reporting of the facts as they presented themselves to me (at least that's what the real press says when they want to run something totally tasteless!) Awe heck, just say it - there were condoms floating in the water. And not just one. It became kind of a "count the condom" game as we pushed about quarter mile through the debris. In all we had eight confirmed and 3 unconfirmed sightings of what we called Chicago jellyfish in just a few minutes time.
At the 291 mile marker we approach Lockport Lock and Dam. It has a 600 x 110 single chamber and normally drops about 35 feet. As with all the locks along this route there are no float pins and boaters are dropped ropes to hold heir position on the lock wall. We contact the lockmaster and he tells us we will have about an hour wait before we can enter. We pass the time by reading and talking. In just about an hour the gates open and we proceed with the process. Exiting Lockport we travel about a mile to a point where the canal ends as the Des Plaines River joins it on the starboard side. From here the next lock is only four miles down stream. Brandon Lock & Dam at the 286 MM is the same size as Lockport. Contacting the lockmaster again finds us with another hour wait as he completes moving a tow through. But by now the sun is starting to hang low on the horizon. We really would like to get through the lock and run another 12 miles downstream to Harborside Marina where there is a restaurant and lounge. A hot meal for dinner was much more appealing than another cold cut sandwich out of the cooler. There is already a bass boat waiting to enter when we arrive and while we are sitting there another one pulls in and joins in the wait.. The tow finally exits the other side and the chamber is filled and we are allowed to enter. The three of us are secure to the side but find ourselves just sitting there. After a while the lockmaster comes by and explains that another boat has radioed that he is approaching and ask them to hold the lock. I understand this as others have waited for me before but still the sun has set and the stars were starting to appear. Once the 35' cruiser arrived we were delayed even longer as the captain called the lockmaster over and quiz him for several minutes on marinas and slips available downstream. By the time we left the lock it was dark and we had to decide what to do. Running down an unfamiliar river in dark is not one of my favorite activities (and not one of the smartest either). But we had some moonlight to work with and there were channel markers to help follow the correct path. One concern was that there was some good size debris floating here and there. We decided to take it slow running on minimum planning speed. In 35 minutes or so we should have reached the marina.
All went well for the next six or seven miles but then development and lights along the shore made it difficult to see any debris in the water ahead. I dropped off plane and continued on slowly while we dug out my spotlight. As I was fumbling in the dark to plug it in I unknowingly allowed Therapy to stray out of the channel. Suddenly the sound of the aluminum prop hitting the gravel bottom gets my attention. I can't believe I have done this again. Like the Green River trip if I had just taken a moment to set the bottom alarm on the depth finder this could of easily been prevented. I trim up for clearance and we make our way back into the channel. Once there I shut it down to take a look. The damage is really quite minimal and mostly confined to just roughening the leading edge. I now set the alarm to 10 feet and we continued on using the light to help pick up the Channel markers and watch the water for floating junk. A minute or two later the outboard suddenly over reved and I knew I had hung something on the lower unit. We stopped again and raised the engine to find a plastic wiffleball bat wrapped around it. This is really getting tough on the nerves! The rest of the ride is uneventful and soon we idle into the Marina and tie up at the dock. It's a short walk to the restaurant/lounge and we go in finding what I am sure is the normal local crowd sitting at the bar. Unfortunately, the waitress tells us that the kitchen is closed for the evening. After explainng our circumstances and mentioning that we aren't picky they agree to fry us up some chicken tenderloins and fries. Not exactly a five star menu but still we're pleased as they were quite tasty. With our stomachs satisfied we return to the boat and pull away from the marina and idle over about 1/8 mile into a shallow area off the channel. Here we drop anchor for the night. We tried to set outside for a while and enjoy the evening but the mosquitoes were also hungry and forced in after about 15 minutes. We both sleep well.
The next morning the sky is clear with no wind. As we pull out of our anchorage we pass the mouth of the Kankakee River at the 273 mile marker. This marks the official beginning of the Illinois River. We continue on south only about 2 miles where we encounter the next lock, Dresden Island. Again it is the same size and configuration as the others and has about a 22 ft drop. The lockmaster informs we will have about a 20 minute wait so we take the time to have a simple breakfast. With Dresden behind us we finally get a little distance between locks. Marseilles Lock & Dam is next but there is about 27 miles of river before we reach it. The terrain is now completely rural and the banks are gently sloping and tree lined in most places. The farm fields of central Illinois are apparent in the background. The water is smooth but interrupted by a barge or two and a few fishing boats from time to time. In a little over an hour we approach Marseilles and have a short delay at but continue on with no problems. Starved Rock Lock and Dam is next in line and is 13 miles away. When we are about a mile out we call on the radio and the lockmaster informs us he is filling the lock and we will be able to enter in a few minutes. While waiting I snap a few shots of Starved Rock (at left) which is probably the most scenic state park in Illinois. The park is best known for its unusual rock formations and the story of its name which it derives from a Native American Legend of injustice and retribution. Today it is one of the most visited parks in Illinois. During the early spring, winter thaw and frequent rains create sparkling waterfalls in all 18 canyons. The vertical walls of moss-covered stone create a setting of natural geologic beauty uncommon in Illinois. A really nice place to visit.
The next lock is near Peoria at the 157 mile marker so we now have a 74 mile run of river. At the 179 marker the river widens and forms Peoria Lake which is the largest body of water along our route. The lake is quite shallow if you venture off the channel so caution is recommended. It is well marked though and following the channel is no problem. On windy days the lake can get rough and today the wind has now increased to about 10 mph. I slow Therapy to about 20 mph and add a healthy amount of trim tabs to smooth out the ride somewhat. Still it is choppy and Aldi abandons me and moves aft sitting in a lawn chair where the ride is much smoother. As we approach Peoria I swing in to the Detweiller Marina at the 164 mile marker where we top off the tanks again. From there we travel another mile up to the Peoria Transient Marina. No services are available but public slips provide access to the downtown area. There is a 3 hour tie up limit and a charge of $1.00 per hour. There is a machine on the dock that accepts dollar bills and allows you to enter the amount of time you will spend. It then prints a receipt showing your departure time. Right on the riverfront just a hundred feet or so from the slips is a Joe's Crab Shack and a Damons steakhouse. It is about 5 PM and we are ready to eat. We decide on seafood at Joe's and each order the Fishermans Platter. It is a nice meal at a reasonable price and once again sure beats ham sandwiches. With several hours of daylight remaining we continue on downstream to the Peoria Lock & Dam at the 157 mile marker. We are able to immediately enter the lock and drop about 11 feet while talking to the lockmaster.
We once again are on our way and we run until dusk. We find ourselves near Havana, IL and the 121 mile marker and decide to duck in behind Quiver Island and drop anchor for the night. Once situated I begin to notice the effects of being on the water for two full days without a shower. I have this burning desire to get cleaned up a little. Usually at this point I just get in the river with a bar of soap and do the best I can. But I have to say on this trip neither one of us has been anxious to get in the water. We are afraid that we would be dirtier when we got out. But at this point I think I am ready. I am standing on the bow pondering the situation and then tell Aldi "I can't take it anymore and I'm getting in." "Really,?" he replied. "Maybe you should take a look over there," pointing to the port side. There in the water it was, yes, another darn condom! I could'nt believe it. Well, needless to say I suddenly felt much cleaner and decided that a bath in the river really wasn't necessary. At this point I must add that I have been on the Illinois River four or five times previously and never before had I seen this type of stuff or thought the water was any dirtier than any other river. In fact, it usually looks much better than the Mississippi.
The next morning we fire up the Honda to continue our journey. At the 88.5 mile marker we pass Beardstown (photo at right) and I am now on familiar water. A couple weeks before my wife and I had spent the night here on Therapy. There is a public dock that offers access to the small town area where there are a couple of restaurants with in easy walking distance. It is still too early for lunch so we motor on past. At the 80 mile marker we come to La Grange Lock & Dam. We call the lockmaster on the radio and get the bad news. He tells that they are working on the lock and have a diver in the water doing some routine maintenance. There will be a delay of about an hour and a half while they complete the job. He advise that we can just tie up to the long wall of the lock and wait.
We sit there for a while and decide to get out and stretch our legs. Normally the lockmasters frown on civilians climbing out of a lock but here it was only about three feet above Therapy?s deck and we could just step out on to the wall that in this case was actually the shoreline. We walked up to the lock and took a look at the work going on and then wandered back to the boat. The repair crew finished the work ahead of schedule and we were sitting on the other side of the lock in less than an hour and fifteen minutes. From there we had another 60 mile run to our next stop , the Illinois Riverdock / Restaurant at mile marker 20. In my opinion, this section of river between La Grange Lock and Riverdock are the Illinois River's most scenic and Aldi takes the helm as I relax aft in one of the lawn chairs to soak up a little of what nature offers.
I have to admit that my wife and I dine out a lot at many different restaurants. The Illinois Riverdock is in the top five of my favorites. This isn't a fancy restaurant but if you like smoked meats this is the place to visit. Their Smoked Pork Chop is the best you will find anywhere and their varied menu is sure to please everyone. And the portions are large while the prices are very reasonable, cheap I will even say for a meal of this caliber. Also, don't miss the desserts. The coconut cream pie is worth the trip by itself.
I will offer one warning - if visiting on the weekend be very careful securing your boat to the floating dock, especially if you are in a small craft - under 30ft. Right beside the dock is a public boat ramp. For some reason that is beyond me the Corps has not designated this as a "no wake" area. Now many boaters are considerate folks but there are always those that seem to have absolutely no concern for anyone else. They will drop in, ease away from the ramp and drop the throttle creating a huge wake that hammers any boats tied up at the dock. The last time we were there I watched as this was repeated several times. One guy in a 35' open bow boat did exactly that and a huge wave rolled towards the dock. Vickie turn away and said that she just couldn't watch and I honestly thought Therapy was going to end up on top of the dock. There were three other boats tied along the dock and all of us had damage. Mine was light with the rubrail being torn loose and a small scratch on the hull. Two of the others were much worse as it ripped cleats and handrails completely off and kicked their fenders out so the hull could beat against the steel dock! Idiots. What else can you say. Just idiots! From Illinois Riverdock there is only a 20 mile jog to the mouth of the Illinois River at Grafton (shown at left). Here at Illinois mile marker 0 it meets the Mississippi and they become one river with the Gulf of Mexico as their destination. The Melvin Price Lock & Dam (Mississippi Lock #26) is about 15 miles away at the Mississippi mile marker 203. The body of water created by the dam is called the Alton Pool and is home to many marinas. Because of its close proximity to St. Louis it is an extremely popular for recreational boating and can be quite congested on the weekends.
I have traveled this stretch of river from Grafton to Alton numerous times and am always in awe of its beauty (photo at left). I have visited most of the scenic locations in Illinois and to me this is the most magnificent. Although it can be observed by car traveling the Great River Road (RT 100) by far the best view is from the water. In the Autumn when the leaves are changing the colors the vista is outstanding as the photo shows. We reach Alton and at the foot of the Clark Bridge (impressive in itself) and I pull into the Alton Marina for some fuel. This is a first class facility and highlights the river front area that as seen a revival since the Alton Belle Casino was added several years ago. My calculations show that we can almost make it home with the fuel we have onboard so we add just five gallon. I really don't want any more gas than necessary as I am going to have to drain the tanks for repair next week. While refueling I radio ahead to the lock and request passage. The lockmaster first reports that we are going to have quite a wait but then calls back and says the can work us in about 20 minutes from now If we can get there by then. I let him know that we will be there in lass than five minutes. The miter gates finally open and we are free to the southbound current. Our next stop will be 18 miles ahead at Chain of Rocks Lock (Lock #27) at mile marker 185 but there are a couple of interesting items before that. As we make our way towards the lock we pass the old Alton Belle Casino now moored to the shore away from the public eye. It is a paddle riverboat style vessel that was replaced by a much larger floating casino. I did not realize it was still in the area but there it sets boarded up and looking neglected.
At mile marker 195 we reach the mouth of the Missouri River and the turbulence is quite strong as the to rivers converge. Just a mile farther places us at the entrance to the Chain of Rocks Canal (entrance shown at right). The 12 mile canal was cut to bypass an area called the Chain of Rocks Reach. The Reach extends along the northeastern boundary of St. Louis and St. Louis County, and has been a hazard to river traffic since the earliest days of navigation on the Mississippi. At two locations on this reach, ledges of rock extend from the east bank under the river channel. These ledges act as submerged dams, causing a sharp increase in the slope of the river. This, in turn, increases the velocity of the water and makes this section extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate. Even the most powerful towboats were forced to divide their tows and take smaller groups of barges through the reach. At extreme low water, the navigable depth was reduced to as little as 5.5 feet because of the rocks, preventing full and efficient use of the improved waterway above and below the Chain of Rocks Reach. In 1953 the Chain of Rocks Canal and lock were placed in service. The dam is actually about six miles upstream from the lock. It is a non-controlled low water dam built from rock fill. All powerboats must use the canal bypass the dam except during times of extreme high water. The locks at #27 are the same size as Mel Price. As we approach I attempt to call the lockmaster but get no reply. A friendly tow captain suggest I make a frequency change to Channel 12. All the other locks we have encountered on this trip have used 14 as their working channel. I didn't ask but my guess is because of its close proximity to Mel Price and the high volume of traffic they handle a different frequency is used to avoid confusion.
Now that I am on the correct channel the lockmaster comes back and tells us as soon as he opens the gate we can enter the auxiliary. We pull in and tie off and I call back on the radio to inquire about one of their employees. A friend of mine works at the lock and I told him the next time I came though I would check to see if he was there. Unfortunately they inform me his shift had ended about a half hour before and he had left for home. I really wanted to show him I was making this run in Therapy. He has worked on locks for years and he has told me a number of times that there was no way I would ever catch him on the Mississippi in a wooden boat. In his eyes it's just too dangerous. He has hinted a couple of times that he thinks I'm nuts.
As we approach the St. Louis riverfront at mile marker 179, I am pleased, as Lock #27 was the last major obstacle between home and us. We do have one more lock but it is on the Kaskaskia River and there is never a problem getting through. We pass by the Gateway Arch and I try to take a photo but I am shooting into the sun and the results are less than optimal. Unlike many other river towns, St. Louis has no facilities for boaters. This is a shame as downtown area is in easy walking distance and offers all the amenities of a large city as well as access to the Arch. I am sure that part of the reason is that there are no locks on the Misissippi below St. Louis, which means that here the river runs wild. Swift and drastic changes in the water level can and do occur on a regular basis depending on the whim of Mother Nature. The city is fairly well protected from floods but trying to hold a marina with covered slips together in the heavy current and extreme level fluctuations would be a daunting task. The current on the Mississippi is considerably stronger than the Illinois and the increase in our speed is noted on the GPS. At about 4800 rpm I had been cruising between 25 and 26 mph on the Illinois but now we are hitting almost 29 mph. Also, the size of the barges we encounter are much larger than those that travel the Illinois river.
At the 159 mile marker we come upon Hoppie's Marina at Kimmswick, Mo. This is an important landmark for a couple of reasons. The first is it is the last fuel available for at least 100 miles. I say at least because Kidd River Fuel is at the 51.9 mile marker. There you must call at least 24 hours in advance of arrival and they have a 50 gallon minimum. Other than that, on the Mississippi the next fuel is at Memphis, TN which is 378 miles away! The only other choice is to head up the Ohio River at Cairo, IL and from there up the Cumberland River to Kentucky Lake. Still this is about 230 miles. This is my home court so if there is any question as to why I wanted large tanks on Therapy this should offer the answer! I need to point out that my Quimby's Cruising Guide states that there is fuel available on the Mississippi at Marina De Gabouri at 122 mile marker and up the Kaskaskia River at two locations. All of these entries are outdated. Marina De Gabouri did have gas until about 1999 but the channel to the marina is now silted in and cannot be accessed except during high water. On the Kaskaskia one location was taken out by the flood of 1997 and the other has not had fuel since the flood of 1993. If you are heading farther south plan accordingly! The other reason Hoppie's is important is that it offers access to the small village of Kimmswick, MO. Kimmswick is somewhat of the local Mecca for those into shopping for handcrafted items. From the marina a pleasant walk of about 1/4 mile will place you in the heart of town. I will add that is a location of high contrast. This is an old river community and over time had been allowed to decay. But then a local woman opened a restaurant called the Blue Owl and offered a somewhat rustic setting and world-class food. After a few years food critics in St. Louis "discovered" it and prestigious awards followed. Suddenly it was THE place to eat. With the influx of people (and money) some of the locals started to sell handcrafted items and before long many of the homes were converted to shops. On the weekends it is a flow with mostly females looking for a good lunch (the Blue Owl is only open until 3:00 pm - no evening meal served) and that perfect craft item to adorn their home.
But at the same time remnants of harder times still exist, as you will sometimes find rundown home with junk and abandon cars sitting in the yard right next to a nicely restored shop or home. Like I said, a place of contrast. Personally the wares of most of the vendors are of no interest to me but my wife loves the place. This is a 60 mile river trip from our home ramp and a couple times a year we take the ride. Often we take along a few friends and sometimes use my 19' runabout if we have more than two extra pasengers. We usually leave early Saturday morning and cruise up to Hoppie's Marina. Although I am not sure if it is required we always top off the tanks there and in return they charge us nothing to moor to their dock while we visit town. We normally eat first and then the girls spend a few hours hitting the shops before we return. As we pass Hoppie's I have a small dilemma to deal with. We have made very good time today with the river helping our speed. I know that Hoppie's is exactly 60 miles from home. The plan is to have my wife meet us at the ramp with the trailer. I use the GPS to check what time sunset will occur and then run the numbers through the calculator What I find is if we continue on home and try to make it to the ramp it will involve running about 30 minutes in the dark. After Sunday night I really wasn't wild about doing that again on this trip. If we decided to anchor out for the night I would either have to ask my wife to get up a couple of hours early before work to come get us or we would have to kill the day waiting for her to get off work at 5:00. I'm sure she would have agreed to roll out early but I just didn't want to ask her to do that. After all, she is at work running our business by herself while I'm out playing. Letting her get her sleep seemed the lest I could do.
But then the thought occurred to me if I had her to drive about 12 miles farther she could pick us up at a ramp 10 miles closer to the mouth of the Kaskaskia. With any luck we would still have a little light left to get there and if not the run in the dark would be very short. I stopped and gave her a call on the cell phone and made the arrangements , she was surprised we were back so soon but said she would meet us at the ramp about 8:00 pm. With this done I brought Therapy up on plane again and headed for home. In a way I was sorry to get home sooner than expected but the prospect of a hot shower was overwhelming the slight disappointment. As we approached the Kaskaskia River I called ahead to the lockmaster so he would have the gates open. As the Kaskaskia came into view we found the biggest towboat I have ever seen sitting right at the mouth. Coming closer we realized that it was a Corps of Engineers tow and that there was also two normal sized tows sitting beside it almost hidden by its enormity. I had to stop to snap a couple of photos as this thing was impressive.
We passed by its bow and headed into the lock. As we were being raised about 13 feet we chatted with the lockmaster whom we have gotten to know very well over the past couple of years. When we kind of boastfully told him of our trip his immediate response was, "Well, I got you beat." Naturally, I ask him to explain.
He told us that the previous night they had two women in a canoe camp out on the locks long wall. "So," I said. He continued that they were on a trip. They had left Minneapolis six weeks ago and were traveling down the Mississippi. At that point they had traveled 736 miles and passed through 27 locks hand paddling the canoe. And their quest was only half over as their final destination was the Gulf of Mexico. Now that's a boat trip! Here I am thinking I have done something in my 18' powerboat and I find my little three day adventure would be child's play for these two women. They certainly have put things in perspective and me in my place. To that the lockmaster adds that they are both single and very "easy on the eyes." He advises that we could probably catch them in the morning if we were interested!
Yeah, these are obviously my kind of girls but what are the chances that they can back a trailer down a narrow ramp? No thanks. I think I'll keep what I have if she is willing. After 30 years a change would be pretty tough anyway. We head out of the lock to make the final 10 miles to the ramp. It has just gotten dark as we pull in. My smiling wife is sitting in wait and backs down the ramp when she sees that it is us. In a few moments Therapy is sitting high on the trailer and we are on our way home to a hot shower and the comfort of our own beds. Vickie made the mistake of asking me how the trip went and I don't think I shut-up all the way home.