Embrace America's Rivers

Ohio River.....

Week #4...Continuation of trip on Alleghany and Ohio Rivers

Pittsburgh PA to Ohioview, PA: Allegheny Mile 6 to Ohio Mile 32

Mere moments after entering the Ohio River, we are greeted by the first of many barges that will cross our path as we head downriver. There is some barge traffic on the lower Allegheny, but it pales in comparison to the amount of goods being moved up and down the Ohio River. You may notice in the photo to the right a large family of small ducks swimming quickly to the left to avoid the oncoming barge headed downstream and to the right. You will be happy to hear that the little ducks made it safely out of the path of the large array of barges being pushed by a towboat. We try to learn what we can from the ducks and also keep ourselves and the BPV Libelula out of harms way. The river can be a place to have fun and explore, but it is also a place on which many people work and live everyday. We do our best to respect the rules and the folks who work on the river and try not to hinder commercial traffic. Besides, it just makes sense to stay out of the way of boats big enough to squash you like a bug. 

At left is a panoramic photo of the rivers of the city of Pittsburgh taken as the sun is rising, looking back on the water from where we've already come as the water carries us to wherever it is that we are going






Ohioview, PA to Parkersburg, WV: Ohio River Mile 32 to Mile 187

We awoke on Sunday morning to find ourselves still about 70 miles from the school we were scheduled to visit on Monday.  So, we gritted our teeth and turned on the motor, not wishing to fall behind schedule yet again. As we rounded one of the first bends in the river, we spotted the source of the white smoke that we had noticed the night before.   The locals just up river had told us to keep our eyes open for the sight, but there was no way we could have missed it--the tall, rotund cooling towers of a power plant. It was quite a feeling to be gliding past these huge power generators in our small craft. 

This week was the first in our journey that really exposed us to the amount of industry along the river.   In addition to a number of power plants, we also passed facilities involved in barge shipping and all sorts of goods being manufactured.   The charts we have usually note what company is set up along the river, so if we know the company name, we can guess what is going on inside the factory.   For example, we passed the Bayer plant, so we could presume that aspirin, or some ingredient of aspirin, was being manufactured inside, but when the chart just says "Koppers Industries, Inc." all we can do is guess!

Still early in the day on Sunday we left Pennsylvania and the river became a state line, with Ohio on the right and West Virginia on the left.   It won't be until about mid-December when we are once again within a state instead of being along its border.   Nothing really changed along the river when we crossed over, but we did get a nice big welcome from Ohio, as shown in the picture on the right.   As it turned out West Virginia was equally welcoming--we pulled up next to a dock after a long day on the water and almost immediately met a fellow who offered us his car in order to drive to town and get supplies. How could we refuse? We gratefully accepted his offer and he sent us off in his car, but not before he put a CD in his stereo so we would have some music to accompany our trip around town. Due to this good fortune, we were able to do some grocery shopping, stop at the hardware store, pick up some more gas, and grab a bite to eat--quite a luxury!

The next afternoon the people of West Virginia once again came through for us.   We arrived at Moundsville, WV with little time to spare and quickly ran the boat into mud and set the spud. As we made our way up the embankment with all of the classroom gear, two construction workers on the roof of a house noticed the strange arrival. They questioned us and quickly offered to give us a lift to the school when they learned of our purpose.   After the school presentation we did a quick walk around town and learned that the creek we had pulled into--Little Grave Creek--was related to the name of the town itself.   Moundsville gets its name from a large mound that researchers believe was used as an Indian burial ground.   We set off down the river once again. Another surprising thing we've seen along the river is the number of old barges left along the banks. At first glance, one might think they are simply abandoned--which they are--but they have been abandoned there for a reason. They have been left along the side of the river to keep the banks from eroding away--to help keep the river in its place.   In this picture to the left, it looks like the locals have taken advantage of the old barges and extended their yards onto the tops, adding grass, flagpoles, and the like.


The Libelula had to go through a number of locks this week, and we have become quite proficient at getting her through.   Unlike the locks on the upper Allegheny, most of the locks on the Ohio have large movable mooring bitts that slide down the side of the lock wall as the water level lowers. We tie one end of a line to the bow, or front, of the boat, pass it around the inside of the bit, and then tie it off to the stern, or back, of the boat.   This keeps us from swinging around too violently as the water moves out of the lock.   The wheels that slide the bitt down the wall are generally silent, but at one lock this week, someone had forgotten to grease them in a while, and they squeaked something awful.   Between the moaning of the wheels themselves and the echoes the sounds produced as they bounced off the sides of the deep lock, it felt as if we were in a creepy movie. In the picture at right, a bit moves by a small piece of life in the lock--plants often grow in the cracks of the walls and on the doors of the lock, even though they frequently get covered with water when the lock is full.

A most peculiar sight greeted us Wednesday morning as we rose to continue on to the school in St. Mary's, WV.   As the early morning mist flowed in spirals across the water, an old time sailing ship appeared from out of the lingering fog, which can be seen in the photo at left. It is an odd sight to see a boat like this on the ocean, but the fact that it was along the Ohio River made it especially mysterious.   Aimee hailed them over the VHF radio saying, "Funny looking pirate ship, pirate ship, pirate ship, this the BPV Libelula ."   In retrospect, perhaps not the most professional way to get the crews' attention, but you must understand we were in a bit of shock. The voice on the other end of the radio explained that they were a replica of Christopher Columbus's vessel the Niña and were on their way up to Pittsburgh.  

The previous evening we had chosen this spot to stay at for the night (photo at left) based on the fact that the shore looked sandy, which meant that it probably wouldn't have any rocks that could damage the bottom of the boat.   It also meant that it would be easy to drive the spud into the ground.   The spud is simply a strong metal pole about six feet tall that goes through a hole in the front of the boat and drives deep into the mud in order to keep the boat securely in place.   We usually tie a line from the boat to a tree around shore as a back-up measure in case the spud slips in the middle of the night. The tan structure on the top of the boat about amidships is the top half of a tent we put up over our bunks at night.   It allows us the freedom to stand up inside while still being protected from rain and the cold.   It proved a problem last week in Pittsburgh, however.   About 5am Thursday an incredibly strong storm blew in with winds gusting to 50mph.   We awoke to the tent shaking violently, which caused one of the clamps that holds that tent down to snap off. We quickly decided to take the tent down and managed to do it without getting the inside of the boat wet by first covering it with a tarp.   As soon as we had things under control the alarm clock sounded--it was time to wake up! If the weather is predicted to bring strong winds such as those, or if we are underway in rain, we now put this tarp up instead of the tent.   It lies flat across the roof except for a small arch in the middle that keeps water from collecting and spilling into the boat.


We are almost always directed to proceed through the smaller lock without delay, but today we had to wait; another boat was being brought upriver and had to come through before we could go down.   As we wondered what kind of boat would be using the smaller lock, a most peculiar music broke the still evening air.   It sounded like a breathy organ, and after a few moments we realized that the tune was a medley of old classics, in particular a few songs from older Disney movies.   We also noticed puffs of white smoke rising over the closed lock doors.   Morgan quickly realized that music must have been coming from a calliope--an old-fashioned steam organ.   We speculated that the boat coming through the lock must have been a commercial passenger boat--a small river cruise ship.   Sure enough, the lock doors swung open to reveal this old fashioned stern-wheeler named the Delta Queen (photo at right).   A quick radio to the captain let us know that she had started in Cincinnati and was on her way to Pittsburgh.   As she passed by on her way out the lock, we waved to the deckhands and to the passengers who had just sat down inside for their evening meal.   It was a great way to end a day that had started out with a visit from Columbus's Niña.

Early the next morning we made our way to one of the oldest cities on the Ohio River, Marietta, Ohio.   A large river called the Muskingum joins the Ohio River in Marietta, and the elementary school we visited that morning was located at the point of land where the two rivers meet. We visited two fourth grade classrooms that morning and talked about all things related to water.   Here, Morgan explains how he first got the idea to go on the journey as he uses the beach ball globe in his hand to talk about how all of the different oceans in the world are really the same body of water.   We use the U.S. map behind him to show the students the path of our river journey as well as the location of other major rivers in the states.

We took advantage of being in a larger town by doing a number of chores and errands in Marietta.   Among other things we visited the Laundromat and the hardware store, picked up some groceries for the week, repaired a broken pulley on the bike, and worked on updating the website.   We also were able to fill up our water and take showers at the marina that hosted us for the night.   Getting all of these things done took a little while longer than expected and we did not leave until Friday afternoon.   We headed out under paddle wheel power alone, done with our re-supply and ready and refreshed to bike to our next school nearly a hundred miles down river.
Week #6 

Parkersburg, WV to Portsmouth, OH: Ohio River Mile 187 to Mile 363

With no school to visit until Thursday, we had ample time this week to get to know the Ohio River.   There were many miles to be covered, but a lot of time to do so.   We had hoped to bike for much of the time, but the weather had other plans.   Lucky for us, the rain from the previous week had abated, but the steel grey skies and wind remained.   Though for much of the time it blew downstream, which we thought would have given us a nice push along the water, the wind proved to be a bit of problem.   Perhaps a lighter breeze would have worked in our favor, but a steady wind of about 15mph prevailed and we found it difficult to keep the boat facing downstream.   The design of the Libelula is such that the back half of the boat has a much bigger surface area and thus serves like a kind of sail for the wind to blow against.   When this happens, the boat gets turned upstream, facing into the wind.   This particular phenomenom is known as the vessel having 'weather helm.'  Despite our efforts using the tiller and paddle wheels to keep her pointed down wind, nothing seemed to work.   We even spent several hours trying out different ways and places for rigging up the sail near the bow of the boat with hopes that it would balance out the sail effect on the stern.   Finally, at the end of day two, we pulled up on the public docks near Parkersburg, WV, and Morgan did some quick work on the bikes to give us more steering power. He redesigned the drivetrain of the bicycles so that they could be pedaled both backwards as well as forwards, thus adding a reverse gear to the paddlewheel.   This new addition has so far seemed to work quite well. When we feel the wind beginning to turn the boat, one of us can pedal forwards and the other backwards, which allows for twice the turning power.

We have had a nice glance into the past all along the Ohio River.   The charts we are using are a special edition commemorating the bicentennial of the famous 1803-1806 journey of Lewis and Clark.   There is a special symbol on the chart whenever we pass a spot that is significant to the trip that Lewis took down the Ohio in 1803 on his way to meeting up with Clark in Louisville, KY.   Generally, it is a place along the riverbank that Lewis mentioned in his journals, perhaps because he and his crew over-nighted in the area, were able to do some hunting, or found the natural features significant.   This photo at right was taken off Buffington Island, Ohio around mile 217 (meaning we were about 217 miles from Pittsburgh) and the notes in our charts explain that "On September 16, 1803, Lewis recorded in his journal, 'thermometer this morning in the air 54 [degrees] in the water 72 [degrees] a thick fog which continued so thick that we did not set out until 8oClock in the morning.' He noted in his journal that he shot some squirrels while his men got the boats through the rifles at Buffington Island.   They went to the north end, navigating by hugging the right bank going down the river."   Also significant in this photo is the house slipping down the bank of the island. Bank erosion is a constant problem on a riverbank, made evident by this uninhabited barn poised to fall right into the drink.

Late Wednesday evening we arrived at Huntington, WV, one of the larger towns we have stopped at along the river.   We found a nice spot to stay for the night just downriver of some old barges and got out to do some exploring.   It was a curious sight; the chart showed a large city along the river's edge, but to look at it, only the bridges and a few tall buildings gave away the city's presence.   Everywhere else, it was green and wild looking. A closer inspection gave up the reason: we had come across our first levee, a large, thick wall built close to the river's edge in an attempt to protect the city when the river floods. In Huntington, the levee is set back about 50 feet from the river and nothing but trees and plants lie in between.   You can get a sense of how big the levee is the photo at left with Morgan standing on the top with his bass fiddle.

The next morning we made our way up the levee and walked along the top straight to Central City Elementary School where we did programs for three fourth grade classrooms.  When we left Huntington the next day, we came across this "McDonald's Dock," as it is labeled on our charts, a little before noon on the Ohio side of the river.   As near as we can tell, the dock was put in by McDonald's in order to encourage boaters to stop by for a bite to eat.   Not to be outdone, the chart showed a "Pizza Hut Dock" just upriver which had apparently been removed for the season or possibly was run off the river due to ferocious competition between the two restaurants. We took advantage of the dock and the restrooms, but nothing on the menu was very appealing, so we kept on going.   The first and only time we have seen such a phenomenon!

Later in the afternoon, we passed a milestone in our journey that might have gone unnoticed without the aid of a sign along the river--we had reached Middleport, Ohio, the mid-way point between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  Another milestone we hit that day was making it to Kentucky. At mile 317 we left West Virginia behind and Kentucky became the state we looked to on our left. The border of the two states ran along the Big Sandy River, a tributary of the Ohio and a river with much barge activity as a lot of coal production takes place along its shores.   The towns along this stretch of the river give a hint as to the reason for all the activity: "Ashland, KY;" "Coal Grove, OH;" "Ironton, OH."

The kind folks at Holiday Point Marina offered up a berth for the night so that we would be able to use their amenities including electricity and the showers.   The marina is one of the largest we have seen along the Ohio, and it had plenty of character.   Randy, the gentleman who greeted us upon our arrival, told us about the homemade draw bridge that connects the two sides of the marina together (only one person can walk across at a time) and gave us the story of the "spaceship" that marks the entrance.   The ship, pictured here to the right, was actually a bet that a man made with his friends many years ago.   He thought that he could make a boat out of concrete. They thought not.   He built the boat--its launch brought out the national news media--and it docked at Holiday Point for many years before it came to permanently rest at the peninsula near the entrance to the marina's cove.   Someone put lights on it so that at night it glows just like a spaceship!
 
Week #7 

Portsmouth, OH to Cincinnati, OH: Ohio River Mile 363 to Mile 471

With the sun setting off our bow and the full mooning rising in a beautiful sky of soft pinks, purples, and blues, we pulled into Manchester, Ohio Sunday night right next to this side-wheeler--the Chattanooga Star (at left).   We had spotted her out on the river a few days before and were excited to meet the crew.   What a serendipitous meeting it turned out to be! The captain of the vessel, Mike Hosemann, had brought many a boat up and down the Mississippi and had many wise words of advice for us.   That very night he had us over to the boat and we poured over the charts of the Mississippi as he offered words of caution and regaled us with tales from the mighty river.   We also had the chance to meet the two other crewmembers, Jeremy and Ed, who are standing along with Captain Mike in the picture.  

The next morning we found our way to the school in Manchester and did our program for three classes.   We had the chance to meet with the children again that afternoon because they were coming down to the river to take a ride aboard the Chattanooga Star , and Captain Mike had invited us along.   It was a great treat to get to go out with the children who we had just talked with in the classroom.   For many of them, it was their first time on the river.   In speaking with Captain Mike the night before, we had discovered that we were both on our way to Cincinnati and he offered to tow us along side his vessel.   We decided that they seemed to make sense both so we could speak with him more about the Mississippi environs and so that we could get to Cincinnati early.   After the trip with Manchester's fourth graders, we brought our boat up along side his, lashed her securely to the deck near the starboard paddle wheel, and got aboard the Chattanooga Star .   As the picture to the right shows, the Libelula never had so much wake off her stern as she produced getting towed!
 
We were in Cincinnati for a special event--Thursday was World Water Monitoring Day and an educational trip was planned for several fourth grade classrooms in the area.   One of the organizers had invited us to come along for the journey and do a version of our presentation for the students.   The event was sponsored by the Ohio EPA and by the non-profit educational division of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), which "was established on June 30, 1948 to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River Basin."   ORSANCO's education boat, the stern wheeler P.A. Denny , arrived at the public waterfront in Cincinnati about 10am and the students got on board.

We spent the rest of the weekend in Cincinnati doing a list of unglamorous chores, including laundry, food shopping, and returning to Pennsylvania by Greyhound bus in order to bring the car and trailer downriver to Cincinnati to use for events in Louisville, KY the following weekend.   As we headed downriver, we had one final view of the city covered in light fog (photo at left).   The closest bridge in the picture is Cincinnati's beautiful suspension bridge, while in the background to the right is the yellow bridge that often gets referred to as the "Mc Donald's Bridge" because of its resemblance to the golden arches.   We were sad to leave such a beautiful sight behind, but excited to be on the water again.



Week #8 

Cincinnati, OH to Louisville, KY: Ohio River Mile 471 to Mile 603

 A cold spell settled on the mid-west this week and we had a very chilly and rainy trip from Cincinnati to our next stop about thirty-five miles downriver at Rising Sun, Indiana. Upon arrival, we took a short walk around the well-groomed town of Rising Sun and searched for a Laundromat to dry our wet clothes.   Out of sheer freezing desperation, we also steered our way over to the Grand Victoria casino with the intention of warming ourselves up inside a building.   Indiana allows gambling on the water, so we have passed several riverboat casinos.   The WaterWorks funds are also getting a little low, and the flashing lights and dazzling displays had us conjuring up grand visions of winning it big in order to pay for the rest of the trip.   As it turned out, that night we lost $10 on the slots--don't worry, the loss was felt in our personal savings, not the organization's funds.   We did get to experience another aspect of river culture, though, and when we returned the next day, we made up the ten and added $7.99 to the WaterWorks kiddy.

We battled the cold and the rain again the next morning when we headed out bright and early to the Ohio County Elementary School to meet with three fourth grade classrooms.   Afterwards, as we made our way down river, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the current had picked up, probably due to the recent rains, and we were able to make good time under bike power alone.   With the 1 to 1½ mph push of the current, we could easily reach 3mph, and so we were able to pedal for much of the next day.   It was a rare treat to note the buoys slightly bucking the force of the current as the water eddied around their stationary position (photo at left).   The one downside to the recent rain was that a lot of debris, mainly broken trees branches, had been brought into the river, and our progress was a bit slowed as we zigzagged to avoid hitting the flotsam and jetsam.

Our next port of call was Louisville, Kentucky and we arrived Thursday evening.   One of the more exciting opportunities along the river in Louisville is the chance to get a glimpse of the Belle of Louisville underway, like she is in this photo to the right.   Not only is she a beautiful vessel, but according to her website she is "now recognized as the oldest river steamboat still in operation. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, and celebrated her 90th birthday in 2004 ."   The Belle has spent most of her life as a passenger ferry but also carried cotton, grain, and lumber as she traveled most of the larger river systems in America.

We were scheduled for a special day at the Louisville Science Center and had planned to take the boat out of the water in order to share it with the public, so on Friday we got to work.   Aimee drove the car and trailer down from Cincinnati while Morgan brought the boat over to a launch ramp.   We had quite a time getting the boat out of the water because the current that we had been so grateful for the last few days made it very difficult to direct the boat onto the center of the trailer. Finally, with a far bit of muscling and shoving, we were able to get the boat properly fixed on the trailer and haul her out. (photo at left)

The Science Center had arranged for River WaterWorks to have a table inside the museum so that we could share our journey with the day's visitors.   Our boat stayed in the parking lot outside, so everyone would get a chance to see the uniqueness of the Libelula .  We had even set up a short slide show on the laptop computer so that people could get a sense of what the journey had been like thus far.

We also had two special visitors for the weekend while in Louisville.   Aimee's dad father flew in from California to join us in the city and treated us to many delicious meals and a warm, dry place to sleep.   One of Aimee' good friends from college, John West, also drove down from Chicago for a day.   They were both a great help in getting us set up for the big day at the Science Center and telling people about the boat while we were inside doing presentations.

Across the river from Louisville at Clarksville, IN is home to a famous spot along the river--the Falls of the Ohio (photo at right).    We were excited to see this natural wonder and headed over as soon as our day at the Science Center was over.   A lock and dam also lie near the Falls, just downriver of Louisville.   In order to protect the Falls, the dam was built in a funny zigzag pattern that keeps the upriver project pool from covering up the Falls, which are gradual, declining steps in the rocks.   The falls are particularly noteworthy for the fossil beds that make up the sediment in the area.   It is easy to see the fossils in the rock layers, some of which were formed over 387 million year ago, when the area hosted a tropical reef community.

A large statue of the well-known explorers Lewis and Clark greets visitors at the entrance to the museum of the Falls of the Ohio.   The plaque at the base of the statue reads: "When they shook hands, the Lewis and Clark Expedition began."  Lewis met up with Clark in Louisville and from there they left together from the falls on October 26, 1803, not to return until November of 1806.   Even though we aren't expecting our journey to take anywhere near three years, we couldn't help feeling a kinship with the famous explorers as we follow in their footsteps.

Week #9 

Louisville, KY to Derby, IN: Ohio River Mile 603 to Mile 696

Louisville treated us so well that we decided to stick around past our scheduled departure date of 30.October. A number of projects were yet to be finished as well and the prospect of completing the work, especially with the conveniences of a large city at our disposal, was too much to resist.   Among the several important things we accomplished was the addition of a large VHF radio antenna, which was mounted to the roof of the galley/head area.   In the photo at left, Aimee proudly points up to the location of the new antenna, which has already made our passages through the locks much smoother and gives us the ability to listen to weather reports. In addition to being able to talk with the lockmasters and other vessels, the new VHF antenna provides an increase range of communication should we ever be in distress and need to contact the outside world. We also worked on installing a depth sounder, doing maintenance on the engine, and completing a significant update of the website using the free high speed wi-fi internet service available to us at the Louisville waterfront.

On Monday 31.October, 2005, we visited David T.Wilson Elementary School in Bradenburg, KY, about forty miles downstream of Louisville.   Because we had decided to stay in Louisville a few extra days, we awoke bright and early Monday morning and drove to the school in a car with Aimee's dad, who had come to visit the boat. We had a great time doing presentations for the fourth graders.  

Wednesday evening, while Morgan was hard at work on boat projects, Aimee played hooky and went on an important investigative mission: a ride on an historical steamboat.   A rare event was taking place: the steamboat Natchez (at right), from New Orleans, LA, was scheduled to race the Belle of Louisville , something which had not happened since the early 1980s.   What occasioned the Natchez 's visit is a story similar to many others; a refugee from Hurricane Katrina, she and her crew had headed north with the hopes of raising money for the Bush/Clinton Katrina Fund.   While the Natchez is relatively young--she was built in the 1970s--her steam engines were originally used by a sternwheeler in the early 1900s.   Here, she powers by us later on in the week as she headed downriver past Brandenburg, KY. As one might speculate from the magnitude of the wake behind her, she beat the Belle without a problem. Indeed, her website claims she is “the undisputed champion of the Mississippi, never having been beaten in a race.” The two hour trip also included dinner, live music, and a chance to go visit the engine room where it was possible to see the giant arms that rotate the paddle wheel, as well as the equally large gears that control the angle of the rudder that is used to steer the boat.  

We finally bid Louisville adieu Friday morning. Before we could proceed much further down the river, though, we had to take the boat through the McAlpine Lock at Louisville—more complicated than it sounds because of high traffic and the strange set-up due to the islands in the same area. When we got through to the other side, we were greeted by a new challenge. Strong southerly winds and an approximately 20 mile long straight run of the river had whipped up the water, resulting in a choppy river with at least three foot waves—by far the roughest waters we had experienced on the Ohio. It took several hours and all our energy to make it a short ways downriver and we ended up just outside “the greater Louisville metropolitan area” that night. As we made our way down the Ohio the next few days, the wind dropped a bit in intensity and we were able to enjoy the river—including admiring these cows (photo at left) finding their own way to use the river as a giant drinking fountain. We were also able to help two locals aboard a small pleasure craft who had accidentally let their motor run out of gas. We passed over a gallon of gasoline that got them on their way—allowing us to reciprocate a small part of the many kindnesses visited upon us while on this journey!


Week #10

Derby, IN to Cairo, IL: Ohio River Mile 696 to Mile 982

Our plans to zip down the Ohio River in order to get to the next school on time came to a screeching halt early on in the week.   Monday morning we headed to Newburgh Lock only to learn that the large chamber had been shut down because of repairs, so all traffic, including the barges, had to be brought through the smaller lock.   Due to the size of almost all the barges, they had to do what is referred to as "double locking," meaning that the barges were sent up or down in two loads, instead of just one.   As a private "pleasure craft" we were especially low on the priority list, and when we contacted the lock we were told to buckle down and wait.   Though a bit frustrating, this forced rest period was much appreciated after a rough few days of heavy weather along the river, and we set to work on a few projects.   Finally, we were summoned over the radio to pass through the lock at about 6:30pm: nearly ten hours after we had arrived.   Well beyond sunset at this point, this was the first time we had gone through a lock at night, but the well-lit lock made it easy to pass through, though it created a much spookier atmosphere than the locks have during the day (photo at right).

While heading downriver on Tuesday we passed the mouth of the Green River as it flows into the Ohio, reminding us of John Prine's classic song "Paradise."   In the song he talks about visiting Kentucky as a boy and wishing the river was as clean as he remembered.   Later that day we arrived in Mt. Vernon, Indiana where we visited the fourth graders at the local elementary school.   

Continuing on our journey on Wednesday, we passed this funny looking vessel pictured on the right.   It is used to dredge the navigable channel in the river, keeping it deep enough for the safe passage of barges and other commercial river traffic.  On Friday morning we needed to use our outboard in order to arrive on time at our next school in Paducah, KY, and things began to get interesting when the steering for the motor stopped responding. We were suddenly left out in midstream without a way to control the boat under power! After a few moments of panic, Morgan remembered we had the tiller usually used for steering while pedaling the bikes.   We dropped it into the water.   It proved to be a fine emergency steering system, preventing us from being hit by any barges and also allowing us to avoid being seriously late to the school.   After dismantling the case of the steering wheel, we found that the hub around which the large gear rotated had pulled away from the aluminum body to which it was normally attached (pictured in Morgan's hand to the left). This failure of the hub caused the large gear to become unseated from its central position, resulting in the failure of the steering system and the breakage of some gear teeth. Through a fine bit of serendipity, the school that we visited that day happened to be across the street from a used boat parts store, and in a further piece of luck, they actually had the piece we needed for a repair at a reasonable price.   Rather an odd coincidence for a school situated in a largely residential area!
 
That weekend, we passed several significant spots along the Ohio River, including the town of Cave-in-Rock.   Strangely enough, this town is situated along a bluff with a giant cave carved into the side of limestone rock.   As the picture at right shows, the mouth of the cave stands about 30 feet tall by 30 feet wide and opened into a carnivorous space that stretched back almost 100 yards.   The lore surrounding the cave tells stories of bandits that used it as a hide out and as a place to launch surprise attacks on unsuspecting river travelers, who were often met a little up river by men claiming to "warn" them of the dangerous robbers.   The travelers would take them on as help to assure safe passage, only to find that they were in cahoots with the bandits themselves.   Later on, the cave was used a safe refuge for pioneers heading out west along the Ohio.   Indeed, we found lots of graffiti in the cave with some carvings dating back to the early 1800s.

On Wednesday of this week, Indiana had given way to Illinois on our northern border, and that weekend we passed the town of Metropolis, IL.   Metropolis is the only town in America so named, and thus they were handed down the honor of being the hometown of Clark Kent and his alter ego, Superman!   To mark this fine achievement, the town of Metropolis had a 20-foot statue of Superman erected near the courthouse, and we stopped by to pay homage to this defender of the common good.   As a young boy, Morgan would frequently dress up as Superman--never to imagine that one day he would stand beside the man himself, as he does in the picture to the left.  

 Week #11 

Metropolis, IL to Cairo, IL (end of the Ohio River)

Sunday morning marked a momentous occasion on our journey--we were to pass through our last lock on the Ohio River and one of the last locks of the entire journey. The Lower Mississippi River is free-flowing and therefore has no locks or dams.   Consequently, it was a bittersweet moment when we learned that the lock was actually closed! We were excited to go through our last lock, especially because this lock was one of only two old locks left on the river today--referred to as Old Lock 53, its design is more archaic than the other, newer locks we had passed through.   Old Locks 52 and 53 on the Ohio River were built in the 1920's and have been in use ever since! However, the reason the lock was closed caught our attention: the river level was high enough that the water was the same height on both sides of the dam. Part of the dam had been removed to allow vessels to safely pass over the top of the dam.   It was a strange sensation to pass directly through or over a dam instead of going through the lock as we floated on by.

Just down river we were greeted by another peculiar sight.   The Army Corps Of Engineers is working on building a new lock to replace the last two old locks on the Ohio (Locks 52 & 53), and we passed by the work site where the new lock is being built.   It looked as though they were well on their way to finishing the lock, but the work on the dam had not yet begun. A lockmaster up river had told us that the project may not be finished for another eleven years, and funding for the project may be in jeopardy. The picture to the left speaks to the enormity of such a task as to harness the control of a river, the great mass of moving water.

On Sunday afternoon we arrived at Cairo, IL (if you want to sound like a local, you'll pronounce it "Care-oh"), another big port for barge traffic and the point of land at the tippy bottom of Illinois that is hugged by the Mississippi at its northwest side and by the Ohio at the southeast.   The land literally comes to a point where you can stand at the end and watch the Ohio and Mississippi flow together.   The picture below was taken at the point looking downriver.   To the left is the Ohio and to the right is the Mississippi.   Aimee stands to the right of the photo as well, near the mile marker for the end of the Ohio River.


Note: This Journey Continues at Lower Mississippi River Trip