Mississippi River from La Crosse, WI to New Orleans and beyond...
Day 1; Eagles, Trains, and Towboats
Miles Covered: um 700 to um 647 (53 river miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): La Crescent, Mn to near Gordon’s Bay landing
Our first day on the river, with 1800 river miles ahead – initial thoughts and hopes were for a ‘ clean’ river run with no major weather issues or delays (which we received) – primary objectives for this day were to simply get a feel of the current, a ‘taste’ the Mississippi, and to understand our fuel mileage – somehow to “earn” some river miles while acclimating to the boat and scenery. This ride wasn’t going to be about being in a hurry. The first of thirty-two days turned out to be a beautiful spring day, the breeze was at our back, the air was clear, the river’s ‘bluffs’ stood tall and vivid on each side of the river. As for wildlife we had sightings of about nine eagles during the day – several in the act of catching and devouring fish near our boat. We soon found our river pace – pretty much an idle-speed yet with the current and gently nudged by the breeze at our backs – yet there was still a soft wind in our face. The first towboats that we encountered were impressive, moving steadily against the current and while pushing fifteen barges they seemed huge at the time – later on the lower Mississippi and away from the constraints of the dams and locks, the tows regularly pushed42 of the same large barges up the river. The wakes from the barges were of no dire consequence, later we found that the ‘oscillating waves’ radiating from the shores created the most inconvenience.
The Pilots of the towboats that we encountered were very professional, time after time they proved their skill while showing a high degree of consideration with others sharing their river, they were great to us. We passed through two locks on this date, no delay at # 8 and then had an hour and a half wait at # 9. Communication requesting ‘lock-through’ was friendly (vhf channel 14) – once inside the lock the attendants would drop us a couple of ropes to maintain our position within the undecorated sarcophagus. It seemed most everyone we met had a desire to or interest in ‘going down the river,’ the attendants on the other end of the rope would continue to chat as the river dropped below us – an average of seven feet in just a few short minutes, neat experience.
For the most part railroad tracks line the ‘upper Mississippi’s eastern shore, the trains that rattled the rails were long and frequent. With a little time we discerned that as one train came through in a particular direction an opposing train would follow 15-20 minutes later in the opposite direction (I’m sure that’s a good thing). We never really tired of the trains for they are a part of the character of the river – what we did learn though experience was NOT to tie-up for the night near a city as the trains would blow their horns at all the crossings! – “doggone trains!” We noticed the small communities that ‘popped-up’ around the bends, also with that were fishermen. Along with the fishermen were their families holding their poles in one hand and a friendly wave from the other – leaving us to think and remark that there must be more than catfish in the Upper Mississippi’s water.
Our first day on the Mississippi was a ‘play-it by ear’ day with simple plans to cruise until about four and then locate a place early to ‘lite’ for the evening – but after a 1.5 hour wait at lock nine – our first ‘tie-off’ ended up being an 8pm stop a mile or so after the lock. Time to figure out our ‘camping’ routine for the many nights ahead.
This day began an ongoing trend, no major hurtles – perfect. We settled down for the evening and spent our first night on the river listening to the trains and hearing what sounded like an occasional coconut falling into the water – ker-plunk! (maybe beavers).
It was the simple things about the river that entertained us the most.
Day 2, Lock 9 to Dubuque, Iowa
Miles Covered: 67 river miles, um 647- to um 580
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Outside of Lock 9 to Dubuque, IA Yacht Club
In passing through lock 9 last evening a tow had priority – the process for a tow to ‘lock-through’ takes an hour-and-a-half so we had to wait. Pushing 12 barges they move into the lock (which will only hold nine barges and the tow), the deckhands disconnect the front group of six barges and the tow backs out. The first containers are lowered (or raised) then mechanically pulled out of the other side of the lock along the cement wall, then the tow and remaining barges “lock-through” and reattach before moving on.
In waiting we tied up to a buoy in the ‘pool’ before the lock, laid around and watched the eagles around us. Anchoring to buoys is not recommended but in our case it allowed us to rest the little motor while still sitting upon the mighty current. It was nice too watching the eagles soar – in the past two days we have noticed 23 eagles treating us as if we were not even there. There are also numerous white pelicans and blue heron present – the river’s natural and unnatural entertainment mixed together, all a part of this adventure.
The sleep could have been better, along with the rumble and horns of passing trains we had the beaver (I’m pretty sure) slapping their tails when things became too quiet – the occasional sound was similar to coconuts falling into the water, ker-plunk!
Day 2 began with sprinkles and figuring out the coffee pot – first pot was a wash. The rig looks like a Mr. Coffee,’ but it sits on a Coleman grill, fix the ‘trigger,’ and turn the heat way up, fixing the ‘trigger’ was important and the tricky part – finally worked after chewing on a few grinds. Another overcast day early with light rain and wind in our face, neat weather.
We ‘idled’ along in the current to McGregor, IA. and took a walk through the town. There was a small restaurant near the river so we had breakfast – simple place, great folks, and a simple pace. Biscuits and gravy here, Carl was real happy with his eggs/bacon/hashbrowns too, but for some reason his coffee wasn’t as well appreciated – even after our morning flub. At the same time the locals enjoyed their normal morning conversation – it was nice to just ‘fit-in’ and eat within the tone of things – and that’s what we did.
The little motor has been doing fine after a couple early concerns – it ‘stumbled’ coming into town once again so once docked I checked the rear of the boat as Carl started to walk. I found our 12- gallon fuel tank resembled a red 5-gallon raisin, it needed venting – simple fix (open the vent).
I felt better as we eased back out on the river, absorbing the moments – no hurry at all. Our fuel consumption while at idle speed has been low leaving me surprised at the positive mileage (6 to 10 mph) – in it all we are still getting a ‘feel’ of this river and enjoying the comfort, I wonder if this will change.
In planning this trip I had allotted for 57 days and nights on the Mississippi, an averaged of 30 miles per day. Weather was a factor too, in flooding conditions they close locks to control the water flow and prevent debris from passing within – poor weather could hold us back (doldrums) so the 57 days seemed reasonable. So far we have hit the ‘mother-glitch’ of good weather and we are riding it and this river casually southward.
Lock 10 came with sunshine, but another hour awaiting a towboat to ‘lock-through.’ Waiting is really alright, just a bit tougher in the south wind, drawing current, and whitecaps of the ‘pool.’ This area immediately before the locks can be a challenge while trying to stay off and/or out of the dam.
We learned to radio earlier and to pace ourselfs better as we neared the locks (depending on their time-table for you), or to head on in and tie-off outside along the lock wall – for us, it just took some boat tricks (large, slow circles) and patience.
Just after lock 10 we decided to stop and ‘top-off’ our fuel, again – if for nothing else to enjoy some wonderful conversation with the locals.
OK, so we really needed the three gallons of fuel,….. the conversation was great and the scenery – well, you decide. We slowly climbed back into the ‘bird’ and reluctantly proceeded southward through the sunshine with a little more ‘flavoring’ to our conversation – it took a short while before the beauty of the bluffs, long trains, and tows returned to the top of our thoughts – well, maybe a little longer.
There seems to be plenty of camping and recreational boats along the sandy shores here, picturesque – all of it.
The wait at lock 11 took the longest so far (2.5 hours) so we tied up to a maintenance skiff between the lock and shore, and walked up to watch the process from the handrail – this lock was not opened to the public. After advising us of that point the attendants still allowed us to ‘hang out’ while the Phillip M Pfeffer worked through the lock.
Arrived in Dubuque, Iowa as it was getting dark, it was after nine o’clock – another late ‘tie-down. So we followed the right shoreline around and through small channel to the Dubuque Yacht Club where we tied-off to their transient dock…..The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is nearby, we will visit it before leaving town.
It seemed a long day, I was pooped and still adjusting to sleeping on the boat, which finally came (Sunday morning).
Instead of some island I find ourselves tied-off between all these large nice vessels and bathing under a garden hose soaping down – new kid on the block. The next morning we found a beautiful Yacht Club, with plenty of amenities and fine food at Catfish Charlies.
Day 3, Dubuque, Iowa to um 574
Miles Covered: um 580- to um 546 (74 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Dubuque, Ia Yacht Club to Savanna, Il riverside (Storm World 1)
Dubuque Yacht Club had ‘transient’ docking, and the sleep ‘dockside was pretty good stuff. Early the next morning we met ‘Duck’ (short for Duckett) whom has a house boat docked there. Duck showed us his ‘new set of twins’ (new motors) on his older but nice steel hull houseboat – a lot of pride there. It seems the boat allows him to spend plenty of ‘free time’ on the river – it’s the perfect excuse and a nice vessel. ‘Duck’ had met Bill and Max the year before and asked of their adventure, how it went and whether they had made it to New Orleans – we gave him their website and filled him in on all that we could.
Then after a high-class start to the day (a ‘bird bath’), we had breakfast buffet at the Yacht Club. So far along the upper river we have been able to find two ‘land-meals’ a day, we will certainly take advantage of this as long as it’s available.
From the yacht club we motored over to the nearby Mississippi River Museum where we found lots of neat wildlife exhibits for the kids and plenty of the big stuff (old river boats that you can walk through) for the adults. - so we spent a couple of hours there – they also have dockage for those arriving in boats – you just have to look hard for it.
When we finally returned to the river we encountered the crowd of Sunday boaters, their myriad of wakes were worse than what we had encountered from the tows so far – the water was rough. Towboats were ‘beached’ (idling with their front barge to the shore) and remaining stationary in the river, we thought maybe to keep from squashing someone (a nice thing) with so many pleasure-craft about, maybe they take Sunday off – not really sure.
In one of the conversations with Bill and Max, the issue they stressed was that their floor was perpetually wet! Water from wakes soaked their floor and kept their feet wet all of the time – with this in mind the front of our boat has a splash guard in place. This small effort to thwart the constant wave action has reduced but not eliminated the water washing over the bow, when water comes in great quantities there I installed a hole in the floor ( heater ‘register’) to help speed the water out. Still the floor has remained wet – a carpet ‘runner’ in the cabin has done more to alleviate wet-feet than anything else – a constantly wet floor is just how it is…
Below Dubuque the Sunday boaters were frolicking on the sporadic beaches while having their Sunday afternoon beverages of choice – too inviting. After the third bunch (and striking a wingdam with my prop, little damage) we moseyed by and pulled in to what some called Chestnut beach. Again great casual conversation, many asked questions and climbed into the ‘bird’ to scribble on the walls with a marker – fun time and great place for folks to let their kids run – volley ball was going on too. Thanks for the moment you guys, it was one of the best…. (even if I did back out onto the submerged log as repeatedly instructed not to).
Lock 12 was the easiest yet, its like they opened it just for us and let us through, again – smooth communication with the lockmaster as the water quickly dropped about 5 feet… Just after the lock came Bellevue Iowa, time for another walk. We found a burger at the local gas station and grille and enjoyed pleasant conversation with Jerry and Joyce, travelers also stopping for a meal.
In returning to the boat two more gentlemen approached and talked a while – they had checked out our boat while we were at the store and remained to chat. Folks love to talk about ‘going down the river.’
With evening approaching these two provided directions to a place about 7 miles downriver for us to anchor for the night, evidently most of the area just below Bellevue is restricted, a military area – so we needed to make it through to the red tower-light before stopping.
This was one of the most beautiful areas that we passed, it was easy to imagine the same setting a thousand years ago. With the sun at our back the clarity of the shorelines were crystal clear, the water was gentle and everything was peaceful as we were surrounded in this naturally scenic area. The seven miles were simply beautiful and soon we spotted the red beacon-light piercing the darkening sky.
Darkness was falling and we tied to an uprooted tree along the channel shore, here we walked the beach and began settling in for another night on this awesome river.
Later in the evening a storm came rolling in from the West – that’s when you begin scrutinizing your ‘mooring’ place. Now would it have been better on the West Bank? (where the lightning has all those trees to strike first) or on the East bank? (of which we had chosen and where the lightning bolt could easily seek our vessels metal after a barren area of water). It would be easy to get lost in the ‘what-if’s.’
Instead we dropped the curtains around the ‘bird’ and ran a rope around the ‘waistline,” kinda like wrapping a present – this further secured the tarps from flapping in the increasing gusts, this basic protection from the changing elements began our “battened down the hatches” routine for the nights ahead.
On this our third night we were introduced to ‘Storm world,’ the boat shook and lightning lit up the sky like a tow boats search beam (they are extremely ‘vivid!). This too is simply a part of the trip that just has to be. It boils down to feeling apprehensive with a storms approach, ride it’s presence out, and then listen to it fade away – as this one did.
It was probably good that we had chosen the east bank too, because somewhere in the night a tow held to the shore on the west bank (across from us) as another made its way around a lower bend and then Northward past us. From there and somewhere else within the night and Carl’s snoring the lightning and the river traffic moved on. For me sleep was light again as I feel so completely enthralled with this trek – on many nights of the trip not even wanting to go to bed. This experience was ‘for me’ and I wanted to absorb every minute of it.
I did get up at first daylight and tried the laptop some – writing has been impossible during the day with conversation going on plus all that is being observed – so I’m still searching for the right time delve into my scribbled notes.
I kept a steno pad near the chart for notes (and on the chart), with better power (my solar system was falling short) it could be easier, but then again I also wanted to absorb and digest it all.
So day four is here and it is June – a “Happy birthday” to my daughter Jessica as another tow approaches in the background. …. using this ‘blog’ format was new to me too, for the most part a rough ‘log-type’ of journal would do and I could return later to elaborate. This trip was about enjoying the scenic ride of the Mississippi river……so I did.
Day 4 UM 546 to Island near Hampton, IL
Miles Covered: um 546- to um 491 (57 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Savanna, IL riverside to Island near Hampton, IL
The morning arrives and the damp and heavy atmosphere lays its sullen mood over the boat, we linger – but then once we begin to stir things begin to fall into place and a semblance of order begins.
Untie the tarps (‘battened’) that surround and protect us from the elements, start the coffee pot and stow the gear – basic organization – start the coffee and before cranking the motor we simply shove out into the current and drift as the coffee perks. On this morning the breeze held its own against the current, slowing our drift somewhat – still the current retains the most power as the vessel continues downriver atop the Mississippi’s mighty waters. These were many small muses along the way, simple things noticed – What else was there to do?
The point to our mornings is that Carl and I seem to work good together – we have spent a number of years as part of the Rescue Company for the City of Asheville, in NC. When working as a firefighter you pretty much depend and work together in a positive direction with the least amount of conversation – now many miles away upon the Mississippi we find a similar pattern to starting each day – most firefighters like Coffee, and we had that to.
All morning we watched as the Illinois shoreline passed, along which trucks were lined at the local silo’s unloading their product from the large silo’s, likely grain or corn – this would eventually be loaded into one of the many barges for movement to a final destination.
We stop in the town of Savanna, Il. finding breakfast at the small marina, shower, and a stool for ‘the bird.’. The shower was unexpectedly in the restaurant – didn’t take but a second for me to figure out what to do while waiting for my order to come up – I showered and felt like a kid again by getting away with putting on the same clothes, didn’t really matter while on the river – and the breakfast, it was fine too.
Clothes needed so far have been minimal – a couple bathing suits and t-shirts seemed to go the whole trip – if the colors were different you could alternate schemes (like different drink combination’s), no rules, it just didn’t matter – I liked that.
As for the stool we have found that our time is spent standing or leaning (like in a bar)rather than in a sitting position, a normal seat just wasn’t right for piloting on the river (too low). A stool sits higher and feels better during the day as you look at the chart and continually check the waters around the vessel . The standard pontoon seat did come back into play in the evenings as a stable clothes or towel perch – for a while we switched them around and used what felt right (that is until Carl told me that I ‘could NOT’ make a change to the seat – but thats another story) – long story short we picked up a bar stool in a store next to the restaurant to use and the normal seat is now a dock ornament along the lower Mississippi river.
Later Carl took the kayak for a few miles – around an island chain while I stayed in the main channel – a nice morning with plenty of wildlife and a gentle breeze to our backs.
The pontoon runs at just over an idle, along with the current (and a pocket full of ‘peace’) this rate feels just fine as we easily cover our 30-mile benchmark per day – still, plenty of river ahead.
Above the lock in Pool 13 we passed an ‘rookery-island that was just inundated with birds – white pelicans mostly, but totally a squawking delegation of feathered foul. They seemed to be ogling our featherless mascot on the bow and we considered a walk-explore….. but as the breeze changed – so to did our minds about walking the island (pu) – we moved on.
Near Clinton, Iowa we took a ‘chute’ channel passing an industrial section before coming back to the main channel (a slough) a few miles later – I’m sure everyone has become more conscious of what they put back into the river in the past few years – but the discharges still run. The industry here appeared to be ‘trying.’
With the river’s gentle pace and pools of the Upper Mississippi, Carl and I have talked several times about those that ‘float’ down the river – the comparison from us seems tedious and slow. A motor for us seems a must for negotiating the locks and pools – our admiration has grown for those that canoe or kayak the distance – awesome resilience and determination from those folks.
Later on the lower Mississippi after Greenville, MS I find just how awesome an accomplishment it is for those that canoe or kayak the distance. Of course a trip like this takes great family and friend support – some of which you may not expect and comes along the way – which we found to be true. Little things matter, this is not to say the next picture is in any way similar – but it was a little room along the way that provided some comfort too.
So other than the wildlife, neat homes, bluffs, trains, tows, and pools along the way, yesterday had a streak of mundane in it, not a bad mundane at all – but an area of just riding the current, conversation, and finding more and more things to look at – moving upon water as it has flowed for thousands of years.
It was a rainy and overcast start to this morning, but the day turned out nice – I will check the weather again tomorrow, which could hold us to a low mileage day – as we exited lock 14 we found an island to the left called it a day.
Day 5, Lock 14 to Muscatine, Iowa
Miles Covered: um 491- to um 455 (37 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Island outside of Lock 14 to Muscatine, Iowa
Last night we settled just outside of Lock 14 on the inside of some small island, that’s where we left one warped and worn-out bar stool before heading down river to Muscatine. Again, not a high pace day, just an easy clip with the breeze once again at out back and a setting alive with plenty of white pelicans to gander at.
It all started with a simple 8 am vessel organization (like the FD clean-up routine we are so use to) and then out to and down the river we proceeded. We may have been spoiled with the breakfast’s that we have enjoyed so far on the ‘upper’ Mississippi, but on this date and even though we were near Davenport, Ia we couldn’t locate breakfast riverside. Thinking that one restaurant was open (because a fire truck was in the lot) we stopped and ambled on up to the door – it was the Davenport Fire Department doing a pre-incident plan. Aw well, the guys walked back out to the river wall where we spoke a few minutes before shoving off – still, we remained hungry.
Wasn’t long before we were into the co-co puffs and soft Oreo’s that had been staring back at us from the dash – I was good with soft cookies, and Carl was ok with co-co puffs from a cup, with milk . Yes Mom, I brushed my teeth (she kept an eye on us during the trip).
From Lock 14 we began to pick up a few mayflies, small flying nuisances (but not biting) insects that just like to hang around – seems to bother Carl more than myself, I figure they will move on with the right wind.
“I am also finding that computer concentration time is limited too, so I make some quick crummy notes to ‘jog’ my memory and plan to return later to ‘color it in.’ ”Absorbing all that I see seems to be the priority of each day.
Without the sunshine the past few days the battery dedicated to our electrical inverter is running low too – camera battery is down also, please send the sun… today it was 66 cloudy with occasional rain – even so it all remains very awesome, fun, and entertaining as the river continues to carry us southward.”
There are marina’s along the ‘upper’ Mississippi, occasional opportunities to change the rhythm of the day and simply stop to ‘top-off’ our fuel tanks. At this lonesome marina the sign on the unattended shack stated to “push the buzzer,’” well I did and the result was BLAST from a FOG HORN! just above my head – after all that peace I jumped a mile! – a good laugh for Carl.
Our Huckster buddy’s from college are just now getting to the Mississippi near Prescott, Wi, they have a neat and very arduous adventure ahead of them, we wish them perseverance with it. As we “locked through” lock 16 there was another boat making a similar trek, the ‘French-Quarter.’ These guys were having a blast and working their way to the Gulf, via the TennTom.
Moving much slower and with the town in sight, a ‘one-with-the-river’ was in order, didn’t take but a minute – and I was glad of it later. We proceeded to the Muscatine, and the comfort of their harbor. At Muscatine, Iowa we entered the protected harbor and tied-down, then spent the rest of day and evening roaming the streets stores and bars of this historical little town.
We visited the local pubs, The Pearl, the Hubble, and the Button Factory – seems years ago they made buttons from clam shells collected from the Mississippi – a lost business, now a restaurant. The folks were interesting and the beverage made us feel a little more at home… Thank goodness it was just Tuesday or I think we would still be out roaming the streets – even came close to getting a tattoo. The other boaters Tom, Holly, and Pat aboard the French Quarters were great conversation during the evening and later on their boat - it felt nice to be a part of the ‘dockside’ community, a great ‘feel’ to it.
Somehow the day and the river-life felt a little more complete, the visit to Muscatine completed a ‘full’ day. and we returned to our ‘little bird,’ once in bed and asleep – our vessel felt as good as any other.
Day 6, Muscatine, Iowa to near Dallas Island
Miles Covered: um 455- to um 389 (66 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Muscatine, IA to just past Dallas Island
Dockside sleep once again, this time within the Muscatine harbor. Last night was a fun time running around town – because we were in town so short of time with so much to see we would revert to the ‘bacshortly’ bar-hopping thing – that is have a beverage (maybe two) here and then go explore the next establishment, if we found one that was the most appealing we planned to return – “bacshortly”… and into last evening we visited our ‘French Quarter’ friends dockside in/on their boat, really a ‘vessel’ as compared to the birds-nest we had – but it was all good-times even managing a few of those hearty stomach aching laughs with tears - for some reason I really needed it.
The next day we returned to the river, and while idling towards the next lock the French Quarter passed, so we pushed the little bird hard to make it and ‘lock-through’ #17 with them, afterward we returned to conservation mode and they moved out over the horizon (or around the bend), we wished them well.
Over the past miles we have also noticed numerous duck blinds along the Upper Miss, I can only imagine that they need to be replaced after each large flood – more simple thoughts as we returned to idle speed on the increasing current, just fast enough.
Also few pleasure craft around in the early part of the week which is nice and adds to the peace of it all. Occasionally when we are bothered by waves or the obnoxious changes of ‘civilization’ which breaks our cycle of river tranquility, we have developed a simple saying that seems to fit pretty well, especially after a couple of afternoon beverages – it goes something like (but not exactly) “doggone people!” breaks us in to a simple laugh and lightens up the place – and of course it varies as to trains, tows, and to the occasional pleasure craft that do shove us around with their wakes.
The day is mostly about taking in the sights and sounds of the River – simple observations, evaluations, speculations, and summary’s – old foundations of idle chat slightly illuminated and enumerated by river-beverage.
We later stopped at the riverside town Oquawka, Il and walked to the nearby diner (which is pretty much at waters edge) – catfish sandwich here while Carl has been on a hamburger binge – it was ‘land-food’ and well worth the stop.
The little town was simple and while there saw several folks drive to the end of mainstreet (which was waters-edge) stop and peer at the river and our boat – in speaking with several and it was always good to hear them mention how they would love to make the journey (#3 talking about “going down the river”) – each comment made our trip a little richer. - and there were lots of miles in between – to walk the deck, pilot, or sit/lay on the roof…… to relax as the Mississippi river passed beneath.
As lock 18 fell behind us there were ‘stilted’ homes along the shoreline, yes, “doggone people!” once again. These homes were built among the cottonwood trees and high atop pilings (concrete, wood, etc) as to offer some protection from the river’s ornery moods, even trailers were perched high. I suppose to some this could be an odd sight – but it is another adaptation of experience from the rivers inevitable impulsiveness.
Burlington, Iowa – a stop at Bluff Harbor Marina for fuel – after changing the prop and putting new spark plugs in the motor, there was time for a ‘birdbath’ under their garden hose using the sun-warmed water within. An hour passed as I put my ‘feet-up’ and listened to the dock chat of the kids. They were along the dock laying in the sun, frolicking and playing on sea-doos – some, of our attention was in noticing that ‘they’ do actually swim in the Mississippi – this was a good sign. The Marina owners were great and invited us to remain and dock for the night at no cost, but we moved on down river to the nearby Big Muddy Restaurant – they also had a dock so we tied up and went in.
The Big Muddy Restaurant and bar, riverside at Burlington is an old train depot that you would swear was brand-new. The crowd was a little light this night but the Cajun grouper really hit the spot. Christian was the bartender and he introduced us to Karla one of the owners who was working as hard as anyone there. In between her tasks we talked a little of the town – and of “going down the river” – no doubt that if nothing else on this trip, we haven’t been met with an uninterested ear or friendly smile, makes it all worth it.
After the Big Muddy and instead of bunking down, we decided to continue down the river into the evening darkness once again – we did – it was worth it too, because with the sun at our back the orangeish shoreline was again as vivid in clarity as it was through the Savanna reservation a few nights earlier – something else that seems to make this all worthwhile – the natural moments of this river, the clarity.
We continued into the darkness where anchorage become a more difficult task – but finally we located a place in the mud, oh yeah – the thick dark mud that you have to ‘work’ to get off…..but that’s another story…. Once solidly anchored it was another great nights rest as our ‘weathered’ clothes ‘aired.’
Day 7 – near Dallas Island to Polly Island
Miles Covered: um 389- to um 345 (44 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): just past Dallas island to Polly island
After cruising late into the evening from Burlington, it took two efforts for to find solid anchorage – where the cruise was nice, the darkness complicated the tie-down process – another reminder to look for a place earlier and to be tied down by 6 – you will enjoy it more.
We found ourselves in an area where you could be fifty yards away from an island, and then you’re stuck in the mud…. real mud – the kind that just hangs on to you (almost black and ‘oily-like’). Finally ended up along another island near the mud and had a decent nights sleep.
We keep learning the smaller things – like get away from the city, tie-down early, and come in parallel to ‘ wing-dams and we continue to be reminded that the railroad still runs along the river, the nearer to a city you are – the more they blow their horns at crossings. So all through the wee hours of the night – wooooo wooooooo, wooooo wooooooooo, – “doggone trains!”
It was real early and as I prepared the coffee maker, I noticed a cruiser approaching in the distance at that mediocre speed ‘bow-up’ creating a large running wake rolling down the shoreline – it appeared as though the wake would throw our vessel onto the mud-bar – so I hollered and Carl sprang from bed like a new rookie on the firetruck – he jumped out of bed and flew into action crossing the deck and off into the mud, but of course as he was in the air over our bow I said “WAIT, it’s going to be ok.” ……. wakeup call.
Carl went ahead and set us adrift since he was already knee-deep in mud. Mornings are special – coffee and drifting, not the black mud, its hard to get it off – ask Carl. Next stop was Fort Madison, Ia. allowing me some computer time, Carl was pressing for a breakfast and constitution – so as Carl ambled off to a dine . I remained to download and spoke with a few folks hanging around the bar and dock. Folks that had recently lost their jobs with a company that made steel plates for heavy equipment – now they were having a beverage at 11 am instead (hey, its five o’clock somewhere).
Once on the river we passed the recreated Fort that was once part of the local history, the city has done a real nice job on the park. The other buzz around town was of the network ESPN’s anticipated visit this week to televise a fishing tournament.
Pointing the ‘bird’ down river and at idle speed we took to the current – south at 5 miles an hour…….believe it or not, it’s plenty fast enough. It was possible to put Patric in the Captains chair and tie the steering wheel so that we could ‘throw’ several hands of cards – Carl’s ahead at the moment, five games to 500 – loser has to jump in (if you saw the water you would understand).
Passed the 350 mile marker for the Upper River, Carl’s ½ way point – we’ve been really fortunate to have the cool and gentle breeze at our back and made superb time – Moniker stop here, and then another stop later at the Keokuk Marina to wait for lock 19 ( a drop of 36 feet) to open.
It was an informative visit just before the lock, they suggested that we go to The Purple Cow after the lock for refreshment – of course Carl and I looked forward to it with the visions of place as nice as this Marina. We think that it was a little purple building along the river where some locals were pitching horseshoes in the sand, but there was only a small beer sign and nothing looked inviting – wasn’t sure so we looked further, by that time we were too far downriver – river only flows one way. So we cooked rice and bullion as we continued our float, it was pretty good.
Day 8, 9 – Polly Island to Hannibal, MO to Lock 24
Miles Covered: um 345- to um 275 (70 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Polly island to Hannibal, day later just before Lock 24 (lost anchor)
Learning as we go, if you can – tie to the ‘off-side’ of an island, or within a known slough - out of any wake. Not long after daylight we were again riding the river and watching the tows –loaded, unloaded, or loading, along with other thoughts still alive from the day before.
No major hang ups at any of the locks, soon we arrived at lock 20.
All of the folks that we have encountered whether in the locks, tows, or on land have been very cordial and interested, good folks, simply other people in the same world.
As a long-haul truck driver (70-76) I understood the nature within transporting commerce and respect those on ‘her’ waters – I didn’t want ‘freebird’ to be a nuisance (as a mo-ped on the interstate) – yet I didn’t see anything insurmountable to deal with. Common sense. ‘Rafting’ is inbred into the Mississippi river lore and motif, now more than ever I suspect that it is a novelty of ‘river-life’ with the Pilots too, just another part of it – like a bear wandering across the interstate. As to what we are use to, a tractor trailer can carry @35-tons, where a single barge (tows can push 42) hold @1500-tons, its a massive thought. The pilots patiently maneuver those brainless iron vessels, sometimes with literally a foot of opening from each wall within the locks narrow channel is pretty impressive. Understanding, utilizing, and then balancing the factors of current and control, perception and machine. – plus other factors. We clearly recognized the skill, – no hurry here.
LaGrange, Mo. another little riverside town and time for a morning walk. It did not appear as though there were any restaurants around so we walked into a small store for supplies….. and a fine lady cooked us breakfast. It was a cross between a store and a restaurant. There were a few gentlemen with a card game going and I was glad that they continued playing within their normal chatting – its always nice to get a new dimension in the works. Lots of the same folks, but just different people in this world. Carl and I have maintained good conversation with no major hurtles – all in fun, and with an objective; take what this river has to offer and see it while talking about – well, whatever.
We found too that it wasn’t long before our dirty clothes were cleaner than what we were wearing, its nice that it doesn’t matter – and its also good that we each smell the same (if we smell at all).
Later we stopped in Quincy, Ill at the small marina to charge my batteries, shower, and clean some laundry – a little less river funk, if it were to matter (I never heard the comment, “you smell clean”).
Hannibal, Mo. of Tom Sawyer fame, even walked the town. Lots going on, they were having a cook off and a live band played through the night, lots of fun – so of course we enjoyed the event (hootin and hollerin) until it was over and then somehow found the marina and the boat without falling in. The next morning a local businessman (Mike Cates of Brickyard Motor Co.) offered the use of his car to drive to Wal-mart, I would have walked but he insisted, really nice – he and his son were at work next to the diner, just an example of how nice folks are along the river. Oh yeah, the worst part was walking out of Wal-mart and wondering what kind of car I had driven there – it took a few minutes.
We kinda felt ready to move on and cover some miles, but its been a slow day – extremely strong headwind to hold us back. Not many pictures taken, again battery charging issues – we left wondering if we would make our 30 mile minimum, but it really didn’t matter – just to be on the river.
At lock 22 there were 10 tows waiting to pass, the lockmaster said it was the most he had seen in 10 years at one time – maybe the economy is picking up.
The strongest day of headwinds and crashing waves yet and it continued throughout – as we ‘hugged’ the shoreline to reduce the effect of the wind (near the 279 mile post) we began experiencing the ‘jumping fish’ (Asian carp), a few even made it in the boat – BIG fish, it was both amusing and funny as it all happened.
We located a lagoon at Two Rivers Marina across from Louisiana, MO and waited until evening for the winds to die down further – it was nice to be all showered and have a mixed beverage while waiting. “Its really nice out here…and the weather is starting to be more like summer, hot – but I guess that’s where all this headwind is coming from…. the South.”
Day 10 UM Lock 24 to Squaw Island
Miles Covered: um 275- to um 221 (54 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): just before Lock 24 to Squaw island (a nice beach, chair exchange)
We had anchored just prior to (we could see the lock) lock 24, – when anchoring Carl tossed the anchor out (it was disconnected from the line) – it didn’t ‘hold.’ “Lost to the sea” we began to call those things, more funny than anything else – just a part of it. Slept good tied to some tree along the shore. We preceded early to the Lock and waited for the movement of a Corps of Engineers crane (on a barge) around as to work on the lock, once that had happened we were once again enjoying pleasant conversation with someone likely low in seniority on the other end of the rope – in the lock.
After the lock was the riverfront town of Clarksville, so we stopped in search of breakfast. No luck, too early – or the town was simply deserted after a large festival a day or two earlier – missed it. So down the river we went taking in the scenery, Hamburg, Il. is where we noticed these steel boats settled on the shore – no restaurant in sight. Carl couldn’t wait any longer and cranked up the stove creating egg and bacon sandwiches – good.
The day was another special one on a calm river flow, pleasant has to be the word of the day. Pretty much we just walk around the boat and one fills the void of the other (if its important such as steering) whenever – this morning Carl spent most of the time on the lawn chair reading as I found places and ways to move and hang things in the cabin – everything has a place.
The passing riverfront is simply interesting to look at, applying improvisation. For conversation even the simplest things are open to simple debate, where Carl has only simple responsibility (no authority) on the boat – he sometimes quips that “as we return to work he’s going to ‘eliminate my position,” all in fun – good company.
At lock 25 the lockmaster wouldn’t return our call, we were beginning to think our radio was bad and without any further information we once again tied up to a ‘can’ (buoy) before entering. It was the nicest pool of water that we could remember entering (others had been windy and turbulent) – until we mentioned the fact to each other – and then the wind turned on us and our only saving grace was the buoy we had to tied to. This is where the tow Gene Herde worked his magic around us (like parallel parking) so close that they easily sucked the water from under the ‘bird’ as maneuvered into the lock ahead of us – the buoy held. Another tow (The Bill Berry) began working his way around us too and about that time we were able to establish contact through the telephone – they allowed us to ‘lock-through’ between the two tows. That’s the short story, all of this took more than two hours of beating wind and current, after a calm entrance….. I was never concerned for what the tow pilots were up to, because they are absolutely aware of their surroundings – which includes us little guys.
For some reason on the low side of the dam/lock the wind diminished and the evening became much calmer – just outside the lock at the 240.2 we found the Cedar Hill Resort. Very nice place overlooking the river with a Tiki bar and a 1957 Trojan boat for a stage, nice setup. Kelley served us drinks and some fried green beans, really good – just like fries. Through conversation a few of the folks there had done a similar thing in 1991, and they were still friends.
Also with the several of them present was a model of their boat “Middle-age Crazy” that they floated to New Orleans on before selling it there (a common practice) for 700 bucks. It was a completely home made raft (boat), built by Al Morgans Dad (who is in his 90’s now).
After some beverages, we boated on down to the Riverbend Marina at 232.5 and met up with Jeff and Al again, where they provided us an extra stool. Riverbend showed us some warm hospitality and the marina was well kept and modern. The river and the folks along her are friendly, helpful, open, and just awesome – we haven’t had a negative encounter. Al then piloted the ‘bird’ a short distance down the river to his home (next toRiverbills) where we checked out his welding inventions, workshop, and where he gave us an anchor to replace what we had lost the night before.
Day 11, Squaw Island to St Louis, to Hoppie’s Marina
Miles Covered: 81.5 river miles, um 221- to um 158.5 Upper Mississippi River
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Squaw island (near Grafton, Il) to St Louis, to Hoppie’s Marina
We tied off last evening to a log on this well used, but very inviting beach with nice sand (Squaw Island) – there were chairs and a cook stove strewn about so to us it seemed to be a local hangout. With the morning light we took our walks and then traded our old rickety chair for a raggedy one that was lying on the beach (which we later traded for another in Memphis), but before we could shove off it began to rain.
The weather radio reported storm clouds and hail on the way – so expecting the worse we ‘battened down the hatches’ (dropped the tarps and ran a rope around ‘the bird’). I went ahead and took my ‘one-with-the-river’ morning bath as it all passed over (rinsing in the rain) - and it all calmed to normal in about 45 minutes.
To this point weather has not been a major factor, its been overcast somewhat, but for the most part the breeze has been at our back, which is nice on the water. We have experienced three pretty good lightning storms but have not had any real ‘hair-raising’ experiences (even though we have clearly seen bolts illuminating the ground at a distance). I think there comes a point when you have done all that you can – so we find peace, and leave the rest to ‘the odds.’
After shoving out in the current and having our morning Coffee, we hit our idle speed around five miles an hour, a gentle ride on the river – simple conversation with simple debates on any subject for throughout the day, and happy hour – well you pick the time. It wasn’t long when we came to the junction of the Illinois River, hardly noticeable. That is where we stopped at the Grafton Marina for some supplies and a battery recharge.
It was a wide expanse of the Upper Mississippi with wide gentle curves and a highway that ran along one side with some steep banks.
Our thirty-mile average a day has been exceeded by a long-shot and now float well ahead of schedule – at this point I’m not sure of the date to make New Orleans, but will keep you posted – still plenty of hurtles before then – plenty that I’m starting to see.
Alton, Ill was ahead so we stopped at the Alton Marina and ‘topped-off’ our fuel. I had also hoped to go to ‘Fast Eddies’ for a burger but found it was a mile or so away – instead we headed to the Mel Price lock where we were ‘locked through.’ This lock was full of floating debris, the ‘bird’ struggled to get through it – the most trash in one spot that I had seen on the river so far.
Just above the confluence of the Missouri was another area full of Tow/barge work, adjustments, and rerouting – a busy place that I suppose was out of the greater current of the combined rivers. Soon we came upon the confluence of the Missouri River – it is said that the Mississippi’s volume is increased 40% here, and where we couldn’t immediately tell – it became more apparent to us closer to St Louis, especially after exiting the ‘Chain of Rocks Canal’.
This Canal near St Louis was built for boats to avoid a natural area in the river of rocks, not sure why another dam wasn’t built there – but they built the canal for boats to avoid the shallows. Some smaller boats and kayaks can make the rapids, but that is directly related to how much volume is flowing – a boat such as ours could not make it. The entrance to the canal is well marked, as we traveled through the canal we crossed the path of several Northbound tows that we had worked with several times since our journey began southward, the Gene Herde and the Bill Berry – evidently their route is the one from St Louis North. When we exited the Chain-of-rocks canal the volume, water-speed and other river traffic became more apparent to us - maneuvering our little craft took greater forethought and careful anticipation – we were to learn more about this later in the darkness of the night.
It was a good feeling to see the Arch in St Louis where we spent the rest of the day into late evening, its a powerful place where folks must come for miles, states, and nations to experience the awe of this structure – you can just feel something about it in the air.
Our plans were to sleep in the boat there at the brick shore and then go up into the arch the following day – but as we settled for the evening the hull of the boat rubbed the shoreline (no dockage) and a simple reset of the anchor lines in the swift water turned into a twenty mile ‘flush’ through the highly commercial and busy tow-boat area of south St Louis. Whew, what a night ride.
I felt I could make a small circle in the darkness and return near our spot, but in the current and darkness I was out of place……and moving south.
Soon it became much like riding a moped through a busy trucking terminal where trailers are being dropped, reloaded, reassembled and rerouted – all in the middle of the night, on the river and at A LARGE SCALE. We were a tiny dot in the darkness, but eventually made it safely through with just a few more gray hairs.
Our introduction to the river’s current with the addition of the Missouri River and the channeling through St Louis has been that of a noticeably stronger flow, swift water, fewer places to dock (so far), fewer places to fuel, bigger tows, larger waves and TREES floating in the current – just keep the motor running, think ahead and power on.
Hoppies is a Marina made of old barges that has been here (lm 158.8) since the thirties or forties – I had preplanned to stop here, but didn’t plan to arrive in the midnight darkness – a welcome tie-down, even slept late.
Grafton, Ill to St Louis, Mo. plus a midnight ride to Hoppie’s. After walking a couple of miles through a small shopping village to Kimmswick, Mo and picked up some basic supplies for the next long stretch of river, we are preparing for fewer civilized stops and facing that great big chute of water which flows towards the Gulf.
Day 12, Hoppie’s Marina – NO miles
Miles Covered: (no river miles today) um 158.8
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Hoppie’s Marina (Kimmswick, Mo.)
Ok, so late last evening during a simple ‘re-set’ of our anchor at the St Louis Arch we were set adrift and then “flushed” Southward through one of the busiest ally’s of commerce along this river. The activity on the river South of St Louis is where ‘local’ tow pilots separate the groups of barges while arranging and reattach these barges into organized groups for regional delivery.
It was the busiest area of barge activity that we had witnessed on the river so far – empty and loaded barges were being shuttled for delivery North (St. Louis up) South (St Louis down and the Lower Mississippi) East (The Ohio River) and West for the Missouri river conduit. It’s very likely that this terminal/barge activity is unrecognized for its true value in organizing the delivery of bulk materials within our country.
This is what we noticed as we drifted and ‘bobbed’ through the waves and wakes of the nighttime criscrossing ‘yard-dog’ tows – occasional spotlights, radio chatter, and perpetual activity in a very unintentional manner – we felt about as comfortable as a ‘street-walker’ at a church social.
In the midst of it all the wakes and darkness we maintained power and somehow found the last outpost forty miles downstream, Hoppie’s Marina near um 158.8. Hoppie’s is on the right bank heading south with little to no lighting, not sure how many wing-dams we crossed before we lucked out and located it, but we did – and that’s where we spent the rest of the night and next day… Spending a day at Hoppie’s Marina was preplanned as a zero-mile day – I was really happy to just chill in one place for more than a day – it was a much needed ‘feet-up’ day.
Fern and Hoppie are wonderful folks with lots of character too, I had read about this place as I researched the trip, now it was great to finally meet them and to watch them work together. Their ‘banter’ was a very comfortable fit – well worth much more than the short time we had there. To some degree it is a ‘last outpost’ for supplies, but again you will have to walk – Hoppies does have fuel and Ice.
There is a small village (Kimmswick, Mo) a mile away that has some really nice ‘shopping’ stores and a restaurant, for a grocery store you will have to walk 2 miles further… We walked, but overall the day was about ‘stopping,’ some of which this is all about.
For a day it has been awesome to sit upon the river on these old barges and feel the river’s pulse – another place to be, another part of it – a big part for me. Hoppie’s has a hose to shower under – just don’t step on the power cord as you do… Fern was sure to stress that there was no fuel for the next 400 miles!, she could have meant “on the river,’ which was true, but we listened appreciatively and then found fuel available along the way – we just had to walk ( Cairo, New Madrid, etc.).
Day 13, Hoppie’s Marina to Cape Girardeau
Miles Covered: 106 river miles, um 158.5- to um 52
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Hoppie’s Marina (Kimmswick, Mo,) to Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Storm World)
It was an early start from Hoppie’s, 6 am – coffee, then a wide swing past the wing-dam below the ‘marina’ and ‘back into the main channel we floated, once through the fog the day was ‘beautius. After ‘Hoppies Marina’ we pass many miles of picturesque river frontage, the bluffs along the shore became smaller and less frequent and at water’s edge there appeared a number of ‘natural’ industries (rock, stone quarry’s, etc), a unique home or two, and then a wildlife preserve along the river’s edge.
As we crossed under the bridge at Chester, Il. it was possible to catch a quick glimpse of the bronze statue of Popeye (its where the cartoon and his crew were created bu E;zoe Segar), you had to look hard just after the bridge on the east side. The day was another day of the simplest river travel, just ‘going with the flow’….. and observing.
We did stop and converse with several other boaters along
the way, at one time tieing along side (the African Queen)
and drifting a few miles with cold-beverages, which was
always a good subject and ‘ice-breaker’ when coming across
others on the river. With these folks we drifted right up to
and around ‘Tower Rock,‘ the one Mark Twain once wrote
about. On this date and still at our easy-idle pace we made a
We did stop and converse with several other boaters along the way, at one time tieing along side (the African Queen) and drifting a few miles with cold-beverages, which was always a good subject and ‘ice-breaker’ when coming across others on the river. With these folks we drifted right up to and around ‘Tower Rock,‘ the one Mark Twain once wrote about. On this date and still at our easy-idle pace we made a hundred miles.
We have not pushed this river at all, we only ride her current – now with the addition of the Missouri river’s volume we have surpassed our mileage expectations 3 fold, from thirty to more than a hundred – for two Carolina drifters, it all continues to be so interesting and different. On occasion we stopped to ‘stretch’ while ‘traffic’ passed. The sand-bars clearly show the ravages of fluctuating waters – on this particular sandbar the sand was really nice, plus I found a large rope like the one used to connect the barges – so I ‘tied ‘er on the ‘bird.’
Again, the flow of the river is now more apparent, on the occasions that we have worked against the current – our little motor can pretty much hold it’s own with a small gain – that’s where in Mark Twain’s books the river Captains would find/utilize the river’s ‘eddy’s’ to their favor – usually outside of the main riverbed. The surface water can also play tricks to your eyes, especially at night – like when we got ‘flushed’ through St Louis, the reflections of the current from the surface appeared at times to be flowing backwards, maybe you have to witness it in travel and circumstance to understand, tricky – but for that ride we simply maintained power for control and held on to the few senses we had left.
The ‘wing-dams’ (rock formations) along the way are strategically placed by contractors to utilize the hydraulic power of the river itself in maintaining the channels depth, they may or may not be visible depending on the river’s water level. For boaters it is important to use the channel as much as possible to avoid these, scraping a hole in your hull or pontoon could ruin the whole trip for you – the spring rains seem to heighten the river over these structures, we barely noticed them – late summer when the river is lower they are distinct. Sometimes the ‘whirlpools’ they create can also play tricks with your vessels direction, there are several areas where these extend into the channel – the worse were in the areas of um 130 to 133 and around um 70 – 71, these create simple challenges for the pilot when two vessels share the same area of channel.
As evening fell we met our goal of Cape Girardeau, just before town at the Red Star landing we found fuel, a short walk (less than 1/2 mile). We had our hopes up for some real food too, but they were soon dashed as we found the Cape had no water front dockage – there was a large barge blocking the only accessible wall and the riverfront just did not seem craft friendly. With this we crossed the river and found a beach near/under the bridge where Carl pulled his tent out and settled down for the night. I battened down the hatches and all started peacefully – that is until two am, when the mother of all thunderstorms rolled through – and she was the ‘Wicked witch of the west.’ Carl hastily retreated to the boat with his tent in a bundle and we rode the wind and waves out once again as the ships bell again rang like an unanswered telephone. It all passed in a few hours and the morning sun is now starting to show.
Day 14 – Cape Girardeau, MO to below Cairo, IL
Miles Covered: 57 river miles, um 52- to lm 948
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Cape Girardeau, MO to just below Cairo, IL
Thursday – Last night was a ‘Storm World’ night under the Cape (Girardeau) bridge, as the weatherfront rumbled through the little boat rocked and the ships bell rang like a telephone, all while Carl tried to sleep on shore in his tent.
It was two am when the storm came streaking through, it is possible to sense the movement from the West so I had the bird tied and ‘battened down.’ Its sudden winds wrapped Carl up in his tent like a burrito and he stumbled back to the boat. The fast moving front (and lightning) rocked us, yet with it all we have learned that there’s simply a point to where you just can’t do any more. I just laid there motionless as the sky flashed until forty minutes later it all subsided – leaving the ‘peace of the river’ to return as if nothing had happened – but this passing storm had made its presence perfectly clear.
Early this morning all appeared clear so we began to move downriver, then it became apparent that another weather front was approaching – so we located the first sandbar possible and protected it from being struck by lightning.
The front passed – just a quick moving microburst and then we were back on the river dodging barges and into our river routine. As we drift down the Mississippi the scenery and view is worth every minute of it – we watch as the bluffs level a bit becoming a more level type of shore. Along this section of shoreline we also noticed different ‘natural’ industries (cement, rock quarry’s, etc) each utilizing the barge as a primary means of bulk transport. In comparison to trucks or trains each barge can carry eighty times as much as a single truck, a massive amount of commerce. Then considering that one towboat is pushing up to 42 barges at one time, it says all the more for the Pilots in how they do their job safely.
On several occasions we simply stopped, took a break, and allowed other traffic to pass. Later in the day we made the Confluence of the Ohio River, around four in the afternoon – the difference in the gray and clearer water of the Ohio as compared to the Muddy Mississippi River is apparent far out into the channel.
Being in the afternoon we figured that we would try to find some ice and something to eat so we headed up the Ohio – against the current and through a barge ‘re-hook’ area, it took nearly an hour to make it above Fort Defiance past the bridge and near what appeared to be the city (per chart) landing. As we crossed the wall into Cairo, IL what a different town we found than what I recalled of thirty five years earlier. I had driven a truck this way numerous times to get into Arkansas and this was a thriving part of the city – since that time they have rerouted traffic for the interstate, and now what is left in this part of the city is pretty close to a ghost town.
Old hotels grown over with weeds, businesses deserted, the only active stores immediately available were an old restaurant and a package store (for ice). We took a chance for a meal with the locals and the waitress pretty much told us not to talk to anyone and ‘run for the boat!’- we should have known something was up when Carl first noted a ‘blowup’ doll hanging in a window soon after landing… I’m not saying never stop in Cairo, it will take a hand-truck to retrieve fuel – maybe leave someone with the boat. From our experience and public service Carl and I were not completely uncomfortable with the surroundings, – at the same time saw no great reason to linger. Our vessel was fine on arrival and unmolested.
The trip back to the confluence seemed to go much easier with the current, once onto the Lower Mississippi we located an island and with it becoming late made a ‘bee-line’ over to it – over the small white water of a wing-dam……. scraped the bottom of one of the pontoons (dented it) but it doesn’t seem to be taking on water – dampened the evening for me – something that remained on my mind daily until day 25 in Vadalia, La. (when I was assured that it was ok). Lesson learned; would not intentionally cross the white water of a wing dam again, it wasn’t worth the worry.
It was a great nights rest with nothing but natural sounds (I won’t describe them all), but no trains, plains, or automobiles…… just wildlife and silence, exactly what I had made this venture for.
Day 15 – Cairo, IL to Stewart Towhead island
Miles Covered: 78 river miles, lm 948- to lm 869.8
Closest towns or landmark (chart): just below Cairo, IL to island near Steward Towhead (across from silo)
After an egg & bacon sandwich and coffee we began another day on the Mississippi’s current, making, almost 80 miles st idle speed might seem a drudge, but time and miles pass quietly. There is always something on or about the river that holds your attention. So far our only use for the clock is to have a general idea what our families might be doing at home, checking a day on the calendar provides the closest reference in time that we need, if it even mattered.
We ride smooth water while passing areas where some barge repair work is going on along the shore. Today we see fewer active tows – not at all what we had expected on our first day of the ‘Lower Mississippi” – but again nothing at all is dull as time continues to pass quickly.
The weather has been perfect everyday – sure, there have been moments within a ‘Storm World” or two that has tested our guile, but that was just a matter of ‘battening down the boat,’ understanding that it will all pass, and then simply coping with the elements.
Overall the ride has been perfect, good or bad its all just part of it – this date was peaceful and the summer’s heat is nearing…..A remote cabin pops up out of nowhere, other than that there are few signs of civilization along today’s shoreline. We’ve seen old broken barges against the shore (wondered why someone didn’t come and ‘scrap’ them),
The waterline speaks volumes of the river’s power, tenacity, and changing conditions. The effects of Mother nature from many miles away touch the length of the river. Todays shoreline is coated with trees and debris and the waterline marks are distinct (from one foot to twenty and more). We see plenty of buoys washed ashore too, many that should mark the channel and keep folks out of the wing-dams – with that we wondered who tended to and recaptured those.
A few miles later we just happen to see the USCG buoy tender Chena out working on them, even stopped and chatted a few minutes – they were real nice (I happened to be wearing my son’s CG shorts) they waved and cheered us on as we parted.
Later near Hickman we spotted another Bald Eagle, it had been a while since we had one – this was the 26th eagle that we had noticed since day 1. From there we did a stop at New Madrid, figured that we could top off our fuel and find some ‘land’ food. The interesting thing about New Madrid is that this is where an earthquake happened in the early 1800′s, they say the river ran backwards for 48 hours, who knows? All I know is this quiet little town is on the tip of such a loop of the river – there is a point where it is less than 300 yards across land at the nearest point, yet it is necessary to travel 20 miles by boat to make the loop – it was unusual to watch the compass and be headed North while traveling South to New Orleans – but again, just a part of it.
Again without a public dock we tired off to the shore near the boat ramp and walked into town, the town seems to be making progress with their waterfront – its a nice area with a new observation pier overlooking the river. At the local gas station/deli we ate catfish and then shuttled back some ice and gas (‘bad gas’), not a large task at all, but once off the water being on the asphalt was really HOT! Again a few kids came down to the boat and we let them walk around, funny what kids do when you hand them a ‘sharpie’ and tell them that they can write on any wall or ceiling in the boat they like…. they just stand there like “really?”
During the morning and afternoon we had been noticing tracks on the sandbars, kinda like an alligator would leave as they slide up or down the sand, when we finally stopped for the evening – the conclusion that we came to, turtles. There were signs all around of where turtles came ashore and laid their eggs, some buried their eggs and for some reason others did not – little round morsels for the blackbirds. After a walk on the sandy island, Carl whipped me again in cards…. with another beautiful sunset and a naturally great nights rest.
Day 16, Stewart Towhead to Gold Dust Bar
Miles Covered: lm 869.8- to lm 795 (75 river miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Steward Towhead island to Gold Dust Bar
Again woke to the usual Coffee, nice consistent start and taste to each day. On this morning Carl finally decided to become “one with the river’ and take a bath in it (thank goodness) – we are very spoiled with the quality of water in WNC and this was a BIG step for Carl – I think that he had been using ‘Off’ insect repellent for defunker…. the ‘One with the river’ Carl was better for the air – now he has earned the ‘River-Rat’ status.
Great day of weather once again, no complaints – we have seen shorelines of black mud (Upper Miss) that took effort to wash off, shores that you thought were sand but a person would sink on – to now the shorelines of the Lower Mississippi, beautiful sandbars so far.
Phone service and internet has become limited, to the point we don’t even try – I guess thats part of being here anyway – just to ‘unplug’ from it all for a couple short months… The deck of the pontoon is wet, always wet (wet feet) – another part of it all. The waves and wash from the tows reaches over the bow and onto the floor – the slash guard and the register help (thanks Bill). and getting your deck ‘washed’ is something to expect, often.
Tow Pilots have shown the utmost regard – but they can only do so much, their waves are just a product of the motion of water – most of the time you can expect the worse of wakes for two or three miles after a tow, waves that seem to radiate (or reverberate) from the banks back into the channel. We just maintain our idle-speed and take them one at a time to ride them out, all very neat in its own way – the bonus of a wet floor is that it cools things off a bit – dries quickly, just in time for another set of wakes.
Of course in reading up and preparing for this trip I expected most all of what we are encountering, its really not made me that anxious with what is going on – I clearly understand the Moped on the interstate theory and carry great respect every bit of what we are surrounded with. Carl at times is anxious, and on one such pass near a tow this anxiety and sixteen days with me came to the surface – he swore he would take my Gerber tool at retirement (actually before), but I casually responded that I was headed down the river – with or without my Gerber tool.. It was funny, took it that way, and it passed – another part of it, we have really done well as far as getting along. There are few people that would agree to take on such a challenge with so few personal luxuries, Carl is certainly one of those few.
Overall a ‘mellow’ sort of day, we covered 70 miles on 6 gallons of fuel.... and with Carl providing the ‘mark,’ found yet another island without tows to shake us and/or trains to wake us…. zzzzzzzzzzz
Day 17, 18 to/in Memphis, Tennessee
Miles Covered: lm 795 to lm 736 (69 river miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Gold Dust Bar to Memphis Yacht Club
Sunday morning, we wake to “Rain world” and its really ok, I could think of worse places to spend a rainy morning so I just ease around in the berth and listen to it hit the roof, nice. The only damper to it is that Memphis is about 60 miles away and with that a planned 24-hour layover at the Marina.
Soon the coffee pot and Marine weather channel is in full swing, we were tied to the west bank (Arkansas side) with 4 to 6 inches of rain nearby, the weather was moving towards us and to the east rapidly, lightning at the moment was not a factor.
I did my one with the river thing and Carl and I sat around considering our options – soon we tucked in the front tarp but left some as a little rain shelter and when the rain subsided (sprinkles with lighter skies ahead) we moved out. As we entered the current the skies cleared even more, we still had the front tarp halfway extended and while knocking some of the water off – knocked our hand-truck in – it didn’t float as I had expected so was placed on our growing “lost to the sea” list… Then ‘Sun World” returned and it became another just perfect day out of what was just the opposite to start.
The shorelines now were very steep clay eroded bluffs on the channel side, a new change and a few more tows – all still very interesting and enjoyable. Through the day we talked, walked the boat, sat on the roof, moved things around, read, climbed around and out-back to switch out fuel lines/tanks, and then talked about what we saw even more.
It was nice to see Memphis on the horizon , a tow passed and some really tall “woop-de-doo” type of waves brought Carl down from the roof – from there I think Carl was looking forward to solid ground too.
As we eased along the shoreline there was a long park area, we could see folks enjoying the day, some waving. Soon we turned into the channel for the Memphis Yacht Club - Mud Island Marina. Our ‘dock-side’ tap water was out due to flood damage, and plans were made to stay a couple nights and check out Beale Street. Carl left the option open to ‘punch-out,’ and with the arrival of his wife plans soon solidified. – He had construction on his mind at home plus he has met his 700 mile goal of the Upper Mississippi and his wife is nearby – he’s actually completed half of the expected trip to New Orleans with few large towns below us, I could tell that he really didn’t want to leave the river.
In the Marina we found a guy (Dan Cook) that was rowing down the Mississippi, actually started up in the Yukon to raise awareness for the Veterans of our country, by chance I had seen a piece on NBC news a while back where he also took a group of vets out to experience fly-fishing, its neat what he is doing and we sat and talked on the dock until late, I expect to see him on the river again further down.
Well a down day in Memphis, I’m ready for it – but I already miss being on the river too.
Day 19 Memphis 0 Miles
As planned, O miles in Memphis today, nice break….
A day at Mud Island Marina under the boat shelter, living the ‘marina’ life. Folks have been especially nice, seems there was a storm that passed this way recently and knocked out some of their basic services (no spigot water) – they’ve done plenty to assist in any manner possible – fresh water and resupply for the next 200 mile (to Greenville, Ms) leg was on the top of my list.
Carl went and got a hotel room and asked if I wanted to come on over – I remained aboard in luxury accommodations (the shelter, a roof) to enjoy the ‘Marina life.’ I slept great - talked to Don Cook (the boat rower) until midnight I think, and funny too because Carl said that he tossed and turned all night in that big fancy bed – in the 17 days he had been aboard he never had an ounce of trouble sleeping - finally gets a big fancy bed and rolls up in the sheets like his tent in the wind at Cape Girardeau.
We took a walk to Beale St around lunch time, ate and listened to some ‘Blues,’ then walked to a few other establishments and generally just walked around downtown Memphis at 95 degrees!, Hot – fun and neat, but with clean laundry I’m ready to get back on the river where its a bit cooler than cement – but the electric trolley’s are really neat too.
Carl's been a big help in the acclimation process of the river, he’s met his goals and is eager to get home and still have time to manage his construction project – his assistance will be missed, its hard to find a conscientious shipmate that will run out on the front of the boat and give me a depth ‘mark’ (where the ‘Mark Twain’ name came from) when approaching landfall - he fit in well and enjoyed it all to the max, as I knew he would. Thanks Carl. So I’m solo, 200 miles to the next expected fuel depot (Greenville, Ms) communications may be sparse, if any, so like that guy in the rowboat ahead of me - we’re still just goin' down the river…. I will be back when the electronics and river allows.
Day 20, Memphis to the Old-Town Dikes
Miles Covered: 91 river miles, lm 736 to lm 645
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Memphis Yacht Club to Old-town Dikes
Departed Memphis at 6am with a fresh cup of coffee and at least 700 more miles to go - I say ‘at least’
because being ahead of schedule as I am, it could be possible to go further (eastward, if Mother Nature and the
little motor holds out) but all still yet to be determined; play-it-by-ear ‘to speak.
From Memphis there seems to be more debris and trash in the water, logs, trees, TV’s (yes some float!), and the water just seemed muddier all-together (if that was possible).
As the mighty tows steadily work their load upriver their massive propellers churn and force the muddy water into a large rolling series of tall wakes following a hundred yards behind. The tow 'wash' this ‘whitewater’ area’s danger lies not so much in a ‘ride’ on the whitewater – but more about the logs and debris being kicked solidly about in the mix – these ‘whoop-de-doos’ are not an area to cross.
Carl and I had been doing little experiments along the way where we would scoop a clear container with river water and let it settle for a while, at least thirty minutes later (depending on happy-hour) one of us would check for sediment on the bottom. There was always dirt on the bottom, except the Ohio River at Cairo where it was clear.
Now alone on the Mississippi I find an orphan “Wilson” (crew) floating in the water, help for today’s experiment; on this date we again checked the water – the river held no immediate surprises – as muddy as ever. Above Tunica, Miss there was alot of shoaling (sand moved by the current into the channel) leaving the channel hard to distinguish. Soon I came across this Mississippi River Dredging operation, leaving me wondering if the lower Mississippi was going to be much more of a challenge for staying within a defined channel……. For me a less defined channel would certainly be cause to pay even closer attention to the river.
Below Memphis is Tunica, MS. this area has grown mainly because of the tremendous Casino business. They also have a River Park Museum and boat dock (one of the few on the Lower Mississippi), so it was a good place to stop and take advantage of the great buffet’s that Casino’s offer. The ‘land food’ was real good and held me for the rest of the day. As I returned to the boat a couple of guys from the nearby excursion riverboat (The ‘Tunica Queen’) stood by and chatted for a good while, it was a great break. Funny thing about this trip – for doing pretty much nothing, it seems I have a purpose – a purpose too that most everyone along the river likes to talk about doing, “going down the river“.
Carl’s company and conversation is easy to miss, but I know he was aching to get home, cut the grass, and go back to work – as for me this all continues to be ‘awesome,’ there is no boredom at all- everything is of interest, plenty of stuff to see and little things to do as I continue to idle down the river – at 5 miles an hour….. This evening’s ‘tie-off’ came a little later than desired, I did miss Carl’s ‘marks’ – but I soon found the ‘inside’ of an island across from numerous organized mounds of rock along the shore – the Old-Town Dikes, where I settled in for the night. My first day solo (well besides Wilson and Patrick) turns out to be a 90 mile day………….Memphis to Miller Point (645.7).
Day 21, Oldtown Dikes to Catfish Point
Miles Covered: 70 river miles, lm 645 to lm 570
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Old-town Dikes to Catfish Point
When I woke this morning the river was up more than a foot with more ordinary stuff floating by in the water (trees, wood, etc) I could only figure that its the result of heavy rain somewhere upriver – the Mississippi is the drainage basin for 40% of our country, anyway something to speculate about as I prepare a couple eggs for breakfast.
Then it was time for my ‘one with the river’ thing – taking a bath in the Mississippi may not be something to actually make a person cleaner – its just an excersize to make the person feel better, and it works to that degree. I am finding a routine with this too; an empty coffee container (about 1/2 gallon) of river water to wet shoulders down, then ‘soap.’ After soaping I wet my head and face with clean tap water and then a total rinse with two more containers of fresh water – a Mississippi ‘birdbath’- from there I see the world a little clearer.
This morning a little maintenance on the motor, cleaned the fuel filter – feeling the need to conserve fuel for the next couple of days before Greenville, Ms – no stops that I know of in between – although I think if absolutely necessary a person could carry their tanks and locate fuel with a walk – but then there’s the issue of finding a place to tie-off at and that’s the most challenging part on the lower for recreational craft, it can even be precarious when there is no-one on the bow to provide a ‘mark’ – you certainly cannot see the bottom.
Wilson and Patrick have yet to respond to get the “Give me a mark!” thing like Carl was so good at. A ‘Mark” for the steamboats of Mark Twain’s time (and still today for some craft nearing unknown shores) was utilizing a long rod dropped over the front corners of the steamboat by a deck-hand (s) prodding to locate the bottom. They would ‘sound-off’ to the Pilot the approximate depth as the steamship crept forward – with an ever shoaling bottom this was a necessary part of traveling the Mississippi without grounding. Measurements included a ‘Twain’ which relayed a depth of about three yards (near bouts) – hence the “Mark Twain” name coined by Sam Clemmons. The ‘Mark’s’ of today’s river includes a a daymark (nautical post), a visible numerical mile post, or landmark noted on the river chart for basic orientation or ‘bearings.
The weather has definitely taken a turn towards HOT!, the thermometer in the boat shows high 90′s, that means 8 to ten degrees hotter on land – doesn’t take but a moments stop to feel the difference. Even with the heat I can’t complain at all with the weather – the cool breeze was at our back early, and we skirted three good storms – then made it to Memphis as more summer storms passed above us – I think someone is wanting Patrick (crew) to make it this time.
Internet and phone service is nil in this area, really no big deal – its even kind of nice to be ‘unplugged’, I don’t expect any service until Greenville – maybe tomorrow. I did pass several more groups of white pelicans hanging out on different sandbars, lots of those up the river – think whats in the water turns them white? (I’m used to the brown species from S Florida). There is always something to look at, on, in, or along the river – never boring as I make my way Southward. I even ran by another USCG Buoy-tender earlier, the Potoka – talked to them a short bit – they had stopped for a ‘swim-break,’ seeing this made me feel a little about cooling off with/in the Mississippi.
The channel markers (buoys) are referred to as “Nuns” (red), or ‘Cans” (green) and are placed to define the channel, headed downriver (South) the ‘cans’ are on your right (as pictured) – ‘Nuns’ on your left of the channel. The markers are constantly displaced by the frequent and ever changing water level, along with the trees , wood, and other heavy objects (even ‘tow’s) that the current carries downriver and into them. The markers are constructed of heavy steel and anchored using large concrete weights from a boom on the front of the CG ‘tenders.’ The USCG keep a busy schedule maintaining these markers in their correct positions relative to the channel.
So I’m just stretching my fuel, taking it all in – its all so interesting that I find myself dreading climbing into bed at night….I just want to stay up and watch everything on the river pass.
Day 22, Catfish Point to Greenville, Mississippi
Miles Covered: lm 573 to lm 540 (33 river miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Catfish Point to Greenville, MS
Easy ride today – since Memphis I’ve been doing better at taking “union-breaks” (stopping in the morning or for lunch an hour), not sure why I didn’t start doing so sooner – it could only have to do with needing a ‘mark’ when nearing the shore.
Nearing Greenville on the Mississippi I was passed by the CG Buoy tender Patoka, the same as I had seen the day earlier – as I watched their boat I noticed them slip into the mouth of Greenville Harbor (Lake Ferguson) – otherwise I might have missed the small entrance. Greenville Harbor is really a part of Lake Ferguson – once a part of the Mississippi until many years ago when it was cut off through natural events or simply channeled away from. It’s a large ‘toenail-shaped lake – there are many such lakes along the Lower Mississippi.
The marina’s available in Greenville are a couple miles up this ‘lake’ and it soon became apparent that I was out of the current. The water was much less muddy with a number of fishing boats in the area too. The first part of the channel was crowded with dry-docks and industrial maintenance points (welding, painting, repair, etc) – heavy duty work going on, on a large scale. Barges were being worked on, tows were up on dry-docks or land being painted/built/repaired – this work gave me an opportunity to see the ‘belly’ of a towboat – the worker beneath the tow in repair provides a scale to the size of these river oxen.
As I followed the CG Buoy-tender he found his slot and I began to notice the change in the water more – from muddy to a clearer greenish, with more fishermen around too – the lakes must provide more than catfish – that’s a good sign.
Further up I could see a couple of Casino’s and soon found the Greenville Yacht Club nestled in between – no-one at the fuel pump ( I was down 16 gallons from Memphis) so I pulled in and tied down. This facility has seen its better day, with the exceptions of the boats (mostly steel type pontoons) the place looked almost abandoned. When I met the owners later at the new GYC restaurant nearby it became a little more apparent why, I guess they had leased part of the YC to one of the Casino’s – and now that Casino just may end up staying – leaving the YC to move (which they were planning)
Their new club and restaurant is in walking distance – the food was good and simple and the setting very clean as compared to the docks, GYC plans are to upgrade and move the docks in the coming year. The folks were decent and friendly, and I walked back to the ‘bird’ in the sweltering heat.
Needing a fuel filter, oil, and other small items for the motor I headed over the levee. The older part of town was immediately on the other side – it appears that the city is trying to revitalize the are (new/wide streets) but it is also clear with all the vacant structures that thriving business was elsewhere.
Barbershops and some decent bars were in this immediate part of the ‘Old City’ of which held alot of old-town character, an opportunity awaiting I suppose. The only store that would fit my needs was a few miles away (I was told Wal-Mart was 7 miles) so I started walking, plan was to get a cab for the return trip – what’s a few miles in the heat?
I passed through neighborhoods very similar to those I was raised in SW Florida, large shade trees and sidewalks being pushed from below from large tree roots. I’ll never forget loosening the front wheel on my cousin Butch’s bike and him jumping such a sidewalk deviation, needless to say the front wheel came off and he did a face-plant! It was funny, but he spent the rest of his visit with broken glasses and in my Dad’s easy chair recuperating.
Walking is not a big deal, just a state of mind – one foot in front of the other, enjoying whats around – feeling the nostalgia of a ‘home-town’ neighborhood atmosphere. A few miles later there was an Auto-Zone, and they had everything I needed – after the purchase a customer (Gary Williams) whom worked at one of the casino’s offered me a ride – sure, I took it – and thanks Gary. Greenville, Mississippi – I did spend some time here 35 years ago and was thinking that I would want to stay more than a day – but I’m finding that on this day it’s just too doggone hot and uninviting – plus I’d simply rather be out on the water. My internet signal was smaller than expected too – so several disappointments.. No knock to Greenville, I really simply preferred to be out on the river.
I returned and worked on the boat – with the brutal heat I continually hosed down under the nearby water hose – each time as I walked the length of the hose to turn the spigot off I was already dry, and by the time I made it back to the boat – I was sweating once again – a never ending cycle even into the night. A person cannot ‘lay-low’ enough to get under the heat there, the shade was the same temperature. Later I figured to walk over to the Casino and walk around in the a/c a while…… that worked pretty good and as night came – it helped me settle down.
As for the Mosquito netting; never thought I would use it or appreciate it so much – through the night and with the fluorescent lights in the background I could see those little varmits climbing over each other trying to get in, only one or two made it (I got ‘em).
On a lighter note – as I sat on the side of this river here 35 years ago I scribbled the basis to the following (I had the pad with me for the occasion);
Spending time upon this river,
I sit and gaze with wonder,
‘The tow’s steadily pass,
- their mighty engines rumble.
With a constant churning motion,
They continuously operate,
Powering against her current,
- creating waves that oscillate.
Then as easily as they come, – they go,
a long moment of silence occurs,
waves slash against the bank,
- and the breeze softly stirs.
This momentary pause,
always seems to be near ’round,
‘peace’ – awaiting its moment,
- slipping in without a sound.
This is a mighty river,
in the simplest kind of ways,
for I have ridden upon her current,
- and felt the pulse within her waves.
There are many moments in a day and night when this ‘interstate’ of a waterway system turns into an abyss of absolute peace – quite a change from the activity that we associate the Mississippi River with, but it is there. For me,
there were several incidents in the ‘wee’ hours of the morning that this absolute abyss of peace enveloped my soul waking me from a sound sleep, - just another part of this rivers character that has remained for thousands of years -
Day 23, 24 Greenville to Vicksburg to Goldbottom
Miles Covered: 149 total river miles, 2 days – lm 540 to lm 468 to 391
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Greenville, MS to Goodrich to Goldbottom
So a single night in the heat of Greenville capped off with a two mile walk for ice (handtruck and cooler) was plenty for my long anticipated return to the area – to say the least I was now ready to get back on the River. And Why not?, after twenty something days living with the river, I was simply more comfortable out there…. pulling away from GYC and across the section of Lake Ferguson I noticed ‘Gar’ ‘jumping’ out of the water ahead of me – I don’t think I had ever seen a gar ‘leap’ – but there they were (more than one), clean out of the water.
Out through the industrial alley I stood in the shade of the ‘bird,’ the workers along the shore in the glaring heat slowed or even took a moment to watch me pass – easing along I could feel that they would trade places with me in a moment…… they knew exactly where I was headed, once again to the Mississippi conduit to ride her mighty current Southward.
Soon after reconnecting with the Mississippi I passed under the old Hwy 82 bridge, from there its not difficult to notice the new bridge under construction just to the South. In research prior to the trip I found that the number of highways that cross this river (which physically divides our Country) were relatively few – research the number, you may be surprised also. Funny too because as I put the new Greenville Bridge in my ‘rear-view mirror’ and set my sights forward, the Mississippi just seemed to ‘open-up’ in front of me, suddenly the ‘big muddy’ struck me as being wider, flater, and much hotter! – the ‘big, easy, and very lazy feel to this river is now absolutely surrounding me!
Along with this ‘laziness’ the ‘boils’ (or ‘suck-pockets) became more pronounced too. This is an area of water current that for some bottom or current anomaly (natural or manmade) the water ‘bubbles up’ from the bottom (but without air) and breaks the surface like a mushroom – the effects that I felt in passing above them were that they slowed the ‘bird considerably before the boat would ‘lurch’ from the last part of it.
I could imagine the stymie effect on smaller craft like canoes or simple rafts – it could make a simple ride into real work!. Even with the current a paddler could be weary from working their way through these all day – like the larger fields of this type of current that I came across today (lm 396,5 mm area) miles of these pockets – they could conceivably hold a canoe or raft in place for hours - (the birds pictured used the features to their advantage).…. I’m really feeling the heat and finding the mosquitoes (or they finding me) more and more. The heat lingers into the evening and night. During the day the shade of the roof of my ‘raft’ Freebird really helps making it all more bearable – but still wet with sweat and nothing left to remove.
The Mosquito’s, well in the mornings they are at my mosquito net begging to get in and the further south I get they seem to be waiting at the shore, no matter the time of day. I was told to try spraying Lysol (the mouthwash) about the cabin before bed and that would keep them away, not sure if it really works because I can still hear them buzzing around – but the place smells a little better. And then I noticed this ubiquitous vessel – which I was later informed was the Delta Mariner and that it could hold up to three Delta Rockets. Update; January 2012, The Delta Mariner strikes a bridge on the Tennessee River, taking out two spans at Kentucky Lake.
And then more towboats – its also been neat to see a few of the Tow Pilots step out of their cabin door and give a ‘thumbs-up’ as we pass, makes me feel a little better – either like I did something right in maneuvering my “mo-ped on their interstate” or they are simply happy to have me out of their way – I find later that we had crossed paths with several of the same tows over the distance, another possibility – anyway every one of the Tow Pilots (except two“locals”) have been very professional with their regard to our craft, outstanding.
I almost waited too late to find a spot for the night and ended up sleeping alongside the channel, the boat rocks when the tows pass during the night – but it was fine, especially early in the am when the partial moon came over the horizon with a large bright star to its right. It was the first time that I noticed a more level landscape with nothing above the trees but sky, flat Mississippi – I was tied to Louisiana. Sleep has been best when tied to the ‘off’ side of an island, but funny thing – I haven’t had any real problems sleeping, even though the wee hours of this particular night had some rocking going on, but then ……. in the last hours before/at dawn I awoke to an abyss of absolute peace, dead still. Its not the first time this has happened, but to be asleep and become enveloped into such a setting is sometimes enough to wake me – so I walked the deck, mumbled something about being beat around earlier, admired the moon – then ambled back to the ‘rack.’
Earlier that evening a fisherman (Harvey) and his sons had dropped by as they checked their lines – for catfish. Good conversation and in it all I was curious how they cleaned catfish and so we did it right there, he left me with a couple of fillets and I just finished cooking them – the best ‘boat-meal’ yet. As I talk to the folks along the river I understand more and more how it affects their lives, many make a living from the river (like towboat personnel, 24 days on, 14 off) and folks like Harvey whom is not working and this is his grocery-store, his families food – he provides. He loved the boat too, said he wished he had one just like it to put over by the island so he could just go sit on it anytime he wanted…. I took it as a complement.
Another nice day, another ‘scorcher,’ its still ten degrees cooler in the boat – plus I can/will jump in if my personal heat alarm goes off. A number of times through the day with the boat moving , I walk to the front, kneel over and dip a bucket of water from the river – in pouring it over me I discover the best thing about the Mississippi’s water, it’s temperature.
Since Greenville the river has widened, with this it seems to have slowed – maybe it’s the heat too, but idle speed seems more like idle speed – plus “Wilson” and “Patrick” stay pretty much to themselves – I guess I’m saying the day is feeling a bit longer – but still plenty around to hold my interest.
I meandered with the river to Vicksburg – thinking of all the Civil War History. Vicksburg is located on one of the few bluffs of the area – overlooking the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers – 150 years ago this made for a very strategic strong-hold for the South. I had all the desires of taking a walk and exploring the Civil War history, museums and cemeteries – lots of history there, lots of folks died when Grant went through, I don’t think 150 years can really heal that completely. - but again what I continue to find is a lack of accommodations for recreational boaters, I mean none….. just boat ramps, no docks. So I didn’t visit as I really wanted.
As I asked for fuel at one of these landings, a fellow there (Jim Jones) told me of a place a number of blocks away, he even drove me there in his pickup to top off my fuel – thanks Jim. So then I continued down the river in the current at 5 miles an hour.
I noticed a small congregation of folks on a beach and I stopped to chat, Kelloge Sandbar – it always makes me feel better seeing folks swimming in the river. More good conversation and they even invited me to stay for burgers and deer sausage, but being weary from the heat and not sleeping well by the channel the previous night – I continued my trek.
I found a place early, that’s where I am now after eating the catfish – my evening. (The little motor fluttered today too, it certainly hasn’t been run hard – cross your fingers that she holds out). I also figured out that in a poor anchorage – to loop the rope around the anchor-point and tie-off back at the boat, this way I could just unhook at the boat (without getting out) – I used that technique on several occasions (its still always good to have two points of contact). I slept well this night, even with the family of foxes ‘whining’ all night in the woods alongside.
Day 25 Likely Kaput in Natchez
Miles Covered: 33 river miles, lm 391 to lm 364
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Goldbottom to Vidalia, LA (Natchez, Ms)
All rested up it began as a wonderful day, in my glee I had turned the radio up loud and was actively enjoying some music as I idled along. Somewhere I noticed the smoke, excessive smoke from the rear. The motor fluttered and I noticed that the oiler was dry – not good. Normally I would notice any change of sound with the engine, but with the radio on, well, I was angry with myself (and ready to throw the radio out) thinking I had ruined the motor by not hearing any change in ‘pitch.’
The motor stalled repeatedly leaving no room for error and there were several barges coming and going. Stopping frequently I changed and cleaned the spark-plugs until it ran no more – yes, I was a little concerned, but most of all – I understood that with no motor, the trip was over. I was able to post the following while floating.
Well I might be kaput in Natchez – still floating that way – about eight river miles from there now. After 1400 miles and 24 days the little motor may have swallowed a catfish, its barely puttering – not good. Just running it to stay out of tows way and to get to the ramp in Natchez to evaluate, just hope it keeps cranking – but for this Sunday morning, I am in deed ‘Rafting the Mississippi.’
Made it to Natchez – without power – actually Vidalia, Louisiana (West side of the river) – all things point to this as an end to the trip – I could spend a thousand bucks on the boat – but would still only have a ten cent boat when I got to New Orleans, so logic says….. sleep on it.
The disappointment is bittersweet as I feel the accomplishment of 1400 out of 1700 miles – yet I feel the deepest disappointment for Patrick (crew). I have felt his accomplishments and perseverance first hand in the challenges that he took on, much more demanding than my simple ‘cruise,’ he definitely earned the ‘river-rat’ status. We just may see “Wilson” (crew) off tonight with hopes that Wilson may find that true ending for us. Thanks to Officer Lipscomb (of the Vidalia, LA PD whom saw me as he passed over the bridge – I was stranded about 100 yards out from the landing (not another for miles) after throwing the anchor at last resort, but it was all susceptible to change from a tows wake – the officer called a nearby tow and they (The Betty Jenkins), promptly put the bird and I ashore, thanks.
Vidalia, LA has a beautiful new riverfront park/walk with a Comfort Suite Hotel (just a couple hundred yards from the bridge) – I didn’t mean to see it this way – but am happy to find firsthand the effort that some communities are putting along the river. Anyone visiting the area or Natchez should check it out, it is really nice. 7 pm – Latest, its not quite over yet – after some persistence from David Campbell (local) I will check a couple marine places in the morning for an engine – several local folks have been kind enough to provide some leads…… we’ll go from there.
Right now I’m in a hotel room with a view of the river, A/C , big pizza, wash-machine, and a shower…. the trolls pitched in to get me out from under their bridge.
Day 26 With help, We’re back !
Stuck under a bridge tormenting the trolls, it just wasn’t suppose to end this way – and its not going to, it was tough yesterday thinking it might end – even though I could find and live with the positives in it all, I really wasn’t ready to get off the river.
Sometimes it takes a little extra ‘push,’ I had no idea where that would come from – and with that David Campbell of Natchez, his mechanic friend Kent (Miss-Lou Marine in Vadalia), bro-in-law Richard/Janis and all others I know were pulling for us – helped us to understand what the little motor was telling us…………….any automobile doing the same thing would be the end – but when I saw the compression readings of 120 – it was a great feeling, it wasn’t what I thought. Evidently the oiler was dumping all the oil through the motor, so much that it wouldn’t/couldn’t run – fix; bypass and disconnect the oiler, mix the fuel directly, and pick up a couple new sets of plugs (several sets).
The ‘extra-push’ really summed up everything I had learned about the folks along the Mississippi River, someone always seemed interested and willing to ‘step-up’ and lend that extra-push, with a smile. Thank you.
It was also an opportunity to take it out of the water and check for damage from that wing-dam scrape below Cairo at the end of Day 14 (which had been bothering me), all was fine – I was relieved.
Thanks Richard for driving all that way in the heat, and David Campbell for your persistence and patience with a stranger – this became from about the worst to the finest moment (and feeling) of the trip.
Ok, so with this post – Patrick (crew), myself, and “Wilson” are headed back down the river towards Baton Rouge, Donaldsonville, and New Orleans – maybe further.
We have clean clothes and a renewed feeling of appreciation with folks along the river, thats saying it mildly
Day 26, 27 Vadalia, LA – to Profit Island
Miles Covered: 117 river miles, 2 days; Lmr 364 to lmr 334, to 247
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Vidalia, La to Baton Rouge (Profit Island)
Maybe this is just where I’m suppose to be this summer, besides I didn’t sleep that well in the big hotel bed anyway – I could relate to Carl’s story of tossing and turning after leaving the ‘bird’ in Memphis. Yesterday, after feeling the trek could end under a bridge across from Natchez, I find myself back on the river! – the day has such a ‘really good’ feeling to it. Sure, I could have “pulled out” and found nothing but positives with completing 14 out of 17 hundred miles on the Mississippi River, I’ve experienced and learned alot – but to go further could only add to the value within.
On this date the breeze felt a little cooler (than 96), the mist was a little sweeter, and the muddy Mississippi could just as well been spring water – it was really ‘the best’ feeling of the whole trip to be ‘back out on the Mississippi’s mighty current; the only place that I really wanted to be this summer.
I suppose its possible too that emotions are tied to many of the things that happen to us, as I’ve seen how many lives are touched by this river – so why should I not expect emotions to be part of my journey also.
One (of many) of my contemplations on this date were of the emotions that I had experienced in the past couple of days – now ‘river’ emotions. Could a member of crew (Patrick) have contributed to those emotions? Even from his ‘cool-whip’ bucket at the helm he touched us by sharing his ‘river emotions’ in a very real way – for me it just made sense. Patrick’s two attempts in reaching New Orleans were wholehearted efforts of a lifetime fueled with his competitive desire of completion – what he twice carried home with him from challenging this river had to have been the remarkable feeling of drifting in natural harmony and peace upon this river – to the hollow feeling of “pulling out” and not fully completing ‘his mission’.
The highs, and any disappointments of such a quest one could carry for a lifetime – yes, I think Patrick reached out of his Cool-Whip bucket and reminded us that he was indeed present…As for me, I really wasn’t ready to cut the trip short because it all remains so compelling – everything about being on this river and riding her mighty current.
The number of tows in this area has increased significantly – it was so busy at one time that I tied to a buoy just to ‘unplug’ from the action and catch-up with some writing. There were three tows in sight at that time but when I lifted my head up after 40 minutes there were seven working tows in sight – so once again I joined the flow and armada and moved on.
Cess-pocket’ because I have no better name for it – just a decadent swirl of trash and debris moving along in the water – not many and – for the entire trip I’ve only noticed one dead deer carcass, and that was just up the river from here. There are some lilies or hyacinths floating on the river too, a southern thing – it does help to color the muddy and tan Mississippi water, and whatevers in it.
The towboats strike me as a positive while adding to the ‘color, another positive because with their enormous propellers they agitate the water (much like a waste-water treatment plant) – which is probably a good thing – I suppose in the end it all ends up in the Mississippi Delta area as nutrients.
The late start only made for a thirty mile day, another day of just ‘feeling the motor out’ while savoring the wonderful perspective of living with the river more than ever. – Again on this day I spent most all the time on my feet rather than sitting. This day on the river was really appreciated, such a good feel to it all.
For the night I spotted a shady place in a bend of the river where the sweltering afternoon sun couldn’t reach, somewhere between the 334 – 5 mile marker (dead-mans bend) – so I tied down along a tree/beach area. another unusual thing about this date was that I hadn’t actively sought mile-markers or day-marks, for some reason it simply didn’t matter as much, heck, I didn’t really care – I just kept the ‘bird in the channel and enjoyed the shoreline, river, stuff in the water, and being among the towboats.
Walking the shore was a fine ending to this day and the wonderful feeling of joy of being ‘back on the river – absolutely a ‘winners feeling’……….. Day 26, thirty miles that felt really, really good.
Day 27 lmr 336-247 – Onward to Baton Rouge
More hot, flat, wide, and slow.
Somewhere below Greenville, MS the lower river has become all of these things, few homes or lifeforms along the level shoreline, less and less to look at. I follow a tow most of the day, he also running idle speed or less, our rates were pretty much matched. I shut the motor down and drifted for a while – its tempting to nap with the heat but I don’t – I just crank up and orient the boat to downstream (in a drift it slowly spins toward the shore) while continuing Southward. Again, a long dull stretch (hence the hot, flat, wide, and slow), about the only thing to break it up was the Old River Control Structure and another CG Buoy tender outta nowhere, the Greenbriar 75501.
The Old River Structure from what I recall reading was build in the early 1900′s as a method to prevent the main channel of the river from changing its course and eventually bypassing New Orleans, the Mississippi River ‘meanders’ – just part of its character – we humans try to fix things, part of our character too.
At this rate New Orleans could come by Saturday – fifty miles a day should be easy – this leaves a little time for any stop along the way. Baton Rouge and Donaldsonville are the only points with a chance of fuel meaning a walk with the hand-truck, on the plus side it could mean a good meal also – not that I’m starving. It is true that ice is a luxury, but I have Turkey, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, rice with different additives for flavor, fish when its available and an assortment of beverages – with or without ice – but mostly without (Minnesota “Shoo-tahs”). There’s so many other things to observe, see, and think about that ‘food’ is not something that I dwell on – so I suppose I am eating less.
I’m about ten miles out of Baton Rouge and the laziness of earlier is now being replaced by ongoing bridge construction and some industry – I expect a lot more as I enter Baton Rouge tomorrow. I haven’t seen any ‘gators yet – but I’m thinking this is ‘Tiger country’ (LSU).
After making about 75 miles today, I search for an island to ‘fall-behind’ before the hustle of industrial Baton Rouge – I’m ready to find some shade, get comfortable, and put my “feet up” (its been a hard lazy day) …. after checking out one island unsuccessfully I locate another (Profit Island) and duck in behind her – about the 247mm near a CG buoy stockpile.
Taking advantage of an overhead tree I tie two separate ropes and douse myself with several containers of water to cool off, then settle back into the shade……I slept really well despite the heat, just ‘bobbing’ atop the river’s current.
Day 28, Baton Rouge to Donaldsonville, Louisiana
Miles Covered: lm 247 to lm 168 (79 river miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Baton Rouge to Donaldsonville, LA.
After a good nights sleep atop the Mississippi’s current (tied to an overhead tree limb) its plenty warm for a morning ‘bird-bath.’ The plant that has been hanging aboard looks weary from the trip so as I untie, I leave it hanging on the limb – maybe the ‘coasties’ will find it when they come for the buoys. I ease back out into the main part of the river and began my day south towards Baton Rouge.
The waterway is busy and industrial like I remember the south of St. Louis, except here the work is more ‘repair’ than of shuffling the barges into load groups. It is also daytime and everything is under more controlled circumstances (we were ‘ flushed’ through St Louis) – soon I notice ocean going vessels, SHIPS! on the Mississippi…. neat.
Baton Rouge is full of barges and dry-docks along the river – all busy, sparks flying, folks working – managing, maintaining and supporting the movement of commercial commodities utilizing these floating steel containers – I suppose with time they rust, wear, and scrape against each other or the bottom. From what I’ve witnessed its nothing for a tow to gently lay the lead barge on the shore in order to maintain a stationary position – their motors continually and lightly push against the current just enough to nullify the rivers flow, a balancing act.
When sleeping in the Savanna territory a tow held its position on the far bank during the night as another passed (1st Storm World night), I suppose that’s what they do as two near a bend in the river at the same time. Under those circumstances and with time that ‘lead’ barge could suffer….I’ve also noticed the empty barges placed to the front of their barge-group – probably for several reasons, this possibly one. As I drifted through and along the city side of Baton Rouge, the Casino’s are again very prevalent, they also have the USS Kidd docked there and on display.
Again lots of activity on the Baton Rouge riverfront, another ‘hub’ of river traffic – so busy with commercial barges and tows that I couldn’t easily find a place to tie-off and leave the little boat to take a walk – maybe another trip (and dockage) could be spent taking time with the cities along the river. I keep reminding myself that I came for the ‘river’ experience and not necessarily to walk the big city streets. The weather has also been in my favor, so I have taken advantage and continued to move along – no complaints here, floating the Mississippi provides an awesome perspective.
After passing the I-10 bridge I noticed one little clearing with a gentleman fishing – although I could make Donaldsonville without fuel – its always nice to be ‘topped-off” – so I pulled in and chatted. “Sport’ directed me to a gas station “1/2 mile away,” and then insisted on giving me a ride – his fishing could wait.
I was glad that he did because it had to have been three miles away, and I needed 7 gallons of fresh water too – so fuel, water, ice, and I got rid of my bag of trash – good stop. I even put gas in ‘sports’ truck too for the gesture. Fuel is always available, its just not available ON the water – a person only needs a handtruck or wagon (plus some “want-to”) and take a walk. For the most part we never had a concern about the things on the boat, ‘river-people’ will respect your stuff as you respect theirs.
Below Baton Rouge there was a large dredging operation going on, the fluctuating volume of the lower Mississippi is continually ‘shoaling’ (the current moving sand, etc. into the channel) so to maintain the minimum 12′ depth (it was much deeper further south) the Corps of Engineers and their contractors are always dredging somewhere.
South of Baton Rouge ‘ Petroleum companies became more apparent also, big ships, their facilities, and some scrap yards.
When I checked the weather this morning they were calling for 100 degrees in the area, I believe it – yet on the water its cooler (to speak). The shade of the ‘bird’ helps too, its a great vantage point to notice the companies as I travel further South towards Donaldsonville, with that more towboats, ferry crossing’s and wakes. The wakes from radiating (or reverberating) waves afterward continue to be the most entertaining – but hey, at 100 degrees, go ahead throw some water on my deck – I love it!
Today has been one of the easier paced ones, twice I’ve simply floated without power. Folks have asked if I just floated with the current, and yes, but the boat will not maintain a bow forward direction – it slowly revolves and works toward the shoreline. Maintaining idle-power corrects this, and thats how the trip has been, low power in the current.
I should make Donaldsonville easily and visit with a Cousin, ‘land-food’ has a nice ‘ring’ to it. Later while enjoying my casual pace I notice a ‘speck’ way out in front that at first appears to be a life vest (similar color), then I thought it was someone swimming – as I set my course towards it (looking to take something home like the cat) it turned out to be two guys on their 47th day kayaking the river, more ‘river-rats!’
I pulled alongside and they held onto the side of the ‘bird’ and we talked – it was funny too because while noticing them and a tow in front of them I didn’t realize that there was a ‘ship’ bearing down on us from behind until they mentioned it – so I went a little faster and they held a little tighter out of the way….. After the ship passed Charles and Tom came aboard to stretch – just before another Storm World hit. So we rode the storm out tied to a barge piling – nice to converse with someone else besides Wilson (crew), and funny to run into a couple of folks from my home town…. Ft Myers, Fla.
Thinking there was ‘land-food’ ahead we pushed on, but were soon disappointed – must have passed Donaldsonville somewhere during the storm – so we were left camping under a bridge with those ‘doggone people’ driving overhead throughout the night.
It was warm and there were mosquito’s…… and just across the levee was a large petro-refinery lighting up the nighttime sky – just “part of” the Lower Mississippi.
Day 29, Donaldsonville to 143.4 Marquez
Miles Covered: Short day – 25 ez river miles, lm 168 to lm 143.4
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Donaldsonville, LA to 143.4 marker
Another night spent under a bridge, it wasn’t meant to be this way but after the storm and running late into the evening darkness – “it is what it is”…. this time I had company. Ironically I had met two Ft Myers area paddlers (my home town) on the river the previous day – tonight we camped as cars crossed the towering bridge above us – all night, thump, thump, “doggone people!” A simple evening in a location that it was too far to walk for food, so we made do. It was some concoction from the Coleman stove – it was warm, included rice, flavored with something else and resembled – even tasted like land food. It was good to sit and share conversation about the river, even if the setting wasn’t perfect – but wait, on second thought – the setting was perfect.
The next morning Charles and Tom went through their morning river-ritual (everyone seems to find a ‘morning routine’), after 47 days on the river it is an important moment to reflect, all while considering yesterday and the new day ahead on this awesome river. As they paddled off I remained for a visit with my cousin Lorelei Walker – she lives a few miles away and came over to see the ‘Yacht,’ funny I’m not sure what she was expecting but I think she liked ‘it.’ We then we went to Donaldsonville for lunch, she certainly knew the right place to eat – and the food was out of this world – no, I’m not saying that to be nice or because I was hungry – it was all so fresh (I had oysters) and she had the crabcakes – Bayou cooking, fresh food and lots of it -delicious Cafe La Fourche. Those folks take pride in their food – it was a neat little town with plenty of quality places to eat. Had we stopped along the river a few miles back at the clear-cut area, we likely could have walked to town.
I think it was 2 in the afternoon when I made it back to the river and by that time I was ready – I can’t think of once through the whole journey that I have felt fatigue, weariness, or boredom – being on the river is all so interesting that I just want to remain on the river, more than anywhere else. It is ‘captivating’ to say the least.
The river touches so many lives – the smaller ‘local’ tows (lots of tows) have crews of four, the larger must have at least eight or ten living onboard, and then there are the tugs and support boats… I tied off to a barge to for a short break (and to peer in to the scrap metal) and the work tow Miss Kaylynn with her support boat ‘Eagle-Eye II’ came over and tied alongside, we chatted and the Pilot showed me around his vessel – they were all friendly and interesting – the Kaylynn had just received two new Mitsubishi engines and the pilot was happy and kind enough to show them off. all the while the activity along the river continued nonstop – its an elongated city on water.
And now that the ships share the water I have to keep a better eye out back – they are quiet and fast going downstream and will slip right up on you. The wakes have not been an issue so far, as far as traveling the lower Mississippi – if you are careful and diligent – all will be fine.
Later that afternoon (and a little phone contact) I again met up with Charles and Tom – the kayakers, on one/if not the last beach available before New Orleans – behind the 143.4 marker, left bank headed down. From this point on the river was highly active and commercial, few if any beaches. We took a walk and found a burger place in a ‘quick-stop’ store a mile or so south, we were hoping for a restaurant but didn’t wish to walk any further. It was a simple HOT meal before their last night and campfire on the river – burger and fries. Mmmmeat..
It was an entertaining evening with plenty of ice-cold beverage, conversation, and laughs about the river, good company…… in conversation our experiences were very similar if not one the same…. we each, even if but for a short while put ourselves in position of being ‘one with this river,’ – and we each earned the ‘River-Rat’ merit-badge – the big one for the Mississippi River – living within her shores for more than 1800 miles.
Day 30, New Orleans! Miles Covered: 41 miles, lm 143.4 to lm 102.8
Miles Covered: 41 miles, lm 143.4 to lm 102.8
Closest towns or landmark (chart): 143.4 marker to New Orleans
For most of the morning the kayaker’s (Charles, Tom) and I paralleled each other as we continued down the river and closer to New Orleans.
This being their last day (day 48) on the river, I was happy for them – yet at the same time I felt sadness knowing my trip too was growing shorter, I really didn’t want to leave this river so I felt a sadness for them too. From the beach where we camped at the 143 mm Southward the activity on the river became even busier, all business. The activity included ships, stevedores loading and unloading, cranes operating, barges being readied, welding and repair, and the wakes to go along with this activity – we had accepted anything that came at us on this river as “just a part of it,” this too.
It was interesting to see a crane floated to the side of a vessel to unload it with a simple clamp-stylebucket, remembering those from the 60′s that method seemed archaic, maybe loads could be transferred in a more efficient vacuum or conveyor-type manner – but who am I to say, these folks live with this river and do this work every day. Again, this section of the river was very active, as New Orleans neared there were no more beaches… just completely industrial with barge and local tow activity cris-crossing the waterway.
This was the last day of 48 on the river for Tom and Charles, they had folks scheduled to meet them somewhere ahead. As I moved on and happened to spot their party on the shore so I pulled in to watch the landing. There was a warm but empty feeling as they gathered and hugged, warm for their accomplishment – empty, for there would be no such reception for my little trip. In comparison my trip was crude but luxurious.
It was great to see the reception and it was an awesome accomplishment for the young men – one that should pay dividends throughout their lives. no doubt they will continue to find currents to challenge.
For me there were still a number of miles to go, so back onto the river and through the rivers industry where more cranes, even Naval ships – (such as the new #21 USS New York (left) made with steel from the World Trade Centers) were. There were rows and rows of loaded/unloaded or staged barges lining the shorelines, so many barges. Still, there were more dry-docks and ongoing activity to ogle along the Mississippi.
At the 122 mm just under the 310 bridge a ‘Shell’ gas station was clearly in view, so with one empty tank I walked over. The walk wasn’t difficult, a small beach and a short walk through a field. There were a couple of closed restaurants nearby so I filled the small tank and moved on down the river.
A thunderstorm appeared quickly so I tied up to a tree along the shoreline about the 118mm to kill some time and let it pass – noticing a small store and deli just over the levee, as the storm passed I walked over for some land-food. It was an old gas sgtation now turned into a Mom and Pop’s southern cafe-deli, not knowing exactly what to order I picked up a hot shrimp-sub to-go, not bad (but probably the last).
I’m ‘lingering’ now because I wanted to stand-by on the Mississippi in order that Jackie could take Patrick (crew) off the boat and river herself. So as evening fell I located a closed off pier (old barge) on the left side of the river at Audubon Park (102.8mm) not too far up river from Canal St and I tied off for the night – with so few places available, this ended up being a great choice. The dock was on the edge of the channel, but by tieing off on the inside of the dock (barge) it took alot of the shock out of the wakes as tows or ships passed.
It was also possible to scale a small fence and use the park restroom or pavilion. I did attempt to locate an electrical receptical (to charge my batteries) – no luck. Around nine or ten I heard a park ranger clearing the park of guests for the night – I ‘layed-low’ and he either missed me or didn’t care, no matter – I wasn’t going anywhere.
As I settled for the evening I enjoyed a ‘bird-bath’ and simple supper, it was a warm night (hot) and sleeping out on the veranda on the cot was the best choice here. Looking into the stars I considered my immediate plans and longed to touch the river behind once again.
Tentative plans were that once Patrick (crew) had properly completed the Mississippi River, I would take the inter coastal waterway (ICW) over to the Lake and local Yacht Club – then after a shower take a cab to Bourbon St. for a night of entertainment and celebration.
I’ve made New Orleans in half of the time that I expected, yes I am surprised. I wonder if I have missed anything, would I do it differently and what in the world have I accomplished? I suppose being one that has been called opportunistic, for this trip I have quite literally gone with ‘the flow,’ the flow of the Mississippi river. I prepared for the worst and then ‘played what I was dealt,’ fortunately my hand for this trip seems to have been loaded with high cards. The weather, insects, tow wakes, and fuel were issues that I was prepared for – yet were in no way factors or issues that were powerfully negative. Like most of the information we receive, it is all subject to be slanted by personal opinion – understand that part of it as you prepare.
The sights along the way were/are all new and interesting, the people that live along her banks are kind and generous. The further South you get the Mississippi River opens up and shows more the character of an interstate commerce system, it is a natural conduit of goods and resources.
The Pilots of the towboats showed a high degree of regard and tolerance for others on the river, they handled their vessels in a highly professional manner. The most dangerous thing I noticed was the ‘wash’ immediately behind a tow, and the pilots controlled this ‘wash’ around other vessels while maintaining direction of their own – they understood clearly what they were doing. If a boater gets into a tows ‘wash,’ its the boaters own lack of understanding or just plain stupidity. This ‘wash’ area looks like a neat ride (and it probably is) but understand the debris (logs and stuff, projectiles) being thrown about within this powerful current of ‘whitewater.’
The river itself is an amazing volume of moving water – it is less than pristine, but that is something that ‘we the people’ have caused. I’m sure it is a better place than it was thirty years ago, on our trip we did notice methods and efforts being used to raise the quality of civic and industrial discharge into the river.
Personally its all been a really awesome adventure, I loved living aboard – after a couple of days the sleeping was fantastic! The experience held the simple challenges of living without daily luxuries, it’s certainly not impossible nor difficult.
Absolutely the best compliment that I received on ‘Freebird,’ our boat (and this was from experienced river-men), was that it was the most practical vessel they had seen… that just may have been be the perfect compliment to the whole trip – one where all expectation was limited to simple practicality. and it worked!
Day 31 New Orleans to ‘Bayou-self!’
After thirty days of living on and along the Mississippi River, ‘Free-bird’ made it to the Canal St waterfront in New Orleans…. It was an interesting waterfront, old and deteriorated commercial wharves mixed among the well traversed and public Canal Street walk, which was busy with pedestrians catching a glimpse of the historic Mississippi.
I soon met up with Patrick’s (crew) daughter, and she escorted her father’s remains from the raft. After a few words she congratulated him for completing his dream and allowed him to continue unencumbered towards the Gulf. I feel great about his families efforts, all so nice. With a passing thunderstorm lingering, and instead of heading for Bourbon Street (“doggone people”) – ‘Wilson’ and I made a decision to continue on – so with the wind and sun at my back, we putted on – Why Not? Thats what the whole trip has been about , so we did.
So far it has been a great decision – waited alongside the Altro Donnafor passage through the industrial canal. My intent was of heading to the Yacht Club for the night – but instead stopped at a marina (Seabrook Harbor) just before Lake Pontchartrain. After a little discussion with the dock-master I determined that the Inter-Coastal Waterway (ICW) was more for me of what this trip has been about – time on the water, another good decision. The weather was perfect for a cruise on these ‘new waters.’
It was a great change of pace from the Mississippi, again a breeze at my back and I knew that somewhere I would stop for the evening, but this time would be ‘different’ water and a new setting. ’ve found a good place to anchor (in the mud), the horizon is dark blue on the bottom, green in the middle, and light blue with clouds on the top… all is very fine. It was a complete day and a very interesting perspective of the activities along the local waterway.
Day 32, ICW to Biloxi, Ms
What a neat change to the past 30 days on the Mississippi River – yesterday I entered the Industrial Canal from the Mississippi and after fueling at the Seabrook Marina near Lake Pontchartrain, began my journey eastward towards Biloxi along the Intraoastal Waterway (ICW)
I knew that it was kinda ‘chancy’ to skirt the Gulf with this particular vessel, but others had done it and so would I, plus – by this time me and the ‘bird’ had a lot of faith and comfort with each other. This part of the ICW is really straight in comparison to what its been like on the Mississippi, you could actually see distant horizon. The marshes to my right on the Gulf side had the low level sawgrass feel – no waves to speak of, mostly ripple.
Then early last evening I found a place where the breeze was pushing its way inland and tossed the anchor into the shallows. The little motor was off as I walked to the bow and allowed the momentum of the boat to ‘stick’ the anchor - then I stood soaking-in the scenery as the ‘bird’ drifted back and the line became taunt. It only took a simple tug or two on the rope to know that it was sound, for me there was a noticeable lack of concern, unlike tying down in the current of the Mississippi where two ‘points-of-contact’ (ropes) had been my ‘rule,’ here this single anchor ‘held-fast.’
I checked out a nearby crab trap which the boat had drifted into, and it held a several crabs – sure, I considered steaming those ‘suckers’ – (they would have been delicious) but no, its kinda the unwritten code not to mess with anyone’s traps – so just having my curiosity settled was enough (they were darker than ‘bluecrabs,’ but the same size) – I gently lowered the trap back into the water.
Somewhere in this place I found its perfection, made a simple meal – then found solace, lots of it. Awesome coastal setting. As evening closed-in and with new ice in the cooler, I concocted a ‘boatbeverage’ and then spent the next few hours of the evening sitting on the roof watching what I think was an otter or beaver family nearby (it didn’t really matter).
The comfort of the evening made me feel all the better about foregoing Bourbon Street and all those “doggone-people,’ sure there was something to be missed there – but this seemed so much less encumbering right here on top of ‘the bird.’ The coastal setting was flat, calm, and with the steady breeze keeping any bugs at-bay, it was complete comfort – this was as close to a celebration of the whole trip as I would get.
I had nothing else to do and was in the perfect place to do exactly that. again on this night I pulled the cot out and slept on the front of the boat with the stars as my ceiling…………… it was all very good. I thought about my options for the next day; with only a small chart for the ICW and a promotional poster for the shoreline – the questions that I had asked back at the marina were going to be my guide - the plan was to follow the occasional tow out and go East – well, that was my only option.
Sleeping on the boat is pretty much like camping – its seems natural to get up as daylight strikes. For the entire trip six am has pretty much been the ‘norm’ for being up, moving by seven-thirty. This morning I fixed a simple breakfast, brushed my teeth, put a new set of spark plugs in the motor (in preparation for the Gulf) and then repeated my ’bird-bath’ routine. I looked forward to jumping into the water of the Gulf, but not here – maybe gators (signs indicate that this is a federally protected wildlife area).
And yes they even have tows that pass through the ICW, just fewer barges attached – I was a little surprised – but as effective as they can be in volume it seems a good idea – they must move loads from New Orleans to Mobile, Al. I guessed. The tows do not go fast at all – not ‘on a mission’ like some seem to be on the Mississippi against the current, no noticeable current here. My speed is just a little slower than theirs – so I waited for one to come along and then fell distantly behind.
It turned out to be a peaceful pace, there were ‘crabbers’ and fishermen jockeying for position along the marshes and out towards the shoreline, at this gentle pace I could easily ‘walk’ casually about the boat, so I did.. Soon I left the protection of the marshes and went into the Gulf, the waves picked up a some, but not bad – seems like the wind has been in my favor this whole trip and it was today also – maybe thats why we are three weeks ahead of schedule! I kept the tow and the distant ICW markers in sight and held my course – without all the things along the river I suppose I began watching my compass more – pretty handy in maintaining a course (especially when I realized that I could barely see the shoreline).
Keeping the tow in sight I also spotted another far behind (I’ve been watching more behind since the big ships of Baton Rouge), and I noticed the Gulf waves with a little more rhythm – the wind and Gulf swells rolled to the North with my coarse to the northeast – nice flow, all still very interesting. I had plenty of fuel and the markers in sight…. I wasn’t concerned.
A little later I began seeing shrimpers, lots of them. All still very interesting, but the tow that was once behind me was slowly creeping its way up. I had some concern about having to change my fuel to another tank if he happened to be alongside me (I have to jump outside to do that) – so I pulled kinda outside of the ‘channel’ and quickly switched it over…. I think somewhere in here I began wondering what the Tow-pilot was thinking when he saw me – then thinking probably that I was the only pontoon ‘out here’ on the Gulf! – that’s when I also didn’t notice land. I could barely make out the square condo’s in the distant haze.
With no other pontoons or pleasure craft in sight – I began thinking resetting a new course and angle towards land.
So after the tow made it passed and my fuel tank was set – I set my compass and course more to the shoreline in the distance – no big deal, plenty of fuel and time. Generally I was fine and all was well, so I continued on a more gradual inland course away from the markers while keeping an eye out for changing color and waves to indicate a sandbar – on this date all worked out well.
That gradual course took me several hours to get 2 miles off-shore (a much safer place), which enabled me to see further down the coast line. To reach Biloxi, MS it took 7 hours! It all remained very neat as the porpoises continually led the charge – seemed like fifty of them out there – just difficult to photograph – they were much closer that this shows.
During the morning I had considered numerous times about continuing the journey further down the coast, maybe even to Florida, but after being hammered swell after swell along the shoreline (where the shallowness increased wave-action), I decided that the little pontoon was not the right vessel for these conditions (and these conditions were not terrible). If an ‘anti-Gulf’ were to arise from the swells (and I know there is one), it would not be good for the ‘bird -’ besides I had water coming onboard in places that it shouldn’t – it was a good choice to head in and call it an adventure.
I made it to The Hard-Rock at Biloxi with the feeling of completion, 1800 miles on an improvised ‘craft’ riding the Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans and then the ICW on to Biloxi. A complete month 24/7 living upon a natural wonder capped off with two days amidst the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast – scenic entertainment that I shall never forget…. the word fit’s – the ride was indeed ‘awesome.’
Adam Flinchum met me at Biloxi with my truck and trailer, we ate lots of ‘land-food’ at Hard-Rock, and then I drove all night to make it the 600 miles home - once home, I stood in the shower until the hot water ran out……..it felt great!