Well this was great too with Doobie Brothers ‘o’ Black Water music – but they took that soundtrack away…. doesen’t change a thing about how great it all was….. we just played what we were dealt…. like now.
‘doggone people !
Well kinda, sorta – The Spirit of 'Freebird' ( BacShortly.com )
19 Aug 2009 4 Comments
Well this was great too with Doobie Brothers ‘o’ Black Water music – but they took that soundtrack away…. doesen’t change a thing about how great it all was….. we just played what we were dealt…. like now.
‘doggone people !
30 Jun 2009 6 Comments
After 35 years the desire to ride the Mississippi river’s current became reality. I spent several winter months planning and improvising a craft from an old pontoon; dragging it to Minnesota on a trailer – and then living on the river for more than a month.
For a week in May and the full month of June I lived aboard the ‘raft-like’ craft (below) ‘Freebird.’ It was a simplistic voyage covering 1700 + miles of The Mississippi from Minnesota to New Orleans; my trusty kayak ‘traveller‘ in tow.
The links to our daily log are the right column of this page –
The scenery and activity surrounding this mighty river was an interesting change from life’s normal schedule back in the Carolina’s. I always wanted to live on a boat. The 32 days of this simplistic voyage was pretty much spent walking the deck, observing, while standing rather than sitting. A time to ‘absorb’ the features as we drifted along. I’d like to think of the trek as a ‘throw-back’ of early American adventure; Huck Finn style. For me it helped to readup on river related subjects before the trip, Mark Twain was a big one..
Beyond the perpetual motion of the water beneath us, ‘towboats’ were the most predominant feature and # 1) topic of conversation along the river. Other conversation points with the folks that we met along the river seemed to be unanimous at # 2) their personal desire to ‘go down the river,’ and # 3) catching and eating catfish from the river.
We took alot of pictures and learned firsthand the remarkable nature of those folks along those banks; with that I can attest to the fact that the Mississippi is indeed an “interstate of waterways. This river is the ‘backbone’ within our country in moving bulk commerce on a massive scale – and in a safe manner.
From my tiny vantage point an unexpected bonus was in surpassing New Orleans and weathering a couple of days along the Gulf’s Intercoastal Waterway. I loved it, New Orleans to Biloxi, was an added horizon. I did not want to get off of the water nor the trip to end – but in the end the little ‘raft’ (Freebird) was no match for the ‘rolling swells’ of the Gulf.
Of course with any adventure such as this it takes the support/words and effort of friends, family, and folks along the way to make it ‘full-circle,’ thank you – you folks know who you are.
In working back through the notes I will elaborate a little more where I couldn’t while on the river. On the lower Mississippi cell towers were few and reception was spotty – plus there was just too much for me to take-in. I really wanted to look around, it was time away from this computer… and it was time well spent.
For the most part the camera held our notes, as for the video’s – be reminded that my broadcast voice sucks (plus with some of those drink concoctions it really didn’t matter) what I did do was to push the button; and made notes along the way; we did it!
Within the effort we could’ve been living a hundred years ago; on the river and floatin downstream – for those 32 days of June – that was all in the world that mattered…
The boat made it home and once back in the Carolina’s I really hated to pluck the bird’s feathers – but it had to be done. Carl bought the vessel and made two attempts at the river – check the ‘Ghost of Freebird’ link over there to your right. The simple practicality of the vessel worked well.
The complete trip was an outstanding ride on one of mother nature’s continental tear ducts; hopefully this blog and the notes within may provide some perspective for those with a similar interest. Check out the questions section of for more detailed answers surrounding the logistic’s of such a ride – a post for each day
maybe a return run in 2019 too…
Water clarity- 4 upper, 2 lower
Natural Quality – 5 (Upper Mississippi)
Difficulty – moderate, you will become advanced with time
Best thing about the water – it’s temperature
(this is a commercial waterway)
“Traveller’s” updated adventures
30 Jun 2009 14 Comments
We began this trek in Asheville, NC – and soon found that all this modern technology is not a bit of good without power…….. before traveling I had prepared everything on the truck except the lighter socket (for power), so while traveling our computer, telephones, and someone’s “Tom-Tom” died – but not a big deal, we just couldn’t communicate while traveling (and even though it was pretty neat gadget – I’d never used a “tom-tom’ before).
So we had to make conversation and they had to trust I knew where we were going – and without the technology we still made it riverside – La Crosse, Wi (La Cresent, Minn). This was originally a hasty post as we found a electrical receptical, waited for our rooms to get into after 16+ hours driving, and began preparing the ‘bird.
It was a busy day after traveling so many hours, but we remained pretty much non stop until 6pm – ‘Freebird’ slowly came together. Jason Worley and Brian Lawrence (fellow firefighter’s) were invaluable with their assistance – their quality work would prove solid against the elements over time and the next 1700 miles of the river.
When I did put it in the water my excitement was tempered with possible motor trouble (unknown at the time it was a developing self-oiler issue), as things seemed to straighten out (the buzzer went off) all seemed fine, weight then became our concerning factor. I made a final ‘culling’ of items that I wanted and needed to take.
It was a really long day and we were tired, so we put the computer down and got ready to check out the town – at the same time we had tractor’s surrounding us at the hotel, neat.
even one old ford 8N with a flat-head ford V8 in it……..
The folks in Wisconsin were as nice and friendly as they were serious about their tractors – as strangers it was all a refreshing sense of kindness, and on the weather side of it all the nights were cool – a sign of good things to come…
It was a long but very important day where to the largest degree planning and preparation paid-off, and left a little time for fun……..
What are you going to do with that chicken Jason?
30 Jun 2009 1 Comment
Miles Covered: um 700 to um 647 (53 river miles) French Island, Wi.
Closest towns or landmark (chart): La Crescent, Mn to near Gordon’s Bay landing
Original Post date: May 28
Our first day on the river, 1800 river miles ahead – initial thoughts and hopes were for a ‘ clean’ river run with no major weather issues or delays – primary objectives for the first day was to simply get a feel of the current, a ‘taste’ the Mississippi, and to understand our fuel mileage. A day 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 morning breeze was at our back – the air was clear, and 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 then devouring fish near our odd vessel.
We soon found our river pace – pretty much an idle-speed with the current and gently nudged by the breeze at our backs – yet there was still a soft movement of air in our face.
The first towboats that we encountered were impressive, moving steadily against the current while pushing fifteen barges. The vessels seemed huge at the time – later on the lower Mississippi and away from the constraints of the dams and locks, the tows regularly pushed 42 of the same large barges up the river. The wakes from the barges were of little consequence, during the trip we found that the waves radiating from the shore line were only inconvenient.
With just a little time on the tricky current it was easy to understand the skill of the river-pilots; they showed a great deal of professionalism and a high degree of consideration with others sharing their river – the towboat pilots were great to us.
We passed through two locks on this date, no delay at # 8 and then 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. The lock attendants on the other end of the ropes would continue to chat as the river dropped below us – an average of seven feet in just a few short minutes, neat experience. It seemed most everyone we met had a desire to or interest in ‘going down the river’ themselves.
For the most part railroad tracks line the ‘upper Mississippi’s eastern shore, the trains that rattled the rails were long and frequent. On many occasions as one long train came through, an opposing train would follow 15-20 minutes later from 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 were reminded of though experience was that the closer to a city that we tied-off (for the night) the more often 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.
On a ‘side-bar;’ our passenger Patrick (see Crew) arrived in LaCrosse is now accompanying us. Over Patrick’s lifetime the river and weather thwarted his attempts to paddle the river’s distance; he lived out his life longing to complete the journey. This effort was from his family’s desire to see his spirit succeed – Patrick had earned the Captains chair so for a while this morning it was his.
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 on 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! (beavers?).
It was the simplest of things about the river that entertained us the most.
Noted ‘Tows’ for the day;
The Neil N Diehl
The Coral Dawn
The Richard Waugh
30 Jun 2009 2 Comments
Miles Covered: 67 river miles, um 647- to um 580
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Outside of Lock 9 to Dubuque, Ia Yacht Club
Original Post date: May 29
In passing through lock 9 last evening a tow had priority (private vessels wait). The process for a tow to ‘lock-through’ probably takes an hour-and-a-half. Pushing 12 barges they move into the lock (which will only hold part of the barge-set), the deckhands disconnect the front group of barges and the tow backs out. The first barges are lowered (or raised) then mechanically pulled clear of the other side of the lock before the tow and remaining barges “lock-through” and reattach….
While awaiting this process we tied up to a buoy in the ‘pool’ prior to 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 river’s mighty current. It was nice watching the eagles soar – in the past 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 along the Mississippi flyway. All of the river’s natural and unnatural entertainment are mixed together; all just ‘a part of’ this adventure.
Through the night there was the rumble and horns of passing trains plus we had the beaver (I’m pretty sure) slapping their tails when things became too quiet. There was also the occasional sound similar to coconuts falling into the water, ker-plunk! – and then …..silence.
The day began with sprinkles and figuring out the coffee pot – our 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 – success 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 and it was nice to just ‘fit-in’ 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 his walk. I found our 12-gallon fuel tank resembled a red 5-gallon raisin, it needed venting – simple fix (open the vent).
Feeling the contentment of land-food we eased back out on the river, absorbing the moments – no hurry at all. 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 on the ‘lower’ part of the river.
In planning this trip I had allotted for 57 days and nights on the Mississippi, an average of 30 miles per day – weather was a factor too. With flooding conditions the Corps of Engineers open the locks to control the water flow, closing passage to vessels. That would mean finding a marina or harbor and waiting for things to settle down – a week’s wait could happen. Poor weather could hold us back (the doldrums) so the 57 day outlook seemed reasonable. So far we have hit the ‘mother-glitch’ of good weather and we are ‘riding the wave’ casually southward…..
Lock 10 came with sunshine, but another hour awaiting a towboat to ‘lock-through.’ Waiting is really alright, just a bit tougher with 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 while pacing our raft better as we neared the lock (depending on their time-table for you), or to head on in and tie-off nearby – 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 while before the beauty of the bluffs, long trains, and tows returned to the top of our thoughts – well, maybe a little longer……
The view of the Freebird Pilot-house……
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.
We arrived in Dubuque as it was getting dark, 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.
I was pooped from the day and still adjusting to sleep on the boat, which finally came (Sunday morning). Instead of some island we 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 (an available shower) and fine food (Catfish Charlie’s)…...
Noted ‘Towboats’ spotted for the day;
The Ed Renshaw
The Gold Cup
The James F Neal
The LJ Sullivan
30 Jun 2009 2 Comments
Miles Covered: um 580- to um 546 (74 miles) Hampton, Il.
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Dubuque, Ia Yacht Club to Savanna, Il riverside (Storm World 1)
Original Post date: June 1
‘Transient’ dockage at the Dubuque Yacht Club and the sleep ‘dockside was pretty good stuff. Early in the day 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 – alot 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’ll continue to take advantage of this as long as it’s available.
Dubuque Yacht Club is a beautiful place, nice atmosphere and fine food – then we learned that they have a new shower facility (for boaters) out back, so of course I took advantage of that one too. These were a couple of kayakers that we met dockside – the area looked perfect for paddling so I took traveller out for a paddle too.
From there 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 in the area 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.
In one of the conversations with river-rats Bill and Max, the issue they stressed was a perpetually wet floor! Water from wakes soaked their vessel and kept their feet wet – with this in mind the front of our boat has a splash guard in place. This small effort to thwart the constant wave action reduced but didn’t eliminated the water washing over the bow. When water does come in great quantities – 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 helped to alleviate wet-feet when getting in and out of bed and/or changing – a wet floor is just ‘part-of-it’…
Below Dubuque the Sunday boaters were frolicking on the beaches while having their weekend beverages of choice – too inviting. After the third bunch we moseyed on into what some called “Chestnut beach.”
Again good folks and great conversation; many asked questions and a few climbed onto the ‘bird’ to scribble on the walls with a marker – fun time and neat 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 sure 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.
In the late 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? 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 and weather 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, accepting it’s presence, 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.
Noted ‘Towboats’ for the day;
The Pebble Beach
The Angela K
The Andrea Leigh
30 Jun 2009 Leave a comment
Miles Covered: um 546- to um 491 (57 miles)
Closest towns or landmark (chart): Savanna, Il riverside to Island near Hampton, Il
Original Post date: June 2
The morning arrives and the damp and heavy atmosphere lays its sullen mood over our vessel, we linger – and then begin to stir, a semblance of order rises from the ashes.
The tarps that divide us from the elements are rolled up and the outside is exposed; the coffee begins to brew, as the gear is being stowed – basic organization. With the coffee ‘perking’ and without cranking the motor we shove out into the current and drift….
This particular morning the windward breeze held strong against the current – slowing our drift – still, the current wins as the vessel floats downriver. 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 fairly well ‘in the same boat.’ We have spent several years as part of the first dedicated Rescue Company for the City of Asheville, in NC; Rescue 33.
When working as a team you pretty much learn how to move forward in a positive direction – ‘filling in the blanks’ as you go – to say. The least amount of conversation. Morning ‘clean-up’ is a part of firefighter life, now a few years and many miles away from that setting we are in a similar pattern with our days.
Most firefighters like Coffee, and for us – it seemed a necessary staple for the trip.
All morning we watched as the Illinois shoreline passed, there were trucks lined at local silo’s unloading crop (likely corn, grain, or soybean) into the large elevators – which would eventually be loaded into one of the many barges of the Mississippi.
We stop in the town of Savanna, Ill. and found breakfast at the small marina, even a shower and a stool for ‘the bird.’. The shower was unexpected 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; getting away with putting on the same clothes – doesn’t really matter while you’re on the river. As for the breakfast, the ‘land-food’ (ballast) was just as special..
Clothes needed for this trip 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 really didn’t matter – I liked that.
As for the stool – we have found that time on the river is spent standing or leaning (like in a bar) rather than in the lower sitting position; a normal seat just wasn’t right for piloting either (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 (I’m a rebel at heart). We picked up a bar stool in the Dollar-store next to the restaurant and the original seat is now a dock ornament along the lower Mississippi river.
Later Carl took the kayak through a slough 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, the neat homes, the bluffs, the trains, ‘pools’ and tows along the way, yesterday had a streak of mundane to it, not a bad mundane – but an aura of just riding the current, easy conversation, and finding more and more things to look at. All of these things as we move along the same current of water which has flowed here for thousands of years.
It was a rainy and overcast start to this morning, but the day turned out just fine – 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..
Noted ‘Towboats’ for the Day;
The Dell Butcher
The Wanda Isabell