Day 1; Eagles, Trains, and Towboats

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


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

Next day, Day 2 – To Dubuque..

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Feb 05, 2017 @ 03:29:44


  2. Ned Zuelsdorff
    Jun 16, 2019 @ 06:44:40

    Tom, are you still planning a 2019 river trip?

  3. Tom Haynie (bacshortly)
    Jun 18, 2019 @ 16:56:07

    Got to pass this year Ned, with all the water it worked out just fine… still on the horizon though

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