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..

Day 2, Lock 9 to Dubuque, Iowa

Previous Day 1

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 on the upper Miss 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 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 little 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.


Early Fire Triangle (alarm)



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 easily occur.  Poor weather could hold us back (the doldrums) so the 57 day outlook seemed reasonable.  Yet 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 for 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..


Really, the fuel attendants

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 t o be plenty of camping and recreational boats along the sandy shores here,  picturesque – allof 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.

Arriving in Dubuque as it was getting dark, after nine o’clock – another late ‘tie-down.  So we followed the right shoreline around 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)……


Dubuque Yacht Club


Noted ‘Towboats’ spotted for the day;

The Ed Renshaw

The Gold Cup

The James F Neal

The Louisville

The Phillip M Pfeffer

The LJ Sullivan

Next post, Day 3 – to @ Savanna, Il

Day 3, Dubuque, Ia. to um 574

Previous Day 2

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.

Riverboat Crapper

– 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

The Jacob Michael Eckstein

Next post, Day 4 – to @ Hampton, Il

Day 4 UM 546 to Island near Hampton, Il

Previous Day

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



Sleep was good; the morning arrives and the atmosphere is damp and heavy – this fog lays its sullen mood over our vessel.  We stir, linger – and then 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.  Simple and small, just another of many muses along the way; noticing stuff – What else was there to do?

Carl Denning, Eric Velez, Dennis Ball, & me – Rescue-33, Asheville Fire Department

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.  Everybody understands each task and you do what you are closest to – with 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 fall into a similar starting 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 ‘traveller‘ 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

Next post, Day 5 – to Muscatine

Day 5, Lock 14 to Muscatine, Iowa

Previous Day

Miles Covered:  um 491- to um 455 (37 miles)

Closest towns or landmark (chart): Island outside of Lock 14 to Muscatine, Ia.

Original Post date: June 3

Last night we settled just outside of Lock 14 on the ‘inside’ of a 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 our back and a setting alive with an abundance of white pelicans.


It all started once again with a simple vessel organization (like the FD clean-up routine we are so use to) and then out to and down the river.  We may have been spoiled with the breakfast’s so far on the ‘upper’ Mississippi, but on this date and even though we were near Davenport, Ia – we couldn’t locate breakfast (‘land-food’) 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 our improvised ‘bar’ area – I was good with soft cookies/milk 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 (Hexagenia mayflies) small flying nuisances (but not biting) of insects that just like to hang around – seems to bother Carl more than myself, I figure they will move on with the right wind.


Example of the hexagenia mayfly invasion in 2017, the @72 hour lifespan of these critters can be a nuisance to all that is covered – on the positive side it is said that the perpetual summer life-cycle is a sign of a healthy river…

On the freebird I am 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’ with memory/association.  ”Absorbing all that I see seems to be the top 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 simply entertaining as the river continues to carry us gently southward.”

There are marina’s along the ‘upper’ Mississippi, occasional opportunities to change the rhythm of the day by simply stopping 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 a BLAST from the 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 Tenn-Tom –


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 ‘river-life’ felt a little more complete, even though it was my first visit to Muscatine – it felt like I had closed one of those ‘little-circles‘ in life.


Once in bed and asleep – our vessel felt as fine as any other.


Noted ‘Towboats’ for the Day;

The Deana Ann

The Tom Behringer

The John M Rivers

The Reggie G

The Show Me State

The Samantha

Next post, Day 6 to near Dallas Island

Day 6, Muscatine, Ia. to near Dallas Island

Previous Day

Miles Covered:  um 455- to um 389 (66 miles)

Closest towns or landmark (chart): Muscatine, Ia. to just past Dallas Island

Original Post date: June 4


Muscatine, Io

Dockside sleep once again, this time within the Muscatine harbor.  Last night we had a “good-time” running around town – because we were in the city so short of time with so much to see we would revert to the ‘bacshortly‘ bar-hopping thing; have a beverage (maybe two) before proceeding to the next establishment, if one was most appealing, we planned to return – “bacshortly”…


while into last evening we visited our ‘French Quarter’ friends dockside in/on their boat, really a ‘vessel’ as compared to the ‘birds-nest’ we were in – but it held periods 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 eased passed us – so we pushed the little bird hard to ‘lock-through’ #17 with them


afterward we wished them well and they moved over the horizon (or around the bend), we returned to our conversation pace….. current speed.

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.


-but 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, enumerated, and vividly embellished by our 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 noticed several folks drive to the end of mainstreet (which was waters-edge) stop and peer at our boat.  Once back at the boat we savored the conversation with several, and it was always good to hear it mentioned how they would love to make the same journey (#3 talking about “going down the river”) – each comment made our trip a little richer.

– there were lots of miles in between those moments – to walk the deck, pilot, or sit/lay on the roof…...


to relax as the Mississippi river passed beneath.


until ‘locking-through’ once again confronted us.

Lock 18 (holding the rope routine)-

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.

Big Muddy Rest -

Big Muddy Rest –

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.’

Noted ‘Tows’ for the Day;

The New Dawn

The Andrew Cannava

The Bill Berry

The Cooperative Mariner

The Bruce T

The Ed Renshaw

The Sir Randy

The Queen City

The Charlie Melanchion

The Charlie G

The Prairie Dawn

The James L

Next post, Day 7 to Polly Island

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

Original Post date: June 5


Day seven; after cruising late into the late evening from Burlington, it took two efforts to find solid anchorage – where the cruise was nice, the darkness complicated the ‘tie-down’ process – another reminder to stop earlier and to be moored long before nightfall.  Doing so, there will be more river moments to enjoy.

We found ourselves in an area where you could be fifty yards away from an island, and then you’re stuck in the mud…. – the kind of mud that clings to you (black and ‘oily-like’).  We ended up along a nearby island 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 when I noticed a cruiser approaching in the distance, it was not quite plained-out and at that mediocre speed ‘bow-up’ creating a large running wake which was rolling down the shoreline.  It appeared as though this wake would throw our vessel further onto the mud-bar – so I hollered and Carl sprang from bed like a rookie on the firetruck.  Carl jumped out of bed and flew into action crossing the deck and plopped into the mud.  Of course as he was in the air over our bow when I said “WAIT! – it’s going to be ok”……. wakeup call…

He was in it – So Carl set us adrift since he was already knee-deep in mud.  This didn’t change our mornings, which are special – coffee and drifting.  The black mud is hard to get  off and that enhanced the conversation (and laughs) of the morning – 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 diner.


I remained to download some pictures and spoke with a few folks which were hanging around the bar and dock.  These folks 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 dockage looked uninviting – wasn’t sure, and with that moved along with the current – river only flows one way.


So we cooked rice and bullion, a poor second choice but it was still pretty good.

.… still hunting some grits.




So off to Day 8 – all is fine on board, no mud fights yet – putting southward – and continuing to work on new and exciting mixed beverage combination’s.


Noted ‘Towboats’ for the Day;

The Virginia Ingram

The Norma Christina

The Bernard G

The Issaquena

The Jennie K

Next post, Days 8,9 to Hannibal

Day 8, 9 – Polly Island to Hannibal, Mo. to Lock 24

Previous Day

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)

Original Post date: June 7

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 –unloaded, loaded, or loading.


along with other thoughts fresh from the day before –

No major hang ups at any of the locks so far – and 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.

Years experience and living as a long-haul truck driver provided me with an insight with the nature of transporting commerce.  I respected the Mississippi as an ‘interstate’ – and the towboats were the power.  In no way did I want our vessel ‘freebird’ to be a nuisance (as a mo-ped on the interstate) – with that being said.  I didn’t find anything insurmountable to deal with along the way, 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 towboat pilots too, we were just another amusement – like a bear, a fox, or deserted structure along the way.


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 towboat pilots patiently maneuver those brainless containers with literally a foot of distance from each wall within the locks – its pretty impressive.  Understanding, utilizing, and then balancing the factors of current and control, perception and machine – plus other factors.

We clearly recognize their 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; they continued playing within their normal chatting – its always nice to climb into a new dimension in the world.  Lots of the same folks, whom are simply in a different place 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 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 really matter – and its a plus that we each smell the same (if we smell at all).

Later we stopped in Quincy, Ill at the small marina to charge some batteries, shower, and clean some laundry – a little less river funk, if that were to matter either (I never heard the comment, “you smell clean”).


and those forgotten Cabeeses....

and those forgotten Cabeeses….

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.

Mark Twain Museum, Hannibal, Mo

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 it was that 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.

Mini Yard tow at Two Rivers Marina

“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.”


Noted ‘Tows’ for the Day;

The Ann Naye

The Moline

The Tom Talbert

The Reggie G

The Thomas K

The Gene Herde

The Bernard G

The Clayton McWhorter

The Bill Berry

The Cooperative Ambassador

The Laurie S Johnston

The James F Hurey

The Cooperative Venture

The Erickston

The Pebble Beach

Next day, Day 10 – to Squaw Island

Previous Older Entries