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CONQUERING THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI: Day 8 --- Meeting friends on the river

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

Day 8...A very interesting day...And that may be an understatement.

5:45 a.m., Wake up early...Had tough time going to sleep last

night...Miss. River is nearing flood stage and I'm concerned, plus just

being pumped for trip is probably causing it...Rivers Edge is really

nice motel with great view of river, but no free breakfast... Walk across

street to convenience store, no breakfast bar there either so buy couple granola bars and small orange juice...Get my stuff packed and check out...While I"m standing outside the lady who owns the motel comes out cand we talk about my trip...While we are standing there,a couple of rabbits hop across a little stretch of grass from the woods and start nibbling on some grass springing up between small rocks at edge of parking lot...Take a picture and comment to the lady that I couldn't remember the last time I saw rabbits hopping around in the wild when I used to see it all the time as a kid...Cab drops me off at marina and water has risen so much overnite that gangplank to fuel dock is under water and attendant can't get out to pump gas...End up idling over in my boat...They turn pump on from inside and I pump my own.

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Idle out at 8:00 a.m... 30 minutes downstream see rain stretching all

the way across the river in front of me...Stop, put on rainsuit and run

through light rain for couple miles then it just quits...Cabelas

Guidewear rainsuit not only kept me dry the whole trip, I think it makes

anything but a serious storm go someplace else...All fishermen agree

that if you want it to rain, just forget your rainsuit one time.

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A few more miles and I come to Lock 24...Don't see any tows either above or below the lock and when I call lockmaster, he says give me a few minutes to fill the lock and he will put me through...Barely had time to text family/friends that I was at lock before gate opened...thank

lockmaster as I leave and comment that "this is faster than a McDonalds

drive thru"... Not far below the lock I met a big towboat and it was throwing a big muddy water propwash so slowed down to an idle to get a picture...Twisted around to take a couple pictures and happened to look back around and probaly 10 ft or less there was a red buoy right in front of boat and current carrying me straight into it...Engine was idling in gear and I was able to goose the throttle and swing boat just enough to miss it...Probably wouldn't have done any real damage except make a big bang but it would have given the guys on towboat something to laugh about...Resolve to not stop upstream from any more buoys.

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10:30, the sun is shining and just a beautiful day to be on the river...I

take a cellphone picture of the river stretching out ahead of me and

send to family and friends...The only negative is that I'm running in

and out of areas with a lot of floating trees/logs and debris...Doesn't

seem to be any rhyme or reason to it...I'll go 5 miles in a relatively

clean river then have to weave, even idle, through some

stretches...Obvious the river is rising fast and when channel carries me near the bank, I can see water spreading out through the trees.

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When I approach Lock 25, the lockmaster tells me it's going to be 1 1/2

hour wait because he's already committed to a southbound tow in front of lock...Get some great news from brother about Cape Girardeau...Shawn King (King Marine) has offered to meet me at river with empty trailer, take us to motel and put us back in river next morning...Major load off my mind because there are no marinas on that stretch of river and very limited places you can tie off...I never ever expected this kind of support....I call Hoppies Marina south of St. Louis and lady tells me it's likely they will close the river to pleasure boat traffic in next few days...So one problem gets resolved and another crops up...While waiting on lock, I can see thunderstorms building up downriver...Almost a steady stream of logs and trees drifting by pocket where I'm waiting and going over the spillway at dam.

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12:40, exit lock and begin 40 mile run to Alton,Ill., where I plan to spend

night...This is pretty remote area with few houses along the bank...Up

ahead I see what appears to be small cabin cruiser stopped in mid

channel...Mid channel is not a good place to stop in a busy river with

towboats so my first thought was they may have hit a log or were having engine problems... I veer over to pass nearer to them and as I get closer I see a man and woman up on front leaning back against windshield of boat each holding a bottle of beer....Both have bathing suits on and the woman is topless.....And very good looking...As I slowly pass she pushes her chest out in a provocative manner....I'm still not real sure why I did this, probably the amateur photographer, dirty old man and smart aleck came out in me at same time. I make a little

circle, hold my camera up and tell them that I've traveled 600 miles down this river and this is the best view I've had and do they mind if I took a picture....The man ignored me and turned other way (he was lot older than her and you can draw your own conclusions about that couple) but she turns and poses so I snap a couple pictures and away I go.

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Head back down river and I'm having a hard time believing what I just

saw... Been running up and down rivers and lakes all my life and never

seen anything like that. I bet Tom Sawyer didn't either....I do know my

hunting and fishing buddies are gonna get a large kick out of the e-mail

they're fixing to get from me tonight...Might also add the blonde (and

her plastic surgeon) won the "non scenic view" award of the trip.

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Time to get back in a serious mood because I can see a very big and

wicked looking storm headed toward the river a few miles downstream...It's already due west of me and there's not going to be any stopping and letting it pass below me...The channel swings over to the western bank up ahead and I'm hoping there will be a cove I can get out of the current (river has risen so much, the current is from bank to bank now)...I see what appears to be a small RV park up ahead and a tiny cut right below it...The storm is almost on me and as I get nearer the little cut, I see a big freestanding "double carport type" shelter with 8-10 guys standing under it...They are are waving and motioning me to come up there so I stick the nose of the boat in this tiny cut...One of the guys wades out in the water, grabs nose of boat and helps me tie it off just as storm hits...I get under the carport with these guys, we're all kinda huddled in middle of it because rain is blowing around the edges...I introduce myself to each of the "Chipleyville Bunch" as they call themselves and thank them for inviting me in out of the storm...You

could easily take this whole group, put them in the middle of a deer camp in Georgia and except for their accents, they'd fit right in...Of course, they ask what I'm doing coming down the river in a boat like mine with Georgia registration...I tell them about my trip and like my fishing and hunting buddies back home, 80% of them thought I was crazy but a couple confided they wished they could go with me...Turns out most of them are retired and have small RV's that they keep parked nearby. They drink beer and burn wood in a fire pit under this shelter in the winter and in the summer they don't bother with the wood...As evidenced by the barrels of empty beer cans lining edge of shelter, these boys take beer drinking seriously...In fact, I was still shaking rain off me when I stepped inside the shelter and one of them shook my hand with one hand and handed me a beer with the other...And if I hadn't been forced to quit drinking 30 years ago, I'd took it...We swapped a few stories, hunting and fishing of course, and I told them about what had just happened up the river with the man and woman on the cabin cruiser...I could sense couple of them maybe had a few doubts about my story, so I said hold on just a minute, the rain had let up just little and walked down to my boat and brought my camera back...I rolled the camera back to the pictures I'd just taken and passed it around...ThenI had to copy down about six e-mail addresses to forward copies of the pictures to...Rain lets up after about an hour, I thank the "Chipleyville Bunch" for allowing me to ride out the storm and the opportunity to get to know them even if it was just for a little while.

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Head south in light rain that stops after a few miles. As I near Alton

some high and really scenic bluffs appear on the eastern bank of the

river...I take a few pictures but it's still real cloudy and the pictures are not an indication of how pretty these hills and bluffs would be if the sun was shining on them...Lot of bigger boats including couple of casino boats are moored along the bank in Alton... I find entrance to marina, tie off and walk into the office...Alton Marina is a big and really nice marina, and an equally nice lady named Fran told me where to moor my boat for the night and called the Holiday Inn and asked

them to send their shuttle to pick me up...I get my stuff out of boat

and up the gangplank to edge of parking lot...(When you leave a

marina you always have to tote stuff uphill to where you can meet a

taxi)...Probaly been standing out there ten minutes...Fran sees me still

there and calls the Holiday Inn again then comes up to where I am and

tells me it will be just a little longer...They had to drop somebody off

someplace else first...Nice little gesture that she didn't have to do...We talk a little about my trip until the shuttle shows up...Louis Wardlow, who is about my age, shows up in the Holiday Inn minivan. He asks where I'm headed by boat and where I started...I comment this is my first trip to Alton but I was impressed with the marina and the scenery on river above the town...Louis asks if I would like a little tour of Alton and I tell him yes if the motel has plenty of rooms and isn't apt to rent the last one while I'm out touring...Louis tells me that's not gonna be a problem...He asked me since I was from Georgia, did I know Alton had a big prison for Confederate soldiers here and added we didn't treat them very well...I comment there's Confederate prison near my hometown too (Andersonville) and we didn't treat prisoners very well

either...We both agree that it was more due to terrible economic

conditions more than anything else...We stop by the Confederate

Cemetery and it was a very pretty place nestled in the trees and

immaculately kept...Louis then takes me out near the river where the

"Legend of Piaso" originated...Piaso or "Stormbird" according to Indian

legend, was a half fish-half bird with a man's head and big talons who

lived in cave near river and caught and killed many Indians until one

Chief devised a plan to kill him...The chief, using himself as bait, lured

the monster into an area where he had positioned several braves with

poisoned arrows and when he grabbed the chief they shot him with enough arrows to kill the monster...The Chief was almost killed but recovered his health....On a bluff right outside town there's a picture of the "Monster" painted on the bluffs and a small park with a plaque

describing the legend (see photo gallery).

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We resume our trip back to motel and Louis tells me his only claim to

fame was that his first cousin Robert Wadlow, was tallest man (8ft,

11 inches) ever recorded in the United States. Louis related that Robert

had died at age 22 from blood poisoning...Doctors had prescribed braces for his knees and one of them caused a blister, blood poisoning developed and caused his death...We went by the little park where his life size statue is located and he truly is the "Alton Giant"...Louis and I managed to get a lot of talking in on our little tour...He worked for many years for Winchester shotgun shell factory and I told him he had likely made some of the thousands of AA Winchester shells that I have shot and reloaded for years....Louis drops me at motel and I comment to lady at check-in counter that Louis is definitely an asset to to this motel and asked her to convey that to the management...Really nice motel with another large glass enclosed atrium...Probably the cold weather up north is reason for many of the motels having these atriums with swimmings pools inside...As a retired mall manager, I can tell you

unequivocally, if you have skylights, swimming pools or fountains, you

have never ending maintenance problems...Nice little restaurant tucked in corner of the lobby area and after calling wife and freshening up, I walk over to eat...Kind of upscale place but "Sliders" on the menu catches my attention...I had heard of them but for some reason had never eaten any so that's what I order...I think typically "sliders" are little hamburgers but these were sliced prime beef with peppers on some sort of roll that's been sliced in half....While I'm waiting for my food my daughter, Anna, calls and we lament the fact she's not with me...She's the adventurous type and planned to come with me from Minneapolis to St. Louis but had just taken a new job and didn't feel comfortable asking for a week off so soon...Sliders are pretty good and when I asked the waitress for a "to go cup" for my ice tea, she brings me a cup that if it was any bigger, I would have needed wheels to roll it back to the room....Back in room I send brief e-mails to family/friends...and include one of the topless photos and brief description of how that came about..This, of course, triggers some funny responses and several asking when they could join me...I sent one of the photos to my brother and asked him to "photoshop" some clothes on the girl (no more than absolutely necessary)

and e-mail back to me ASAP...When I get it back, I put a post on Bass

Fishing home Page and titled it "Day 8: Boys I got a story and a picture

that will make you put your boat in the water and follow me" ... a day later this picture and story had drawn over 900 viewers...Note that the

Children of Fallen Heroes fund was now over $1,700 and climbing...

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Check weather and it's looking good for St. Louis...The river forecast

is not good... It's right at flood stage and I'm concerned they will

close the river to small boats and I'm concerned about how safe it will

be to try to pick Mike up with the extra weight that's going to add to

the boat...The Missouri River joins the Mississippi right above St. Louis

and doubles the size of the river...I"m also getting reports the Missouri

is also at flood stage and is dumping a lot of logs and trash on top of

stuff already in the Miss...Resolve to check the river out as much as I

can before Mike gets in boat...Always worry when my children fly so I

ask the Man Upstairs for lot of help tomorrow...And I don't sleep

well at all...

85 miles and two locks today...664 miles behind us.