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CONQUERING THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI: Day 3 -- Rocks, locks and motels

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

Day 3

Decide to sleep in this morning, yet wake up around 6:00 a.m. after another night of difficulty going to sleep...Lock 13, 120 miles south of where I am, is scheduled to be closed today and tomorrow for repairs so I know I'm going to have a layover day tomorrow. The sun is shining when I leave motel but the weather forecast calls for rain and t-storms. Dumarse is waiting for me at end of gang-plank. Winniesheik Marina and Bar is closed and not a soul in sight.

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7:30 a.m. I idle out through the PVC sticks and head across river. My immediate concern is finding more gas. River guide shows an Isle of Capri Marina and Casino across river in Marquette, Iowa and I think surely it will be open...Wrong, there's no one in sight at gas pump. Fisherman is launching his boat and he tells me that there are two marinas just down river and one of them should be open. He adds if I want him to he'll take me in his truck to get gas at a convenience store. I thank him and add it would be a lot of trouble to get these tanks out plus I've got enough to run another 30-40 miles. We agree that I should be able to find gas with that much left...It's a long idle zone and first marina gas dock downstream is closed but see a young man coming out of the gas pump office at the second and I wave to him...Pull in and was lucky to catch him because he was leaving...We put in 14.4 gallons and I'm back up to having 180 miles range...Turns out he's a mechanic and tells me he is going to prop a 3 hull pontoon boat with a 225 Hinda 4-stroke today...

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Almost as soon as I reach end of idle zone below Marquette, a light rain starts falling....I get up on plane and it gets get darker and gloomier ...For some reason I've kinda got the "blues" this morning and there's no good reason for it...It's kind of a feeling that I read one time when a guy was embarking on a river trip like mine and he described it as "I'm up on the high diving board now and I've got to at least jump"...Then I think, river is calm, my engine is running smooth as silk and I'm doing something I always wanted to do...The blues soon pass and I'm back to enjoying the ride...

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When I approach Lock 10, they tell me it's going to be an hour wait because they have divers working on lock gates...I text my family/friends where I am and inform them of the wait...My brother calls to chat and tells me they have started a fund drive drive for "Children of Fallen Heros" on Bass Fishing Home Page. People are pledging contributions based on many miles I'm able to complete...They also have a large map of my route posted and a track showing how many miles I have completed (I'm really up on high diving board now)...Then my phone starts lighting up with text messages mostly about the fund drive...I noticed this morning before I left the motel that my day 1 post had drawn 700 viewers. I never thought this trip would attract this much attention. I expected family/friends and 30-40 guys on BFHP might be interested in an old codger's trip down a river...I feel honored, humbled, flattered and apprehensive all at the same time...Little while later my brother calls and asks me where I'm going to spend my layover day and I tell him probably Savanna, Ill., because they have a marina and taxi service. He says let me do a little research and I'll get back with you...

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I had passed a couple paddling downriver in a canoe a few miles up and noticed they had a couple of fishing poles sticking up in rear of canoe so didn't figure they were going a long ways down river. While waiting for lock, they came paddling up and stopped a short distance away...

Tom and Judy Johnson had launched at Prairie du Sat on the Wisconsin River and along with their dog "Harley" were paddling and camping down to Galena, Ill. (about 170 miles)...Their canoe drifted up beside my boat and our conversation soon turned to dogs while I scratched Harleys ears...Dogs know good ear scratchers when they see them and Harley already had his head raised up and leaning over the side when the canoe got close enough for me to reach him...Tom related that he went through a really tough period in his life some years back and he credited Harley with helping him survive. Consequently Harley goes everywhere with them...I have an especially close relationship (my wife says obsession) with my English Cocker retriever (Blue) and I seriously debated whether to bring her on this trip...She would have been great company and would have thoroughly enjoyed it but two things made me decide against it...She would have been a major distraction while I was running the boat because she has to bounce from one side of the boat to another looking for ducks or birds of any kind to retrieve (whether they've been shot or not). Also I had limited ability to find pet friendly motels on this trip...Me and dog sleeping in boat because no motel in area would take dogs didn't appeal to me at all...

...The lock opens and I wish Tom and Judy a safe trip and they do same...I idle out of lock at same speed they are paddling and my GPS is indicating 4 mph...I hold up four fingers and point to my GPS when they look over...

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About 6 miles below Lock 10, I slow to take pictures of a ferry carrying a car across the river from Cassville, Ill., to the Iowa side...Rain has mostly stopped but it's still a dark, gray day....Pool widens above Lock 11 and channel makes a long sweeping bend to the east bank then curves back across once more before it finally turns to toward Lock 11 on the Iowa side of the river (right descending bank in river parlance)...

Lockmaster informs me it's going to be a two-hour wait so I text family/friends...My brother calls back and tells me they now have a progress report on Bass Fishing Homepage that he is updating every time I text him and he is posting a picture of the lock I'm sitting at...And at midday it already has 200 viewers...He also tells me that it looks like I've got two options in Savanna, Ill...Super 8 motel or L & M motel, which was recommended by the local sports editor who, by the way, has set up an interview for me on my layover day...We debate whether to call the Super 8, which I feel has the best chance of having internet access or L&M...For some reason, I decide to call L&M and ask if they have internet and available rooms...One of my best choices of the trip. They not only have internet but they will come pick me up at the marina...I find a small cove above the lock out of the current, fix my ham sandwich lunch and settle in to wait...

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Tow finally emerges and I head downstream...Dubuque, Iowa emerges on the right bank and I slow to take picture...It's a very pretty town with homes and brick buildings on hills overlooking the river, but I can't seem to find a view that doesn't have either ugly warehouses or a barge loading tower in the picture...I take a few pictures and resume the 27-mile run to Lock 12...

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A few miles above Lock 12, I spot what appears to be a ski resort on some steep hills on the eastern bank of the river... I'm in Illinois by now, which isn't exactly the snow belt so I start looking for some gigantic snow machines that I know must have around there someplace...I'm far enough away that I can't really tell what it was but it appears beside the ski lifts there is a mowed path running down the hill...I'm guessing these are either bobsled runs that they freeze during the winter or they have something they are using to ride down the hills in the summer...

Arrive at Lock 12 and lockmaster tells me it's going to be a two-hour wait...Going through all those locks yesterday was too easy. Today the lock waiting is catching up with me...There is just a lot of barge traffic on upper Miss. and I'm meeting or passing 2-3 tows in each pool. I find a cove above the lock and swap texts and calls with a couple of my buddies plus text family/friends and tell them where I'm sitting and how long I expect to be here...Have to admit it, there are periods of boredom on trip like this and waiting on locks brought it out in me...Thanks to my cell phone, I was able to entertain myself by calling my hunting/fishing buddies and telling them what a great time I was having sitting in the rain and waiting for a lock to open...

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Good time to give Kudos to Verizon (they gouge people with bogus charges designed to look like taxes on their bill and treat customers coming to their stores like cattle) but their phone coverage is very good everywhere, and I've been all over North America in last few years...I was in some remote areas on this trip and seldom not able to use my cell phone and always could send a text message...Sometimes sending a text would be slow because of a weak signal but if I held the phone out from under the Bimini top, it would almost always go through...

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I was sheltered from the south wind by the lock but I could tell the wind was picking up up probaly because there was a T-storm passing north of me and these storms often will suck air toward them and create a lot of wind...

It's late afternoon now and when the lock finally opens to let me out the rain has increased and wind is blowing directly into the lock...The channel is narrow and bends to the left right below the lock. Where the channel bends there is a lot of current and the combination of wind and current is creating a several hundred-yard stretch of rough water...Outside the the channel (and behind the bouy marker) it is much calmer so I decide to cheat and run outside the channel...I had done this several times already and gotten away with it...If you spend enough time running rivers, 95 percent of the time you can tell how deep the water is by looking at it...This time I was wrong. No sooner had I gottten up on plane than I hit a submerged rock wing dam inches below the surface hard enough to stop the boat instantly, lock the prop up and kill the engine...I thought I had at least mangled the prop up or at worst torn up the lower unit or bent the prop shaft...Wind spins front of boat around, prop is hung in rocks and waves are trying to break over back of boat...This engine is heavy enough that I have to put my foot against the transom and use both hands to raise motor...I manage to get motor up enough to lock it in shallow water drive which cocks it up a little...Take paddle and by rocking the boat and pushing boat comes loose and floats off the rocks...Waves are high enough that one could break over the back (transom of boat is much lower than front of boat) of the boat so I need to get engine running and boat turned into waves as quickly as I could...I got engine running and swung nose around hoping my mangled prop would still have enough thrust to let me idle to the bank someplace and change props...There doesn't seem to be any vibration at idle speed so when I get downstream and out of the waves a little, I drop engine to to it's normal setting and ease up on plane...When I raised the engine to get off the rocks, I could only see one side of the prop but I didn't see any major damage so I'm hoping the damage is minimal enough to allow me to run the remaining 20 miles to the marina without having to change the prop...I slowly increase speed even lay my hand on top of motor to feel vibration but there seems to be none...When I get to marina,there's no one around so I tie off couple of slips down from gas pump..Cock engine up and check prop for damage and can't see any...Dodged a big bullet there and resolve to not cut anymore corners on upper Miss...Based on how close that wing dam was to the buoy, probaly lucky I hadn't hit one before now...

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Talked back and forth to Lazy River marina just north of Savanna trying to get directions to their marina and second guy I talked to,told me to just go to Savanna marina it was easier to find - Lazy may be appropriate name for that place...Don't know what was going on with that deal but Savana marine was easy to find...Right behind grain elevator in middle of town...Call L&M Motel and lady tells me they will there to pick me up shortly...Text family/friends that I'm off the water in Savana,Il....Nice older guy named Gary in a Ford van shows up a few minutes later...We chat a few minutes as we drive back and I make a comment on what a neat little town this is on side of river so he says,let me show show you a little of it on way to motel...We turn off mainstreet and drive up a big hill that overlooks the town...There are side streets leading off road up the hill and the houses look as if they haven't been changed since the 30's and 40's....Big shady trees,nice lawns and well maintained....Looked like just neighborhoods I remember growing up..really a neat sight to see older homes and no sign of decay in the neighborhood..We get to motel and I check in...I mention my need for internet and the owner, Lois Hunsaker tells me she will put me in the "Chevy Room" next to the office and I'll be close to the wi-fi router. When was last time you checked into a motel and met an native born owner?...Motel was probably built in late 40's or 50's and she has restored it to nicer than it was back them.....Chevy room turns out to be a large room with small refrigerator,microwave,king sized bed and large bathroom.It's decorated with small and large pictures of 55,56 and 57 Chevrolets. The car you would die for if you grew up in the 50"s)..even has a chenille type rug hung on wall of a 57 Chevy and strip of 55-57 Chevy's wallpaper running around wall of room.....From my description, you would think it was tacky...It was the most tasteful "tacky" decor I've ever seen...They have several other similar rooms with other themes Harleys, John Deere tractors, etc...

Gary, the van driver, had mentioned to let him know when was ready to go eat and he would take me to best restaurant in town...Gary and Lois were sitting out on sidewalk in front of office when I walk over and tell them I'm ready to go eat and invite them to be my guest but they have other plans and thank me...Gary says before we go, let me show you a car we restored...We go to a garage behind the motel and he shows a 1932 Ford street rod...Just a beautiful car and he shows me Lois's yellow Mustang convertible...Gary mentions that working on cars and restoring cars is his livelihood and his hobby...

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We get in van and head for "Poopy's," the most popular biker destination in the midwest..On the way over, Gary explains that the motel caters to bikers and fishermen and provides the van pick -up and delivery around town so their customers can drink and not have to drive....Poopy's is a large combination bar,restaurant,souvenir shop with an outdoor pavilion/picnic area..the focal point of the huge restaurant and bar is a $65,000. custom built chopper bike hung from ceiling in middle of the building...you don't have to be biker to appreciate it's beauty and the statement it makes...Gary takes me on a little tour of Poopys and the souvenir shop is huge...Apparently Poopy shirts are big deal to bikers in midwest...I see a shirt that says "It's the ride,not the destination" and I regret not buying it...Gary leaves me in the dining area and tells me to call when I'm ready to be picked up....The food selection was good...Seafood, steak and everything in between. I order a patty melt and it was great but so big i could only eat about 2/3's of it....Prices were very reasonable...I ate there two nights and bill was less than $10.00 both nights....

When I finish, I call Gary and in a few minutes and he shows up in the van....When we get back to motel, I ask Lois if she would mind taking me back to marina sometime tomorrow to check on my boat and pick up a few things including some ice to put in my boat cooler so my lunch supplies would stay cold...She says no problem, just let me know when you want to go....

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Back in room, I e-mail family/friends a brief description of today trip and post same desciption of my day on Bass fishing Home Page.... Notice next day it had 496 viewers..also there had been several questions asked about various aspect of the trip and I answer those.....

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Three locks and a lot of waiting but we put 109 miles behind us....Since we started at mile marker 845, we are 308 miles downriver...only 1,700 more to go...are you up for it?