Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything. -Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Day 29 thru Day 33

Across the Wide (state of) Missouri

Day 29. After coffee David and I went up the road to the hilltop behind where Little Sadie was tied off, at the edge of Sibley, MO. We were delighted to find the wonderfully restored Fort Osage, perched on the bluff overlooking the river.

We toured the fort, and learned a lot about the fort's history from the storekeeper, Mike Duane.

Fort Osage was the westernmost of several forts built along inland rivers in the early nineteenth century. This one was intended as a deterrent to the possible invasion up the river by the British, with whom we were in a struggle for possession of much of what became the western states. Also it was a busy trading post to support the large local Osage Indian tribe, to develop them as allies. When we finished the tour, Joe Phillips, another staff member at the fort, gave us a ride back to the boat in his utility vehicle, and shortly we were underway.

By early afternoon we were in Waverly, MO, where we tied off and went up the hill into town to find lunch and ice. After we ate in the grocery/deli, as we were checking out with our 40 lbs of ice, out of the blue a local fellow, Shawn Russell, offered to take us to the boat in his golf cart. Waverly was one of many spots displaying their connection to the Lewis and Clark connection, all the way along the Missouri River.

Another unfortunate display all down the river was the sunken barge. We have seen many battered barges up against the bank, left for the ages. Apparently when a barge is damaged (usually in a flood) its owner has no responsibility to remove it, so it becomes a planter, slowly filling with mud and rusting into the river.

In early evening we tied off to the bank below the city park at Glasgow, clambered up the hill and walked to town looking for a place to eat. Things close up early on a Sunday in Glasgow, however, so we had a good walk around town and went back and cooked supper on the boat. Glasgow is a pleasant little river town, with very old and interesting architecture.

Day 30. After coffee we set out on a fast run 55 miles to Cooper's Landing, an oasis on the river near Columbia, MO which is now the only place to gas up on the water between Omaha and Alton, IL on the Mississippi River. Anywhere else you are hauling gas cans up Main Street. We were starting to see more topography along the river, including the first view of limestone bluffs, a feature of many areas in Missouri.
We found a good spot to tie off at the dock at Cooper's mid-day And settled in for a two-night stay. We wanted to get into Columbia for dinner that evening, and Dale Davis volunteered to take us the 10-15 miles and bring us back. A totally nice fellow who lives in Florida half the year and at Cooper's half the year.

Day 31. This was a badly needed layover day. Cooper's is a campground, a small marina, a store, a cafe, a live entertainment venue, a gas station, a bag-ice dispensary, toilets, shower, laundry -- pretty much everything the river traveler could want.

I did some blogging, ordered a spare prop (to replace one I had misplaced) to be shipped to a shop in St. Louis, did puttering around on the boat, and planned the upcoming visit to folks in St. Louis. David got a ride with Brian, an employee at Cooper's, to Columbia and had a good afternoon of sightseeing.

Behind Little Sadie at the dock was a reconditioned 1930s gambling boat, kept here all summer by a couple of U. Of Mo. Professors. A local friend of theirs, Billy Ray Duvall, gave us a tour of it. All the interior was original brass, woodwork, etc. and the boat, with original wooden hull, had been dropped into a custom steel hull, so now was very seaworthy. A diesel engine turns the paddle-wheel, and that is its actual propulsion. I want one!

I had a nice visit with Mike Cooper, the owner, and passed on paddler David Miller's best regards to him. "Coop" was not doing well at the moment, having been bitten by, he suspected, a Brown Recluse spider the night before last. Coop runs a great operation, providing much needed services, and we appreciated the stay. His staff, including Max (a Klinkit from south of Juneau), Dale, Brian, Vanessa, Melissa and others, were interesting and fun to do business with. After a great fried catfish dinner, we visited with locals, listened to more fireworks, and turned in. Again, because of the protracted dry spell in the Midwest, we had no mosquito problem. Just heat.

Day 32. David by this time has become a seasoned Missouri river pilot, and we made a fast run the 70 miles to Hermann, MO. Along the way we passed a beach party along a sand bar near the mouth of the Osage River, where easily fifty boats were beached and lots of folks were celebrating July 4th.

We were now in a stretch of days with 100+ temperatures, so we tied up the boat at the public dock at Hermann and fled to a motel. The Harbor Haus was very adequate, convenient, and cheap. Hermann is a German settlement in an area known as the Missouri Rhineland, because it is allegedly reminiscent of the Rhine River valley. There are several wineries in the area, and we tried some local wines with dinner. They were odd but good. After dark the town celebrated Independence Day with a huge fireworks display over the river, attended by probably everyone in the county.

Day 33. In the morning we went out for coffee and enjoyed looking at the wonderful Victorian architecture around town. Again we had a calm morning on the water, so we motored downriver to Washington, MO. Like the day before, we tied off the boat at a public dock and ran for air conditioning. I noticed that Washington also has its share of lovely old buildings.

We stayed at the wonderfully restored Old Dutch Hotel. Jackie Schell, the manager, put us in touch with her sister Chris Stuckenschneider, who scheduled an interview for the next morning, for an article she planned to do in the Washington Missourian newspaper about our trip. Tomorrow would also complete the run across Missouri, and the beginning of a weekend stay in St. Louis, where I had several contacts to make.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 23 thru Day 28

The Tamed Missouri River, Finally

Day 23. Randy, my nephew from Michigan, arrived on Monday and we got him moved in on the boat after checking out of the hotel in Sioux City. We needed groceries and ice especially, so we took a cab to Walmart and loaded up. We gained some tips on how to get along with the channelized river from fellow boater Kevin and his group at the local riverside bar, had some supper, and went to the boat and bed.


Day 24. Stocking up on ice again, since South Dakota summer was in full swing, we pulled out into the river and began to see what a river with predictable channel and depth is like. What a wonderful difference! The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) maintains a channel that is at least nine feet deep and typically about 300 feet wide, unless there is need to restrict it in a spot. The ACE channel follows strictly the way the river will naturally flow. It will pretty much always round a turn following the outer, or concave, bank and continue following that shore until the river turns the other way. Then the channel will naturally cross to the other bank and follow the curve around that way. The water thus follows the path of least resistance, going straight until it is forced to follow a curve.


So the ACE folks will dredge that channel if/where needed, and they have wing dams coming out from the shallow side of the river, to push the water over into the channel and keep it "flushed out" and flowing swiftly. Wing dams or dikes are walls of rocks running part-way across the river from the bank. We saw a few towboats hauling rock upstream for ACE, to repair the wing dams and retaining walls damaged by last year's flood.


Fortunately this year the water level is low enough that we could clearly see the wing dams, so were not likely to run over one and break the motor. The current at this point was going about six miles per hour, we estimated.


We found that using day marks on the shore and buoys in the water that guided crossings, we had little trouble staying in the channel, which varied from 12 to 25 feet deep. There was one scare in the afternoon when we found a snag -- a tree stuck on the bottom in the middle of the channel -- and had to work around it on both sides to find good water. There were but two surprises of this type, though, and otherwise the deep water was easy to follow. We tied off at a boat ramp in a recreation area featuring an outhouse (always a nice touch), had supper and turned in for a quiet night's sleep.

Day 25. We met Rich Porter in the morning when he launched his flat-bottom fishing boat, and discussed the river. He is a bow fisherman, hunting carp with a specialized bow and arrow. He said that the Asian carp, which become quite large, eat all the food on the bottom that is needed by the fry of other species, and are starving all the other fish out. So progressively the carp are taking over the Missouri River. We would hear more about the carp as the trip progressed.

As the day heated up we got underway, and made a fast run to Omaha, NE, pulling into the Dodge Park Marina there. I called and got instructions from the marina superintendent, Mark Smith, and we tied off in an open slip. It was about 105 degrees out, with several hours of daylight left. Then to my amazement, out of the blue Mark called me and asked if we were docked out in the open. Since we were, he went out of his way to drive over to where we were, find a covered slip we could occupy for the night, and help us move to it. Then he continued on his way home. One of the many kind and generous folks we have met along the river, taking the trouble to make life easier on river travelers.


We visited my niece Alice that evening, who made sure we were set up to take showers, and we went out for pizza with her and her friend JoAnn, then they dropped us off at the marina and we settled in. Randy found a garden hose and wetted himself down to cool off. It was very warm late into the night. I figured I had better just get used to it.

Day 26. We now had to get from Omaha (mile 630) to St. Joseph, MO (mile 450), with no likely source of gas between. Including four gas cans we thought that 68 gallons should be adequate, but were not yet sure about usage at different speeds.


We saw the sights of Omaha and then settled in for many miles of sameness -- the riparian strip always dominated by cottonwoods, blue heron the dominant bird on the river, with occasional cranes and one snowy egret, flat open country out beyond the riverside trees. From time to time modest wooded hills would stretch out to the west or east of us. We saw large new sand islands and dunes on shore, produced by last year's flood, which created dust storms when the wind blew.


There was very little settlement along the river, and what there was bore testament to the devastating flood of last year. Clusters of low-rent houses and outbuildings were nearly always empty, with windows and doors gone, or wracked out of shape or flattened. I was too slow with my camera, but my favorite was one intact residence whose riverside wall of windows was covered with plywood sheets. Across these was the instruction, spray-painted orange: NOT ABANDONED -- KEEP OUT A**HOLES.

We pushed through the middle of the day and afternoon, past the mouth of the Platte River (thoughts of Denver and home), past Nebraska City and on the left the Iowa-Missouri line. A new affliction that was to visit us often in the coming days was the black fly. Just those little guys, but their bites on our legs really hurt. So whoever was in the passenger seat would grab off baseball cap and slap around frequently, briskly, to clear them off the inside of the windshield and out of the cockpit area. Something to do on a slow day.

David Miller's book told us about a river camp called McAdams Landing at mile 548, which would be a good overnight stop about halfway to St. Joe. Miller had a nice visit with locals there, and we hoped to find a boat dock, some company, an outhouse, maybe some ice. We got there and there was nothing and no one, except an unoccupied new-looking travel-camper. The flood had taken out whatever facilities had existed, and in walking around it appeared that the buildings a bit upstream were not occupied. Where there had been a boat ramp had filled in with mud so there was barely room to beach the boat just clearing the fast flow of the channel. We decided to stay anyway.


As we were getting situated, tying off the boat and popping a beer in the terribly hot stillness, we were alarmed to see an upbound towboat approaching, on our side of the river. Fearing that his wake could wash us up onto the mud, we braced with paddle and boat hook as he came by. Just as he came abreast of our location, the pilot cut his speed drastically, and we held through moderate wash as he continued by. We were very relieved. Within a few minutes we went to battle stations again, as a downbound towboat came by. Happily, he also slowed as he passed, so we survived. Tying off in or near the channel is not recommended, but we didn't have much choice. We just hoped that there would be no traffic during the night.


Soon we were surprised and pleased to see a car pull in above us, and soon a fellow came over and hailed us. We went up and met Terry Gillespie, the new owner of this (previously Carl Iske's) property and a dentist from nearby Red Oak, Iowa. Terry had his camper-trailer here on the river and was looking forward to doing improvements to make it something of a river-traveler friendly camping park. Soon Ed Welte, the owner of the next-door residence we'd seen, showed up.


After getting our respective suppers out of the way, we went up to the (deliciously air-conditioned) trailer and drank coffee and visited with Ed and Terry until late, talking about the river, the flood, and the history of the place. I read them Miller's warm account of his stay there some seven years earlier. Ed gave us an update, saying that Bob McAdams was pretty elderly but now living in nearby Peru, NE. Ed had been to the funerals of three of the folks David Miller had visited, including Carl Iske, Sarabeth McAdams, and another gentleman. A thought-provoking note at the end of the evening.

Day 27. After coffee with Terry we shoved off early into a beautiful morning, happy for some cloud cover. At noon we pulled into tiny Rulo, NE for ice. We got that and great burgers at Wild Bill's Bar & Grill. A couple of farmers there told us about the desperate dry spell they were having, a theme I would hear often in the coming weeks. Wild Bill's was high up the hill, unlike the very large boarded-up Camp Rulo River Club, which went under the flood. On its sign was the offer FOR SALE $25000. I don't think they will get it.

With 60 lbs. of ice we pushed on toward St. Joe, adding fuel to the boat from our gas cans. Based on the authoritative Quimby's 2012 Cruising Guide, the Sunset Grill and River Towne Resort has gas and all services except maybe dancing girls. According to our binoculars shot as we came into St. Joe, they have yellow police tape and a KEEP OUT sign decorating the main building. My first clue had been that their phone was not in service. According to the Chamber of Commerce, they have been gone for some years, even before last year's flood. And the Chamber guy's suggestion was to go to the city boat ramp or someplace and get a cab to run us to a gas station. This was not looking good. We absolutely had to be full-up with gas now, since the next advertised source would be at Columbia, MO, some 280 miles downriver.

The ACE nav chart showed a St. Joseph Boating and Yacht Club a few miles south of town, so even though it was late afternoon, and their phone also was not in service, we decided to just go there and get whatever help was available (even if it was to call that cabbie). We motored down there and Whew! A boat dock, and a friendly guy coming down asking us where we're from and all that. At mile 444 the Club is alive and well.


Dick Lawson got us situated, and promptly drove us 2-3 miles to a gas station where we got enough gas to fill the boat's tank. Then we settled in with Dick, his wife Susie, and fellow club board member Bruce Steltenpohl in a shady fan-cooled spot under their (new, up on stilts) clubhouse and shared some ice-cold beers and traded stories.


As soon as I wondered aloud about having enough gas for the next leg, Bruce promptly took us to the gas station again so we got all the gas cans filled. Then we continued trading stories 'til midnight with these lovely folks and other arrivals at the club.

Day 28. We were awakened at first light by Bruce, who brought us breakfast sandwiches from McDonald's on his way out fishing with Dick. We got going, took pictures, bid goodbyes and thanks to Susie, and headed south. After a couple of miles we passed Bruce and Dick with a Thanks Again and a Like Your Hat, and motored on.


Today was the day that we were to arrive in Kansas City, where the next Executive Officer relieving process would occur. Randy would fly out to Michigan, and the new XO -- my dear old fellow graduate of the book business, David Youngstrom -- would fly in from Denver. Now, Kansas City is pretty completely riverboater-unfriendly.


Independent research by Randy, David and me had found no good place to tie off the boat and do the switch. Happily, David had early in the day made his way downtown, rented a bicycle, and done a several-mile reconnaissance of the waterfront, and had selected a state park boat ramp below downtown to guide us to.

By early afternoon the cab arrived with David and several bags of ice, Randy and I wished each other safe trips, and David and I headed out. We wanted to "get the hell outa Dodge" well before dark, being uncomfortable with tying off in a big city waterfront.


Thirty miles downriver we pulled in by the boat ramp at Sibley, MO, just below what a local fellow reported as not-to-miss, the venerable Fort Osage.

We visited a bit with local young folks up at the ramp's parking lot. It was Saturday, June 30th, and July 4th festivities were getting underway. We hoped that this contact, since the boat was somewhat hidden below the bushes, would make it less likely that an errant tossed cherry bomb would explode amongst the gas cans on our bow later in the evening. We cooked and ate a lovely Pad Thai supper, washed dishes and settled in for the night.

Then yet another perfectly generous local person, we dubbed "camo guy", came slipping and sliding down the bank, not spilling a drop of his beer, and offered to go fetch, or take us to town for, practically anything we could think of. We thanked him and said we were pretty well equipped. But we learned that he was there because he and his buddies were about to launch and go Bullfrogging. We didn't know about that.

In Bullfrogging, you go toward the shore in your boat and shine a very bright light, hopefully blinding and stopping short an unwary bullfrog. While he is mesmerized, according to camo guy, you jab him between the eyes with a gig, some kind of a long-handled harpoon. Then, after some more labor-intensive steps, someone eats the frog's legs. The economics of Bullfrogging are suspect, we think. We got a good night's sleep, despite the boys just upstream doing Bullfrogging, as well as fireworks, bugs, rain, train, and Sibley power plant noise and lights.

It was the end of June, a full month since I left home. I had traveled over 1500 miles down the "Big Muddy" Missouri River, leaving a bit over 300 miles to the confluence with the Mighty Mississippi. Randy and I had had a very interesting and educational week. It was not as intense as the previous three weeks had been, but I welcomed that change. The next ten days with David promised to be interesting, and satisfying, in very different ways.