His name is Gus and when he picked me up at
In 1962, Gus Flores emigrated to
Gus is short and round with straight dark hair mildly streaked with gray. His steady smile showcases irregularly arranged teeth that come in various shades of aged ivory. He is incorrigibly young—interested in everything around him and not in the least worn down by the labors of life. Sixty five and his woman just left him. She could not bear, it seems, the stress of a long distance relationship with someone whose temperament and line of work would so obviously afford him countless opportunities to meet and get to know other women. Life is a curious thing.
When we got to
With overcast skies and occasional fits of
Now in retrospect I realize that the weeks
of heat and
humidity had sucked out of me most of the initiative and all of the
that I had previously been relying on to overcome my inexperience on
river. Setting up Kobuk and preparing
for departure is easy now. It is
especially so since all systems seem to be functioning ok. I have
not yet tested the engines, but
otherwise Kobuk seems to have borne the enforced inactivity with no
distress. She is grimy with wind borne
dirt and her waterline is a broad yellow scum of collected river scud,
is superficial and in the morning I will clean her hull.
For three weeks now Kobuk has laid alongside
I had also worried about unpredictable Nature: would she get the river to carry snags down onto poor Kobuk’s bow and strafe her with sharp stumps of logs with broken-off branches? Well, no, she didn’t do that and Kobuk looks unscarred. There was a large log lodged between the hull and the dock but it did no damage and when the lines were loosened the log went on its way—so Kobuk was not victimized by flotsam and jetsam.
And of course Mother Nature is infamous
offering up river floods that uproot trees, deconstruct docks, unhinge
and generally play havoc with anything in the path.
While back in
It is hard to wrap one’s mind
around the curious reality
that when it comes to flooding, that which happens elsewhere may be
important than that which happens on site. This
is particularly true on a large river like the
At least it is comforting to think about the
excessive water release in the headwaters regions of the
Only by mid-afternoon was Kobuk fit and
departure. When at last we pulled away
The gray skies and cool air gave me more
enthusiasm than I had ever been able to muster during those sultry July
days. I am ready for this!
From here to
This is the first time since
I had intended to spend the night tied off
The river charts put out by the Corps of Engineers indicated a city park a few miles downstream from the downtown so I resolved to spend the night tied off there. It turned out to be little more than a concrete boat ramp flanked on both sides by stretches of gummy mud that had been wetted to saturation by all the recent rain. It was on the inside of a bend, however, and out of the flow of the river, so I ended up tying off on the remnant of an ancient wooden pylon broken off a few feet above ground level. Then a second anchor off the stern kept Kobuk pulled away from shore, tethered at both ends and free of all mud as well as uninvited guests.
The matter of uninvited guests was indeed on my mind since four young rowdies were standing around up at the top of the boat ramp drinking beer and talking. I could hear them but the only spoken word that caught my attention was “deliverance.” These men were friendly and even volunteered to help me tie off, but, for whatever reason, my intuition told me to be wary.
As darkness settled in, the lights of the
city came on. Sitting in Kobuk eating
dinner, I could look
out over the stern at a long dark stretch of river water coming ever
with the multicolored lights of
Yesterday I had overheard a television weather forecast predicting thunderstorms in the early morning hours and this time the forecast was spot on. Shortly after one in the morning I was awakened by enormous thunderclaps, bolts of lightning, and hard rain sifting through the screen windows. I did not want to move up into the more protected bow area where the air is uncomfortably still on a warm night, so I tried to wait out the storm. All I got for my intransigence was a wet sleeping bag and damp sleeping pad. Eventually I gave in and made the move.
Few things make me feel more delivered to the hands of fate than being on Kobuk in a thunderstorm. In this case, the situation was rather good since Kobuk and I were tucked in under the shadow of a high bank with plenty of trees nearby. Still, there is something unsettling about being in a boat on the water when shafts of lightning start stabbing all around. Thank God that lightning travels faster than sound: when you hear a thunderclap you know you have survived and if your number comes up your taking will be swift and silent.
Throughout the night thunderstorms marched overhead but by morning conditions had settled down into a pattern of gray skies and steady rain. It discouraged an early departure; I spent a couple hours wrapped in clammy warmth listening to the gentle drumroll of raindrops tapping on the forward deck, inches above my head. Even after finally arising, the morning routine was slowed down by the need to mop up and store wet gear.
It was nearly by the time Kobuk and I set out. Almost immediately, the rain stopped and we motored along for hours under dark skies that seemed to be saying: “If you had gotten moving earlier I would have spared you earlier, so keep moving now or I’ll pour down on your some more.” I don’t consider myself to be an animist, but I do tend to think that when the heavens speak their words are generally more reliable than those of people.
I must be reaching the age when the flow of
longer drags me along in its wake but instead leaves me stranded in a
stationary whirlpool. I had thought that
casino gambling in this country was limited to
There is something pathetic about this great river supporting fewer large boats than its floodplain does. It has been hundreds of miles now that Kobuk and I have been following this dredged canal and so far the only large vessel I have seen doing real work was the Belle of Brownville up in Nebraska—Randel Smith’s cruise boat for tourists. In retrospect, I realize that the handful of tugs with barges that have passed by all were transporting the same thing: sand. I found this puzzling for sand did not seem to be the sort of valuable product that needs to be transported by river—until the obvious finally struck me: they are merely removing the sand that the dredges along the river pull up from the bottom. Since they are part of the channel maintenance operation, it hardly makes sense to consider them as part of the commercial river traffic.
I had thought originally that traffic would
noticeably once past
While I’m in this highly critical mood, I
also would like to
comment on the riverboat motif so frequently used by casinos along the
river. Casinos are a high profit
industry so surely the designers of these fake boats could try a little
to create a believable illusion.
Come to think of it, it is about time for
one of those
I had decided on
Pretty soon, an older man in an aging white
vehicle drove in
and parked so as to have a good view of the abandoned bridge over the
short distance upstream. I went over to
him and asked for directions to
Perhaps it was the fact that the sun came
out at the end of
the day, but
Once again nighttime thunderstorms rolled
in, but by now I
was more willing to rebunk forward and the fury of the storms was less. All in all, it was a reasonably peaceful
night’s sleep tucked away in the forward coffin.
The morning was gray and rainy, just as it
yesterday, and this precipitated (so to speak) another late start. After the rains of the last two nights there
was bound to be a lot of water in the bilge. I
hadn’t checked it yesterday but today when I looked
there was more
than enough to affect both the trim and the speed under way. It was
enough to use the Guzzler, a simple hand pump that I had installed
the steering wheel. My thinking was that
if ever I put a hole in Kobuk I would be able to drive and pump at the
time (a useful arrangement if your boat is sinking and you want to get
Since I viewed the Guzzler as a failsafe
fallback in the
event that the electric pump malfunctioned or proved inadequate, I was
irritated when rapid pumping of the handle drew no water.
Simple, hand-operated machinery is not
supposed to fail! A malfunctioning hand
pump is almost as absurd as a malfunctioning baseball bat; something so
you don’t expect to go south. Well, the
pump does have a few moving parts and since the ones on the exterior
fine it must be that one of the two rubber flappers on the interior has
failed. The pump has had so little use
that this is hard to accept, but I suppose the very lack of use in a
where the sun beats down on it could have damaged the rubber.
Bucket and sponge removed nearly twenty
gallons from the
bilge. That’s 160 pounds of sloshing
liquid, a remarkable quantity considering that the whole aft end of
measures about 8’ x 5’. And this area is
not even exposed; it is completely enclosed by a canvas bimini top and
zip-on side curtains. All this water is
nothing but leakage through the windows and around the seams and
zippers of the
It is almost unbelievable that so much water
in. I have actually had this same
on a number of occasions and each time it convinces me that somewhere
there must be a leak in the hull. But
the bilge stays bone dry day after sunny day I return to the
conclusion that that much rain water finds a way to get in around the
canvas. Before this trip takes me too far
rainy East, I think I had better deal with this issue.
This matter of bilge water reminds me of the
way in which I intentionally ignored the boat plans when I was building
Kobuk. The plans called for a water
tight seal between the floor of the boat and the sides of the hull. The floor lies flat on top of stringers,
below which is the V-shaped bilge. If I
had sealed the floor (and installed a drain at the stern), it would
all this water out of the bilge, thereby saving me a great deal of work
at the same time diminishing the long term risk of dry rot from
water. These were compelling reasons to
seal the floor, but to do so would have denied interior access to the
planking. I was concerned that if Kobuk
ever had her hull breached below the waterline, I would have to have
access to the site of the damage—not just on the outside but on the
inside as well—if
I was ever going to repair the damage. Of
course, I thought the canvas envelope would do a better
keeping the rain water out.
As Kobuk and I cruised on down the river,
gradually cleared from behind us. We
were moving in the same direction as the weather, and so as the clouds
ahead we raced along with them. Gradually,
though, we lost the race and by late in the day
the sky was a
blue vault with only scattered white puffs looking clean and bright,
I stopped at the boat ramp in Waverly hoping
that a gas
station would be nearby. There was no
urgent need for fuel but on this stretch of the river between
When the sun was low in the western sky,
Kobuk and I reached
the bridge at Miami, a town that like so many others along the river is
situated just far enough away from the water’s edge to be invisible
are on the water. There was a simple
boat ramp there, beside which was a small bay protected from the
current. I stepped ashore there and was
greeted by a man and his two sons who were speaking Spanish to each
other. They helped me by taking the line
that I had brought ashore and tying it to a tree at the top of the
The sons spoke to me in English but the man did not, leading me to
his English was limited or that his confidence in it was.
They were from
As I settled in for the night, I looked out
in disgust at
the shocking collection of flotsam eddying around in my little bay. One of the problems on a river like this is
that most every patch of protected water becomes a collecting pool for
kinds of garbage—not just tree limbs and driftwood, but also Styrofoam
rubber gloves, unsaturated paper products, milled timber, floating
cans, scummy suds, aerosol spray cans, etc. On
this occasion, there was even an inflated basketball.
I turned my attention inward and tried to
ignore the fact that we were floating in a sort of sewer.
At this point, three young men came down
through the tall grass and spread out along the edge of the inlet to
fish. They spoke to each other in Spanish. I am beginning to think there is a higher
percentage of Spanish speaking people in the little town of
Not long after sunrise, before the heavy dew
had begun to
evaporate, I noticed through the moisture-laden screen of the rear
a pickup truck was crossing the
From what I could gather, the man and his
two sons had
purchased the rig from someone the night before and this was their
attempt at a launch. The
The level of the river had risen remarkably overnight. I had run ashore the previous evening by driving the bow into a mud bank with sufficient speed to lift it a few inches. I thought I would stay wedged there for the night, but when I got up in the morning the mud bank was under water and Kobuk was floating around on her tether like a kite on a short string.
Where does all this water suddenly come from and where does it suddenly disappear to? Visualize a foot or two of water that is, say, a half mile wide. Picture it flowing past you faster than you could walk. That’s a lot of water to just appear one day and then vanish the next.
Kobuk and I pushed off around . Being
on the river in
early morning of a sunny day is sweet, delicious coolness, and for a
hours I sat on the high seatback drinking in the fresh breeze scooped
cabin by the open clamshell top. Shadows
were long in the early light and Kobuk flitted from shady havens to
reaches and back again. It was a fine,
fine trip from
The plan for the day was to reach
As Kobuk rounded the final bend that brought Glasgow into view, the scene was a Thomas Hart Benton landscape painted by a skilled forger whose eye was much more drawn to the subtle and the mysterious. There in front of us was a haystack of a hill swathed in forest, but with occasional streets partially visible—streets lined with tidy, white clapboard homes set among big trees. Near the top of the hill a slender church spire pierced the forest. The suggestion of a main street pitched precipitously towards the river with a row of red or painted white brick shops stepping down along each side. The grain elevator was down next to the river looking like a lineup of Lifesaver packets stood on end with their paper wrappers removed but not their foil. Two octogenarian bridges threw a fretwork of triangular steel supports across the river—one for trains and one for cars, one in a uniform layer of rust red and the other running right beside it in apple green.
Just down from the bridges was a freshly mown city park with a wider boat ramp than usual and a stretch of bank dressed in tall grass and chaperoned by a thinning row of stately Cottonwood trees. This water level view of Glasgow was so much superior to that of any other place I had visited along the river that I wanted to stay even before I got into town.
Market Street, the main drag I
toward the river so determinedly that from anywhere along it one could
down on the muddy flow of the Missouri. One
of the shops near the lower end of
After that, my trips around town were little more than diversions that helped me stay occupied until 5:00 PM when she would close the store and then come down to the park to spend a few hours with me on Kobuk.
It wasn’t a wasted afternoon, though. When I left Megan to mind her shop, I almost immediately ran into Jeff Davis, a low-key, unaffected young man who owns and operates a used car business—if you can imagine such a thing. Both Jeff and Megan were born and raised here and neither feels any strong compulsion to leave.
The same can be said for Eileen Haskamp, the
librarian. I met her when I went into the
library at the
Megan appeared shortly after closing time. With translucent gray eyes, long long legs,
and a smile more constant than even my own, she settled into a deck
we went for a cruise on the river. I
think the attraction here is that she is so self-contained—comfortable
own skin and at peace with constant solitude. After
running up the river for an hour or so, we turned
shut off the engine, and drifted back to
I had pleasant memories of the evening
before, but there was
one sour note: when it was time to put ashore back in
Throughout the day the
Late in the day, a boat dock appeared on the
left bank with
a general store in the background and a prominent sign advertising the
availability of fuel. Such a thing is as
rare hereabouts as a Pallid Sturgeon so I put in to Coopers Landing to
advantage of its convenience. No sooner
had I stepped ashore than two men out bicycling rolled to a stop beside
me. One of them—a short, compact, somewhat
fellow with a gritty, grimacey smile—barraged me with a volley of
about which boat was mine and what I was doing with it.
He was neither aggressive nor hostile—just
obsessively curious—and we ended up talking for quite some time. His partner stood in the background through
all this, and only when Wayne Armbrust, the interrogator, disappeared
(to go to
the bathroom, I assumed) did I have an opportunity to address this
cyclist. I never learned his name but he
did manage to let me know that he was a social studies teacher and that
friend Wayne was a retired theoretical physicist. Before
I was able to discover any more about
the two of them,
A captivating aspect of “life on the
At another time, I bore down on a red nun buoy that, instead of doing its job in the staid and stoic manner common to its breed, was darting to left and right and diving underwater only to pop up suddenly a moment or two later. It looked as if it was desperately struggling to escape some voracious aquatic creature, and indeed it was wrestling with a semi-submerged sapling that had snagged it.
Less Wagnerian but equally incongruous was the glistening black butterfly with blue-tipped wings that came out of nowhere and flitted through the open slit between the cabin sides and the clamshell top. It stayed for a prolonged visit, silently wafting from place to place—as if inspecting Kobuk’s cabin accoutrements—before abruptly departing without a word.
Kobuk and I reached
As we passed under the bridge and approached this place, the capital building—all stately and gilded in golden solar rays stood right near the ramp, only about two blocks removed from the edge of the river.
Aaah, but those two blocks! When I took the bike ashore to make a run over to the Capital building I discovered that getting there required crossing a railway marshalling yard that had more or less continuous use of at least one of the three tracks to be crossed. For over half an hour, I stood waiting with my bicycle as the clanging bell dinged and a stationary train failed to move. During that time, two other trains went clattering by on one of the other tracks. Eventually, I gave up and returned to Kobuk to get a good night’s sleep.
The full run of the
In the morning as I was preparing to make breakfast, I could discern the railway crossing up at the top of the abandoned, weed-choked boat ramp, and the tracks all lay unoccupied. I grabbed the bike and scampered up the river bank and over the crossing, suddenly and unexpectedly let loose in the city, like a prisoner allowed to escape through a gate left unaccountably open. I knew I was eventually going to have to get back to the boat, but my philosophy about this sort of thing is “one problem at a time, one at a time.”
The main street of
There was not time to sightsee for I had errands to do today. Even though I could not explore the city, the sunlight splashing on the sidewalks and the purposeful people going about their daily affairs was sufficient stimulus after so many days of serpentine travel through wooded landscapes.
In the middle of the day I took lunch in Coffee Zone, a small eatery in the heart of town. It was there that I met John Carroll. He had overheard me talking with the proprietor of the place and interjected a couple questions about what I was doing and where I was headed. He has a particular interest in boats, as it turns out because of his involvement with canoeing. He claims that most canoes are inappropriate for use on the Missouri because their relative instability and reluctance to run straight make them vulnerable to the vagaries of the powerful river current as well as to the obscene chop that trails behind any barge traveling upstream—a chop, incidentally, I now know persists in the form of myriad reflected waves and crosswaves sometimes for as much as ten minutes after the passage has occurred. John told me that he uses a canoe that he designed himself—one with so much stability that he could stand on the gunwale without capsizing it. Since he is a much taller man than I, and reasonably large framed to boot, this impressed me and so I asked him how heavy his canoe was. He claimed that it was “light,” and somehow I never found an opportunity to pin him down with more specific questions regarding weight, beam, and the like. John went on to explain that there appears to be some demand for his unique craft and so he is gearing up to manufacture it in fiberglass. Once again, though, I could not get much in the way of particulars from him.
I never know what to do in a situation like this. I liked John and enjoyed talking with him, but his canoe and his boat construction enterprise sound a little too good to be true. But after all, what harm does it do to believe him? I don’t intend to buy a canoe from him so there is no risk for me to accept his words at face value. That way we can continue as superficial friends and I get to accommodate my peculiar fascination with all things novel and unprecedented.
At a later point in our conversation when I was complaining about the way in which the City has neglected its riverfront, John informed me that the City had received a multimillion dollar federal grant for a complete renovation of its waterfront but that the state government had redirected the use of that money towards expansion of parking lots around the capital and the state office buildings that are so near the river. I have no idea whether John’s narrative is accurate (although almost certainly it is not balanced). I will say, however, that there are some very handsome new parking lots stretching from the capital building to the State Office of Information.
As a matter of fact, the little wheels of my Bike Friday rolled across them with nifty smoothness as I made my way back to Kobuk in the middle of the afternoon. Since trains were blocking the crossing to the boat ramp, I detoured into the State Office of Information building in search of a brochure listing riverside gas docks that I had seen at Cooper’s Landing. I thought there would be a room with free publications and pamphlets put out by the state, but instead I was directed to the library where one of the librarians undertook a search for me.
There is something about the training or the temperament of librarians that prohibits them from ever abandoning the search for a patron’s requested item. Eventually, I began to hint that we didn’t have to go through all this, that the brochure was not so desperately important to me. I knew, however, that this was a futile effort on my part. Librarians latch on to a request with all the vigor of a terrier given a bone, and are equally reluctant to relinquish it. Much, much later, after multiple Internet searches and telephone conversations with experts in various branches of state government, I managed to ease myself out of the library and back onto the elegant street curving its way between the new parking lots. Trains were still blocking the rail crossing, but after only a few minutes the tracks cleared and I was able to get to Kobuk.
Wading through the chest high weeds, I was able to see Kobuk’s cabin and topsides, but only when I broke out onto the small, sloping concrete ramp did I discover that much of the hull was out of water. My heart sank. The river had dropped since I left in the morning and now my boat was stranded. The entire front third of the hull was parked on the ramp and only a very small portion of the hull at the stern was deeper in the water than when floating properly. In short, Kobuk was more out of the water than in.
I organized the inside of the boat and thought about what to do. Almost certainly I would need to locate help—hopefully nothing more than manpower but possibly even machinery.
Before seeking assistance, though, I had to at least make an effort at getting her free. I waded around the back of the hull to see whether the trim tabs that angle downward off the bottom of the stern were at risk of shoveling into the river bottom and getting ripped off if the hull were backed up. Both were reasonably clear, although water was much deeper on the upstream side. Squatting in the shallows, I put my back to the port side of the hull near the aft end and attempted to move the mass sideways into deeper water. To my utter amazement, it actually moved, and I was inspired to greater levels of exertion. Eventually, I did get the hull reoriented with the stern projecting more perpendicularly out into the river. I viewed this accomplishment as miraculous and although backing the entire boat down into the water looked far more daunting than had moving its waterborne end sideways, I began to go at the task with a sliver of hope. It is possible to find a very efficient angle of attack when heaving on Kobuk’s blunt bow, but it looked as if I would have to in effect lift up one end of this 3,000 pound boat to have any hope of making her budge.
I went all out on the first effore, knowing that by the third or fourth try my legs would be too exhausted to do the job right. Nothing happened at first, but then Kobuk slipped back about an inch. This definitely changed my attitude about the entire project and in less than five minutes Kobuk was waterborne once again.
As I began to motor down the river
contemplating what had
just happened, I came to realize that I had been saved by the repairs I
done back in early July up in
But now in this one particular instance the plastic Keel Guard on the concrete had acted like a greased skidway. I never would have gotten Kobuk free without it.
I pushed Kobuk onward until the end of the day, only reaching the public ramp at Chamois as the sun was setting. The embankment there was very unsuitable for tying off because it was rock lined and the and the river current was nipping at it like a dog chasing a bicycle. A very short distance upstream, however, was a tiny slough with steep mud banks. A few trees had detached from the top of the bank and tipped over precariously, but had not yet slid all the way down into the river. I chose the low-odds, high damage risk of tying off to a tree that might collapse over the high-odds, lower damage risk of getting beat against the rocks by the current.
I soon discovered that directly above me, hardly out of view, somebody had a more or less permanent campsite. They were not home, but soon returned, and when they did I climbed up the bank to introduce myself and to apologize for tying off so close to them. The young man I spoke to was lounging in a lawn chair and reacted to my little speech with faint grunts and mutters, but no actual words that I could discern. When I delivered my apology he simply shrugged his shoulders, and so then I returned to the boat.
Curiosity finally got the better of him and a few minutes later he showed up at the top of the bank with two companions. He engaged me in conversation, after his fashion, lacing his speech with the most remarkable abundance of swear words and obscenities that I have heard in a long time. We discussed such matters as the depth of the water, which he cautioned me would be inadequate if the river were to drop. I took out the boathook and plumbed the depth, thereby confirming to him that he—or I—need not worry. We also talked about his fucking concrete pour that had been fucking delayed because his pussy coworkers were so unskilled and because of all the fucking rain. His name was Butch and he had been camped in this location since the start of the project. His last words to me were that all the other pussy workers were too fucking chickenshit to camp out here near the river, but he wasn’t fucking afraid of nothing. With that he strutted off in the deepening dusk, leaving me to consider his confession of inadequacy.
It is easy to see why this stretch of the
Along the way, towns such as Hermann and
This particular manifestation of
settlement and transportation corridor is often seen in
When I moored Kobuk at the end of the
When I commented on how pretty
As soon as Nick had an outline of what I was up to, he told me in a hushed and confidential tone that we had to go to the local newspaper. He knew one of the owners, he said, and she would want to do a story on my boat trip. Nick ran me up to the newspaper office a few blocks away and led me in to speak with Carol (?) Wood, who obviously knew him quite well. She did assign a reporter to the story, and before nightfall Kip Christianson had interviewed me and had turned me back over to Carol who came down to the boat to take a few photos. When she was finished, we stood there talking for a few minutes and she commented on the fact that Nick is a very unusual individual. She claimed that during the last election when he was on the ballot for councilman (?), he declined to take part in debates and contended that it would only be appropriate for him to reveal his political agenda after having been elected.
Nick obviously has some unconventional views, and when he had strongly urged me to go in his car with him to get gas, I was more than a little skeptical about his assertion that we should go right away because the price of gas was going to go up 40 cents before the end of the day. Nick seems to be one of those people who just want to help as much as possible and will go out of their way to convince you to accept the help. I was not desperately short of gas, however, and declined his kind offer. The following morning when he finally did convince me to accept his help with getting gas, I discovered that the price had indeed risen 40 cents.
This is one of those days I failed to keep
control of; it
slipped its leash and ran off without me. I
was constantly doing things, it seemed, but somehow,
wasn’t able to
push off for points downstream until mid-afternoon.
There wasn’t that much preparing to do so I
have no rational explanation for why readiness was so elusive. When at last I did cast off, the day was so
advanced that any further delay would have meant arriving at
When Kobuk and I reach the
I have been thinking a lot about the
It will be a constant temptation to power up the main engine and use it to motor along at, say, 25 miles per hour because then the trip to Chicago would only take a few days of cruising and each of those days could be a leisurely 4-5 hours instead of 8. Besides, the math says that a boat traveling at 25 miles per hour loses a much smaller percentage of its forward progress to river current than would one traveling at a much slower speed. All the percentages in the world, however, do not change the fact that the large engine uses many times more gas per mile than does that little outboard. I suspect that I will end up succumbing to temptation some significant part of the time.
There is one nagging worry: the water here is only a couple feet deep and a sudden drop in river level could leave Kobuk stuck in the mud. That looks like a risk all along this side of the river, however, so I put the risk out of mind and went to town. By the time I returned to the boat I was too tired to worry about it and sleep came on almost as soon as I got horizontal.
Not just the Missouri basin but the whole of
middle between the Appalachians and the Rockies, from the Gulf to the
was the scene of a mad scramble by the eighteenth century equivalent of
transnational corporations, each trying to gather for itself the
possible share of the animal furs to be had. The
result was of course a rapid and rapidly accelerating
the beaver and the other fur-bearing animals throughout the region. By the time the mountain men came along in
the 1820’s, the exploitation of the interior lowlands already had run
course. Americans tend to be most aware
of the mountain men because many of them were American.
What they were doing in the mountains and
farther west, however, was nothing more than the last chapter in a
that had already been running for decades. Throughout
most of its history, though, the North American
fur trade was
dominated not by Americans but by French and English fur companies. Ironically, it was the French who controlled
the portions of the interior that were to become the
Two blocks farther back from shore there is another commercial street that is in the process of being redeveloped as “Frenchtown.” Although there are a number of restored buildings and quaint shops there, they are sporadic along the way and often an abandoned building or a vacant lot or—worst of all—a contemporary structure sits to either side. In other words, Frenchtown has a ways to go before it can sustain the illusion of age.
Somehow, this historic core has a look that
is suggestive of
Since arriving back in
The rapid overnight drop in the river spooked me. I had errands to run in town, but after each one I would return to make sure Kobuk was not being stranded by an ever-shrinking river. When finally we set out, there was no problem pushing out through the tall grasses that seined the water in this little protected bay.
There is an itch, now, to get out of this
river. It is not rational since the
Even as our speed has increased, the level of the water has been dropping. Since less water in the river should make it flow slower, I can only conclude that that the steady increase in velocity downstream is even more pronounced than what we have experienced.
With only about an hour to go before
This is all just theory because there is no convenient way for me to operate the toggle switch up in the cabin while at the same time peering over the stern to watch the drum. Until today, I have simply put up with the problem since it would only occur a few times each day and the solution was easy: throttle back to neutral, perhaps do a 360* in the swirling current, and then power up once again taking care to not pivot the bracket very far from parallel with the stern of the boat (in other words, steer gradually).
Now, however, the problem is recurring almost every time I try to steer right, and so finally I have to stop and see if it can be fixed. It is impossible to reach the electric motor or the little steel drum without getting out of the boat and standing in shallow water, so I work on the only option readily available to me: tightening the spring-loaded wire pulley. Even this could prove to be a fruitless endeavor since I cannot reach the backing nut to hold it while tightening the tension eye. Afterwards, however, the problem occurs less frequently, leading me to believe that I am on the right track.
After 1,944 miles and over two months on the
river, Kobuk follows
the curve of the last bend and enters the
But now, for the first time, there is
traffic, lots of
traffic. A long row of tugs and barges
The vectors of barge movement offer a navigational challenge. Since it is the regulatory duty and survival imperative that small boats steer clear of them, you're constantly looking for a safe heading to follow. Barges move slowly—about the same speed that we are moving—but the passage of one is something that takes more than mere seconds. Furthermore, one always has to factor in the possibility that a tug with barges may change direction at any time. And then there is the large train of waves following after one of them. In a small boat like Kobuk you really have to hold on to ride those waves. I can only imagine what it must be like to get caught in the intersecting wave trains of two passing barges.
Only a few miles up from the confluence,
there is a dam and
lock on the
It all worked out smoothly, however. The voice on the radio gave me simple
directions, and not very many of them. How
professional! The ride in
lock also was smooth. I was expecting
great inrushing volumes of water that would toss Kobuk around like a
cork in a
washing machine, but in reality the turbulence was no worse than the
As is so often the case, the imagined hazard failed to materialize and an unimagined one took its place. It was not a serious hazard, but when I steered Kobuk into the lock a disgusting assortment of dead fish, slimy logs, oil slicks, and discarded trash littered the way and presented such a gauntlet of obstacles that I grew anxious about the possibility that the jet intake might become clogged. It didn’t, though, and when the lock gates opened and the release horn sounded I was able to take Kobuk out of there looking no less nautical than the other two small boats that had locked through at the same time.
When you exit from the lock, the city of
In the shadow of the bridge on the upstream side, a modern marina with all the facilities a rich yachtsman might desire sits behind rocky breakwaters in opulent seclusion. This artificial harbor almost surely was built with public funds since at one end of it there is a modest boat ramp and dock with a partially paved parking lot nearby. The marina is large and clean and charges unconscionably high prices to moor: $50 for overnight and $6 if you just want to leave your boat during the day for a few hours. It is a corporately operated enterprise, of course, and it hires mostly young women to do the work. Skipper Bud, the corporate employer, puts them in blue knit, collared t-shirts, and pays them to smile. I suppose you get your money’s worth when you stay here, but I only need a place to tie my boat so I motor on over to the public dock and tie off on the side of it that is away from the ramp.
This small relocation within the artificial harbor only requires a move of about a hundred yards, but while making the transit two mechanical problems crop up. The first one is an old story: the main engine won’t restart. The second one is new: the auxiliary will run but not in neutral and not in reverse.
But the old town and the suburbs—they sit
high up high
enough to escape the risk of floodwaters. Of
Kobuk is moored to the unused side of the
town dock next to
the town boat ramp. Its location is
almost directly beneath the
I ended up spending the whole day in
All day yesterday I had the ‘I don’t want to deal with it’ mentality and so this morning I reluctantly convinced myself to take a look at the problems with the auxiliary and its Remote Troll. As for the balky main engine, I knew from experience that it would run fine once it had had a night’s rest. Even if I knew what I was doing it would be tough to fix an engine that is working ok.
Since water depth at the dock was too deep to stand in and the shore area was all mud, I decided to put off the Remote Troll problem as well. For the next little while, Kobuk will be cruising in waters with little or no current and it seemed reasonable to hope that the less challenging conditions might ameliorate the problem.
The mind is highly creative at fabricating sensible reasons for not dealing with something. In this case, I suffered no punishment for my procrastination: all day long the Remote Troll worked reasonably well, only malfunctioning a couple times, gentle reminders, I suppose, that the problem is in remission and still needs to be cured.
I did spend some time looking into the gear shifting issue, but all I was able to determine was that neither the controls up in the cabin nor the control levers on the side of the engine were responsible. All the external hardware is designed to pivot a square rod that disappears into some sort of gearing device. The rod pivots as it ought to but with perfect ineffectiveness. At this point, I gave up and prepared Kobuk for departure.
For a few afternoon hours, I guided Kobuk up
the length of
Alton Pool, a lovely stretch of water with a serrated barricade called
Piasa Bluffs on the
Except on the limestone faces of the Piasa
forest everywhere is jungle thick. It is
the first time the landscape has looked like the East rather than the
West. I am not sure what the difference
is. There has been an abundance of
forest ever since leaving
Although the water here continues to be more brown than blue, you can at least see a couple inches down into it and this makes you want to jump in and take a swim. If it’s not careful, this Alton Pool could give the word ‘reservoir’ a good name.
The small town of
Grafton may be small but on this Labor Day weekend people have come from all around to take advantage of the good boating. All these visitors are catered to with the right kinds of shops, plenty of restaurants, wine tasting outlets, and the biggest bar I have ever seen.
Work has just begun on a marina for the town, but at present there are very meager facilities for mooring or beaching a boat. Even so, I was lucky enough to sneak in on the back side of a courtesy dock beside the town boat ramp. With Kobuk snugged down for the evening, I went out for a spin on Bike Friday to see what I could see.
What I saw, in very short order, was a sign
for The Aerie
Vineyard advertising a grand view of the river. That
sounded good, so I turned right as the sign directed
and headed up
a very steep hill. It was so steep that
it taxed my limits even in the lowest gear. The
road disappeared around a bend a short distance up and
I thought to
myself that beyond there the worst must be over—this being
But it was worth it. A raucous crowd was laughing and talking as a guitar and vocal duet laid down passable renditions of Jimmy Buffet songs. All this was happening on a broad, awning-covered deck that looked out over the treetops and down on many miles of both rivers. The Aerie Vineyard no longer sells its own wine (if it ever did), but after having worked so hard to arrive at this appropriately named location, any wine was fine with me. I spent several hours listening to music, watching the crowd, and surveying the mighty river on which Kobuk was but a distant speck of white.
Late that night when I crawled into the forward bunk to go to sleep, I was lullabied by the distant sound of party animals enjoying live music at the Loading Dock, a nightspot on the waterfront. When you’re next to the water like this, night sounds carry impossible distances and in the process transmute into golden notes that delight the ear and reassure the solitary soul.
By setting out early, Kobuk was able to shed her morning dew while under way. Almost imperceptibly, the fog on the windshield dissipated and the beads and little rivulets of water on the forward deck shrank into nothingness. As the sun rose higher, this morning veil slowly lifted and a landscape of gauzy mysticism resolved itself into a clarified vision in which the edging forests flaunted their intricate patterns of dark and bright, of multi-hued greens, of leaf and twig—like the proverbial snowflake, each tree different and yet patterned like all the countless others.
Along the eastern bank, Snowy Egrets perched in the trees overlooking the river. Silent and motionless, each removed from his neighbor by a more or less standard distance, they looked like spotless centuries standing ritual guard.
Particular features on the river, recognizable to any local but unknown and insignificant in the larger world, crept by and disappeared aft. Six Mile Slough, Deep Lake, Twelve Mile Island, Dark Chute, Godar’s Swamp, Panther Creek, Brushy Lake—these and a host of others came and went. While the hours passed uneventfully, the little auxiliary engine droned on and on, like a bagpipe’s haunting monotone.
A trip from Grafton to
The southern half of the
By late in the day, Kobuk had covered nearly
miles. This was what I had expected, but
it was not a particularly big chunk out of the 330 miles to
The mood here is sober and
Many people in town were employed by a
chemical factory under the ownership of Celanese, but back in June
between the union and management broke down and the workers walked off
job. Now those jobs—apparently about 160
of them—have been taken by non-union workers who came in from
The former employees have been locked out and
the odds look poor that they will ever get their jobs back. Even
though it is Labor Day and a rally by the
local chapter of the union has brought to town the governor and three
senators, the impassioned speeches expressing solidarity are small
comfort. Everybody seems to know that
Celanese is never going to hire back the townsfolk as long as
out-of-towners will do the work for less pay.
It was good to get away from Meredosia. It is not a bad town, I suppose, but the mood of the place dragged me down and reminded me of all those times in my life when a quiet voice was whispering to me that there was no place to go, nothing to do, and no way of escaping from the present. What an absurd notion! No way of escaping from the present? That is the one thing we are sure of escaping, but often it doesn’t feel that way.
One of the things that strikes me as unique about modern times is the widely held belief that tomorrow will be a different day, that a little luck and a lot of work will make next year a different year. This faith in an ever-changing world is a relatively new thing; most societies retained for centuries (if not millennia) the sense that the future will be fundamentally the same as the present. Such a view must discourage the individual from thinking about the possibility of a better life. After all, how can ‘progress’ occur if everybody believes that everything will stay about the same? This notion of stasis, of fundamentally unchanging conditions, surely discourages creativity and innovativeness. I think most modern people look back on those conservative days as a time when people were trapped in their traditional ways with no real hope of escaping.
But what is the alternative to such stultifying stability? It is, of course, instability—and this has its own drawbacks. Here we are today in a culture that not only accepts but actually expects that time and ‘improvement’ will walk hand-in-hand towards the future. But of course improvement is only one of the two possibilities. Change will occur, and if it is not for the better then it can only be for the worse. There is the insecurity of not knowing for sure what direction change is going to take, and here in Meredosia everyone is concerned that change is headed the wrong way.
Even though Kobuk
passing through a wooded
landscape with clearings hardly ever seen on either bank, I have read
literature and seen maps indicating that the states of
wisdom maintains that more than 20” of annual
precipitation, reasonably spread among the seasons, will support
forests. Less than that is likely to favor
over forests. But
In any event, the
maps that attempt to recreate the
vegetation patterns of that earlier time depict an intricate network of
along river valleys and grasslands at the slightly higher elevations. As one travels eastward across Missouri and
Illinois, the average annual rainfall increases as did the proportion
land covered in trees a few hundred years ago. One
might presume that the transition from grass to forest
was a direct
response to increasing rainfall levels—that’s what gets taught in
geography courses. Actually, though, the
linkage probably was more subtle: the greater amount of moisture
meant that rivers and streams were more numerous.
In the middle of the day, I kept hearing loud splashes aft. Each time I would turn to see if a fish had jumped but of course by the time I looked the event was over and whatever it was had disappeared. Some of the splashes were very loud and seemed very near. I couldn’t help thinking it mysterious that I never saw any fish jumping up ahead even though they seemed to be doing so behind us.
It reminded me of
a tall tale that I had been told back in
July when I was still struggling with the shoals and snags of the upper
One hears all sorts of improbable tales from people along the river, many of which turn out to be complete fabrications. Leaping catfish that smack boaters in the face seemed about as improbable as you can get, so I filed this one away under ‘doubtful.’
Now, however, with the sound (if not the sight) of fish jumping in Kobuk’s wake, I retrieved the file and began to peruse it with a little more open mind. Whenever I would watch astern, nothing would happen there, but eventually I would give up and return my attention to our forward progress, only to hear another giant splash aft. It began to make me jumpy.
Eventually we rounded a bend in the river and could see the River’s Edge Boat Club in the distance off the port side. There seemed to be hundreds of seagulls floating around on this stretch of the river. I could not remember ever having seen them in large numbers resting on the water like this, and I sat there in the cabin musing about it. Suddenly a fish appeared in the corner of my eye, coming at me eye to eye. Whack! He smacked the glass of the starboard cabin window and dropped out of sight. I leapt up and stood staring at the residue of slime and mud plastered against the outside of the window. How could such a collision not have broken the glass? I looked around expecting to see leaping fish, but, no, nothing was out there breaking the surface of the water. I edged back onto the seat and moments later heard a splash astern. Then there was a loud thud on the port side of the hull. I was being attacked! That settled it; how quickly we become believers.
A short while later I stopped at the River’s Edge Boat Club to get something to eat, but all they had was beer so I adjusted my appetite. It was a large place, elevated on stilts to cope with the periodic floods hereabouts, and its vast hall had a bar looking out over the river. At first, the bartender and I were the only ones in the place, but after a while a local showed up, a paunchy, vigorous, 80-year-old roustabout with time on his hands and things to talk about—things like duck hunting and living a long time.
When I asked these two about their crazy fish and described to them what had happened, they acted as if I had removed a skeleton from the closet. They cursed the fish and confirmed everything I had heard upstream. They grumped about the fact that these goddam fish leave your boat all slimy and bloody, plus they’re no good to eat. And then they went back to ducks.
Late in the day,
Kobuk and I pulled up to shore next to
Having gotten to shore the previous evening with an hour to spare before sunset, I decided to do a little work on Kobuk. There are trim tabs attached to the bottom of the transom that improve performance using the main engine. When only being powered by the auxiliary, though, they might actually be slowing us down. Since most of the time these days is spent running with the little Yamaha, it seemed like a good idea to take them off and see if there is any difference in boat speed at full throttle. In the process of removing them, I realized that grass was beginning to grow on the hull below the waterline. This called for a scrub down so for some time I was swimming with a bristle pad in one hand and whatever I could grab onto in the other.
I had planned to set out for
As the mist was
rising and before a morning breeze had put a
ripple on the water, we motored away from
As I tied off, Bob Skoglund, the owner of Tall Timbers Marina, appeared on the dock and offered me temporary haven. There was no mechanic but Bob had seen a lot of boats with problems before and was able to help me out. A replacement for the Remote Troll cable required no more than a trip to the local Ace Hardware store. As for the main engine, Bob diagnosed water in the fuel filter and so that ended up being perlaced as well.
Back in July when
I got the help of a mechanic at a marina
on Lewis and
As for the Remote Troll, it now worked as well—although it still balked occasionally turning left. Back to the drawing board; for now, it will have to do.
By the time Kobuk
was ready to set out, it was already
afternoon and half the day was gone. Instead
This river does have barge traffic, and during the afternoon I ended up overtaking two of them. Rigs on the river typically consist of a tugboat pushing fifteen barges that are lashed together three wide and five long. I would guess that the overall dimension is around 100’ wide and 900’ long. The locks on the river are 600’ x 110’, so a barge passing through must break itself in two with the front nine barges passing through first and the back six with the tug doing so separately. I have yet to learn how the initial set of barges is propelled out of the lock.
Barges on the
Overtaking a barge is a somewhat complicated by the turbulence set up when such a large vessel is moving through the water. Bob was saying that whenever a yacht hangs up trying to cross the shallow bar that runs across the entrance to his harbor one only need wait for a barge because its passage raises the water level about a foot. He didn’t mention how long this flood of high water lasts, but I would imagine you have to work fast.
When overtaking a barge, the backwash is great enough to slow your forward progress by almost a mile per hour. Considering that the Yamaha driven Kobuk only does about 5.5 miles per hour and that the typical barge travels at 4-5 miles per hour, the loss of speed meant that we could only inch along beside the vessel. Under such circumstances, passing is a half-hour sprint side by side with Goliath.
Incidentally, removing the trim tabs has made a difference: Kobuk moves through the water over half a mile per hour faster. Without this competitive edge, we probably never could have outdistanced a barge—not without firing up the main engine.
Mid-afternoon and we’re cruising along under a probing sun on a hazy day. The fish are jumping and I am watchful. I have actually seen a few of them now, and no longer just infer their presence from splashing sounds. After the experience of a couple days ago, I am wary of these guys, and so it is a little less shocking when I look back just in time to see a leaping carp break the surface of the water abreast the stern off the port side. He arcs so high in the air that he entirely misses the engine box and lands with a massive thud on the floorboards just behind the cabin. I scramble to corral him in a bucket as he flops around from place to place leaving a trail of blood and mud and slime. I think he must be about 18’ long and weigh three or four pounds. In any event, with his head in the bottom of the bucket and his body lying limp in there, his tail sticks out the top. Every once in a while he flops around with all the power he can muster, threatening to upset the bucket, so I toss him overboard.
As the day wore
on the atmosphere became thick with a haze
that the sun found hard to penetrate. The
air was still and all the precursors pointed to a
thunderstorm. We arrived at
By the time we arrived, the first light puffs of an approaching storm forewarned of rain. I quickly tied to the outer end of the empty dock and zipped on the curtains aft. Large trees towered above the high wall and as the wind picked up it plucked from them the first harvest of autumn leaves. They fluttered down and swirled around and in the dusky light they settled like a mottled carpet on the old dock and floated lightly on the channel waters. Fall is in the air.
It should have
been a quick trip up the river to
The two other times I have gone through a lock, I had roped to a wall and fended off the concrete as the water rose. I had thought this to be the standard way of doing the job, but on both occasions there were one or two other small boats passing through with me and they opted to just stay in the middle of the lock and with their engines running. Whenever the churning water carried them towards a wall they would power away from it. I decided to try their method this time, although I was a little nervous that the main engine might quit at a bad time. I had to use the main engine because only it might be powerful enough to deal with the roiling waters (not to mention the Yamaha’s aversion to ‘reverse’ and ‘neutral’). This method did seem to work better—fewer dings and scratches and close calls—but I am not sure it will be appropriate nearer to Chicago where the locks will be letting in enough water to raise boats twenty to thirty feet instead of ten.
In spite of its
reputation as the graveyard of anything
The main street
If people in
Those who challenge convention give society the kick it needs to mend its ways, but not all outlandish rebellions are good ideas—only a few of them are. Peorians, I imagine, recognize this truth and choose to bide their time, waiting to see which cultural innovations will end up actually transforming society. If this is narrow minded then I suppose we ought to attach the label to estate planners, successful politicians, respected doctors, etc. They too rely on the proven and only warily approach the untested.
Since passing by
the Peoria Lock and Dam, the raised level
On windy days
this lake must develop a nasty chop, but on
this day a gentle breeze from the south only ripples the surface. The flatness extends on and on for miles with
the shores of the river off distant on each side. Pleasure
boaters are out today and most of
them follow the channel. There is an
avenue of two-way traffic snaking along out in the middle of an
lake on this still and hazy day. Kobuk
and I chug along towards
It is a malaise. I
have been at this now for a few months and I am wondering today if I
give it up. No longer do I feel
oppressed by the foolish anxiety that I may not accomplish anything;
It is just one of those days when I feel more alone than usual. Why am I here? Why am I not off somewhere doing things with my friends or making an effort to establish a settled existence? I am no longer young, after all, and it leaves me somewhat chastened whenever I have to strain and grunt just to crawl into the forward bunk, whenever I find myself using a free hand to lift my knee because stepping over the carling while simultaneously ducking under the curtain is hard for me now.
There is no answer to these questions. I am here because this is where I have always wanted to be. I would have been here when I was younger but I didn’t have the courage then. I foolishly thought that there was too much to lose. Now I know better.
Life has much to offer but we only savor it if we pursue the things we truly want. Avoid the disreputable woman, choose the sensible career, make the practical purchase, do the reasonable thing—what you will get for your troubles is comfort before death. Not much excitement but a certain modicum of comfort.
When we are young we would on any day choose excitement over comfort, but the aging process somehow switches these priorities—unless, of course, it is the actual switching of them that causes us to age. I think, actually, that the latter is the case, that pursuit of comfort causes us to age. It is a physical consequence, to be sure, as any Spartan soldier would attest. But more important, far more important, I believe, is the surrender implied by taking the easy route.
There is no denying the physical deterioration that comes with getting older, but how often do we use this inevitability to avoid doing anything at all? Very often, I think, and it is tantamount to saying ‘My useful life is over; come take me, Death, any time it suits you.’
In many respects pursuit of comfort is the sine qua non of conspicuous consumption. But humans, like all other living organisms, were not designed to be comfortable. If you are a secular believer in natural selection, this statement should be obvious. If you are a deeply religious soul striving for spiritual enlightenment, it still should be obvious. Only the hedonist might contend otherwise, but even the hedonist would have to admit that pursuit of pleasure requires a certain level of effort. If it were natural, why would it have to be so consciously pursued?
Logical argumentation often becomes disconnected from reality because it relies on a mode of thought that achieves clarity only by exploring the extremes. Living a good life, however, usually requires avoidance of extremes. Life ages well in response to moderate choices and moderate behavior.
I am not, therefore, trying to say that we must avoid all comfort—only that when comfort takes on more value than excitement then our priorities are confused. A major problem here is that, in this as in virtually all other matters, society establishes a standard that comes to be unconsciously used by virtually everyone as the basis upon which to judge the difference between moderate and immoderate. Like individuals, society are rife with bias, and in this case I would contend that our societal bias excessively values comfort and unduly discounts the value of excitement.
It is one thing to counter the arguments of an individual when neutral observers might legitimately evaluate the relative strengths of the two sides. But how do we argue against society? To not accept its judgment regarding a particular is to contend against a theorem that is embraced as fact by almost everyone. This is a maddening situation and may explain why so many rebels behave so badly.
I simply cannot accept that society has found the right balance between comfort and excitement. The very words carry different connotations, ‘comfort’ accepted as benign and uncontroversial but ‘excitement’ demeaned as superficial and immature.
I have nowhere to go with this argument. I am not out to convince anyone of the need to switch from a comfortable existence to a more exciting one. It is really just an effort to help me through this day of self-doubt. And I believe that it is working; whenever this trip ends and I am only able to experience it via memory, I am sure that many of the days spent on these rivers will be wonderfully easy for me to recall. I doubt that that would be the case if I were at home, comfortable with my settled existence and content to spend my time with those who are closest to me. It is a harsh truth but there is no sense in hiding from it.
At the end of the day, Kobuk was at a yacht club courtesy dock in the town of Peru and I was sitting at the yacht club bar looking out through large picture windows at the outside deck filled with dozens of weekend partiers and watching the river beyond with its active boats running here and there leaving curlicues of ephemeral white foam in their wakes
A couple came to sit beside me and, as tends to happen at a bar, the man and I began to talk. His name was Tony—Tony Lorongelo, or something of that sort. He was 67 years old and had retired a number of years ago after making, by his own admission, a fortune in the stock market. He looked like Bob Hope, His nose was not as distinctive and his features in general were less suggestive of a cartoon, but somehow the shape of his face reminded me of the comedian.
When Tony heard
me tell him about my boat trip, he
complimented me on turning my dream into reality and then began telling
he too had made a dream come true. He
had always loved to hunt, and when he when he was 37 he found a way to
big game hunting trip to
Tony explained that on the day of the kill he was taken out by a teenage guide who had never done a grizzly kill before. They knew in advance where to find the bear and as they approached the killing ground the guide turned to Tony and said that when they had the beast in their sights then he would give the signal and their simultaneous shots should kill the bear for sure. Tony turned to him and said: “I’m in the Mafia and if you shoot my bear then I’ll shoot you. I’ve come a long way to kill a grizzly and I don’t want anybody else shooting it.” The young man blanched and with open eyes agreed that he would only shoot if the bear was going after Tony and was about to get him.
It was obvious
that Tony has fond memories of that time and
enjoyed talking about it. Although he also
looked back with pleasure to his success as a golden gloves boxer in
it is the bear hunt that remains for him the
The idea of
finding a sandy beach at the state park was not
an idle fantasy; in the last few miles before reaching
I find myself
increasingly eager to reach
Starved Rock Lock and Dam kept me waiting for five hours. I arrived just as a full-sized barge was locking through. They had to ‘cut’ it (break it into two parts), of course, and could not let me lock through with either half because the cargo was hazardous chemicals. During my wait, a second barge came up the river and only during the second stage of its cut was I able to lock through with its tug and six barges.
These locks were
built to facilitate commercial barge
Why should making money be considered more important than having fun? After all, according to economists, money in the capitalist system supposedly flows to that endeavor providing the greatest ‘utility.’ Utility consists of a variety of things, but in a rich society like ours, fun is a big part of all the utility we enjoy. So, now, when we favor barges over pleasure craft we are favoring money, of which a large part will be used to buy fun, over fun, which is a major reason for seeking money in the first place. It seems illogical to me.
Wouldn’t it be
better to seriously consider building small
boat locks next to the existing large locks rather than enlarging
locks to accommodate bigger barges? If
you had to bet which type of marine traffic will increase the most in
few decades—barges or pleasure craft—I doubt very much you would put
on barges. Let’s be realistic here and
At present, from the time lock gates close until they open again is over an hour (slightly less farther downstream). It is more than that if a cut barge is passing through. If parallel locks were built for small craft, a very much quicker cycle would be possible because far less water would have to be moved in and out and because the smaller gates could be opened and closed faster. This would greatly please the pleasure boaters who now have to constantly wait on the barge traffic, deal with lock walls that greedily chew on their boat hulls and boat fenders, and—worst of all—suck up to lock operators at whose pleasure the ‘insignificant’ boaters are permitted to pass.
Every time I hear a radio broadcast between a pleasure boater and a lock keeper it makes me cringe. The boaters treat the lockmasters with the deference shown to royalty because they know that an ounce of bad attitude is likely to cost them a couple hours of wait time.
It is actually humorous in a way, for many of these yachts are owned by wealthy individuals who must not be accustomed to kowtowing. This alone is a good reason to continue the present system, but not good enough.
If there were separate locks for the small boats it ought to please tugboat captains as well, for they at present have to put up with a flotilla of midgets skittering around them and behaving like the amateurs that most of them are. For example, when I was trying to get through at Starved Rock I heard the lockmaster inquiring of the tug captain whether I could lock through at the same time and the captain’s reply was that it would be ok as long as he wasn’t responsible. Separate locks would benefit most everyone.
In the pool above
the lock and dam, the landscape along the
edges of the engorged river was somewhat less striking for having been
in the reservoir, but even so, this part of the voyage was alluring
the frequent outcropping of bedrock lining the banks.
There is less development here than I had anticipated
and it is delightful to be closing in on
In the waning hours, passage through the Marseilles Lock slowed our advance once again and for the first time since the trip began I found myself operating Kobuk after sunset with the twilight too thick to read by and with the instrument panel glowing with little circles of pale yellow light.
We managed to slip in though the narrow entrance channel for Hidden Cove Marina near Seneca. It was perfect in its shadowy silhouette: black silky water, dim lights in the distance, forest all around. I tied to an ancient wooden dock, springy to walk on, and traversed its great length to reach the solitary building where lights suggested I might be able to make arrangements for the night. Kobuk and I were permitted to stay right where we were, alone on that long dock, and that suited us very well.
There are from today two vivid memories that will stay with me always. The first is of a certain location along the waterway where all signs of urbanity and affluence were absent. It was at a bend in the river where a lagoon branched off to the right and the waterway itself divided in two straight ahead. The different arms of water created elongated peninsulas reaching out toward you, inviting you to step ashore there and sit for a while to enjoy the scenery. On one of the peninsulas there was a simple gas dock with a marina located away from it some distance up the lagoon. Between them, a warren of derelict wooden docks extended out into the lagoon and angled crazily on unreliable old posts that had settled and shifted over the years. The docks were neither level nor straight, nor did they maintain a constant height above the water or even create predictably geometric partitions of the water surface. Every move that they made was a surprise.
I motored up to
the almost unapproachable gas dock and tied
off Kobuk. We did not really need gas,
but it was a good excuse for putting ashore here. Nobody
was around but a sign indicated a
button to be pushed for service. It
activated a loud horn, but even after sounding it and waiting for
appear, nobody showed up. I reluctantly
decided to leave, but at the last moment I saw another sign proposing
gas service one should call a listed telephone number.
I did its bidding and in the process felt
The second memory
But then I discovered a few complications. The only vacant spot was immediately upstream from one of the bridges and the sub-structure of the bridge extended out into the water there. To approach the vacant spot, I would have to move into it running with the current downstream. This is not a recommended procedure, and especially with a small engine that cannot be put into reverse. It would be best, I decided, to use the jet drive, but when I started up the main engine I discovered that the jet intake was clogged with some sort of debris. I approached the wall with the knowledge that either I got to the top of the wall with at least the stern line in hand or else Kobuk would quickly run down on the bridge substructure straight ahead. I had the small engine running at its slowest speed but with the current Kobuk was moving uncomfortably fast. I had the main engine running with the jet drive in reverse but it was ineffective because of the debris in the intake. We contacted the wall the way amateur boaters would do, at which point I shut off the main engine and ran around to grab a line and jump up onto the wall. I did manage to make it but when I got up there I discovered that I had left the small engine running and yet the only safe cleat to tie to was back upstream about twenty feet. There was no choice but to out-pull the outboard. It is not much of a mariner who gets caught in an embarrassing situation like this one. It certainly is remarkable what a little adrenaline can do.
Kobuk and I are
on the doorstep of
Just as in
By I had
cast off from the concrete wall fronting the
Only a few miles
The idea is to hold your craft up against the concrete wall as the swirling waters rise up to fill the cavernous space, but of course it is devilishly hard to pull towards the wall when the line you are using is attached almost directly overhead. As the lock fills, everything gets easier because the water turbulence diminishes and the angle of pull for the control line improves. When the gates open the water level in the lock has been perfectly equalized with that of the pool so they swing silently and with very little swirling water. A few minutes of stillness pass before the sounding of a horn that indicates you may exit.
I am not certain,
but I think the Lockport Lock put us at
Moving up this waterway with these huge vessels all around intimidates me somewhat since Kobuk’s propulsion systems are not reliable. I am using the Yamaha most of the time and whenever we are passing between barges I worry that a large craft that has the right of way will suddenly appear coming towards us. The Yamaha cannot reverse and the Remote Troll may not be able to turn us around in the narrow width available. I am constantly prepared to use the main engine for it provides superior maneuverability, but what if it decides to not start?
Also, a laboring tug pushing sideways on a barge churns up a great deal of active water in this constricted space, and the Yamaha has to struggle to keep Kobuk from slipping sideways on the water. Will we bang against the side of a barge or the rock wall of the channel because Yamaha can’t push us forward fast enough to escape? In one such instance, the escape was a matter of inches.
passing through such bustle and action, the
canal continued on for mile after mile of green bowered straightness
occasional development parting the flanking woods and only sporadic
tugs and barges. In the last few miles,
the city did indeed close in and a grand variety of urban landscapes
on both sides, everything from industrial lots to yacht harbors to
upscale highrise apartment buildings. And
always in the distance could be seen the
Nearer and nearer
those tall buildings came until they were
a precinct straight in front of us with the canal running like an arrow
its very heart, passing under a bridge every city block.
The bridges here all are low and industrial
traffic on the water has disappeared completely. Only
tour boats now—tour boats and
Kobuk. Sky scrapers seemed to rise sheer
from the water and the bridges were busy with people walking over
in great numbers moving in such a way as to suggest that the flow of
itself a living organism. And then we
broke out of the business district and the canal took us straight out
But there was one more lock to pass through, one that I had not seen indicated on the Corps of Engineers chart. It made one last step up to get into the lake, a step of only one foot. Permanent ropes hang from the low wall and I took Kobuk to a place near the exiting gate before shutting down the Yamaha and grabbing on to one of them.
When the gate
opened, the vast lake opened before us and we
moved out into a fearsome jumble of lumpy, unpredictable waves that set
to pitching and rolling with such a force that I became concerned the
Friday might get tossed overboard. I was
shocked and apprehensive at the size and vigor of the wave action, and
to wonder whether Kobuk would be able to survive in this alien
environment. It was not that we were in
immediate danger; although whenever we had to take the waves broadside
not feel good. The way Kobuk was
struggling, however, made me wonder whether Kobuk was really capable of
handling the 750 miles of open water that now lay before us on Lakes
and Huron. Still, boats can do
remarkable things if they have the right driver, and I reminded myself
much will depend on my learning to react effectively to whatever the
conditions put in our way. When we first
got on the river in
I had gotten
directions to the entrance into
Diversey Yacht Club: 41* 55.585’ N / 87* 37.960’ W