Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going Swimming, Finally!

Tuesday, September 30th

We have been at anchor now for three evenings—the first night in Little Diversion on the Mississippi, the second night on the Ohio at a huge, federal, concrete “cell”, and last night at the Cumberland Towhead—at the mouth of the Cumberland River. We have been rafting every afternoon with “Sunshine” and “Southern Comfort”—they’re all great folks and fun to be with. Bud, from “Sunshine”, has put his dinghy over each afternoon to get their dog, “Carlie”, off to go ashore—boy, do I still miss my sweet “Buddy”.

It’s been hot each afternoon and the water has not tempted me before yesterday—mainly because the muddy Mississippi is unfit for swimming, and the location on the Ohio was equally unsuitable. But once we got tied up Monday afternoon, and it was even hotter once we got anchored and rafted together, the “fairly-clear” green water just beckoned me in! So, I jumped in with my shorts and shirt on and had my first swim of the season—color me happy! Everyone joined in except Peggy—and Louis did his usual cannon ball entry to make a “big splash”! We had wanted to go swimming in Canada, but the waters were just too cold all summer long every where we went. We’re spoiled by good ole’ Atlantic Beach warm summer waters!

We’ve had cocktails on the bow of our boat two of the three nights—our bow being in the shade and roomy. Also, Louis has made ice cream twice and Peggy treated us all last night to a yummy Mexican cocktail party on board “Sunshine”—ole’! Being at anchor is not all that bad!

We had a storm last night—our raft of boats did a 360—but no damage to any of us, thankfully. The temperature has finally dropped and we feel like “fall is in the air”. We’ve all got on jeans and long sleeved shirts—what a difference from just yesterday! We’re seeing that leaves are really beginning to turn now—not beautiful yet, but soon. Getting off Lake Michigan when we did has afforded us the opportunity to experience this time of the year here before the cold fronts storm through this area. I’m so glad I got my “summer swim” in yesterday! These last two days of traveling have been calm and beautiful—we’re seeing nothing but barge traffic, but still these hills we’re passing through are some of the prettiest continuous passages we’ve made. We go through a lock today that will lift us 57 feet! This afternoon, we will be in Green Turtle Bay Marina at the mouth of the Tennessee River, but actually in Kentucky, and I hope to get these last two postings published there. Back to civilization! More later.

The Mighty Mississippi

Thursday, September 25th.

We left our “home” of the past 12 days, Grafton Marina, with owner Jan waving us off her dock. We felt so fortunate to have had our “sequestered” time there with Jan and Joe—what wonderful hosts they both were! We were only leaving to venture down to Alton (@ 20 miles), but we were on the water again and moving south—and it felt really good. We were in the “Day 2” spreadsheet that AGLCA had set up to keep all 60+ of our Looper boats from exiting at the same time and getting bottlenecked further on down the river. With no marinas, spaces to overnight are precious and few on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Cumberland.

So we went only to the city of Alton—giving us one more chance to spend a few hours with Janet and Steve Godwin. Have I not mentioned before how tan, buff, slim, and cute Steve still is after all these years?!! Amazingly, he still has a head full of hair and all his teeth! (Are you happy now, Steve?!) We have sooo much enjoyed our time with this precious couple, and appreciate greatly the time it took for them to drive to and fro to get to us (over an hour each way!). Janet, I found out last night, likes anchovies as much as I do---love that girl even more!

Friday, we left Alton Marina and went through two debris filled locks—we had hoped by the third day of being open, most of the mess would have been flushed out—not so. We passed St. Louis—saw again the famous arch—took pictures from this side—and were so happy to see that the water had receded there and all was back to normal. The flagpoles that were previously well under water were now all safely perched high above the water on their concrete bases—it looked to us as if at that particular part of the Mississippi, the water must have risen a good 20 feet—but it’s hard to judge heights from our vantage point. On down the mighty river we went—with a good 4 knot push—making Louis and all the other Captains happy—good fuel economy. Just south of St. Louis, all we saw were hundreds of barges and several large rock quarries—so many that we lost count. With all the beautiful, high stone, white cliffs, it’s no wonder there were so many of these quarries—I just hope there’s some kind of very strict regulations on the aftermath of all that much stone stripping—reclamation of some good sorts. Surely there is.

We were headed for “Hoppies”—an institution on the Mississippi—just ask any Looper. “Fern” and Hoppie have owned a “marina of sorts” since 1973 along the river—and the two of them have seen it all! They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly—the river rising and falling substantially each/twice this year—good drivers and bad ones that weekly crash into their barges. The “marina” is actually just a series of barges linked together alongside the river—but complete with fuel, water, and a lounge—what a hoot!—but rare on this stretch of the Mississippi. There were six of us Looper boats there—“Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, “My Cin”, “Whichaway”, and “Illusions”. Fern (a great old salt if there ever was one!) sat us all down in her outdoor on-barge lounge at the cocktail hour and went through our charts with us—answering all our questions—giving us such valuable information for our trip south. We will have 217 miles on the Mississippi, 60 miles on the Ohio, 30 miles on the Cumberland, and then we get to Green Turtle Marina on the Tennessee. Fern warned all us “Admirals” that we would be on the water non-stop for 4 days, possibly 5—either at anchorages or on a wall—but we would not be able to get off the boat for that entire period. What??!! Needless to say, we all (Captains & Admirals) were anxious for one more dinner off boat! Alas, no car and “town” was a couple of miles away. “No problem”, Fern said, as she gave the keys to her brown 1984 Lincoln Town car over to Louis—how did she know he (among the 15 of us) would want to be the driver?! Must have been his smile! Anyway, after 3 roundtrip shuttles to the restaurant, Louis finally got to sit down and eat his pizza! In our car (both ways), we had 9 people, counting our driver. People were laughing and giving us the “thumbs up” as we drove up to the restaurant—and we all felt like circus clowns getting out of her rear-end-heavy car. This is what we’ve all told our children--over and over--not to do!

Saturday, (Happy 40th Birthday, Travis!), laden with tee-shirts and confidence, we left the unforgettable “Hoppies” early in the morning with clear skies. All six of us were headed for an anchorage—Little Diversion—just a small finger off the river, but off the still-falling current of the Mississippi and safe from debris. We had talked with “C-Life, who had spent the night at Little Diversion the night before, and we were told there would be plenty of room for all six boats—plus the other 2 non-Looper boats that would also anchor there—they had come from Hoppies with us. “Huck Finn” (don’t you love it?!) and another one, I didn’t get the name of his boat—but a smaller pretty blue-hulled boat like ours.

Little Diversion was quiet and pleasant—we rafted in two large rafts—Louis made ice cream for our raft, and promised the other “Texas” raft they would get theirs tomorrow night on the wall/bollard down on the Ohio River. Lots of stars were out that night as the sky was clear with no moon and there were no city lights around us. We were on the Missouri side of the river, so we spent the night in another state! It was a beautiful evening, snuggled back up in our cozy creek for the night! A good anchorage.

We waited for about an hour Sunday morning in Little Diversion for the fog to lift. With all the barge traffic and diving buoys around us, no one wanted to venture out of our safe spot! Around 9am, we got back out on the Mississippi—and rode for about 48 more miles to the turn-off for the Ohio River. As much as I’ve heard all my life about the Mississippi River—the sweet songs and the mysteries of the river, I can honestly say I wasn’t impressed with these 217 miles we’ve traveled one bit. There were no areas to enjoy the water—it’s just a brown, muddy, vast wasteland of “waterfront”. There are wing-dams all along the river, mostly in the bends, to keep the banks from eroding—making our navigating cross from one side to the other continuously. With the waters flooding as often as they do, building a home near the water is truly foolish. We saw not one person swimming or skiing or enjoying the water the way we do, albeit the flooding might have kept people off the river—but still, no pleasure crafts at all, only us Loopers and the occasional boater ( maybe 3?) traveling south. The Mississippi is just a long commercial waterway/highway, pure and simple. Barges, barges, and more barges—and tugboats, large and small, scampering back and forth from one to another.

As we made our wide left turn into the Ohio River, the waters suddenly changed from a muddy brown to a pretty green—finally, halleluiah—back into nice waters! (Ever since we left Lake Michigan, we have been in nasty waters—how many weeks has that been?) The line separating the two bodies of water was visually amazing—it was as if there had been a knife cutting through the water—brown on one side, green on the other! Color us all happy! Swim anyone?!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Few More Thoughts From Grafton

When you spend so many days mesmerized by watching the water rise over 12 feet, praying it doesn't get over the wheels of your car parked in the parking lot, seeing roads closed due to flooding (detour, detour, detour), also praying the power/water doesn't get cut off to your boat and you'll have to use your generator in this muddy mess---you lose track of time. What day is it? How long have we been here?! All total, we've spent 12 days here--and I totally forgot some of the other things we did when I posted the last blog this morning. Since we get to finally move down river tomorrow, I don't want to forget them either--so here goes.

We spent one morning going to the lock at Alton--there's a museum on site and a guided tour. On our day there, we had a young girl (maybe 20 years old)--only her 4th time leading a tour of the lock--and poor thing, she didn't know much at all. Others went the day before and got an older gentleman who evidently gave them a fantastic tour--oh well, can't get them all just so. But the interactive displays in the museum were very interesting and we each got the chance in a simulator to try and drive a barge through one of the locks--not an easy feat --none of us succeeded! We were all amazed at how much debris the locks keep bottled up in times like these--we would have thought they would have released all the stuff to flow downstream as soon as it collected. Not so. It all flows to New Orleans--no wonder they have so many problems there!

Another day, once the rivers started to drop, we took the near-by Brussels ferry across to the historic Wittmond Hotel, in Brussels. Constructed in 1885, it serves "family style" lunches and dinners 365 days a year (imagine!) by fifth generation family members! Fried chicken, roast beef, homemade country sausage, rolls, soup, vegetables, relishes, slaw, gravy & mashed potatoes & homemade desserts.....all served on lace tablecloths.....wow, did we ever stuff ourselves--all 7 of us ate like it was Thanksgiving! On the way home, we all chose what we thought was the best--I chose the warm blackberry cobbler with ice cream.

Another treat was going up the steep hill just behind us to "the winery". It actually doesn't make wine there--only serves it, and now only on the weekends--but what a truly fantastic view of all the surrounding area. We could see for miles--see where the Mississippi and Illinois rivers join, see farm land off just beyond the Mississippi, even see the city of Alton--which is 15 (?) miles away. We all wished we could come back when the leaves would be turning their vibrant colors and just sit up there one whole afternoon and watch it all pass by--wouldn't it be lovely!

During the times when we weren't going back and forth through the corn fields to Jerseyville for Wal-Mart, Auto Zone, UPS, and such--we spent walking the streets here in Grafton--great little shops and such. There was an "Arts' Fair" in the Town Square Saturday, and that was fun. We've all bought fresh fruit, peanut brittle, and homemade pies from the "pie lady"--absolutely the best ever--just ask Louis. We've bought 3 pecan pies!! We seem to be just like our friends the Staggs, and I quote: "We just seem to be eating our way around the Loop!' Yep, that's all of us too. Loopers seem to know all the best places to go, and we love "networking"! Delicious all the way----is the only way to go!

We leave tomorrow (Thursday, September 25th) for the marina in Alton. Although it's only 15 miles downstream, a spread sheet was proposed for all of us Loopers to follow as we exit our perspective spots--so that we not get "bottle necked" in any one particular area in the coming days. As we travel down the Mississippi for the next 200 hundred miles or so, places to overnight are few and far between. We will be at anchor three nights, and the few anchorages there are can't hold many boats. Had the flood not come, we all would have been spread out enough to make each stop without any trouble of "no place in the inn". But since we all got held up for almost two weeks, now we all need to be smart and follow the departure suggestions from AGLCA. It's our turn to leave and start down, so we leave. We say good-by to Jan and Joe here at Grafton Marina--we're now members of their family--but there are many behind us coming down who will enjoy this place as we have. "Sunshine", "Southern Comfort", and "Bella Luna" are so excited to be on the move again! We'll join the 3 "Texas" boats at Hoppies on Friday--more of our Grafton family!

The rivers are going down!

I haven't posted anything in a week because we're still in the same place we've been now for eleven days! Our "special home" of these past days has been the Grafton Marina, and we've been here with 10 Looper boats--everyone "stranded" because of the high waters on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. All the marinas/lock walls/barge tie-ups both up and down the rivers have been ordered to stand still. The Coast Guard shut down the rivers--giving $1,000.00 fines for anyone crazy enough to get out on the waters. Whole trees, hunting blinds, wooden docks, big sections of marshes, huge buoys, and every kind of trash imaginable have been floating down the flooded river beside us. The current is very swift too--making boating treacherous--especially for the boats that have only one engine or go slowly on normal currents . There are over 60 Looper boats now--all trying to get moving again--some way behind us (Chicago--360 miles) to others just a few miles downstream. But we've all been sitting still for well over a week.

Our days have been spent basically working on and cleaning our boats--boy, do they all shine now! Every one's laundry is caught up and pantries well stocked. We've had a rental car, so we consider ourselves luckier than most--we've had access to shopping, restaurants, and touring. We spent one day in St. Louis--going to the famous arch and it's wonderful museum. The arch was built in honor of Thomas Jefferson and his wish to "venture westward" in the expansion of the United States. The museum that is also at the arch is well worth the 3 hours we spent there--they have 2 movies and a self guided, but fabulous rendition of what Lewis & Clark experienced in trying to explore what was then called The Louisiana Territory (purchased from Napoleon!). Although it was unveiled at the St. Louis World's Fair, it was not designed for that exposition, as we both had thought (like the Eiffel Tower in Paris). But what fun it was to ride the little cable car up the short 4 minute passage way to the top! And what a view! On one side we saw the flooded Mississippi, with its' paddle wheel boat stranded and all gang planks leading down into the muddy, nasty waters--what a mess--the 3 flag poles and the road in front of the tour boat were all 10-12 feet (?) under water--not a welcoming sight at all. But on the other side of the arch we saw the baseball field and a beautiful view of downtown.

Being here for so long has also given us the great opportunity to see Louis's old high school buddy, Steve Godwin. We've had dinner with Steve and his precious wife, Janet, now three times--and we all have had just the best time catching up with each other after these many years apart. We've loved reliving old times/stories and sharing new ones about our now grown children and grandchildren, careers and travels. I wish we lived closer!

A stay of any length of time here would not be complete without mentioning the ever famous restaurant/bar/local gathering place called "Fast Eddies"! What an experience--no one under 21 is allowed on the premises, there's a band nightly, they have only 7 items on the food menu, they have a huge inside and an equally large outside "dining" area (order your food & then find your own table), they're open from 11am to 1am---and it's hard to find a table to sit at even during lunchtime! We've been there now twice, and at lunch both times; we can't imagine what it would be like at night--wild and even-more loud, probably! It's totally unique! Their food prices are dirt cheap (delicious 1/2 pound hamburger is 99 cents!)--obviously their money is made on the bar and tee shirts/coozies/hats/beads/various junk! Even with all that, what a great place! Color Louis happy.

We've also eaten at some great places too--one being here in Grafton, The Mississippi Half-Step. Anyone reading this who is coming behind us downstream should not miss this place--we've eaten there twice--Louis having the scallops one night, the steak the other night, and me having chicken livers both nights--they're that good. Actually, I shared mine with Janet one night--gotta love a woman who loves chicken livers!! Yum.

I hate to end this blog this way, but on a serious note, the hardest thing we've had to face while on this trip is when we hear sad news from home--we feel so helpless being so far away and at a loss of just what to do. We've heard recently of the loss of Troy's son, Betty Clyde's mother and Vance's father--and just this morning, of the sadness Brantley's facing right now with his mother. Our hearts and prayers go out to all these special folks--our friends. If we were home, all of you know we would be right there beside you. God bless us all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Safe and Sound, but Stuck in Grafton!

Sunday, September 14, 2008
As I sit here Sunday morning writing this, I’m watching the effects of Hurricane Ike float by the boat. We are safely tied up in a marina in Grafton—“the confluence town”—where the Illinois River and the Mississippi River meet—at mile marker 0.0! We’re expected today to have between 2-4 inches more of “Ike” rain, high winds, and the river is expected to rise 3 feet—but Ike is moving quickly through the area and by mid afternoon it should be gone.

With the storm coming, we pushed harder yesterday, traveling another 20 miles further than our usual, of late, 40 miles per day. We skipped tying up at the restaurant dock, deciding to come 20 miles more and get safely in a marina before the wind and rain descend upon us. We have traveled this week 326 miles—amazing—considering we left Chicago Monday morning—the beginning of the Illinois River—and we arrived at the end of the Illinois late yesterday—Saturday. As we got closer and closer to this marina, it was like a space shuttle countdown on our flybridge….10, 9, 8, 7, 6, …..miles to go! Whew—we’re here!

But yesterday was exciting in its’ own particular way. We had one lock to go through, but because Chicago had experienced 5 inches of rain two days prior, the river had already risen considerably. So when we got to the lock—instead of going through the lock, we went over the dam! It sounds scary, but it wasn’t at all. The dam has “wickets” which can be hydraulically lowered in times of high water. So we gracefully slid by the lock, taking pictures from the “outside” and marveling at modern technology. We have two locks to go through on our part of the Mississippi ( @200 miles), and we might have the same experience there too—who know how much more rain we’ll encounter on our way down! People around here don’t seem to get bothered by all this rising and falling of the waters, so I guess we should just chill too.

It’s now Tuesday morning, and we’re still here in the Grafton Marina—owners Joe and Jan have been so hospitable, supportive, and understanding of our dilemma. The rivers are flooded and everyone has been advised to stay put for several days more and wait for the waters to subside—upstream and downstream. We may be here for even as long as a week—everyone will be. “Bella Luna” is tied up at the end of a dock, tied “side-to” so that our salon window is parallel with the river. All day long we watch the river rapidly flowing and the debris that is coming with it. The debris could pile up in front of our boat, like it did the other night when we were tied up to a barge, but it doesn’t now—we’re behind a breakwater wall and all the mess is on the outside of the wall. We’re in a lot better spot than some others along the river: we’ve got power, Louis is going to get a rental car today, we have walking access to the cute town/restaurants here, and we hope to drive to St. Louis and give it a tour either today or tomorrow. Louis’s high school buddy, Steve Godwin, lives in St. Louis and we will be seeing Steve and Janet again. Both of them drove here (an hour away!) our first night here and what a reunion the guys had!! The evening was just great—and men think women talk a lot!

Raindrops Keep Falling On Our Heads!

September 11 & 12
We’ve spent the last two days traveling in the rain—and believe me, locking through is no fun in the rain—I get soaked every time! The weather forecast is for two more days of rain, with the remnants of hurricane Ike coming through our way either Sunday or Monday. By then, we hope to be in Alton (near St. Louis) where we’ll stop and rest for a few days, rent a car and ride out the effects of Ike. But it sounds like we’ll not see the sun for several more days. Ugh.

Since leaving Chicago Monday morning, we have been through the towns of Marseilles, Ottawa, Peru, Rome, Havana and Liverpool—wow—around the world in 5 days! But we both have chuckled over those names as we continue to move on down the Illinois River. There’s not much to see on this stretch except barges and levees, which protect these small towns from flooding. We have seen some interesting photographs on walls in local restaurants that have men standing waist deep in water in the middle of town from flooding. Scary! There is a lot of debris now—logs, boards, tree branches and such floating quickly downstream, so we both are really focused on what’s ahead of us as we motor along. With the rapid water now and the fact that we’re going downstream with it, we’re also getting a great “push”—great on fuel consumption. Color Louis happy! We’ve also seen several more eagles in the past two days—all perched on dead trees looking for a tasty fish to swim by. These Asian carp are sometimes jumping in our wakes too—the river is full of them—and I was told this morning that some of them get to be five feet long and weigh close to 120 pounds. Amazing! They do not bite on a hook, you have to net them.

After spending Thursday night in the quiet, but nice Tall Timbers Marina, we’re now (Friday afternoon) tied up alongside a huge barge in Beardstown, Illinois—the smaller “spud” barge (which is actually the town dock!) is currently too full of river debris for us to get anywhere near it. In order for us to get alongside this barge, the tugboat company’s manager cranked up his engines and blew off all the debris which had collected alongside over the past several days. Thank you, Captain Jeff! We’ve been following the Stagg’s blog on “Second Wind” (they completed the Loop last year) and when they got to this very place last year it was 103 degrees—wow—what a difference we’re having this time around! (Don’t know which is worse—the heat or the rain?!) We’re still traveling with the same five boats of the past several days and hope to make a long run tomorrow to Hardin, where we have reservations to tie up at a restaurant dock—just like Tony’s dock in Morehead City! (I’ll bet they don’t have hushpuppies of any kind there though.)

As I sit here this afternoon blogging, our bow is facing upstream and I’m also watching all the debris coming down the river—so much more so than when we tied up four hours ago. Bud on “Sunshine” just stopped by our boat to tell us that the locks have lowered their “wickets” because of all the rain yesterday, today, and what’s forecasted in the next few days. That’s exciting—the locks tomorrow ought to be fun!! The river is racing by us now as we’re tied securely to the old rusty barge, and every now and then we hear a bump or a scrape—just more stuff floating downstream. We’re the “lead boat” tied up today—everyone takes a turn. Hopefully something really big won’t crash into our bow before we leave early tomorrow!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 10th, Feathers and Fur

We did indeed have two bumps in the night—both from logs or something big enough to startle us awake and hit all 5 boats while we were tied up against the wall in Joliet. (No damage to any boats thankfully.) The river, so far, is narrow—and to tie up beside a wall at night is at each boater’s peril. The “walls” ( in a town/near a town) are usually free of charge, so a lot of Loopers decide to overnight against them—however, we feel in this river (because it is so narrow) it is more comfortable/safe to stay off the main channel and in a marina, if possible. The Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio are commercial waterways first and foremost—we “pleasure crafts” are mighty small in comparison. You only need to go past one of these long barges to realize how "small" we are! We certainly do not need any more prop/hull damage to “Bella Luna”—hello, no one does! Not a single boat on this trip has escaped some sort of prop/hull damage that we know of--to date.

We traveled on a bright and sunny, but cool (47 degrees!), Tuesday morning down the Illinois River to Ottawa, Illinois—getting there by mid afternoon. There were five us now: “C-Life”, “Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, “Phantom…”, and "Bella" (as our friends are calling us now!). We’re taking advantage of the beautiful weather and trying to move as far south as we can while the weather holds. To think that we have several hundred miles to travel to make Joe Wheeler by October 20th is daunting—weather can keep us at bay for untold days. It's tough traveling distances several days in a row, but our Captains keep us moving. “Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those doggies rolling…rawhide!!”

So, after a quick-but-late (we were doing laundry at 10 pm!)) Tuesday night in Ottawa after a too long mexican dinner, a trip to the local Laundromat, Henry’s (local ABC), and IGA supermarket, we left the newly refurbished Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottawa, Illinois early Wednesday morning and hated to say good-by to Captain Moe, a former Looper and Harbor Master Supreme. He made our brief stay in his marina truly memorable—from the wonderful gift bag for everyone to enjoy, to the use of his personal car, to securing a van for all of us to go to dinner, and for hosting a cocktail/briefing party on his fabulous party boat right after our arrival. His marina is the kind of place we would all be happy to be “stuck” in for several days because of weather! We’re all looking forward to seeing him again for the fall rendezvous at Joe Wheeler in October. He’ll be there promoting his “new” marina, of course!

It was a beautiful Wednesday morning as we got back on the water, and as we started south we saw (surprisingly) numerous waterfowl hunters out on floating blinds, setting up decoys, brushing up blinds, and other hunters sitting quietly in their freshly completed blinds—little did we know that a short goose season was in right now. There were duck blinds to our port, and others to our starboard—we had never seen so many in one place ever--and for miles too!! We even heard a few gun shots. Color Louis happy. He said this had to be his favorite day in the whole trip so far--imagine that!

With nice weather, we have traveled now about 120 miles down the Illinois River, coming through several large commercial locks, and making our way this afternoon to Hamm’s Marina--just about 20 miles north of Peoria, Illinois. There are five of us boats, who have all been traveling together now for three days, and we’re just “rolling down the river” as Tina Turner would sing in “Proud Mary”! No one has the song with them, so “Brother Jay” is sending it along to Louis’s computer, and we’ll probably get it tonight or whenever he can get high speed wireless. We’ll be playing it for everyone for several days to come, I'm sure! Bud on "Sunshine" sings to us everyday--so we're hoping to get something else to listen to. We love you, Bud!

We have not had a “nature day” like today in our whole trip—boy has it been exciting! To start off with, Louis was below and I was at the helm with 2 boats behind us (two in front of us) when I noticed off to my port—a doe swimming across the river! Poor thing, she was wide-eyed and scared, seeing us come into her path—and not even realizing that there were two more big boats behind us too. I quickly slowed down, alerted the boats behind me, and we all swerved to make her crossing easier. Thank goodness she made it across, we lengthened her swim by several long minutes—and it’s not easy swimming against this current! Wouldn't that have been a great headline: "Woman Boater Runs Over Deer In Middle Of Illinois River!"

About an hour later, we had about a 30 minute wait for the federal Marseilles Lock to open for us, and while idling we saw such waterfowl as we’ve not seen before. We saw beautiful white pelicans, hundreds of them, so they must be migrating. We’d never seen the white ones before, and they were so big, so white, with their black tipped wings and long yellow beaks. We were told that these pelicans are the largest web-footed birds in the world—with wing spans up to 8 feet. We hope to see most of them in Florida—they may just get there before us! We also saw a huge white-headed eagle sitting on a nearby log eating a freshly caught fish—so much fun seeing him so close! We had, sadly, not seen eagles for weeks, and were thinking that we wouldn’t see them again for a long while. Not so. Color all us Loopers happy when we saw him! Also, in the water there we saw geese, mallards, grey and white herons, ospreys, and cormorants. We had not seen that much waterfowl concentrated in one spot the whole time we had been on the Loop—amazing! Thank goodness too, because if we had not had to wait for the lock to open, we would have missed the view of all those feathers—we had several special minutes to just idle and enjoy our surroundings. It makes me wonder though why all that waterfowl was congregated there—right at the dam and lock opening. I’m especially glad we didn’t miss that opportunity. A day of feathers, fur, and feathers—wow—we’ve traveled for months now all through the Chesapeake, New England, Canada, the Georgian Bay, and the North Channel and haven’t had a "nature" day like today! It was a beautiful day indeed. TYJ.

Farewell Chicago!

We left Chicago on this bright sunny morning around 8 am with “C-Life”, “Sunshine”, and “Southern Comfort”. We quickly locked through the first lock, which was built to keep the nasty waters of the Chicago River (which runs through downtown Chicago) from getting into the pristine waters of Lake Michigan. Good thing too—it was an ugly mess! We have been in such beautiful waters ever since leaving New York and it was a stark reminder of how truly nasty some waters can become—what a shame too. But quietly riding along under the bridges and overpasses of busy and rushing early morning Chicago commuters was special—they were hurrying, most were on cell phones and we were just cruising along! And riding along through those canyons of tall buildings where we were at water level was even more imposing—the buildings were much, much taller than when we had been on them at street level!

We passed through South Chicago—not a pretty view at all from our angle—many industrial plants and such—plus O’Hare’s runway must have been very close—lots of airplanes were thundering at take-off right over us. Along the way, we encountered several long barges going upstream to us—sometimes we even went between two at a time! Yipes—and with me at the helm! But we had a relative easy 40 miles traveling south (downstream) on the Illinois River to Joliet, only occasionally dodging logs and trash. We passed under a bridge called “The Atchison, Topeka, and The Santa Fe”—I remembered a song with that name in it and I thought it was especially funny—considering where we were—I thought we’d have to be out west to hear that! We also went under a huge green arch which was constantly electrically charged (from the arch overhead to a screen on the bottom floor of the water) to keep the Asian carp from swimming upstream. These carp were brought in years ago in hopes they would help with the algae problem in the river. The river had so much algae/food in it that the fish reproduced/exploded in record numbers—now they have a problem with way too many carp---just like our lingering problem with kudzu! Hard to mess with Mother Nature!

After about 5 hours of traveling, all four boats tied up against the wall in Ottawa, Illinois—in the cold, wet rain. Our bows were facing upstream so if any debris/logs were coming our way it would hopefully bounce off the bows and not the sterns—where the props are. There’s lots of trash/logs/debris in these waters. Good decision/idea! We got together for drinks on “C-Life” after getting hot showers (we were meeting their "new" company on board), and regrettably, it was not a great afternoon nor evening to go exploring Joliet! Maybe next trip.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thoughts on Chicago

No matter how much time you have available to explore Chicago, it’s never enough! We thought we had five days here, however we lost one to tropical storm Gustav dumping over 3 inches of rain here in a single day—we stayed on the boat to clean, read, and “piddle”. Fortunately, we were securely tied down in our marina, so the high winds didn’t affect us at all. Plus, Louis was sick with a 24 hour virus the next day, which kept him tethered to the boat for the duration—we’re both glad we were not “traveling” during that time.

We do have a few highlights of our stay here in Chicago:
**The architectural boat-tour that takes its passengers through downtown Chicago on a 90 minute tour is well worth doing. Although we will be going through the same route on our way south, we learned things that our many guidebooks couldn’t tell us.
**Navy Pier doesn’t have much to offer us—except the magnificent stained glass museum, with its’ huge collection of 1890’s-ish panels, doors, and archways that could have been lost during the 50’s and 60’s when stained glass fell out of favor. Many of the stained glass pieces were made by Tiffany, but the prettier pieces for me were not his. I have never seen a collection as large as this one, and would highly recommend it to anyone. It takes about 2 hours to go through completely. Supposedly, Wheel of Fortune was being filmed at Navy Pier this week. The Ferris Wheel is half as tall as it used to be, but on the day we were there it was not weather friendly enough to ride it.
* *Fogo De Chao is always a fabulous restaurant—and we’re constantly on the outlook for one in a large city (there are not that many in the states). What a treat for us and a “dining experience” for our friends—thank you—burp, Brother Jay, for introducing us to Fogo’s many years ago!
**Bike and Roll’s Segway tour is the best in Chicago! We started our tour in Millennium Park, and for the next 2 & ½ hours, we had a ball. The view of Chicago from the Aquarium has to be the most photographed angle there is—spectacular—wow. We saw 10 brides and their bridal parties while we were briefly there (Saturday @ 3:30pm)—all wanting to get that perfect shot/background for their albums! I imagine there’s a steady stream all day long of wedding parties—especially on Saturdays—it was fun looking at the beautiful dresses! We glided through the Museum Campus, the South Loop Lakefront, Michigan Avenue, Grant Park and we stopped mid-way to get a “famous” Chicago hot dog and cola. The second Mayor Dailey has definitely left his stamp on Chicago by elevating this city’s position from #28 to #2 in the country in beautification ranking—Seattle being #1. Every park is exquisitely decorated with huge planters, fountains, sculptures, statues, benches, and flowers—and every outdoor restaurant, by law, must now have flower boxes outside separating the diners from the walkers. So big city pretty and welcoming to us tourists!
**The play, The Jersey Boys, is simply fabulous. I would see it over and over. Frankie Vali and the Four Seasons was the first concert I ever saw as a young girl—and their music I have loved ever since. I have had the original Broadway production CD now for months—and love it, love it. Thinking of you, Jeannie!
**The bike/walk pathways are wonderful here. They connect all areas of downtown—we have “pounded the pavement” daily and nightly, feeling safe and secure at all times. The Chicago Marathon will be run in October with a limit of only 35,000 participants (why?)—I believe half of them were out training on these pathways Saturday morning as we were trying to get to the grocery. Bicyclists do not slow down on these paths—they fly!
**The DuSable Marina on Lakeshore Drive is a great spot for staying a few days in Chicago. Michigan Avenue used to be “the waterfront”, but after The Great Chicago Fire (where Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lantern) and where 17,000 businesses and houses were burned to the ground, all the rubble was pushed towards the water—extending “the land” two long blocks wide all along the lake—now Lakeshore Drive is waterfront. A mammoth removal like that could never be done in today’s times—otherwise Manhattan would now be larger than it was pre 9/11.
**Trump Towers will be the second tallest building in Chicago when complete—only behind the Sears Tower. The Trumpster wanted to build it higher, but they wouldn’t give him a license to do so!
**Oprah lives on a whole floor in Water Tower Place—home of the Ritz Carlton and fabulous shopping. Her opening show of the season was shot in Millennium Park with the Beijing USA Olympians—we could have gone (they were giving out tickets) along with 8,000 other people—but six of us had already purchased other tickets for a tour during the same time—all “unrefundable”, of course. I would have loved to see Oprah’s show, but Louis would have hated it!
**Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is OK—thick crust and a good 2 inches deep in cheese. We both prefer a thin crust pizza—good ole’ North Carolina style—one that you can roll up and eat with your fingers.
**Chicago must have the country’s largest fleet of stretch limos. We have never seen so many in so many different locations in one city—they’re everywhere, everyday—unbelievable. Also, especially on a Saturday afternoon and evening, this town is hopping—with food, music, boats, cabs, lights, and people. You can find anything you want here—and in any language—the town is so diversified. It’s wonderful to see and experience the energy—we’ve been happy with our time in The Windy City.

Arriving in Chicago

We had hoped to spend more time coming down the shoreline of Michigan, but with the forecast of the remnants of Hurricane Gustav coming up this way, we decided to shorten our plans and cross Lake Michigan on Tuesday, a predicted calm day. Evidently, others decided the same thing—early Tuesday morning, nine Looper boats came out of the harbor of Saint Joseph at the same time! Other boats were coming out as well—fishermen and sailboats—and with the sun just coming over the horizon, it was a pretty picture indeed.

We had an easy 50 mile crossing—the winds were low and the waves 1-2 feet—we couldn’t ask for a better morning to be on the lake and out-of-sight of land for several hours. We arrived in downtown Chicago at DuSable Marina mid-afternoon on a hot, hot day. It was September 2nd, and both Louis and I couldn’t remember one single day this summer that we’ve been that hot! What made it so uncomfortable was there was no wind—and we thought we were in the “Windy City”!

Once we had secured the boat and checked in, we joined “C-Life” and “Wanderin’ L & M” and headed towards the Visitor’s Center for maps and brochures of the area. We passed Millennium Park, which is just two blocks from our marina, and quickly found the old library where all the information was. So much to see and do here and over 16,000 restaurants—how/what will we choose?! Decisions, decisions. But we all know the weather makes our decisions for us.

We all decided to try and do at least: an architectural boat-tour of downtown Chicago, eat deep dish “Chicago” style pizza, do a Segway tour of downtown, see a few museums, do a tour of Wrigley Field if we can’t go to a game, see the play “the Jersey Boys”, go to Navy Pier, and go to the fabulous restaurant, Fogo De Chao. We have five days here—we ought to be able to squeeze it all in! With 2-4 inches of rain and high winds predicted for Thursday, we may lose one day.