River Rats on the Upper Mississippi

We have been living like river rats for the past couple of days and while it’s not the most ideal, it’s certainly the easiest.

On our last day in Alton, IL, we spent a few hours touring the small town on our bicycles. We had one map that lacked detail and we set off to check out some of the statues and historical markers in the town. Alton, IL has kind of a crazy history and while we didn’t go on a “ghost tour” while we were there, I can certainly see this being the type of place to have one.

Alton, IL was home to the first state penitentiary in the state, and during the civil war, the small prison served as a place to put confederate prisoners of war. They averaged about 6-10 deaths per day in this prison, and if they weren’t dying here, they were likely sending the prisoners across the river to Smallpox Island. No kidding, a real place, where prisoners with smallpox were sent to die.

It’s not really too much of a surprise, though, that there were enough people getting smallpox to create an entire separate island for it, because the prison hospital was in the basement, with no windows, and frequently flooded.

Anyways, after viewing what is left of the prison (two walls that are barely walls), we zig-zagged through the streets of Alton, up and down hills and through side streets. We went to see the Miles Davis Statue.
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RJ raced some local twelve-year-old boys on his bike and didn’t even let them win. Boys.

Then we rode all the way across town to view the Lovejoy Monument. Elijah P. Lovejoy fought for free speech (especially in the press) and was an advocate for the abolition of slavery. We read all the quotes and after reflecting on it for quite some time, decided to head back.
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After a quick stop for some food and beverage, we were back to Patches. Getting ready to set off, again.

Let me back up a little bit to before our bike ride, when RJ had to pry me off of the boat in order to get me to have a good time. While I knew it was possible for me to get a little down after coming home from such a high time in Texas, I didn’t think that it would hit me as hard as it did.

Being able to use every ounce of my being to simply help people for an entire week, coming off of the plane, RJ and Aunt Regina could both tell that I was glowing from a job well done. To put it simply, it just felt good to do good. Less than 24 hours later, sitting on the boat, I was beginning to feel like this trip was kind of a waste.

Why should we get to take all this time off to explore, travel, and basically, do whatever we want? I was thinking, and feeling, that my time could be much better spent. The space around me wasn’t altogether inspiring, either. Come to think of it, our boat was kind of a mess, the head was starting to smell bad (which we solved–RJ forgot to put a cleaning solution into it after he pumped it out, gross!), there are bugs everywhere. All in all, just living like rats.

So, before our bike ride, and even after, and even the next day, I hadn’t really been feeling myself.

Alas, I knew sitting still would solve nothing. Patches had spent 14 nights at Alton Marina and was itching to get out of there. Waking up early Friday morning and taking our last showers, for we honestly have no idea how long, we released the dock lines and set off.

From Alton, IL to our next stop at Hoppies’ Marina, we cruised by the St. Louis waterfront, and started hitting speeds higher than we had yet. I spent most of this day being a pessimistic sour apple and I’m not quite sure how RJ dealt with me, but somehow he did and we arrived to fuel up and talk navigation before nightfall.
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The morning after leaving Hoppies, we covered 110 miles of the muddy Mississippi to an anchorage in a little diversion canal. During this 110 miles, I finally decided to turn my mood around. I was the only one sitting in my sadness and I was the only one suffering from it. For what? I can’t think of an answer to that. So I picked up the book, Robinson Crusoe (which we had purchased for $1 in Alton), headed out onto the deck and started reading the book out loud to the both of us and suddenly all was well.
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I don’t remember too much more about that day other than seeing a lot of butterflies, craving strawberries for hours, and eating more Oreos than I would like to admit. The Mississippi also has had the most commercial traffic and industry on the river that I have seen yet. There were a lot of factories along the Illinois Waterway also, but I didn’t see as many moving parts as along this section of the river. A cloud of smoke caused really strange sunset-like-lighting at one point.
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On Sunday, we had our last full day on the Mississippi, ending our day anchoring just seven miles from the Ohio, we started to worry we were getting some of the same bad luck as Robinson Crusoe was having in the book. While throwing the anchor out, we started to feel a light drizzle. It never really got to anything worse than that in terms of precipitation, but the dark clouds were moving in over us and the sun was starting to set. Suddenly, a gust of wind flipped Patches around, and our anchor line was caught up on some unknown part of the boat.
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Although RJ wanted to go for a swim anyway, I didn’t love the idea of him jumping into the water as lightning was approaching. In a frenzy, though, he grabbed his snorkel gear, and jumped in. This may sound dramatic, but the moment he hit the water, lightning flashed on the shore just south of the bridge that we were anchored on the north side of. I started crying, because my emotions are in a tangled knot lately, and just stood there praying for the best.

We found out in the end, that the anchor line was wrapped around the keel, not the rudder or the propeller, so we weren’t in any immediate danger of breaking anything. RJ threw out a second anchor, secured us, and we felt safe enough to calm ourselves down to get some rest.

Upon waking up, later than I would have hoped, but early enough, we devised a plan. We used yet a third anchor to pull us up towards our original anchor, to relieve the tension on the line that was wrapped around the keel. Once that line was loose, we took it off of the cleat, and walked it around the boat to unwrap it.

Much less dramatic of a finish than the previous evenings weather made it seem it was to be.

And so we continue, spirits high and temperatures higher.

12 thoughts on “River Rats on the Upper Mississippi

  1. You should be very proud of yourself….Texas and the River….neither is easy….just look what you have accomplished and smile…..you can help others and be happy doing the things that you love,,,,There will be other Texas’
    Safe sailing (boating) and be happy……wish the boat would have been a little bit bigger and you would of had a stowaway. <3

    1. Thank you for that comment, I appreciate everything you and Uncle Eugene have done for us. We love you so, so much, and maybe you can come be a stowaway for a short vacation once we get the boat organized/clean. I also can’t wait to get the mast up, that’ll make it seem a lot bigger at least out on deck!

    1. We’re moving pretty slowly at this point, so you’re likely to catch up to us sooner or later! At the moment we’re between locks 53 and 52 on the Ohio, and once we get to Land between the Lakes, we’ll probably spend quite some time there. We started in Saint Joseph, MI and we’re hoping to do the whole loop!

      1. You are a ways a head of us. We are only in Peoria. We will be leaving here tomorrow. Like you we hope to spend some time on Kentucky Lake. We started from home on Lake Saint Clair Mi.. we have already done the loop once. Now we are headed back to the Bahamas. We are thinking of leaving our boat in Florida but we are not sure what we are doing.

        1. We have a Grampian 30, a little old and ugly, but we love her nonetheless. And that sounds awesome, we are definitely going to spend some time in the Bahamas. We wanted to take a lot of time to explore the Caribbean, but are unsure as to how safe of an option that is at this time.

          1. The Bahamas are safe. We spent two months traveling the Bahamas. We started out from Bimini, Grand Bahamas, Abacos, Berrys, Andros, and Nassau. Not in that order. LOL you will see so many other sailboats and power boats. I did blog about our stops. You will absolutely love it there.. we always anchor and you will find out you will rarely be alone. ⛵️ always someone will anchor in the same area.

  2. Great photos! I admire your courage in braving the waters! Is it scary at times? All these hurricanes are giving me reasons to fret water travels. Brr

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