Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Week Two Recap

Sorry for slacking on the blog in the last few days. We're still settling into our groove and searching for internet access. Here's our update:

We didn't spend a lot of time in the quad cities on Wednesday, but we did make a stop to get more supplies. I biked up through Davenport while Matt and Josh watched the Sea Monkey. On my way back, I was trying to hurry so we could cover some good distance that night. On top of that, the area that I was riding through was a rough looking neighborhood and I wasn't looking to spend a lot of time as a sitting duck. I felt something hit me in the back of the head and thought I was about to be mugged. I looked back to see a redwing-black bird hovering just out of arms reach behind my head. By the sound of his squawk he wasn't happy to see me and I felt the same way. I flailed and swatted to keep him off of my head and to shoe him away, but he stayed on my tail for nearly a block. Finally he gave up and I went on.

As I got closer to the river, Matt called me up and said that we had an hour wait for the lock and dam in Davenport. By then I was in a nicer area and I figured I'd take my time as long as we had the wait. I pulled up to a big black dog with dread locks that stretched from his back all the way to the ground. I asked his owner, Ron, if I could get a picture with the dog, Jazz. He was glad to take the photo and we got to chit chatting. Ron was just closing up his antique shop and invited me into his house, next door, for a beer. After biking in the hot weather, nothing sounded more satisfying than a cold one. Ron had a beautiful house and garden. We shared stories and almost lost track of time when I realized that we were on schedule to go through the lock in just a few minutes. Ron gave me the quickest rout to the sailors club where the guys were waiting for me and I shot out not long after. The guys had dropped me off up river from the sailors club, so I wasn't entirely sure where to find them. I hit the bike trail that runs along the river. There is a concrete wall that boarders the river and the water was low, so I stopped every couple of blocks to look over the wall and eventually found the Sea Monkey waiting for launch. Josh and Matt told me about a sail boat race that I missed out on while I was in town. I would have liked to see it, but I wasn't too bummed out.

We landed in Fairport that night. It's a small town that didn't stretch farther than a stone throw. We were hungry, but the marina/bar had already closed up so we chewed on some jerky and this and that for the night. I tried to start a fire but all the wood that I could find was too damp to catch a flame.

When we woke up at 6 am on Thursday, I lifted my head to see that the river was foggy as could be. Even the near by buoys were out of sight. We all said no way and napped until 8. With a late start we landed in Muscatine by mid-day. Right after we docked in the public harbor, we were greeted with compliments on the raft and of coarse a heap of curious questions from some folks at the Events Center by the Harbor. Still hungry, hot and sweaty, we headed into town hoping to find a grocery store, but instead, found an authentic Mexican buffet. I was sold as soon as the air conditioning hit my skin.

With full bellies, we headed back to the raft. Some of the workers at the events center flagged us down before we launched and asked if we were hungry. I can never say no to food so I told them that if they had leftovers to give out, we'll make sure that it gets eaten. They loaded us up with grilled chicken, burgers with all the fixings and ice to keep it for later. We gave our gracious thank-yous and set sail.

It was near sunset on Thursday when we were rushed by one local fisherman after another. None of them could believe their eyes. We get a lot of attention form other boats. It's almost like being in a parade. And by that time of day, all the boaters have been on the water for for a while and are more social. We'd been hearing about a few guys in a canoe that were also traveling the length of the river. Some of the fisherman mentioned that they had just seen them a few days earlier. One guy named Ethan flagged us down to say hi. He must have been about our age and his brother in the boat behind him looked like a young teen. We talked for a while and he sped off for just a couple minutes to return with a few beers. River folks sure know how to treat guests. He gave us some fishing tips and snails for bait too. Thanks Ethan! I hope you make the trip yourself soon!

We were planning to run all night but we found a nice spot with an uprooted tree on the Illinois bank. The tree was stripped of all the bark, leaving a white trunk perched above the shore. We were a little cautions around the hundreds of what looked like snake holes on the muddy bank. Josh and Matt threw some fishing lines out while I collected fire wood. We monkeyed around on the fallen tree for a while, I ended up in the drink once and then worked on the fire to dry out. The mini charcoal grill makes a great portable fire pit. We were all pretty beat from being on the river all day. It was fairly quiet. I was trying to take in all of the scenery, because pictures never do justice for landscapes. We watched as the sky turned from pink to orange, to red. A sunset only lasts so long, but a guy always has the stars to look forward to.

With some moderate headwinds, we motored for most of the day on Friday, and into the night as well. We went through a tornado watch and were almost guaranteed severe thunderstorms. We strapped everything down and prepared for a battle with mother nature, who can easily humble a few cocky rafters. Despite the headwinds, we ran south as fast as we could and dodged the storm. Luck was on our side.

We were hoping to go through Keokuk before setting up camp, but we would have had an hour and a half wait for the lock and dam. There is a yacht club just up river from the lock and dam where we tied up. There was a fancy bar holding a class of '85 reunion. Relative to the crowd, we were grungy and dirty, until two other gents in the same condition approached the Sea Monkey. Dan and Sam from Minneapolis. They're the canoers we've been hearing about! They were in a homemade canoe called the "Don't Fight It." We all shared stories over a few beers. They brought a banjo along and it sounded great along with Josh's washboard. Even though we weren't as clean shaven as the class of '85 in the bar, we did a alot of mingling in and out of the bar. The Sea monkey and the Don't Fight It bring a smile to everyone's face.

We spent the night on the raft, tied to the river side of the float dock. There was a light sprinkle and the sound of distant thunder. The waves and current were still tossing us around a bit. It sounds nerve-wracking but it's actually quite soothing to be rocked to sleep.

On saturday, we hooked up the Don't Fight It to the back of the Sea Monkey. Dan and Sam hopped on board the raft as we gave them a lift to them from Keokuk to Canton. We had another wait on Lock and Dam #19, so we hung out by the yacht club for an hour or so. Lock and Dam #19 is different from the others. First off, it's huge! I'm not sure of the dimensions, but for every foot that it drops, it dumps out 1.2 million gallons of water... and it dropped about 35 feet that day. The door on the up river side isn't a normal double opening door, but one peace of metal that drops below the surface. You drive over it and it pops back up behind after you get in. There door is wide enough for a walkway on top. When it emerged from the water, there were fish that got caught on top of it. The lock-keepers actually had to walk out on top of the door to shovel them off. It was a slow drop. There were 5 or 6 floating tie-ups for larger boats builed into the wall. As they dropped along with the water level, they all rubbed on the vertical steel runners. They squealed and echoed between the concrete walls and water surface; an eerie feeling.

The rainfall upriver made for some well appreciated current. We made a stop on a quiet beech to enjoy the weather before we dropped off the crew of the Don't Fight It.

The Sea Monkey landed on another beech later in the day. Hog-Back Island is a local social area for the people of Quincy. We've already strayed far from the northern accent so everyone in that area sounds southern to us. Right off the bat, we met Jim and his wife. Jim used to be an auctioneer and didn't seem to stray far from his auctioneer tone. He spoke at a mile a minute and hardly took a break to inhale. The people down here seem less regulated and a little more wild than back home: very easy to get along with too.

We left Hog-Back before dark and landed in Quency for the night. Some folks at Hog-Back recommended the bar Cutter's. Matt lost his hat on the way to the bar. Once there, we met Uncle Boomer. I took it with a grain of salt when he introduced himself by saying: "I'm Uncle Boomer. If you call me anything else I'll knock your teeth in." But he was envious of the trip and had nothing but good things to say about it. He even gave us 20 bucks out of the blue! Thanks Uncle Boomer! Matt asked some locals where he could find a cheap hat, only to find one offered to him for free. What a deal!

Sunday morning we met up with Brent from Premium Water in Quency. We got in contact with him earlier and they donated 4 cases of bottled water to the Sea Monkey. We had yet another hour long wait at the lock and dam in Quency but at least got a spot in line ahead of another barge.

I was pumped to visit Hannibal MO, home of Mark Twain. As we floated into town, the local tour boat, the "Mark Twain" gave us a welcoming honk. The Mark Twain was heading up river as we passed by them and swung around for a second look as we were pulling into the marina.

We went out to eat just across the street form the Museum and I saw Tom Sowyer and Becky Thatcher just outside the restaurant. I ran out to say to the people I've been reading about and they were glad to see someone making the same trip as their buddy Huck. Tom showed me his walking stick that tripled as a fishing rod and a sling-shot. He said that way he always ready if he sees a critter and never lets supper get away easy. I asked Tom where he got his straw hat because I've been looking for one of my own. He told me about a little shop up the street that may have them. I got a picture and chatted with the two of them and and Tom's mom. Tom gave me a nut that he called a hog's eye for good luck. My food was getting cold so I went back to eating up. After only a few minutes, Tom came back in and gave me a straw hat! Thanks a bunch Tom and Becky! After dinner we went through the museum and also the old Drug store, the boyhood home, the justice of peace office and Huck Fin's house. Lots of history too.

Some friends of ours from high school, Will and Kelly, drove in from the Chicago area. They gave us a few supplies and what not. We all toured the Hannibal a bit more before crossing the river to a large beach on the up-river side of another island. We met Chris, a local, who mentioned that he saw two canoers in a colorful homemade boat earlier.

We're in the city of Louisiana, MO and a thunder storm is approaching so I'll have to put the computer away. We have the three tarps strapped down and the fourth strapped out as an awning over most of the front deck. We just heard a close bolt of lightning hit so we should cleared after that one equalized the charge across the area. My camera battery is dead but I'll try to jiffy charge it and snap some photos of the storm. Rain is good and bad because if it's too heavy it keeps us from moving, but heavy rain also raises the water levels, thus giving us current when the Army Corps of Engineers opens the dams. I'll keep you posted as often as I can. Thanks for reading!


  1. Great stories, Ben! BTW, it's not luck on your side, it's all those guardian angels with you. I imagine you guys are requiring an army of them!

  2. Here's the link for your YouTube videos...

  3. I can't tell you how much we enjoy reading your posts and following your travels - keep them up! You truly are an safe. Leo and Cindy

  4. Glad to hear everything is goin well.. We were outside Duluth Minn -- Black Bear casino -- we saw a penny machine named Sea Monkey.. In fact there was probably 20 or 30 - wow what a coincidence ( spelling ) thought of U guys.. We are following on ur journey & the storys are great.. Till next time Don Tara & Brad PDC WI

  5. Hi Boys,
    About thirty years ago I would have been wanting to go with you on this adventure. I am so glad you are going through with it! I am praying for you. Becca

  6. Hey, guys,

    Heard you made St. Louis! Be safe! It's wonderful that you are meeting so many great people on the way. Can't wait to get the travelogue version of this adventure! Love you!


  7. Hey!!!
    I have been keeping myself updated on your amazing adventure since the day you left. It all sounds sooo awesome!!!! Its nice to know how many good people are out there even when they just meet you. =) Can't wait to read more about the trip and see the cool pictures!! Have a safe ride!!!
    Steph Fransen