What feels like a year ago, we couldn’t imagine a longer, more tiring day than the run from Atlantic City to Staten Island. Boy were we wrong. It’s like a one-year-old feeling accomplished when he successfully stacks blocks only to realize he has to solve quadratic equations. 220 nm on the Mississippi River plus a tough stretch on the Ohio River—over three straight days—makes what we saw of the Atlantic Ocean seem like child’s play. The Mississippi may or may not be the Mother of All Rivers, but we can vouch for it being a Mother. Somehow, however, we made it to the city dock in Paducah, Kentucky.
Those of us from the next state south think of Kentucky mostly as an annoyance. Not a state to revile like Alabama, but not a state to embrace by any means. The flagship state university stole Tennessee’s checkerboards, for goodness sakes, and the other major university hired Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino. Not much to feel good about there for sure.
However, after the Death Cruise from Alton, Paducah is a veritable oasis in the desert. Food for the starving. Warmth for the freezing. You get the picture. Paducah last night was all that and more. But first we had to get there.
After we pushed through the Alton muck, made it through the lock delays, and worked around the barges, the Kaskaskia Lock Wall was a welcomed spot to pull over. Not too bad a day overall, although we do love shore power, WiFi, and a good restaurant, none of which was available. The boys are used to running off docks to do their business as soon as we tie up someplace. At Kaskaskia they jumped off and literally hit the wall. No way to shore. Have to do it on the concrete.
A moment to discuss dogs and boats. Short travel days and nice marinas with grassy areas or walking paths are the goal, at least for Oscar and Benny. They don’t at all like peeing or pooping while aboard Misty Pearl. Which is a very good thing in most circumstances. Long days are tough for them in ways far different than for us. Put an AstroTurf pad on the back deck and train them to use it, you say? If you say that, you haven’t met these dogs. Early on we got them a pad—The Pad of Despair and Frustration—and sprayed it with the guaranteed-super-trigger-pee-spray.
Oscar sunned himself on it. Benny looked at it sideways and then ignored it. The spray stunk up the entire boat until we washed off the pad and buried it in the lazarette.
Knowing we had a tough stretch where there might not be shore access for 48 hours or more, we pulled out all the stops. And by that we mean we traded dog pee (in a Tupperware container) with Long Story, who faced the same problems with Millie. Maybe if we spread some strange pee on the PDF it will fool/entice the boys to use it. Nope.
Back to Kaskaskia. A pack of coyotes on the shore howled a good part of the night, which we assumed would stir an instinctive response from at least one of the boys. Maybe it did, but if so that instinct was neither to flee nor to fight. Apparently through generations of coddling they’ve learned that the best way to handle nearby predators is to sleep.
Although Benny will bark at birds and Oscar will bark at his reflection, neither of those does anyone any good.
Anyway, after a great night’s sleep we pulled off the wall for our second day on the Mississippi. The best thing about this river—at least going downstream—is the speed. With the current we made twelve knots, which is blazing fast for us. The downside to going downstream in that current is that it’s much harder to control the boat. And the tows heading upstream push wakes that would embarrass the waves we encountered on the Atlantic. And when we left Kaskaskia it was gray and miserable like we assume is everyday on the Mississippi. Not cool.
That’s not to say there isn’t a raw and often uncomfortable beauty along the way, because there is. The barges are interesting and periodically entertaining. The captain of the Stan Humphreys was flying a Vols flag. Another Vol fan-tow captain radioed Doug to commiserate.
Just out of Kaskaskia we passed the maximum security Menard Prison.
Pogo the Clown was an inmate here. Richard Kimble was on his way to this prison when he lucked into the type of train wreck that only happens in movies and escaped and then proved to Tommy Lee Jones that he was innocent and that all along Big Pharma was responsible for his wife’s murder.
Along this stretch there are no marinas with the facilities we’ve come to view as necessary. Plus we have no refrigerator yet. So after a second long day we ducked into Little River Diversion Canal and dropped the anchor.
Crossroads and Second Wave beat us in, and Erben Renewal and Magic Jeanne followed in to fill the narrow channel.
Brent was gracious enough to pop by with Micro Wave to take the boys to shore a couple of times, but there really was no safe place for relief. Poor guys missed their usual last walk of the night.
The thing about anchoring is the fear of the anchor slipping in the night. We don’t anchor out much because (1) the boys need shore access and (2) we strongly prefer shore power, WiFi, and a good restaurant. We generally use the former as the excuse, of course, because they don’t care if we do.
Anyway, we set the anchor alarm and had no issues until we took off yesterday morning. “Dana, what’s that beeping noise? Something’s wrong!” Nope, just the alarm when we left the swing area, as evidenced by the blue trail. No crisis after all.
That set the stage for the Day from Hell. It wasn’t the scenery, which actually was pretty scenic. Mostly the drudgery. And the rain. And the fog. Although at one point Doug asked the captain of the upbound Cynthia II if it was still foggy further south. His response—“There ain’t no fog, just a little mist”—dripped with derision and condescension.
Getting to the mouth of the Ohio River wasn’t too bad, although we really didn’t need to hear all the tow captains discussing the SeaRay that collided with a barge and sank just before the confluence. We saw it a bit later.
Tough to be the dude who ran into a tugboat. What do you tell your friends?
The thing about current is that it also stinks going the other way. We hit the turn to head upstream on the Ohio and it was like someone threw out a drag chute. We immediately went from twelve knots to five knots as we fought like spawning salmon.
Two hours later we reached the Olmstead Lock, which supposedly was a pass through. Not for us. We had to wait for the tow Whitewing to transit. Then the rain hit. Then the fog set in again. (The lockmaster agreed that he couldn’t see anything at all, so suck it Cynthia II.) We were supposed to follow the Gerald Majors (which had been causing us trouble since we left the Mississippi), but could barely see her.
The Olmstead Lock Tainter gate piers and foundation sit on about nine-hundred plate jacks, a few of which you can see here.
We think a better name for them would be flapjacks, since they look like pancakes. Dana’s dad designed and built them. Very cool, although we still found the experience tricky. Not because of the jacks, of course, but because of the weather. With the help of radar and AIS, however, we safely emerged from the fog on the other side. Obviously.
Speaking of radar, ours picks up channel markers and those ball thingys on power lines. Tows are huge. Here is what the tow Nashville looked like on radar before we left the Mississippi. The little green triangle is Second Wave, some thousand feet ahead of us. The huge blob is the pile of barges. We love how AIS shows the potential collision point with an icon of a sinking ship. AIS also is unaware that the barges stick out well in front of the tug. Maybe the guy in the SeaRay was unaware of this as well.
One interesting thing about these rivers is the barge cargo. On the Ohio, we saw coal. Who even uses coal these days?
On the Mississippi we saw a lot of what looked like dirt. Going in both directions. It’s like that scene where the warden made Luke dig a hole and then fill a hole as punishment for trying to escape after he was imprisoned for cutting the heads off of parking meters. Why would dirt go both directions? Why not just keep the dirt in place on both ends? Maybe it’s sort of a busy-work thing to keep tow captains employed. Strange either way.
As we neared Paducah, the sky cleared and the sun shone. We passed Fort Massac.
Fort Massac supposedly was built by the French in the 1700s while battling Indians. We think the people of Illinois may have built it to keep out people from Kentucky, even though we haven’t seen much in Illinois that other people would want to fight over. Dana photographed eagles.
Tied up at the Paducah City Dock almost twelve hours after we hoisted the anchor. Along the way Oscar finally peed on a tarp out back. Benny finally peed on the deck, but still was at about fifty psi when he hit land. We couldn’t have been happier to be in Kentucky.
Today we visited the National Quilt Museum. Who knew there was such a thing? Who knew that Paducah, Kentucky, is a Holy City for both Loopers and quilters? Out front there’s a statue of Indians.
We looked around inside for evidence of the connection between Indians and quilting, but all we found were quilts.
The museum was far more interesting than one might think.
The thing about the Loop is that even the tough days are good days. These were tough days but we’re glad we did them. We also can say that the food in Paducah is surprisingly excellent.
We had a great time with the other Loopers on the dock tonight, but look forward to Green Turtle Bay.