Days 16-19: Oct. 23rd-26th: Hoppie's (St. Louis, MO) To Grand Rivers, KY

IMG 6188

Day #16:  When we woke up at Hoppie’s in Kimmswick, MO it was raining and grey and a bit colder than the day before.  Still, we now had full tanks of gas and something oh-so-much more comforting – a flotilla.

‘River Rat’ was within sight of us the whole day and ‘River Derci’ within radio contact.  Jim and Pat on River Derci were planning on turning off where we were not – 10-ish miles up the Kaskaskia River to refuel.  Chris and Kevin and ourselves were planning on anchoring/beaching at a place that Fern had suggested the night before.

Generally, the day was pretty pleasant with the notable exception of the wakes from barges.  The combination of the current, the wind, and the depth of the River made the wakes so much more pronounced than we had expected.  As a result, we had to slow down significantly when we encountered them in order to avoid being slammed…  Most of the time we succeeded, but slammed we were, and often.   

By about 3:30PM we had found our spot for a night – a lovely stretch of beach just off the channel on Rockwood Island, downriver of Chester, IL.  

We were able to beach, but it wasn’t particularly pretty, and again our stern was blown into shore.  Unlike our botched beaching days earlier in Keithsburg, IA, it wasn’t a hopeless situation, but we knew we wouldn’t really be able to relax until we were free the next morning.

Again, River Rat gave some comfort.  They anchored a couple hundred feet away and reiterated the fact that they had our backs and would tug us off the sand if necessary.  

Because we were beached and they were anchored, in order to have an evening cocktail, we had to take the little jonboat ‘Gracie’ over to them.  Which we did.  And it was awesome.

Dottie and Dawn on beach 1

Day #17:  Gratefully, assistance wasn’t necessary and we were able to leave the beach easily and without incident… except for the shitty performance of our port engine for the rest of the day.

At low RPM’s and in idle, she sounded great, but above 12 RPM’s and the little darling shook her shimmy so violently that the noise and residual vibrations were intolerable.  As we called and googled the possible reasons for the change in performance, the explanations all sounded rather dire.  

The running gear – prop and shaft – could be bent; or there could be sand in the bearings.  None of these things are disastrous for us or the trip.  As I’ve said before, we are often cruising on one engine anyway because of the increased gas mileage, and low RPM’s are the most we would need on the port side for maneuvering, locking and docking.  All the same, we don’t need anymore hurdles…

The question of the day was fuel.  Hoppie’s is the last fuel stop on the Upper Mississippi River and we knew that we would be traveling over 200 miles before the next one on the Ohio.  But we didn’t really know where this next fuel stop was.  Some say you can get fuel in Peducah, KY but the exact stop isn’t clear and – as we found out the hard way – some stops only offer diesel.  We run on gasoline.

In Cape Girardeau, MO there is a “fuel stop” called Kidd River Fuel.  It’s in the Quimby’s Guide and loads of river folk and hipped us to it.  It’s not much to look at, certainly, an old rusted barge with a walkway to land.  The man who runs the dock is named Charlie Brown and apparently you need to call him 24 hours in advance and he may, if doesn’t like the sound or look of you, refuse to help.  Jim of River Derci apparently had an unacceptable sound because Charlie said that he didn’t have gasoline and he wouldn’t allow anyone else to use his dock to bring it down to him.

So when I called Charlie, I used my prettiest girl voice.  He was very accommodating and said sure, we could pull up and tie up and then call a cab to bring us and our 5 gallon tanks to a gas station…  

As we approached the town, however, we decided not to stop.  A place to tie up and call a cab to a gas station is not terribly hospitable and not something we couldn’t find easily further downriver… or so we thought.

We traveled an ambitious 100 miles on Thursday through some of the heaviest barge traffic we’ve seen yet.  Happily, most of their wakes were much kinder to us, but not all of the captains were.  One scolded me on the radio for being to close to his bow for too long…  Rookie.  

Just before sunset, we turned the final bend and found both River Derci and River Rat secured in a safe little alcove just upriver of the turn-off to the Ohio River in Cairo, IL. 

With Jim and Pat helping from shore, we got ourselves beached – safely this time – and Dorothy got some long over-due play on the beach time.  

Melby, Chris and Kevin climbed into the engine compartment to try to diagnose our Port problem and although Melby stripped down and got in the very chilly water to investigate, we know as little as we did earlier in the day.  It’s not good.  It’s not terrible.  Carry on.

That night, the crew of our three boats joined on the beach for a bonfire.  There was loads of sun-dried drift wood and hundreds of yards of sand all around us.  We congratulated each other on making such good miles, we told tall-tales, and eventually split ways and went to sleep feeling a swell of optimism.  

Personally, I bid a heavy farewell to the mighty Mississippi River before sleep.  I’ve known since before we left that I wouldn’t be able to follow her all the way to the mouth and with the barge traffic and skim gas stops already, the choice was confirmed.  All the same, she is the River that has my heart and who had delivered us, in so many ways, to this point.


Day #18:  And as if reading my mind, the Ohio River was a straight up bitch to us from the very first mile.

Several challenges met us as we turned up the Ohio.  For one thing, we are now going upstream.  All of the rules that we’d grown accustomed to for the last 850 miles are now reversed. (To you Krzykowski’s – it’s like leaster in Sheephead).  

You lock down instead of up, you keep the red bouys on your right instead of you left, and you are NOT going to make anything like the gas mileage you’ve made so far.  8 miles per hour was the fastest speed we were able to manage and our gas tanks were dwindling fast.

These factors combined to make our gas situation dismal.  We were hoping to get to Peducah but two things gave us pause:  where exactly in Peducah we could get gas was if-y at best.  No one could give us a clear answer on where or who would provide gasoline.  More pressing, there were two locks between us and them and if we had to wait long for them the odds of us making it to this questionable fuel was even more unlikely.  

So the work began.  Phone calls, googling, mapping, math.  Finally, a plan came together.  After talking with the captain of a casino boat in Metropolis, IL (home of Superman) we learned there was a city dock just upstream of him where we could tie up and get to town.  With River Rat ahead of us, they got eyes on the alleged dock and said yes – it looked perfect for what we wanted.

Unsure of depth, and still not sure how we’d get to the gas station, we maneuvered to the dock, tied up and took the first easy breath in several hours.  

The cab companies, it turns out are not allowed legally to carry passengers with gas tanks.  Makes sense if you’re an insurance provider, is really fucking stupid when you are stranded in need of gas.  

“Try calling the police,” the cab company suggested.

Although I have deep affection for several individual cops, the police in general are not a population one wants to contact unless it is necessary.  The legality of being tied up where we were was questionable, and pouring gallons of gasoline might be even more so.  

So before the police, we called the gas stations directly.  Might they pick us up or deliver?

No, they said.  But we know a guy.  Call Curtis at R&W, here is his number.

photo (56)

Pic:  Curtis, our own personal superman in Metropolis, IL.  Oct. 25th

Not only did Curtis agree to help us and arrive less than 15 minutes later, but his truck had a huge Superman ‘S’ painted on the hood.  He and Melby took our 7, 5 gallon gas tanks to the station twice and by the time it was done we had both tanks nearly full, more oil, a filter, and a whole new perspective on the trip.  This upstream business is tricky and we would need to adjust our plans accordingly.  First adjustment, we are not leaving this dock tonight.  It was already 4PM and another lock was just ahead.  We could see barges lined up waiting for it and although it would mean we lost our flotilla, going forward was foolish.  

So we made dinner, Melby played the guitar, and we just breathed deeply for awhile.  

photo (60)

Pic:  Melby and his guitar.  Killing time in Metropolis, IL - Oct. 25th.

 Day #19:  My first hint of consciousness in the morning on the dock in Metropolis told me only one thing:  It’s raining.  Hard.

And it will rain all day said every forecast.  Fine.

We called ahead to Lock #52 on the Ohio and the operator there said that there was an auxiliary lock for small boats and that we should head on down.  Not unusually, he failed to tell us that another boat was currently in the lock and we’d have to wait almost 30 minutes once we got there.  Such inconveniences are not insurmountable, or even usual, but one would prefer to have had that 30 minutes to run the dog or eat while safe in harbor…  Also Lock #52 doesn’t throw you ropes or have floating bollards.  Instead, they insist that you throw them your own ropes which must be at least 50’ long.  So after some scrambling, we were secured and finally locking up.  

And still going upstream in a driving rain.  Humph.  

Just before noon, we hit the mouth of the Tennessee River.  This is a junction that people have mixed opinions about.  There are two ways to get from the Ohio to the Tennessee River.  One junction happens in Peducah at MM: 934 and the other is to take an alternate waterway, the Cumberland, which empties into the TN River about 30 miles south of it’s mouth.  The Peducah route is shorter in terms of miles, but there is a lock that has notoriously long waits.  When we called the lock earlier in the day to see what we had in store, the woman who answered said they had two barges waiting that could be up to 3 hours each… Decision made, Cumberland it is. 


Pic:  The last lock on the Cumberland.  Oct. 26th.

The Cumberland is really narrow and pretty deserted.  We didn’t see or hear from another boat the whole time - over 3 hours.  We are still fighting the current and it was still raining but compared to the Ohio, it felt like a cakewalk.  And to say we didn’t hear from another boat is wrong – we were back in radio contact with River Rat who were moored for the night at a marina only 20 miles away!  

Not only seeing them, but having the services of a marina was more than encouraging.  After several nights of beaching or anchoring, we were long-without showers and laundry.  Dorothy was miserable and frankly, we just wanted to get off the boat and look at a television for a few minutes.  

“This marina has a bar and all-you-can-eat catfish!” they boasted.  “Hurry up!”

And all was looking good.  The lock at the end of the Cumberland was a breeze, open and waiting for us when we arrived.  And the channel between the Cumberland and the Tennessee was less than 2 miles long.  Good god, we were only 5 miles from what promised to be a very welcoming and comforting harbor.

And then the Tennessee River reminded us that she too, is a force to be reckoned with. Wide and deep, the TN River resembles Lake Pepin – as do the big rolling waves.  And not only did we need to travel through her, but to get to our guys, we had to cross her width.

We tried.  We tried hard and many times.  But huge amounts of water were washing over the sides and for the first time, I saw Melby panic.  I panic.  I panic comparatively easily, but he is steady Eddie, all the time.  As the bow dipped repeatedly into the waves like a U-boat, he howled, “baby, baby, baby – we’re taking on water!”  The realization hit us hard, we could sink out here if we push it.  So with very heavy hearts, cold feet, and grumbling stomachs, we pulled off into a protected cove and anchored… yet again.

River Rat was disappointed… as disappointed as you can be when you’re safe, warm and full of catfish, but because we were so close, we concluded that we would try to link up again the following night.

We took Dorothy in the johnboat to shore and agreed that while this sucked, being anchored and safe in a beautiful cove with your dearest dearests isn’t so bad.


Pic:  Our cove on the Tennessee River. Oct. 27th.

Tomorrow is yet another day…

Train and fall colors

Pic:  A train along the cliffs of the Tennessee River.  

photo (58)

Pic:  Curtis's truck.  Saving us, as promised.  Oct. 25th. 

Barge worker

Pic:  Barge worker on the Tennessee River.

photo (57)

Pic:  An abandoned dock building on the Tennessee River.

Dottie on beach

 Pic:  Dottie having fun... finally.

>>NEXT POST>> Days 20-22: Oct. 27th-29th: Grand Rivers, KY to Counce, TN

<<PREVIOUS POST>> Days 13-15: Oct. 20th-22nd: Keokuk,IA to Hoppie's (St. Louis, MO)

  The Big Trip Mainpage  © Dawn Brodey 2012