St. Paul, MN to Alton, IL

Map - St. Paul, MO to Sabula, IA
To give you a better idea of where our journey has taken us, we’re including a map that outlines the route we’ve traveled so far with markers at all of the marinas, museums, restaurants, ballparks, and other interesting places we’re going to tell you about in each blog post.

If you’d like to see more details, you can check out the fully interactive version of the map by clicking on the map here or selecting “Map” in the menu above.

Where's Lenny and Louise?
Where’s Lenny and Louise?

Pat and Jan Eck had gifted us with Where’s Waldo hats, so we took a selfie before we left Watergate Marina on Sunday June 17, 2018. Lenny hoisted the white burgee and we were off. We actually went upstream to Lock and Dam 1 so that we could say we started at the beginning of navigable waters but didn’t go through.

We planned a short day for our first day, so we made it through Lock and Dam 2 to King’s Cove Marina, in Hastings, MN, just in time for an evening thunderstorm. (River Mile 812.7) A feature of this marina is that there is no office staff on Sundays, and a key card is required for entry to the bath house and marina. We were blessed that one of the regular tenants lent us a spare key for the night so we were able to take showers and give the dogs some long walks. Lesson 3: Don’t believe everything you read in the guidebook about a marina’s facilities.

Lesson 4: Just because it’s a new boat, doesn’t mean something won’t break. We learned this lesson when Lenny went to do the morning engine checks on Monday June 18th and the hydraulic pump that lifts the engine hatch failed. Fortunately, one of the improvements made at Rocky Pointe was to install a handy-billy system that allowed for raising the heavy hatch cover by hand and keeping it open. This didn’t prevent us from getting underway but meant that we needed some repairs as soon as practical.
Weather is crucial to our travels, especially the river flow and flood stages. We thought we had left late enough in the spring to avoid the winter snow melt, but the late snow melt, combined with the stormy, rainy weather while we were in St. Paul caused the Mississippi to rise and flood at several spots along our route. The faster current meant great fuel mileage, but it also interfered with our travel plans. (See Lesson one about dates.)

Then Again at Red Wing Marina
Then Again at Red Wing Marina

We pulled into Red Wing, MN, at the Red Wing Marina on Monday June 18th. (River Mile 791.2) Cindy Bisek is a fantastic owner and went out of her way to help us. This included facilitating an introduction to Jarett, who owns Marine Specialties. Even though he had a backlog of local work, Jarett pulled Ted off from other work. He was able to diagnose the problem and get a part ordered and reinstalled in two days. Cindy lent us her car to get propane and groceries and made sure we well taken care of. The bath house is in an old caboose and “going to the caboose” is now our code word for heading up the pier to the shore-side facilities.

The Redwing Shoe Museum
The largest shoe in the world!

We thought we were going to get diesel there, but Cindy was unable to convince the diesel driver to come for such a small amount. We were able to do some sightseeing, including visiting the Red Wing Shoe Museum, home of the largest shoe in the world, and explore the old railroad station. The weather was still rainy and windy, and the flood waters were still rising.

Wednesday June 20th found us bound for Hansen’s Harbor in Lake City, MN, where we could pump diesel. (River Mile 776.4) We wanted to get into Lake City Marina, but they were full up due to the annual water ski festival. Hansen’s is a good case for Lesson 3 (don’t believe the marina guide), and we were very relieved to leave in the morning on Thursday June 21st.

Prior to Wednesday, we had never heard of Pepin, WI. Our intention had been to travel from Red Wing to Winona, MN. However, Mother Nature had a different itinerary in mind, with the flood waters continuing to rise. We could not go to Winona because the docks were flooding. Cindy, our friend from the Red Wing Marina, suggested Pepin, WI as an alternative to Lake City Marina, since it was just across the river.

When we pulled into Pepin Marina, in Pepin WI, on Thursday afternoon, we thought we would only need to stay through Saturday morning before heading on down to Winona, MN. (River Mile 767) Again, lesson 1 about dates came into play, and we stayed through Wednesday June 27th. We are so glad we had time to stop in Pepin because it’s a delightful town with plenty of delicious options for dining. We had our first cheese curds at The Pickle Factory and used the Garden Grill’s Hop and Ride to go to their restaurant, the laundromat, the Pepin United Methodist Church, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. Louise had forgotten about reading all the Little House on the Prairie books when she was growing up, so it was a fun trip down memory lane.

We confirmed on Wednesday the 27th that Dick’s Marine in Winona, MN, was not flooded anymore and could take us on Thursday June 28th. (River Mile 726.2) On the way, we fell in behind the houseboat Emily Grace, skippered by Cully and Heidi. When we accompanied them through Lock 5 and 5A, we found out we were both headed to Dick’s and met up in person once we were tied up. Cully is a licensed Mississippi River pilot and he and Lenny spent time discussing the pros and cons of river navigation, how to decide to do the Loop, and a wide range of other topics. Cully’s insight has proved invaluable to us as we improve our locking skills and understanding of how to talk to the lockmasters.

Cully and Heidi and the Emily Grace were also headed to Pettibone Boat Club in LaCrosse, WI, on Friday June 29th, so we were happy to see them tie up in front of us after we arrived. (River Mile 696.8) We rented a car for two days to do some sightseeing and to drop Chip and Dayle off at Pet Me Scratch Me Boarding and Day Care for a well-deserved break on dry land. Excessive heat warnings had been plaguing us for most of the past weeks, and this weekend was no exception. We drove to Norskedalen, a Norwegian culture center in Coon Valley, WI, about an hour from town. Probably not the best time to visit since the culture sites were on trails in open meadows in the hot sun. It would be an excellent place to visit if the weather were different.

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum

We were delighted, however, with the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, MN (just a short drive from La Crosse). This museum included Washington Crossing the Delaware, a collection of paintings from a local artist who traveled from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, several examples of impressionist art, Hudson River School, and modern works. The curation not only included detailed descriptions of the individual works, but separate informative plaques about the period in which the work was created. A definite nominee for our list of “Museums We’d Go Back To.”

We had the opportunity to worship with the First Congregational UCC in LaCrosse on Sunday July 1st. The pastor there is Kent Cormack and his husband Bill built organs with our pastor Don Frueh. Small world!

A Buoy Rest Home
A Buoy Rest Home

Monday July 2, 2018 was a basic travel day for us and we stayed overnight at Winegar Works Marina, in Guttenberg, IA. (River Mile 616.1) We were still feeling the effects of the flood as their restrooms were inoperable. However, the marina staff was very welcoming. Along the way, we spotted what Louise called “A Buoy Rest Home.” Some of the buoys on the river have been dragged off station or pulled underwater by debris or tugs. She decided this is where they came to recuperate from their unfortunate experience. We also passed Pirate’s Pit Stop, one of the more colorful riverside establishments.

Pirates' Pit Stop

We spent Tuesday July 3rd through Thursday July 5th at the Dubuque Marina, in Dubuque, IA. (River Mile 582.0) What a wonderful surprise to find out that the 33rd annual Air Show and Fireworks Display was being held the night of the 3rd — and we basically had ring side seats! Chip was not very happy with the loud noises, especially since the fireworks lasted for about 45 minutes of continuous beauty. On the 3rd, we were surrounded by boats, no dock space, and the marina cove was full of rafts of pontoon boats, runabouts, and larger vessels. When we woke up on the 4th, it was just about empty and by the 5th, we were about the only ones left on the transient pier.

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
Some of the marine machinery on display outside of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium was a disappointment, especially since it was touted as a “must see.” It really didn’t know what kind of museum it wanted to be, although some of the individual exhibits were well-curated and informative. Somehow the aquarium part didn’t work for us. We were glad we went to see the National Rivers Hall of Fame, and the movie that discussed how rivers contribute to our cultural and economic history was exceedingly well photographed. The outside space had some marine machinery, but not much of an explanation.

Continuing our downstream trip, we pulled into Island City Harbor, in Sabula, IA, on Friday July 6th. (River Mile 534.7) What a pleasant location and a staff that just couldn’t do enough for us. Throughout our trip we have encountered so many people that have helped tie us up, welcomed us to their towns, and shared their knowledge about local food, laundromats, and grocery stores. True hospitality!

As an aside, on the way down we passed a Tug, Mrs. P, that was waiting on the other side of one of the locks and we waved when we passed her. The Captain came back on the radio, “Nice tug, Then Again!” We were thrilled.

Map - Davenport, IA to Alton, IL

One of the upsides of Lesson One (no certain dates) is that when you spot something that might be interesting, you can re-route yourselves. We did just that when Louise spotted the John Deere Pavilion Museum in Moline, IL, and asked Lenny if we could stop there.

Then Again at the Lindsay Park Yacht Club
Then Again at the Lindsay Park Yacht Club.

We were able to stay at the Lindsay Park Yacht Club, in Davenport, IA (River Mile 484) on Saturday July 7th and Sunday July 8th. By paying our transient fees, we became members for 2 days and were warmly received. As a Ranger 31, and claret red, we are an unusual looking boat in the mass of mostly white boats around, especially with all our fenders rigged for going through the locks. It did not take long for the tale of our journey and plan to make its way through the club membership. Chef “Bubba” at the club made sure we were well-fed.

We used Uber a lot and we ubered over to the Pavilion, which is on the opposite side of the river. Well worth the stop! We enjoyed learning about the history of the company and how it influenced (and continues to influence) modern agricultural practices and had a chance to climb on some really big machines.

Monday July 9th was supposed to be a travel day to Big Muddy’s Restaurant in Burlington, IA. However, due to delays at Lock 17, we had to go back upstream to Muscatine, IA. (River Mile 455.5) This is where lesson 3 (don’t believe the marina guide) is supplemented by don’t believe what the Parks and Rec staff in City Hall tells you about conditions at the marina. When we got there, we found all the transient piers underwater. (Remember that flood? It’s still receding at this point, but not quite enough.) We finally tied up at one of the permanent slips and were able to prop the gate open to get the boys ashore.

The transient piers at Muscatine IL
The transient piers on the left at Muscatine, IA, were still mostly underwater.

We made it to Big Muddy’s Restaurant in Burlington, IA (River Mile 404.1), in time for lunch the next day and then dinner, thanks to no delays at the locks on Tuesday July 10th. Excellent food and a wonderful place to run the boys. Speaking of the boys, Dayle has become an escape artist, as we saw him running down the pier at Big Muddy’s after we thought we had contained him and his brother Chip in the cockpit by fastening the side curtains. Nope, we need to zip them down!

We thought about trying to make up the lost day by having a long day on Tuesday, but it just wasn’t going to work for us, and marinas are few and far between. Wednesday July 11th found us at Keokuk Yacht Club in Keokuk, IA. (River Mile 366.9) We have met some interesting characters along the way, including Charlie, who shared his love of the river and river lore with us. He intends to leave 3 islands he owns in the Mississippi River to Southern Illinois University for a field research station. He later returned to the club to bring us tomatoes from his garden. Hospitality at its finest. (By the way, Dayle made another escape by wiggling under the zipper and jumping off. He is very intelligent, but sometimes frustrating.)

We have been passing interesting and beautiful old buildings. Coming out of Lock 20, Canton, MO, we saw a wonderful old RR station with high hip roofs. Many old waterfront power plants and factories are closed, but most are boarded up properly and are in good condition. Some have been repurposed and have kept their original character. There are lots of old churches in the quaint little towns, many still in use. It was sad, however, that a fine old religious structure — an old academy or monastery, perhaps — was repurposed as a corporate headquarters. Still a monument to the God we worship, it seems.

Our moorage at the Quincy Boat Club, in Quincy, IL (River Mile 327.4), on Thursday July 12th was a huge disappointment. We knew there was no electric, but we didn’t expect no bathrooms and no trash. We celebrated our first 500 miles by eating a fine dining meal at the Pier Restaurant next door, but were disappointed that no one from the club came to greet us, even as they looked at us out their windows. $35 for the night is pretty expensive for basically nothing except a dock.

Sir Larry J
We shared Lock 22 with the Sir Larry J en route to the Two Rivers Marina in Rockport, IL

Continuing down the Upper Mississippi, we arrived at Two Rivers Marina, in Rockport, IL, on Friday July 13th. (River Mile 283.2) Along the way, we passed Hannibal, MO, home of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, as well as a number of river boat casinos and river boat displays. Two Rivers Marina is a 5 star one in our book, the exact opposite of Lesson 3 (don’t believe what the guide book says). These folks exceeded our expectations in terms of services, fuel and pump out facilities, laundry, and showers. Not an easy approach to find, since it is hidden just upstream of the bridge, but well worth it.

It was an uneventful trip to Port Charles Harbor in St. Charles, MO (River Mile 221.5), although there were a lot of recreational boats out on Saturday July 14th. (Many more than we had encountered in our previous days. Even early in the day, it looked like there had been some partying going on.) We had planned a multi-day stop at Port Charles because they could do the 200-hour service on our Volvo D4 engine, and there was a baseball game to attend.

Believe it or not, there are no marinas in downtown St Louis. We had tickets to the Cards/Reds game on Sunday July 15th and took Uber there and back. It was a somewhat expensive, since the marina really is out in the middle of nowhere, but worth it to be able to drink as much beer etc. as we wanted, not have to pay for parking, and not get lost. The venue is tremendous, and it truly looked as if there were no bad seats in the entire stadium. The Cards won and Louise was thrilled to see two of her favorite Cardinals, Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, hit home runs and Yadier Molina catching the whole game. She had watched a lot of baseball when healing from her 2010 ankle surgery, and following the Cards was part of her TV viewing.

Busch Stadium
The view from our seats in the Redbird Club, section 249, just behind home plate.
Louise with the Stan Musial statue outside Busch Stadium
Louise and the Stan Musial statue outside Busch Stadium.

Another museum to go onto the “Glad We Saw It List” is the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum, a part of Ballpark Village and adjacent to Busch Stadium. An excellent history lesson about the Cardinals and their fellow baseball team, the St Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles).

Port Charles Harbor performed excellent, timely work on our engine, and the marina itself can’t be beat. One exceptional feature was the use of a courtesy car for short errands. We used it to get to and from Enterprise Rental since we were going to be there multiple days. We decided to board Chip and Dayle until we made it to Paducah, KY (part of our next segment). They needed a break and we needed a break. It had been very hot and humid, so we checked into the Country Inn and Suites in historic St. Charles for a few days.

The National Great Rivers Museum

The Mel Price Lock and Dam
A view of the lock doors at the Mel Price Dam from above.

We also went to see the National Great Rivers Museum at the Mel Price Lock and Dam, our next lock. Such an informative museum and we were able to get out onto the lock itself as part of a guided tour group. We had a unique perspective on the lock doors closing, looking down at them as opposed to looking across or up at them. Unfortunately, Louise took sick for a couple of days, so we didn’t do as much sight seeing in the historic district as we had planned. Nevertheless, we would recommend spending time there to anyone.

With our engine newly tuned and our stores replenished, we left Port Charles Harbor on Friday July 20, 2018, and completed our upper Mississippi River segment as we passed the confluence of the Illinois River. This is where we will “cross our wake” in 2020.

Our Trip So Far

As of Friday July 20, 2018…

  • Days: 34
  • Locks Passed Through: 24
  • Miles Sailed: 713
  • Engine Hours: 93
  • Gallons of Diesel: 202.7

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