We rowed a few miles into Ft. Madison today in order to resupply, fill up on water, and try to find some wifi. We landed at Riverview Marina and pulled up to a dock labeled courtesy dock. Within minutes it was clear that the marina was a bit abandoned and that despite it being the middle of a work day, no one was to be found. Kyle walked around a bit trying to find someone to ask directions to a grocery store as we did not have phone service. He came back to the boat and let me know that a very nice man, Paul, had offered to drive us to the grocery store as it was over two miles away. It turns out that Paul is retired and had some spare time on his hands, and on top of that, he loves row boats. He came over to see the boat and after talking for a while we discovered he has made model row boats and airplanes and all sorts of cool hobbies. One thing led to another and Kyle and I hopped in Paul’s car and headed to his house in order to use fast wifi and to see his models. It was fun driving around Ft. Madison. It’s a rather abandoned town and very old, I enjoyed hearing what Paul had to say about it. Kyle and Paul chatted and walked around for over an hour looking at all his cool hobbies, meanwhile I worked on Internet stuff. After hanging out for a bit we headed to the grocery store. Paul was such a great sport and walked around the store with us, laughing and chatting all the while. He then took us back to the boat where we took him on a row! Actually, he and Kyle took me on a row 🙂 I very happily sat on the foredeck and guided them while they rowed along. It was fun having someone on board and he seemed to enjoy himself as well. After finding some water and saying our goodbyes, Kyle and I headed for a nearby island to camp for the evening. We have officially named the island “Cricket Island” as there were no mosquitos which was amazing, but there were green crickets everywhere. At one point we had 18 crickets on top of our tent. It was quite entertaining and we started naming them. Tom was one of the crickets and he was hanging out on our mast, he hung around for a while before hopping off to find something new to do. The moon is full, sunset is spectacular, the crickets are chirping, and I can hear one lone toad off in the distance. Lovely.
Yesterday was another day filled of River Magic and River Angels. We departed from our cricket island around 9am after waiting out some thunderstorms in the AM. We stood around for quite some time observing the clouds and wind direction trying to decide if we should embark for the day or take a zero day hiding from potential thunderstorms. The final decision was to head out, but to fully expect rain, waves, and wind against us. I am very glad we had anticipated rough conditions because instead of making the day arduous, it was an exciting challenge. We rowed about 10-12 miles directly into the wind. We rounded at a corner at one point and the waves were about 3-4 feet max and 2-3 feet average. I must say, it was exhilarating! Because we were rowing and not sailing we stayed completely dry, always a moral booster. The waves were biggest when we crossed directly across the river to seek some refuge in the lee shore. Solvi bobbed up and down, but otherwise handled quite well. Kyle and I sang sea shanties to stay motivated and made it across in about 30 minutes.
We hugged the lee shore and rowed real close to the railroad and houses along the river’s edge. Eventually the river turned again and we were able to set the sail. We were headed for Lock and Dam 19, which was 4 miles away. The sailing was going quite well as the wind had calmed and thus the waves lessened in height. Just as we were about to tack over and head for the dam, we saw some pretty intense storm clouds moving quickly in our direction. Clouds- black, dark gray, and various shades of dark blue were quickly engulfing our blue sky. Areas of rain fall could be seen on the horizon. After debating back and forth we made the decision to run back up river and head to the Keokuk Yacht Club we had just passed moments before. Being that it was a yacht club I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Would we be allowed to tie up to a dock to wait for the storm to pass? As soon as we began our approach to the transient dock we were greeted by some very kind folks. They said we could definitely stay for the storm and offered to buy us a drink. Soon after that a nice man who is a chairman at the yacht club offered for us to stay the night, use their showers, laundry, and if we wanted to we could set up our pads inside for the night. We had originally planned to head for the Lock and Dam after the thunderstorm passed, but hot showers, pizza, and cold drinks were too hard to pass up. So there, at the Keokuk Yacht Club we spent our afternoon and evening. The people there were all so generous to us. Drinks, information, rides, were all offered. One man named Wes went above and beyond. He took us on a tour in his van through Keokuk. We then went to his liquor store that he owns to lock up for the night before heading to Walgreens. Before locking up the store he gave us a bottle of wine to save for my birthday on Sunday. I love Cab and this is a red Zifondel which is supposed to be similar and quite good. We then got to go on a little delivery with him to a nearby restaurant and bar. On our way back to the yacht club we stopped at Walgreens to get some soap for my poison ivy. Thank you Wes, words can not explain the relief I have found from the poison ivy soap. My favorite part of our hour adventure with Wes was when we parked and walked down to look over the Lock and Dam. It was awesome to see it from above. Once back at the Yacht Club we set up camp on some grass, took hot showers, and chatted with some more people. Overall it was an awesome experience. The River Magic blew us away. Thank you, so incredibly much to all the River Angels: Wes, Mark, Tim who took Kyle to get coffee, Jim, the Yacht Club Chairman, Meg, and many others. Kyle and I had the most wonderful stay and feel grateful for the hospitality.
This morning after packing up and doing some last minute Internet research, we said our goodbyes and headed for the Keokuk Lock and Dam 19. This dam is much different than all the other dams on the river. Not only is it the second largest (biggest for Kyle and I since we didn’t go through St. Paul) but it is a hydroelectric dam. On top of that it dropped us 32 feet! Usually we only drop about 5 feet but today we went down over 30. Kyle, Solvi, and I were the only ones in the massive dam, it was pretty comical how little we were and how big it was. I loved dropping down so far. By the time we went down the 32 feet, I could hardly see the people above. The lock master was a kind guy who joked around with us and then wished us well.
As I write it is now about 2pm. We have already made 20 miles today and have been sailing ever since the dam. It’s another one of those beautiful days filled with sunshine, blue sky, and some white puffy clouds. I am really enjoying this section of the river. Lots of islands lush with green trees and sandy shores. No other boats and only one tug and barge. The wind is abeam and the current is swift so we are cruising along quite nicely. This is my second break from my tiller and main sheet shift and I find myself quite toasty from the sun but very much enjoying its warmth. I am really starting to find the rhythm of life out here. The days don’t seems as long and arduous. Simple things like making lunch aboard and setting up camp are becoming natural parts of my routine. Observing the water’s surface while sailing I have learned to see when the gusts are coming and how to keep Solvi sailing to her best ability. The idea that we live in a small boat along the Mississippi River and that islands and shorelines are our home is no longer strange. I enjoy my days so deeply and intently, I didn’t even know life could provide such constant joy and diversity. It’s a hard thing to articulate, the rhythm we have found out here on the river, but the world ‘home’ comes to mind. I don’t feel displaced. I don’t find our life style strange or different. The river has become home and all the people along the way family. Pushing Solvi off a sandy shore and then quickly hopping in the boat while Kyle guides us back into the river has become as familiar as starting my car every morning. Checking the chart book and planning our mileage for the day reminds me of making lists and checking them off. Cleaning Solvi’s varnished floors and benches like dusting and vacuuming. It took about 30 days, but I am very happily settling into life on the river.
After sailing about 26 miles we found a place to pull off for the night. It was a fairly unique spot. There was a small learning in the trees on the shoreline where we were able to pull Solvi up on her roller and tie her to a tree. The shoreline was somewhat flat but then suddenly inclined straight up. The hill was small but steep and covered with eroding brush, sand, and plants. Once climbing up the hill we were greeted with a massive open sandy area. The contrast from the river’s edge was interesting. That flat sandy area almost reminded me or a miniature dessert. Sand with small gatherings of dry grass strewn about. One lone tree that I enjoyed looking at. After hiking up and down the hill to transfer our camp gear a dozen times, Kyle got a nice fire going. He uses the teepee method and leans the wood up against iteslf making a tall teepee. I enjoy the way he does it because the forest always start quick and are tall and warm. He made hobo dinners over the hot coals while I set up camp. When I went to take our rainfly out of its bag I found a green cricket! He looks like the ones from Cricket Island and I named him Willy. Poor Willy was stuck in the tent bag in the stern locker all day- he must have been miserable. Willy seemed a bit lethargic but slowly hopped away. It wasn’t 20 minutes later when he landed on my camp chair. I was watching him try to bite the black fabric on my chair and figured he must be starving from being stuck in the locker all day. Kyle cut him a small piece of onion. He let me pretty much hand it to him and I kid you not, Willy ate the entire piece of onion! Who knew crickets liked onions?! I moved him onto our frisbee and tried to give him some water and cabbage. The onion must have done him well though because after eating the entire piece he started hopping as though he had energy again. I was sad to see him go, but he gallantly hopped towards the tree line where the symphony of his family members could be heard.