Barge Traffic and Storm Systems. (Or, "How to Pass the Time When They Just Won't Let You Go On.")


   "The river's earliest commerce was in great barges -- keelboats, broadhorns. They floated and sailed from the upper rivers to New Orleans, changed cargoes there, and were tediously warped and poled back by hand. A voyage down and back sometimes occupied nine months. In time this commerce increased until it gave employment to hordes of rough and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, suffering terrific hardships with sailor-like stoicism; heavy drinkers, coarse frolickers in moral sties like the Natchez-under-the-hill of that day, heavy fighters, reckless fellows every one, elephantinely jolly, foul-witted, profane, prodigal of their money, bankrupt at the end of the trip, fond of barbaric finery, prodigious braggarts; yet, in the main, honest, trustworthy, faithful to promises and duty, and often picturesquely magnanimous."

        - Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi"


Reporting in from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin today, during the unexpected treat that is their "Rendezvous" historical buckskinner and fur trader reenactment festival and swap meet. We happened upon the town yesterday while looking for resupply and shelter from a storm and stumbled upon the mass of tents, patrons, and costumes, much to our delight. Thanks to Mark and Tim, respectively, for pointing it out to us. We would have bumbled right past a fun view to history in the area.

The past week has been a little rocky and inconsistent in terms of the mileage we were hoping to make, but it's still been a very productive one. After we last updated out of Prescott (Hi, Jeff & crew!), we worked for another couple hours before setting out. The waters of the La Croix river, inky indigo and beautifully clean, mixed with the Mississippi mud and gave us a little push on our way out of our first stop in Wisconsin.

That evening found us in Pucketville, Wisconsin, just across the "highway" from Redwing, Minnesota. We had been floating by, looking at the map and considering a late lake crossing to gain some extra miles, when the proprietor of the Harbor Bar Marina, Brad, came out onto the dock and waved us down. After a long day of sun, sweat, and effort it is very difficult to deny an offer of food and showers instead of chancing it on bad water. The Harbor Bar itself was more of a large bazaar, really, with a huge grassy area full of benches and color. We had an excellent time chatting up the Jamaican staff, also (Hey Pinto & ladies!). 

The next morning we were contending with lightning storms and downpour, which meant postcards and painting. With so little time to waste, these storms almost come as a welcome time to get all of the other work done without being fatigued. We still made some miles later in the day, though, paddling to a rocky outcrop on Lake Pepin, where we used the last rays to make our flags. There are sandbars to be conquered along the way, after all. 


The next day wasn't too much to report, which seems to be more and more of a theme as we get further on. Lake Pepin is quite pretty, and the locks have been very neat, and the paddling difficult. But, as we get into these longer days, it seems the best expression is, "Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle." So, more and more our thoughts turn forward, to Cairo. 

Yet, there's still fun to be had. After Minneiska and a long day of locks, barge traffic delays, and night paddling, we made it to La Crosse, Wisconsin. We pulled into a channel splitting the city's park and made camp, then headed into town where we were welcomed with open arms by some terrific locals (Hey Billy the Kid & friends!) We were a little slow the next day. Also, there is a breakfast place there devoted entirely to John Hughes films. You can probably guess the name. It's hilarious.

Still, tired or not, we have to move water every day now. So it was onward to a small wildlife refuge island (our favorite kind) where we started to work on camp and supporter duties. There were critters EVERYWHERE. It was a delightful place, with a stream running through. Highly recommended, if you happen to be in the area. It's on the map.

And then it was back to the big push. We were delayed by barges and lightning again, but still managed to fall just short of our fifty-mile goal, stopping in at a small landing to camp. The spots like this to camp at are truly invaluable to us. We're curious to see what's coming up down south. Snakes while searching for firewood is a concern.

Weather reports are sort of hard to get at times, so we didn't really see the storm that got us coming. But we woke up as it rolled in, flashing across the morning sky, and managed to avoid it and make it to Prairie au Chien. And just in time for the festival.

So, thanks for reading. As you can see, it's been a little hinky the past week and we have learned a great deal. The upcoming week will be a bear of a time, but will pay off nicely. The more time we have to see the myriad wonderful folks who live all up and down this river, the better.  


-- A

P.S. - More photos to come. The wifi here is poor at best. But the coffee, bacon and eggs are pretty good, so...