Living large, camping at a huge campground/resort on Pettibone Island next door to La Crosse, WI. John Sullivan kindly offered to let me bunk at his place in town, but I like being by the water – plus this place has great amenities, including a laundry room! Haven’t been to the grocery store in almost two weeks, but my food supply is holding up well – largely due to eating one big meal each day at a river tavern, usually lunch. I usually eat oatmeal for breakfast, and have a cache of dehydrated meals I dip into when needed for dinner.
My tavern lunch meal is usually a Reuben and fries. I eat the fries, then half of the Reuben, then wrap the other half in foil and take it with me for dinner. Yum, and there’s nothing like coming ashore, setting up camp and having dinner already prepared. Plus sauerkraut is high in vitamin C, which is good for keeping scurvy at bay. Argh, matey! Fortunately, the temperature has been low enough that food spoilage is not a concern.
The staff at the campground were really nice. They let me pitch tent at the edge of the common area, which was convenient to laundry, bathroom and general store. Also at some point late afternoon about 50 locals descended on the lawn and held a Corn Hole tournament with multiple pitches set up – it was quite the grudge match and great to have next door, especially since they packed up at sunset – about 9pm. I like to be in my sleeping bag by 10 pm and asleep by 11pm. This far north it stays light enough to walk around without a flashlight until 9:30 pm, but the flip side of that is that the sun offers its version of reveille around 5:00 am. Though, most days, though sheer will-power I manage to drift off and sleep for another hour. I usually try to find a spot with morning shade, otherwise the tent heats up quickly. The nights are typically in the 50s.
As sweet as my campsite was, this one was the best of the campground – located at the southern tip of the island, several hundred yards from the next closest site. Not sure how he worked this deal, but it was peaceful, scenic and breezy. We chatted for a few minutes about campers and traveling, but I’d already lost an hour that morning trying to upload pics to the blog and was eager to shove off. The first five weeks of the trip have been a real chore for uploading photos – even when wifi is found, the bandwidth is not sufficient to upload large data files. C’mon America, it’s 2015! We can bomb entire nations yet we can’t get fibre optic into the hinterland?
Seen a lot of pontoon boats, but none kitted-out like this. Definitely a ‘Dear Santa,’ boat, but maybe with an outboard motor instead of inboard. Seems an outboard would be better for maintenance and repair and eat up less living space.
Lots of pretty houses under construction south of La Crosse. You can tell by their lack of elevation that the river level is well regulated by the lock and dam system – but erosion is always an issue. And the river level is not perfectly regulated. At many towns there is a plaque six or eight feet up a random building noting a previous flood level.
Approaching Lansing, IA, around 9pm. I had stopped at a nice campsite about two hours earlier, intending to camp there, but the kindly old gentleman manning the office/store encouraged me to make a run for Lansing – said it was only about five miles downstream. Given the good current, smooth water and light tailwind, that’s less than an hour of paddling. The water is typically smooth late in the day and I love paddling at that time, but to really enjoy it I need to have a campsite arranged for it is not fun searching at dusk. Five miles my foot! This last leg took closer to two hours and it was almost dark when I arrived in Lansing. But I had a card up my sleeve. One trick to finding a choice spot is to stop at a marina or tavern and enquire within. This generally gets the needed info pronto, and frequently lands a plum location not available otherwise. The latter happened in Lansing.
This pic is from the next morning, but the prior evening this building had a lighted Tavern sign on the side that shone like a beacon – so I pulled in and asked if they had a plot of grass I could camp on. Nope, they didn’t, but they had an outdoor bar area downstairs I was welcome to use. Score!
What a treat: no dew on my tent the next morning and a nice view. And it worked out well for the owners -a young couple in their 30s who recently bought the place and were doing great things with it- in that I ate a meal that evening and then went back up the next morning for breakfast. And whenever I get a deal like this, I always make sure to give an extra large tip to the helpful wait staff. Everybody wins!
Interesting side note. The kindly campsite manager who urged me to continue downstream the day before had been visiting with another older gentleman who happened to be driving an old red tractor. As I ate breakfast the next morning, I glanced over and it appeared Tractor Guy was sitting a few seats over. Unsure, I peered out the window and saw this. I wonder if he is related to George Jones?
As with many of these river towns, the train tracks run right through the middle of it and there are no crossing gates. Trains run through here frequently and they are loud! – not just their horns, but also the clatter and screech of their wheels as they make their way down winding tracks. The tracks are rarely straight, for they hug the constantly winding riverbank.
This is how a lock appears from several miles away (with the flat water, they tend to look closer than they are). I radioed ahead to inform them: “Southbound pleasure craft/canoe headed your way about ten minutes out, can you accommodate?” Well, it soon became apparent that ten minutes was optimistic, so I paddled like a fiend to try and not be too late. About thirty minutes later I screeched up to the lock and sheepishly yelled to the lock master: “that was the longest ten minutes ever.” He laughed, said that it looked like I was paddling hard so they cut me some slack.” Some of the lock guys are jerks to paddlers, some aren’t. No doubt they deal with a few knuckleheads.
Arriving at Prairie du Chien, this shanty boat was the first thing I noticed. This is a pic of Tim and Sara, but when I first drifted past it was Tim alone who came out on the back deck and started chatting with me. We visited for a while, then I asked about camping. His reply: “How about you camp over there under that cottonwood tree and then join me and the Mrs for dinner”. Then, after inviting me, he thought better of it and asked Sara if it was okay with her. She approved and I was IN. The meal was vegetarian and delicious, surpassed only by the entertainment factor of my hosts and the coolness of their home. They both recently retired, moved off of their organic farm and now split their time between this shanty boat in summer and traveling in a motorhome the rest of the year. If I recall correctly, Tim, a self-described tree-hugging hippie, is the youngest of 10 kids who grew up on/near the river. At one time a lot of families up and down the river lived on boats of this type -called shanty boats- and he has long been fascinated by their history and culture and the lifestyle it fostered. Indeed, he is a bit of an expert, having published several articles on the topic. He and Sara bought this one several years ago and are steadily decorating it with all manner of river memorabilia and other amusing stuff. I loved it and their attitude. Good times.
We’re actually on an island -not in Prairie du Chien proper- that at one time was the private retreat of a local family, and before that was an area used for trading between trappers and indians. In honor of that history, there is now held an annual event called Rendezvous, and the Rendezvous festival happened to be going on this weekend.
This building was undergoing renovation and could be rented for wedding receptions, etc. As I recall, a local person who moved away and made good recently bought it and was behind the renovation. Seems that story is being repeated in more than a few small towns. I think that in the coming years people will start moving back to these smaller havens for several reasons: 1) they will seek a simpler, quieter lifestyle, 2) towns will be wired better for internet, and 3) more jobs will allow working remotely 4) more retirees will need the cheaper cost of living that small towns afford.
The next morning at 7:00am I rolled out of my sleeping bag and wandered through drizzle and fog to see the Rendezvous site. As well as RV camping and a stage/festival area, there was a fenced-off area of about 10 acres set up with white canvas tents that people rent for the weekend for the modest fee of $45. These participants then don period garb and act like they’re living back in 1780. It was a little weird strolling through the mist and rain that morning -before my coffee, still half asleep- and seeing families in costume, cooking oatmeal and such over open fires. Fortunately, one enterprising Patriot sold a breakfast meal, so I got all the coffee, sausage and Freedom Pancakes I needed.