The approaching noise sounded like the train locomotives I’d been hearing along the River – but this freight train was a 90-mph wall of wind, and it was coming straight at me. But I’ve jumped ahead in the story, first we must cover what led to that plight.
Leaving Prairie du Chien, still trying to catch up with Dale and Richard. The advantage should tilt my way soon when Brad and Austin rejoin the group in La Crosse, WI, for their canoe is heavy with video equipment which slows the pace. Plus I’m getting faster. But you can’t make time if you’re not in the boat, and explorations of St Feriole Island (next to Praire du Chien) plus additional visits with Tim and Sara pushed my getaway until after lunch. Next stop was the tiny town of Clayton, IA.
These pics are from early the next morning. One of Clayton’s two taverns closed in recent years, leaving only the one in the background, but it offers good food and wifi. When enquiring about campsites, was informed by several locals that people frequently bunk in this little riverfront park. Nice setup. It even had a little bathroom and the whole place was dressed up in a new coat of paint. Definitely a Michelin three star site.
Guttenberg is a pretty town a few hours downstream from Clayton. It was long and narrow, mostly hugging the riverfront. Stopped briefly to stretch my legs but did not linger except to snap a few pics.
The day’s paddling led to a remote area called The Driftless. The term refers to a geologic formation of small hills and valleys that historically did not lend itself to road building or town building – it’s still sparsely inhabited and without cell-phone coverage.
Stopped at Finley’s Landing county park. Two things come to mind: 1) I was the only inhabitant, which was fun, and I scavenged charred logs from all the fire-pits to build a great fire. 2) The bathroom had a pay shower – you insert a quarter to get about 6-8 mins of warm water. These are not uncommon, in fact I used one at a fishing camp a few days earlier and made sure to keep a couple of dollars change for such as this. But also couldn’t help but imagine how awful it would feel to slog your way here only to realize you have no quarter and no way of obtaining one. Haha, and so it goes.
The smoke from the fire settled heavily over the campsite like from a fog machine at a concert. This too may portend bad weather (low mercury on the barometer?) but I thought nothing of it except that it was great for keeping mosquitoes at bay – they can be fierce when you are the only critter around.
Typically, the last thing I do at night and first thing in the morning is check the weather. Weather Underground shows a 10-day chart with graphs of temperature changes, barometric pressure, wind speed, direction, etc. A reading for Dubuque, IA, is here. But with no decent cell signal (I could text, but nothing else) there was no weather check at Finley’s Landing. I knew a storm was coming, but paddled until such time as conditions told me to exit. For an hour or more there were lightening flashes in the distance, but no thunder. Then came thunder, so I made for a well-placed gazebo at the water’s edge. It should be a great place to hole-up for a while.
But once ashore, while prepping the boat and grabbing things to take inside the gazebo, a wall of wind hit. I heard it coming and saw its effect on the water surface as it came toward me – then boom! Fortunately I was hunkered over my heavy canoe, battening the hatches, and had it to grab on to, plus the river bank rose ten feet up to the railroad tracks nearby so that provided shelter. It was actually fun. My poncho was flapping as I scurried over to the gazebo and tried to enter, but there was more rain inside it than on the downwind side I stood. The wind was blowing rain sideways through one screened wall, then through the gazebo, then through the other screen wall and into me. After a couple of minutes the wind died down, I entered and waited for the worst to pass, then started paddling again.
As often occurs, an hour later a second storm hit. This time I headed over to a narrow strip of riverbank and hunkered behind a large tree that extended into the shallow water and provided an eddy of calm from the wind-blown waves. But that did not last. Apparently, a strong wind will rise the water level for soon surf was crashing over the log and slapping into the side of my boat, shifting it around – even shifting the log around. I kept moving the canoe higher up the bank, but the water level kept following us and there were only a few feet of gentle incline before the bank rose steeply up to the railroad tracks. I used all of it.
The rain stopped, but the wind did not which meant battling 20-mph headwinds during the return to civilization. It took hours to travel a few miles to a county campground and marina. The marina was closed that day, but a cleanup crew at the campground informed me of the extent of the storm. Several towns upstream were hit hard, many lost century-old cottonwood trees in their riverfront parks – lots of damage.
When the day started, I was about 20 miles behind Dale, Richard, Brad and Austin – less than a day’s worth of normal paddling. But this was no normal day. Even with an early start, due to rain delays, headwinds and a break at the park/marina above, I covered only about 15 miles total – it only felt like the 35-mile day planned. The only consolation was that my guys down south faced a similar slow day, and everyone was okay.
The guys camped the night before on a father/daughter trip. There were several dads plus a half-dozen pre-teen girls. They invited me into their midst, other people arrived, guitars came out and there was singing – good times. Plus, hearing of my travails and effort to catch up with the crew, the boat’s owner invited me to bunk inside that night. He’d bought this 27-ft cruiser just weeks earlier, and was letting a stranger spend the night on it. What a generous offer!
I’ve long fancied the idea of living and traveling on a boat like this, so it was a special treat aside from not having to break out the tent. But the visit ended on a sour note of my doing. That night I read online that Dale, et. al, were pushing hard to make St Louis in about ten day’s time. With those deadlines come a constant sense of urgency that do not jibe with my intended river journey. Traveling solo is not a concern, so no longer would I try to rejoin the group. There were/are personal reasons for why I was making this trip, aside from my kinship with Dale and Richard and the Juvenile Diabetes cause, but they will be shared later – not ready for that yet.
What is happily shared though is how helpful Dale and Richard were with me during the early weeks of the trip. My ability to travel solo now, is largely due to the insights and lessons patiently shared by them early on. Plus Austin and Brad offered welcome advice too and were a load of fun to hang out with. I would miss the camaraderie. We would laughingly refer to Brad and Austin as the consummate stealth campers, and I’m pretty sure that if those two were dropped off in Maine with a backpack and $100 in their pockets, they would be able to surface in San Diego two months later unseen by humans except when they buy their supplies in a Dollar Store or upload their videos at a McDonalds.
I relaxed at the marina the next morning, did laundry, and repacked my gear. At some point the boat’s owner returned, surprised and displeased to find me still there. I had no phone number to communicate my change of plan, so that was awkward. Though miffed, he came across mostly as disappointed, which made me feel like an absolute heel. It reminded me of when, as a kid, you do something wrong and your parents say: “we’re not mad; we’re disappointed” … Noo, not disappointed! Not that!!
I almost did not include that event or photo, but am choosing to do so as the evening was a pivotal point in my journey for two reasons: it was when I decided to forge my own path, and it was an act of generosity on a day when one was profoundly appreciated. Thank you.
South of Dubuque, idling along in the current eating lunch I heard the beeping noise a commercial truck makes when in reverse. Odd! Then I see a pickup coming down the train tracks backwards. This was puzzling.
But it all made perfect sense once it became apparent that the Pickup was being chased by a Dump Truck! Life on the river.
Tiki themed bar in an small enclave somewhere south of Dubuque. Did not go ashore.
Bellevue was home for two nights, this is the view from my shabby-chic hotel room. The ladies at the library cringed when told where I was staying, but it was a bargain. There was a great diner downstairs for breakfast, and my canoe was just across the road – locked to a pole at the boat put-in. My hotel host even informed the local police it was there and they said they’d keep an eye on it!
Bellevue is a welcoming place. It was around this time that I started to marvel at how being in these little towns feels like being in an episode of My Three Sons – they are a throwback: No fast food restaurants, people frequently don’t lock their doors, lots of diners where folks politely greet each other, a pharmacy with price labels stuck on every item! They offer a friendly vibe and pretty old buildings.
Old mill, (circa 1840) now a beautiful restaurant with a superb Louisiana-themed menu and huge exposed wooden beams inside. Ate dinner there one night (at the direction of the ladies at the library).
On a side note. Even though I am no longer physically traveling with the Source to Sea group, I continue to help by handing-out cards and talking-up the cause. Was constantly amazed at how well known the guys were. Everywhere, people were familiar – at the library, the grocery, the diner, everywhere. The story usually made the local newspapers.
Many Day Lilies along the waterfront here – and in fact along much of this region.