Sunday, October 30, 2016

MO to St. Louis

So... Just because I made it through the Missouri River... and theoretically St Louis is at the confluence... does not mean it is a reasonable task to get from the Mo to the waterfront of St Louis.  After 14 damns, I was about to meet my first set of Locks... and first Canal.  This is mostly a picture post.  It took me a full day to get from my make shift pier of sunken barges around St Louis to the waterfront.

The Confluence of The MO and the Miss.  You can even tell that the Miss is so much more a commercial river even at this point. So many barges and boats on the Mississippi only trees and eagles on the Missouri.

The first thing you will see upon entering the Miss is that the whole of the river flows to the right... but this sign tells you that all boats must go left down this canal.  On the right is what's called "Chain of Rocks."  Basically the left overs of a dam.  Of the people I talked to, it was about 50/50 if I could get down the chain of rocks with the Mermaid...  I was kind of excited to go through a lock too...  This is the last Lock on the Mississippi.  So, I went down the canal into the lock.

Like... freaking 9 miles of canal...

Yep... Miles of still straight water.

Eventually you get to this lock at the end of it.  I was a little nervous to be honest.  It really feels like a place you shouldn't be with a little rowboat. Eventually the lock dude came out... said "Don't bother tying up..." Like it was a totally normal thing for me to be there.

And down we go.

Back into the Mississippi just north of St Louis.  First time I see the Arch!

This bridge just north of downtown St Louis is absolutely the most beautiful bridge on the whole system. Iron and Concrete configured in a piece of architecture you could look at for hours and see new things the whole time. 

We're here.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Out of the Mo into the Miss:

AUGUST 20, 2016 (Give or take)

What can I say… 2300 miles of grueling beauty and splendid hardship.  

I don’t think anyone who has ever traveled the length of the Missouri River would ever say they have beaten or conquered or even “haha” bested the river.  The most you can say is that you made it, this time.  This time, you learned fast enough, you made few enough mistakes, and you got lucky enough when it counted that you made it.  You don’t complete it and feel like a bigger man for it… you complete it and feel humbler.

This is the last moments I spent on the Missouri River.  Just about to enter the confluence of the Mo and Miss.

The End of he Missouri.  Over my right shoulder, you see the Missouri river... over my left, you see the Mississippi.  

(The keen observer will spot the Mermaid pulled up on the river bank.)

At this point... I am 2300 miles into the trip.  The entire length of the Missouri River traveled... I am ahead of schedule, so I plan to travel all the way back to my place in Florida.  I now have the rest of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico ahead of me.  1500 Miles to go!  Even though I have come so far... 1500 miles isn't nothing!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cousin's... so many babies.

On the passage few days of KC to St Louis… the current is fast, the engineered levies are not particularly interesting, but the miles are tantalizingly low numbers!

I did stop in Jefferson City to visit with one of Dave the Kayaker’s friends Cecil and Joe the park builder

… who fist fights anyone who abuses dogs.  (There is not even a boat launch in the capital of Missouri… There is one on the other side of the river though.)

I stopped in a few towns… but was excited to get to St Louis, where my Aunt and Uncle happened to be visiting my cousin to diddle around to long.  Like I said, the river is not appreciated this whole section, though I did find a park in St Charles, Mo.  In the Park there are several sunken barges piled on top of each other.  I tied the boat off to one of the sunken barges.  (I hope maritime luck doesn’t rub off… because the Mermaid was hanging out with those sunken unlucky vessels for several days.)

Usually my family is a bunch of shudder bugs, but these are the only real pictures I have from that visit.  

My cousin has twin 1.5 year olds. I was sleeping on the couch.  About 6am the boy wakes up and starts playing in the living room.  

Suddenly!  He sees a crazy looking bearded stranger laying on the couch watching him!  Reasonably his first reaction was to run behind my cousin and peak out tentatively.  After a few minutes of my not eating him, he decided I was a welcome addition to the living room and starts demonstrating his ability to dump over boxes of toys and laugh.  

The girl woke up and laid in her crib singing until my cousin brought her out into the living room too. No hesitation on her part at all. 

“Sweet!  A new “adult” to read me books.”  About thirty seconds after meeting me we were discussing the merits of bananas being yellow and the fact that this is a circle. Being our first meeting and being family we stayed away from the politics and drama of Micky’s clubhouse but I think we would have agree that Minny really should be the one running things at the clubhouse. 

An Asian Carp that jumped into the boat.

This is Churchill Clark.  The Great Great.... grandson of William Clark!  Still lives along the Missouri and spends his time making dug out canoes.  I don't know how I managed not to take a picture of one of his dug out canoes... You can find his work HERE.

KC... Good BBQ and bad boat ramps

So, the last city on the Missouri River that loves the river is Atchison, Kansas.  Home town of Amelia Earhart!  (Turns out no planes downtown or anything… just her house.) When I say it is the last city on the Missouri that loves the river, I mean that it has a park along the river, docks for visiting boaters, overlooks… you know… incorporates the fact that one of the great rivers of the world flows through it. There really is a beautiful park and cool downtown.  

But, you didn’t come here for travel information… You came for the seemingly impossible adventures of Notorious!

I got to Kansas City. KC does not love the river.  They have walled it off, hidden it, and are mostly afraid that it will make a mess of their train town!  For a city of about half a million people, there is only one mediocre little boat launch on the far end of town that doesn’t even have a dock.  Kipling, Michigan has more water front facilities than the half a million people city of Kansas City!  INCREDIBLE!

Well, I guess when the trains came to town, KC stopped being a town devoted to the steamboat, and started being a FRN Train Town.

To KC’s credit, they have beautifully restored their old Union Station.  

It is really impressive actually!

While New York has torn down their beautiful station, and Detroit’s is effectively modern ancient ruins.  So… there is something…  but not friendly to the river.

I found what looks like an old steam boat terminal and tied The Mermaid up to it.  There is a set of stairways that lead up the thirty foot rock embankment into the city.  I tied up the boat, and as has been effective so far, trusted luck and people to be good.  So far so good.

I wanted to explore the city, so I got a room, took a shower, and explored.  Visit the Arabia Steam Boat Museum.  It will inspire treasure hunter in anyone.

In the morning I came back to the boat.  Not particularly used waterfront… no person had bothered the boat.

So, here is where I hid the boat...  Can you see it?

Down the hill... what the?!?!  

 This is not good... It was floating in six feet of water when I left yesterday!

About here is where I realized that I had totally wasted taking a shower.  The boat is almost tumbling down the bank into the water... held from rolling off by the now guitar taunt mooring lines.

The GOPRO walleye vision is odd here, but the boat is about two feet above the water on some rocks and an I beam. I had tied it up the afternoon before at about the level where you see the lines on the poles.  The thing was perched so that if the mooring lines weren't holding it, it would roll right down on it's side into the river. Now I couldn't slide it out or untie the lines...  Some hard corp practical problem solving about to happen.

Several hours and not at all clean anymore, the boat was finally back in the water.  It had been pearched up on this steel thing.  The keel was resting in the poky part of the I beam... so I couldn't even slide it down. 

As far as I could tell, no holes punched in the bottom from this operation.  Though totally luck on that.  The mooring lines luckily held it from rolling off down the bank into the river on its side.  All my stuff would have been in Arkansas if they hadn't.  

Smoke that Prop!

So…  last time I tuned in for an update, I was talking about how I was having a bit of hipster moment in Omaha rebuilding a propeller in a coffee shop.  I am going to have to back up a moment now to just above Souix City, Iowa.

Just before Sioux City, there is the last wild stretch of the Missouri River before it becomes “channelized” or “engineered.” Read that as a big gutter that flushes the water of the Missouri as fast and deep as possible down to the Mississippi.

As I was puttering along, kind of zoning out… I was suddenly surrounded by a squadron of local kayakers! (They always come out of the sun at you!) I didn’t realize kayaks could go that fast!

Dave... crazy fast kayaker that caught me!

Then they caught up with me again at the Ponca State Park


Little did I know it, but this kayaker would be my rescuer a few days later!

This bunch were paddling sixty miles that weekend of the MNRR 100… or, the last wild 100 miles of the Missouri are designated a special park.  If you paddle them, you have completed the MNRR 100.  On accident I happened to do this.  Dave, the leader of this band, added me into the award ceremony at Ponca State Park.  

Instantly going into “shake, take, salute” mode, he assumed I must have been a politician.  I assured him I wasn’t but that there is a massive database of pictures held by the United States Air Force.  Every award, honor, or attaboy ever given by the USAF is photographed mid-handshake as the award is passed.  Probably for posterity or something… No one has ever in the history of the Air Force ever EVER wanted to see one of these pictures. (Leave a comment in the bottom if you have ever even seen one of these photos after it was taken…)

The First Shake Take Salute picture ever actually published:

I exchange information with some of the kayakers and and let them know about a really old tree that I had seen there in Ponca State Park.  Being that Kayakers and sail boaters are all cut from about the same level of nerdyness, they were also excited about an old ass tree and all went up the hill and looked at the it too.

Here it is.  This oak tree was born in 1644.  Think about that for a while...

Anyways. Remember that propeller?  Literally the first day out of Omaha, just south of a place called Nebraska City. (Home of the Ely Windmill Factory Museum) I smoked the crap out of that rebuilt propeller.  I hit a submerged rock dike so hard I am sure there were seismologists jumping out of their rolling chairs thinking this was going to be the big one!  

The Ely Windmill Factory Museum… note this is a museum of windmill factories… NOT a Museum of Windmills!  Making it even more notable don’t you think!?

I managed to shred the entire inside of that propeller… It was a clean sweep.  My repair… shattered, the remaining structure of the propeller… shattered, and even the shear pin… well it was fine.  Probably reused that. (cut down high tensil drill bits are the same as shear pins right?!?)  No better propeller salesmen in the world than the Army Corp of Engineers!

Luckily one of the kayakers who lived just up the road in Omaha came to the rescue!  There was a marine store in Omaha that could get the propeller.  Who would have known that it would be such an odd ball part.  No one carries it in stock. I think they only sold two in the history of Mercury Outboard. Apparently, if you are going to buy an outboard motor, no one ever goes for the 2.5 horse… except apparently my dad. Probably went down like this:

Outboard Salesman:  So… you got your 2.5, your 5, and your 10 horsepower outboards.  All weigh the same and cost the same.  

Dad: I’ll take the 2.5.

Outboard Salesman: Ummm… Ok… you putting this on a canoe or something?

Dad: No, I have an old row boat that I like to drive really slowly in.

Outboard Salesman: Like for trolling?

Dad: No… my family has a fishing curse and can’t catch fish. Hmmm… do you make a 1.5 horse?

Now, I have never done Heroin or crack, or any other famously addictive drugs… but I do know for sure that they are nowhere near as addicting as an outboard motor!  You see, you try to do the right thing.  You try to row… but there you are… facing the back of the boat looking right at the damn thing.  Each stroke you think, this could be a lot better… well, maybe just for an hour or so… this is like a headwind… it counts… right?… I did row some today, I deserve this…


Well It would be like trying to get off coke but leaving a big scarface mound of it right there in the middle of your kitchen table all the time.  

In addition, I had made a decision about this trip that made the motor imperative to have in working order.

So… Rescued by a generous kayaker, who also also happens to be a chef.  Needless to say, I ate better than I have in months!

Monday, August 15, 2016

I am the stuff of nightmares.

Everyone loathes hipsters... They are the WORST! I sit here in a coffee shop in Omaha, Nebraska... wearing a t-shirt with an inside science joke on it... with a beard... fixing a small outboard motor propeller... with my highly impractical form of transportation a few blocks away on the river... drinking a silly froo froo coffee drink... writing on my blog on my apple laptop... texting on my totally retro flip phone...  it has occurred to me...

Yep, I might be the hipsterest mother hipster on earth.  How did this happen?!?! Well, at least I am authentic in what I am doing.  Not like all those poser hipsters who are not as authentic as I am.  Right!?

Pretty sure the only more hipster moment that has ever happened was when we saw that dude in Milwaukee, wearing a fedora in a whiskey bar, practicing his calligraphy.

Second... I'll tell this story that actually happened a few weeks ago, but is worth telling.  Mostly to entertain.  Don't think you are about to get enlightened in the next few minutes.

So there I was...

There is a place called "Bob's Resort Boat Ramp" according to the Army Corp of Engineer.  As we found out, this is no where near Bob's Resort.  The original Bobs most likely started sliding into the river a decade or two ago, (probably due to the corp's efforts) and it has been rebuilt up a hill and down the highway a few miles.

Anyways... the morning Dad and I were leaving the boat ramp there. I went up to use the vault toilet. (Vault toilet is sort of like a concrete outhouse that every state north of Nebraska puts at their boat ramps.)

So I go to use the vault toilet.  There is only one reason to use a vault toilet and that is not number one, it is number two.  I wanted to get it out of the way before we got underway.  Lake Oahe is huge and it may be all day before I could find as civilized a place to number two as this concrete outhouse at formerly bob's resort.

I opened the door to go in... LORD!  it seemed to be the entrance to hell.  The stench and the swarm of flies that erupted out of the door when I opened it... It had to be be a gate to the underworld!

Didn't matter... some things just have to be done.  Besides, I was armed with a pack of baby wipes.  As it turns out, they are the antidote to any unsanitary situation.  I have even heard they cured herpies on an army dude in the first gulf war.  Ask Pat Fronk... he knows the guy. Though now that I think about it, that might have been lysol.  Either way.... I entered the little bunker of doom.

I closed the door behind me but it seems the lock was broken.  Whatever, there is no one around for miles.  Didn't think twice about it.

(Do my business... not described here.  We all know how that works)

So I get finished and I get to wiping.  (here is where the fun starts!) Did I mention the flies?  Yea, they were whirling around in the poop pit like a biological buzzing tornado.  Don't contemplate the thought for too long, but I am pretty sure these flies main diet was poop. And you are what you eat... so...

I hear a truck and trailer arrive, but think nothing of it.

Anyways... I only sat there a moment because the flies were literally landing on my butthole between wipes.  Let me assure even the most depraved SOB out there that this is not a pleasant feeling.

(I am sorry to all my readers... but if I don't document this for posterity, what will our grandkids think.  They will assume this trip was all thunderstorms and museums next to the river.)

Obviously I stood up to finish my wiping.  At least then my hairy buttcheeks were protecting my butthole from being a shit fly buffet.

I think I was on my first standing wipe, when suddenly I hear a hand on the door and the the door knob turn...


I reach for the door handle to hold it closed.... but I am to slow!


The door rips open just before my hand, still holding a bouquet of shit covered toilet paper, could grasp it and hold it closed!  A flood of daylight fills the little concrete hell.

The light floods in, a demonic swarm of flies blast out like they are escaping hell, I am basically thrusting a wad of shit covered toilet paper at the now open door inches from the door opener,  my pants are hanging at my ankles, (I had my baby wipes in my other hand and didn't want to set them down on anything so let my pants fall to my ankles rather than hold them up) and there in the perfectly lit doorframe stands one of the cutest little girl scientist I have ever seen.

There isn't a word in english for this level of awkward.

Lets just say that this poor girl was not prepared for that scene when she opened the door.

She let the door drop closed. At this point what could I do so I finished my business and step out into the parking lot to walk back to the boat.

She and her fellow scientist were making the hardest effort to ignore me as I walked past them and their truck and their boat back to the Mermaid.  Honestly, I feel like the both of us had been through a terrible trauma and could make it better with a joke, but they were hard ignoring... so I walked passed laughing to myself.

She never did go back to that vault toilet so I guess she didn't have to go that bad.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The legend of Guy and Mitch

So... there I am, sitting in sort of a coffee shop, mostly a gas station in Ft Pierre SD scamming some internet.  I just happen to be on the internet live when I get a message from that says... I see your boat, call me!

I send him a text... turns out he and his best friend did this exact same trip the year previous... in a freaking pontoon boat!

Oddly enough, above Pierre I had heard stories about these two guys from the previous year!  As in... "Shit, that's a pretty good rig you got... most of the time you see fellas in canoes and kayaks... though... I think it was last year, two guys came through on a dang pontoon boat! They made the Corp take that pontoon boat over the dams! hahahah!  Damn the Corp of Engineers..." 

Well, as it turns out, they never did get the CoE to take their pontoon boat over the dams, but they did in fact travel the length of the Missouri River in their pontoon boat!  

Here is their contraption!

This is the story the NEWS did on them before they left.  It is a pretty good and worth your time for the click. It really adds to the toe story I am telling here. Also, they made a documentary of their trip and it will be in film festivals in the next year.  So, all you hipsters that go to film festivals, keep an eye pealed!

Anyways... So I get this call, "Hey!  I want to talk to you!  Meet me at your boat in like an hour!"

Well, Ok then.

So I did...

This is Guy and Mitch.  According to his wife, Guy invented the selfie in the eighties... I would say there is solid evidence for that to be the case.  He is obviously the one taking the selfie of himself with us in the background.  Mitch is the one slapping his head... I probably just explained that I have a 12 inch dick and my boat also used to be able to make itself into its own trailer.

Our first encounter.

Fast forward 26 hours!

There was a lot in-between all those 26 hours, but just assume that men who have done this journey on this river have a sort of bond.  I am pretty sure if Meriwether, William, Mitch, Guy, and myself... maybe even the nerd who wrote "The Complete Paddler" all got together... we would instantly be best friends... or at least be able to commiserate about the Army Corp of Engineers. (even L&C hated those guys)

Mitch was busy with the whole getting married thing, so Guy gave me as much info as he could about the rest of the trip down to St Louis.  Names of helpful people, things not to miss, ways to get around the remaining dams... etc. 

Then, when I got to the bottom of Lake Sharp... Guy just came down with a flatbed and pulled me over the dam himself!  Couldn't have been easier!  Flatbed into the water, schooner onto the flatbed, into the water on the other side, schooner off the flatbed!  Took longer to write it than do it!

It kind of looks weird on there doesn't it...

Well, as we dropped the boat into the river below the dam, we encountered a band of tiny Sioux!  Or a tiny band of tiny Sioux...

(You can be a conspiracy theorist or not... but at the bottom of every reservation there seems to be a CoE dam that has flooded all the farmable land that the reservation used to have... we couldn't be that big of assholes could they... we... they?!? Well.... you look at the map and decide.)

Anyways, these kids were swimming at the boat launch.

After about thirty seconds of talking, I had a whole mess of volunteers to join the crew of the Mermaid.  I was pretty happy with my crew of spiders already... so there were no billets open.

Actually I was a little worried about stowaways.  Shit!  Who wouldn't want to take a boat ride to Florida!  

Guy, super shudder bug, had us posing for the camera in moments.

I know the pictures look calm... but it was kind of madness!  

Apparently the party kept going even after I left.

Wind, Waves, and Flies! by Antoine de Dad and Nick

I waited in Bismarck a few extra days... both for Dad to come back out and sail the next lake with me and also for a new set of sails.  I am pretty sure that the old sails were original equipment on The Black Pearl... so they did OK for cloth legitimately being from the 1930's...  Of the four sails I made, 3 of them were shredded by the wind.  

This whole trip has been a school of hard knocks lesson in doing things right, using the right tool for the right job, and paying for better equipment up front and saving time and money later... or maybe I need to get better at using crap to make shit work.  Still learning...  So, I finally have ordered legitimate sails from a legit sailmaker, that fit the boat correctly.  She is now most technically a Bermuda topsail schooner.  Also, surprisingly the sails were significantly less expensive than I had expected... and should have just done this from the beginning. So, with a rush job from 
Squeteague Sailmakers, who priority shipped them to the community organizer and dissenting voice to big oil, The Bakken Resistor, in Mandan SD for me... The Mermaid Now has a new outfit to wear!  

WHAT A DREAM!  These sails pull the boat better than the bigger old sails, less stress, easier to run up and down, legitimate reef points.  MY GOD THEY ARE GREAT!

The new sails... Full sail! 
Also, Dad is there thinking about reorganizing something.  Probably the cooler again... maybe the utensils.  

Anyways, so Dad came out and we left Bismarck. The intention was that we would sail the leanth of Lake Oahe from Bismarck ND to Pierre SD,  capitol to capitol, then rent a car and get him back up to his own. 

The first thing we found when we got going was a boat that was suspiciously upside down in the mudflats just entering the lake.  It was a sixties or seventies speed boat, upside down... numbers removed, crusted with algae, and seemed to have two bullet holes blasted through the bottom of the hull. (.45 if I were to guess...) Well, maybe it isn't so suspicious after all.  Someone just scuttled it unsuccessfully.  I guess fiberglass boats are hard to get rid of so some geniuses thought they could sink it in the lake.  Unfortunately for them it had internal flotation and probably has been drifting around the lake for years now.  Sort of the ghost ship of Lake Oahe!

(Forgot to take a picture.  Use your imagination)

Next we encountered massive headwinds.  Pretty much this the embodiment of no fun.  Huge waves, slow progress... having to stick next to the shore just so the wind and waves aren't completely horrendous.  If you want to draw a map of Lake Oahe, basically, you draw a vertical line up and down.  


It is a long straight lake and the wind seems to blow straight up it or straight down it.  THERE IS NO LEE SHORE!! So, the winds have a clear path to build waves for about 80 miles.

Eventually we had to stop.  It was to brutal for us and for the boat. We found a point to hide behind, bailed out the boat, and ate lunch.  And waited... I was happy to hang out and wait for the wind to calm down.  

This is how I wait for the wind and waves to die down.

Unfortunately it was full of flies.  They weren't even the biting flies... but I think this is about when Dad declared war on flies... or maybe they finally drove him over the edge!  From then on... he was attacking every fly he saw.  I am not sure that he ever did get a single one, but from then on they were enemy number one!  In the tent, out of the tent, in the boat... always the flies. always the flies, always the flies!!  Needless to say, we didn't sleep there.  We continued against the waves over sleep with the flies. 

Well, the second day out, we had The Night of Thunderstorms.  Meteorologically I don't even know how it was possible, but we literally had eight hours of thunderstorms in the same spot.  I don't know where the water vapor could have come from, I don't know how there was that much energy in the air... but eight damn hours of thunderstorm.  Luckily this time we had a concrete picnic table where we camped so we used it as a sort of fortress to hold all our stuff from getting blown away and trashed.  Pretty much everything, to include the boat was tied to the concrete picnic table... except the dirty dishes.  We left those in a field hoping the storm would wash them for us.  It sort of worked, though we washed them again... actually it didn't really work that well.  

This is the next day after the night of thunderstorms.

This is what The Mermaid looks like now.  Sailing through the Great Plains.  As you can see... even if you do go to the side to try and get out of the wind and waves... it isn't like there is a lot of wind blocking stuff out there.  It turns out the as a wind break, the great plains blow!  

Also, the varnish and bright work has taken a hit.  When dragging the boat over sand bars and through mud, you get a lot in the bottom of the boat when you jump back in.  Slowly it is getting cleaner... but the initial problem of the bottom being to smooth and slippery is no longer a problem. 

Typical loaded configuration. Probably still to much stuff... As The Big Engineer said, "on any trip, take half as many clothes and twice as much money."  I would say this trip is the same unfortunately. I probably could have brought two shirts, one pair of pants, no socks and three pair of underpants.  (One clean pair, one pair on your butt, and one pair for going into town.)  I have gotten to the point where I have actually taken baths with my clothes on in the river.  It might sound crazy in your house, but it makes sense out here.  Gets everything clean all at the same time!  No fussing with doing laundry!  Basically, if I can smell my balls, I go swimming (which I consider a bath) sometimes with soap even!  Actually, it isn't that bad.  Like I said before, my body seems to be self cleaning now.

Yea, I have no idea what is going on in this picture. It is about a million degrees out, we are in the middle of the lake on a boat, the next time we get to shore we will probably have to jump out in the mud and water...  Dad puts on his socks.  I didn't ask, I just took the picture.

I just like this picture... 

So, as a part of getting Dad back to his car, we were "conveniently alined" to go see John Yunker up at the site of what as far as i can tell, Fort Mandan.  

The evidence is pretty solid... Mind Blowing actually! Granted, it might be nothing, but dang... After being there, I absolutely feel like I was standing in Fort Mandan.  You stand there, you read the journals, you look at the land... and you know it is right.

Dad, John, and the dog Mercy... standing next to what was probably Lewis and Clark's bedroom.  (I have no idea why my Dad is making the mister yuck face.)  He was having a good time as far as I could tell.  I think he is counting paces in his head. That is his thinking face. I have talked to some professional Archaeologists who are friends of mine... just to see if we are all batshit crazy or if this is reasonable.  Talking to archaeologists feels a lot more like hiring a private detective than I would have ever expected.  We will see...