Sunday, August 09, 2015

Haunting The Old Mississippi

Link To Photos

Marla and I took the boat down to Wabasha today. I Elderd at Church last night so it was a "free Sunday"!

We ventured through the Alma Lock (4), the Whitman Lock (5) and spent some time in pool 5A, held back by lock and dam 5A just above Winona MN.

Very early in my IBM career -- 79 or 80 I'm pretty sure, I started camping on the river with a coworker who had grown up on a farm near Goodhue MN and was very familiar with the 5A pool, always putting in at the boat harbor an Minnesota City.  We camped on the river a good deal -- watching the barges, ate sandy food, drank more than a few beers, did some fishing and water skiing. We even had a larger group camping outings over those early years of the '80s and I bought a bass boat -- that turned out to not really be the right kind of boat for EITHER my fishing or camping outings, but it was a case of "live and learn", and it was a boat.

When I met Marla, we would camp in that area of the river both pre and post children -- eventually moving up to the Lund Tyee 1850 in '92 that we were still using today -- although with a number of big changes, the biggest being the 130 HP Honda 4-stroke vs the old 150 Johnson 2-stroke.

I still love the river -- the bluffs, the locks, the current, the fact it rolls all the way from Itasca in N MN past New Orleans into the gulf. I've boated on it from Minneapolis to Guttenberg IA at one time or another, but the pools I know best are 5A prior to '92, and 4 ... North of Alma including Wabasha, Lake Pepin, up past Red Wing. Since '92, 80% of my river boating has been in that pool. I've seen the big river from shore at St Louis, Vicksburg where Grant laid siege, and of course the Big Easy ... down there the barges make ours look tiny!

We camped on the river a decent amount up until close to 2000 with friends from IBM, but about that time, river outings became day events -- Boy Scouts, too much gear to camp and ski on the river, and the advent of "the connected life".  Too much need to be connected to work, too many other activities -- and it just got harder to enjoy heat, humidity, fairly regular thunderstorms, loud partiers nearby, barges shining their lights at you, etc. .... but I certainly DID enjoy it when I was in my 20's!!

I'm no longer in my 20's -- but we rolled down the river, saw some of the old places we camped, including Bass Camp, where we stayed with Marla's folks and our nieces and nephews from that side -- including Mindy that we lost in the car accident in '08. We had a snack at the Wingdam Bar in Fountain City MN, the town I believe is the most beautiful on the river. We have been there before -- sadly a 21 year old Winona student lost her life in a freak accident involving a dumb waiter there last December

The picture of Fountain City doesn't do it justice at all -- and for me, I will always remember one night in the early 80's in a sleek Glastron I/O boat owned by a guy from IBM with a couple other folks going past Fountain City right at sundown at 50+ MPH on the water. It was one of those "perfect moments" for some reason in my mind, so it stays fresh yet today.

Seeing the Queen Of The Mississippi  today, a modern replica paddlewheeler launched in 2012 reminded me of the times we happened to see the Mississippi Queen or the Delta Queen on the river over the years. On one night in the very early '80s we followed it down to lock 5A from our campsite,  went ashore and walked up to the lock even though there is no official viewing at that lock. We were at the lower level of the ship, which is where the workers were at, and we chatted with some very interesting folks ... mostly from the deep south that worked the kitchens, tables, bars and gambling tables on the paddlewheeler.

Those were the days before all the "undocumented hispanic democrats!" ... most of them were white, a couple of them were black ... people showing up at a lock in the middle of the night and chatting was unusual for them, and for farm kid / recent college graduate / IBMers, it was a different outlook on life -- folks with a little jail time, ran away from home, ran out on a bad husband / wife -- lots of "stories" ... maybe true, maybe just stories, but interesting as stories ought to be!  80% of them smoking -- it was like 1980. Another time.

Lots of old memories -- some sweet, some bittersweet, some hard to even relate to from my older self. Will being on the mighty Mississippi be totally a part of the past as our place in IA becomes more and more the destination? Probably -- nearly so at least. Life has already gone on a long way from the pool 5A camping days -- like the river itself, it just keeps rolling along, although I'm sure that Old Man River will be still be rolling much longer than Old Man Moose!

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