9/12 – 19/2106 Summary: We picked John Kelley up early at the Peoria Airport and did some supply shopping on the way back to the boat. John had taken the red-eye from Phoenix so was ready for a nap. While John napped, we drove across the river and took a tour of the Caterpillar Visitors Center. It was very impressive with lots of “real man toys.”
The next day we headed downstream. The first lock we came to was a “wicket dam” and the wickets were down, so we just drove over it. (See detail of a wicket dam below.) We passed a few barges along the way and saw several bald eagles before docking at the smallest marina of our journey, Tall Timbers Marina in Havana, IL. It was a nice quiet marina and we walked town…all 6 blocks of it.
With no marinas for over 100 miles, we set our sights on Big Blue Island, an anchorage about 60 miles downstream. Sanctuary and Last Call joined us, and we had docktails on our aft deck. Along the way, John and Tom worked under the brow cleaning up some wiring issues. We made good time due to the current, traveling at about 9 knots most of the day. (Our normal is about 7.) After arriving, we got the dinghy down and visited our “neighbors” (other boats anchored nearby doing the Loop).
The following day was another long day on the river, driving 70 miles to Alton Marina. Along the way, John and Tom did more work on electrical “stuff,” cleaning up some of the old unused wiring that had accumulated over 30 years.
When we merged with the “Mighty Mississippi,” the river widened to 4 times the width of the Illinois River, some barges tripled in size to as many as 7 wide by 8 long, the amount and size of debris quadrupled, and current about doubled to 5 knots. Plus the levees rose above the banks obscuring any good view. We figured out right away that the Mississippi was not going to be the highlight of the Loop for us.
For the next few days, Alton Marina was our base for exploring St Louis. And we did explore! We saw the National Great Rivers Museum, the International Photography Hall of Fame, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (which was amazing), and enjoyed the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Factory tour, the Herbaria Soap Factory tour, the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the St. Louis Arch, and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour, not to mention the food stops like the Missouri Baking Company, Caleco (Italian restaurant with Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty), and St. Louis style ribs at Salt and Smoke, just to name a few.
We really enjoyed having John along. He helped with a number of lingering projects, did most of the planning for our touring, and was not much work to look after. Here is what he said about his visit:
I had a great time aboard Life’s Travails. Highlights for me were captaining (not sure that’s a word) on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Helping Tom with some of the ship’s projects (troubleshooting, repairs, cutting a hole in the boat, etc.). Exploring every square inch of her…wow I was surprised some of the places I was able to get into, but more amazed I was able to get out of. 🙂 Porting in Alton, IL (my dad’s home town). Touring St. Louis, especially the food! Things I didn’t enjoy: working on top and around the poop tank – that job stunk :); and losing to Paula at Qwirkle. Whoever invented that game should repent, LOL. I mean…way to go Paula; see I’m not competitive!
I found it interesting that after a few days on the boat, the land began ‘swaying’ when we went ashore. A neat surprise was the friendships and camaraderie of fellow boaters, a very friendly and helpful community.
Thank you for the Grand experience on the Great Loop. 🙂
Along the way Paula finished another shawl.
Our next segment will include the Mississippi to the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers. (Really we have already done those; we are just way behind on the blog.) So you are at the point where most people stop reading and just browse down to look at the pictures, but feel free to read on if you wish. Thanks for getting this far!
Detail – Monday morning, we spiffed the boat up in anticipation of our next guest, John Kelley, from Phoenix. We scootered to Hertz rental car which conveniently was only about a mile away so we had a car to pick up John at the airport. After he arrived, we made stops at Costco, an RV supply store for shower parts, and Walmart. John decided he wanted to relax on the aft deck while we explored Peoria, so off we went.
The highlight of our time was the Caterpillar Visitors Center, which was very well done. We began in the theater which was actually the bed of a 797 mining truck, capable of holding 400 tons. Its tires were 17’ tall! In the center there were lots of videos about Caterpillar’s products, history, employees, and customers. There were also simulators in which we got to practice “operating” a backhoe and skip loader.
We returned back to the boat and picked up John for an Italian dinner at Avanti’s, a family-owned restaurant in business for 50 years. Their Monday night special was all-you-can-eat spaghetti (choice of 5 pastas and 6 sauces), including salad and delicious Italian bread for $5.45!
Then we drove Grand View Drive, a 2.5-mile meandering road constructed in 1903, the only linear park on the National Historic Register. President Teddy Roosevelt deemed Grand View Drive “world’s most beautiful drive.” There were numerous panoramic views of the Illinois River Valley and Upper Peoria Lake, the route we had taken in the boat the previous day. Along the other side of the drive were many historic and gorgeous houses!
After returning to the marina, Steve and Teresa Lasher from Sanctuary, a 41’ DeFever, and Scott and Karen Duvall from Last Call toured our boat. We then toured Steve and Teresa’s boat. It is always such fun to walk other people’s boats to “ooh” and “ahh” and get ideas.
In the morning, we awakened early and returned the rental car. Tom reattached the anchor light and prepared the boat for departure. As we traveled the river, the shore was dotted with houses ranging from river shacks to mansions . The first lock, Peoria Lock, was a non-event. Some locks have “wicket dams” which can be raised or lowered depending on the river level. If the river is low, the wickets are raised, creating and dam and blocking off the river to raise its level. If the river is high, the wickets are lowered and instead of going through the lock, you simply motor right over the lowered wickets. That was the case for us that morning. It was nice, as there was no time lost going through the lock. John, however, was a bit disappointed not to experience a lock.
We saw more bald eagles that day than ever before, about 10. The river widened and we actually saw very few barges all day long. It was a very peaceful day. We motored 39 miles to Tall Timbers Marina (Havana, IL), a very small marina owned by husband and wife Bob & Jo Sloglund. It was a quiet night with only 3 Loopers there besides the locals’ boats. The town was equally small and we walked it in about 30 minutes, but we did find the ice cream wonderful. Back at the boat, we introduced John to Qwirkle followed by supper on the aft deck. Before bed, Tom and John worked on our tach problem.
In the morning, we were the last Loopers out, even though we were out by 8:00 AM. That was nice as it gave us more room in the very small marina to stern over to the fuel dock for a pumpout (free with our overnight – very unusual) and then spin around to depart. In the next 100 miles, there was not a single marina, so we knew we would be anchoring and Bob had recommended an anchorage behind Big Blue Island, 63 miles downriver, at MM 57.
Tom and John again worked on some wiring issues for the first few hours while Paula drove. The river widened out, and with the high water level, we saw speeds up to 9.2 knots. John removed the wires of an inoperative security alarm while Tom reinstalled the aft head shower fixtures (we had been bathing each night at the marinas, giving the new paint ample time to cure). John relieved Paula at the driving station and drove most of the day, including maneuvering around several barges. He loved it and said he felt like he was really doing something that day. (We had only let him drive the uncongested areas the previous day.)
When we arrived at Big Blue Island, we saw Summertime anchored at the north end and knew Sanctuary and Last Call were planning to raft together and anchor at the south end. We continued to the south end of the island and pulled in behind them, letting the current put us in perfect alignment.
We lowered Life’s Lift (our dinghy) and dinghied around the island, stopping to visit Summertime, a 36’ Kady Krogen. Darcy and Wally informed us Lock 52 on the Ohio River was closed. Two of the wickets had broken and they were anticipating a 96-hour minimum closure!
After returning to our boat, we got a visit from Sanctuary and Last Call. What a fun evening visiting with all our Big Blue “neighbors.” Loopers are such friendly, fun people.
We pulled our anchor and sterned out from behind Big Blue Island about 7:40 so we weren’t in the way of Sanctuary and Last Call. Tom and John spent most of the day under the brow removing and rerouting old wires and labeling the remaining wires while Paula drove. Tom said it was the kind of job nobody would ever notice but would make any further work under the brow so much easier. Thank you John.
It was a wonderful day on the river for our 70-mile leg, other than being a hot and humid 85 degrees. We only passed 1 barge and 2 ferries all day long! About 10 miles before our destination of Alton Marina (we couldn’t get a reservation at Grafton where many Loopers stop), we merged onto the dreaded Mississippi River. Loopers stay on the “Mighty Mississippi” as short a time as possible due to the large barges (as large as 56 pushed by 1 tug – 7 wide by 8 long), debris (tree-sized logs), current (normally up to 5 knots), and levees which obscure any good view. As we turned onto the Mississippi, it was 4 times the width of the Illinois River. The flat banks gave way to palisades cliffs on the east side of the river.
The entrance into Alton Marina was tight and shallow. We churned up mud getting into our slip. Soon after, we were joined by Sanctuary and Last Call in slips nearby. A short nap called before our flounder dinner on the aft deck. Unfortunately, just before dinner, Paula found the aft head had flooded due to a water supply hose which came loose when Tom worked on the shower. Tom reattached it and figured out the bilge pump had pumped about 50 gals of water overboard. We finished the evening with 2 games of Qwirkle, both won by Paula – again.
The next day we had planned to sightsee in St. Louis, a 20-minute drive across the river, but rain and thunderstorms were forecast for the whole day, so instead Tom and John worked on the anchor locker drain hose blockage. They tried numerous fixes, finally waiting out an application of vinegar in the tube, hoping if it were lime mud in the line, it would dissolve. It didn’t.
Our St. Louis friend Bob Shelton (river rafter and Canyon Ministries board member) and his wife, Dee, drove over to see the boat and take us to Marko’s Fish Restaurant for a fish sandwich lunch. After lunch we stopped by Lowe’s to buy a snake for the anchor drain hose repair job and then all went to the National Great Rivers Museum. The museum was at the Melvin Price Lock, about 2 miles downstream from the Alton Marina, and had some interesting exhibits on the Mississippi River and lock. There was even a towboat simulator which Tom repeatedly crashed into the lock wall. (He claimed it was broken!)
Tom and John went back to work for the rest of the afternoon on the clogged hose, breaking the snake in the process. Blockage: 2; Tom and John: 0.
Enough work on the boat. It was time to see St. Louis! While Tom got the rental car from Enterprise the next morning, Paula went to the farmer’s market at the marina with Teresa (Sanctuary) and Karen (Last Call). Meanwhile, John finished the sightseeing planning.
The first stop in St. Louis was the International Photography Hall of Fame. It was a small museum and had some nice photographs, but we wouldn’t highly recommend it. Next up, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Now that, we would highly recommend! Inside were soaring domes and arches, all with intricate glass mosaics. There was no paint in the entire interior, yet Biblical pictorial scenes and colorful designs were everywhere. Covering 83,000 square feet, it took more than 75 years to complete. It contained 41.5 million glass pieces in more than 7,000 colors and was the largest mosaic collection in the world. A museum on the lower level detailed the installation process of the mosaics.
Next was the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Factory tour, complete with a sample, followed by a tour of the Herbaria Soap Factory and a soap bar sample. Tom drove us to The Hill, the Italian neighborhood, and put on the brakes when he saw the Missouri Baking Company. 15 minutes later, we all had our delicacies of which we partook on the sidewalk – chocolate covered cream puff, apple cream cheese turnover, marshmallow crème pastry, baklava, cannoli, blueberry muffins. (We did save some of them for the next day.)
From there it was on to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, 79 acres of outdoor display gardens and several indoor conservatories featuring tropical and non-native plants. There was a geodesic dome with tropical trees, plants, and flowers and another area that displayed Biblical and other plants from Mediterranean climates. We had a full day and our walking meter showed over 6 miles before the day was done.
We then drove to the Delmar Boulevard on which is the St. Louis Walk of Fame. On the sidewalk were brass stars and biographical bronze plaques about individuals with connections to St. Louis. We ate across from Blueberry Hill (a famous deli) at Salt and Smoke, a BBQ restaurant with wonderful St. Louis beef ribs (with leftovers to enjoy again).
Sunday, we started the morning at Abundant Life Church in Alton, a “non-denominational church” which actually had strong Assembly of God roots. Then we drove through the neighborhood in which John’s father had been reared, trying to find the house by a description from his uncle. We couldn’t identify the exact house but saw the area.
Next it was back to St. Louis to the Gateway Arch (technically Jefferson National Expansion Memorial) and after buying tickets, stood in line for about 2 hours (one lift was broken) to ride in a 5-seat gondola-type lift to the top. The arch was built to commemorate St. Louis’ role in the westward expansion of the US. The stainless steel arch is the tallest monument in the US, standing 630’ above the ground and is a catenary curve (the same shape taken by a free-hanging chain held at both ends). Though a simple design, the construction required specially designed equipment; each leg had to align precisely and the margin of error for the last section at the top of the arch was 1/64th of an inch. It took 2 years and 8 months to build and there were no deaths during its construction, in spite of the fact the men used no safety harnesses! (OSHA didn’t exist at the time.)
We ate a late lunch of pasta and pizza at nearby Caleco. We followed lunch with the St. Louis specialty, Gooey Butter Cake (really sweet, really good) before driving to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for their free 45-minute tour. The various buildings of the brewery dating back to the mid-19th century were ornate and beautiful. Did you know hops were flowers (from which only the bud is used)? We also got to see the famous Clydesdale horses and their stable. There were samples of beer or soda after the tour. From there we walked City Garden with its modern art. It didn’t appeal to any of us and John came up with the revelation that modern art is a visual representation of what philosophers think. Aaah. No wonder its hard for us to “get.”
There were so many other things we would have liked to do in St. Louis (Soulard’s Saturday Farmers Market, St. Louis Zoo, 6 Flags St. Louis, Purina Farms, Tums Factory Tour, City Museum, Grant’s Farm, Forest Park) but there was not enough time. Back on the boat, we celebrated John’s last night with a steak and potato dinner. We hated to see him go. He helped Tom immensely with tough boat jobs, and we joked John had been in most of the tight spaces on the boat in which Tom wouldn’t fit. Tom said he was going to save up other projects in tight spaces for John’s next visit.
Monday morning, we made a quick grocery store run before turning in the rental car. While we were gone, John cut a hole in the floor and cut out the clogged section of the anchor locker drain hose, the only way to finally get rid of the blockage. After we returned, Tom and John replaced the oil cooler on the port engine while Paula did laundry. Boat neighbor Steve from Sanctuary helped Tom a little with our electrical problems and determined the alternator was suspect…again! After a quick lunch, Bob came and picked up John and it was back to just us two on the boat, so we prepped the boat to get underway and back out on the “Mighty Mississippi.”
Before leaving the topic of St. Louis entirely, did you know the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis introduced the world to the ice cream cone, Dr. Pepper, cotton candy, iced tea, hot dogs, hamburgers, puffed wheat cereal and peanut butter? That’s a pretty powerful and popular food list!