Upper Mississippi River

Clinton, IA to Minneapolis, MN

July 2006


Lock 12 from Bellevue RiverfrontI was cruising across Lake Pipin and thoroughly enjoying the sight of the steep bluffs and cotton ball clouds.  Here the lake is about a mile wide and today a little choppy. For some reason I shift my attention from pleasant view of the distance  shoreline and reached over to the GPS.  Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I saw something in the water just a few yards ahead and slightly starboard.  It took a second to sink in but it was seagulls – about a dozen – not floating but STANDING!  I simultaneously crank the wheel to the port and jerk the throttle. At the same time the depth sounder’s shallow water alarm starts screaming and I see the numbers flipping towards lower unit disaster.  With an acute myocardial infraction looming Therapy gently comes to rest in 2’ of water. No contact – no damage – no problem.  Just another day on the river…….

And the river this time is the Upper Mississippi.  To be more precise the upper, Upper Mississippi.  Continuing my obsession to explore new water I have trailered Therapy to Clinton, IA.  From there my plan is to head upstream on the Mississippi until I run out of water.  Current information suggests this should take me a mile or two past the downtown area of Minneapolis, MN.

Although the planning for this trip was nothing unusual trying to make an estimate of its duration was a little difficult.  The reason for this is between Clinton and Minneapolis there are 16 locks that will impede my progress. Since I will be returning to Clinton that amounts to 32 lockages I will need to complete. Commercial traffic on this section of the Mississippi is not heavy but present so substantial delays are always possible.


I am actually departing from Fulton Marina in Fulton, IL at mile marker 519.5. This is situated directly across the river from the larger more developed Clinton, IA. The operator of the marina had been kind enough to grant me permission to use their ramp and allow the truck and trailer to set on their parking lot for the duration of my trip. As I approached the parking lot I see it is somewhat remote which concerned me. Since the break-in and $1300 damage to my truck near New Orleans a couple years ago I am quite sensitive to the situation.

Potters Mill - Bellevue IAAs I was sitting there struggling with the decision, a local police car pulled in to the lot and looped around past the ramp (a good sign). I waived the officer down as asked if there were any frequent problems. He hedged his statement by saying there were no guarantees but offered that they were very rare. I told him my truck would be there for 5 to 7 days and thanked him for in information. With a little more peace of mind I was now ready to begin my journey to finish the Upper Mississippi. About an hour and a half of sunlight remained so there was time to log a few miles before dropping the hook for the night.


Sometimes I am a bit hesitant when I begin these trips. The long drives, six hours in this case, are never any fun and the thought of onboard mechanical problems hundreds of miles from home or the trailer do give reason for pause. But once I ease Therapy’s throttle forward and she breaks away on plane all this melts away. For me this is indeed heaven on earth and always leads me to wonder why I have waited so long between these excursions.


But today the euphoria is short lived as the first lock is only three miles from the marina and in just a few minutes I and sitting at Lock 13.  Sequential numbers designates most of the locks on the Mississippi but there are exceptions.  One is that there is no Lock 23 and two Lock 5s – Lock 5 and Lock 5A. Also, the last two locks are not numbered but called Lower St Anthony Falls and Upper St Anthony Falls.  Today there is no other traffic at Lock 13 so passage is relatively quick. Going north all lockages will be lifts and here it is about seven feet.  Once freed by the outward swinging miter gates Therapy’s bow is pointed upstream to about the 532-mile marker where I find a suitable anchorage.  I read a little while I watch the sun set and then retreat to the berth for the night.  The forecast for the next day is hot – upper 90’s/ low 100's – but light winds.  I fall asleep full of anticipation of tomorrow's run.


At daybreak I am hauling up the anchors firing up the Honda 50.  It is Saturday morning and there are already a few fishermen trying their luck.  By 6:30 I am calling Lock 12 to request passage.  I am informed that he just chambered a commercial tow and it is a double.  Not good news!  But the lockmaster adds it should be about an hour and a half.  Hour and a half? Normally a double can take three to four hours.  I don’t understand but don’t argue.  He also adds that just downstream of the lock’s longwall is the courtesy dock of the city of Bellevue, IA and if I walk up the stairs I will find a restaurant serving breakfast.  Now that sounds like a plan!  If I have to wait I might as well do it over a hot breakfast and newspaper.


After I eat I still have time to walk around town a little and snap a few photos, including a few of Potters Mill.  I make my way back to Therapy and right on schedule the lockmaster calls for me to enter the chamber.  The lift is again about seven feet and I am required to hold the boat near the wall with a rope dropped from the top of the lock.  On the Mississippi floating bollards or pins are rarities.  Lock 27, 26, 19 plus the two St Anthony Falls are the only ones so equipped, the other 24 locks just have ropes.  This usually isn’t a problem with the exception I normally try to use the lock time to read or eat.  Not this trip – got to hang on to that darn rope the entire time in the lock.


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