Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Maserati Does One-Eighty-Five

Hello, America! And a shoutout to our loyal fan base in Mexico City, too! Thank you for reading! We've got a long post this time, and videos and pictures at the bottom. Enjoy, and if you're from Canada, say hi! It's the Mississippi Project: going global, one North-American country at a time.

On our way into Dubuque from Cassville, we paddle halfway and it starts to rain, hard. The river is two miles wide from the dam up ahead, and across the open water, the wind starts sweeping waves across at us that crest and rock the canoes. Danny zips on his rainjacket, but it is still warm and I decide to stay shirtless, thinking the thing will pass. Instead it whips into me and covers the lake, hits my body in tiny drops that feel like hail, and pretty soon I can hardly see. I put on my sunglasses so I can steer, but water still runs down into my eyes and makes the whole world look crazy. To avoid the wind, we hide behind a long stone wall jutting out into the river, and end up right in the middle of a huge stump field, the remains of old, chopped-down trees protruding ominously from the shallow water. Through the orange sunglass lenses, the thing looks like something out of the Apocalypse. Danny yells a warcry up in the bow, and I can hardly hear it. It is raining harder than I've ever seen.

Behind the stone wall is a marina, and when we finally get there we decide to pack in from the inclement weather. We call Tom Orr, who'd agreed to host us for the night, and even though we're an hour and a half early and eight miles away, he says it's no problem and he'll be there in half an hour. We thank him, and sit under a pavilion watching the rain come down, shivering, waiting.

He shows up with his wife Susie, and there's room for four with Susie and just one with Tom due to all the gear clogging up the backseat. I go with Tom, and he takes me through downtown Dubuque and shows me the sights. There are beautiful old churches and breweries, and huge estates set up in the hills. He tells me it's so much better this way than by the arterial road Susie took with Kev, Danny and Stoa. "Up there you'll just see everything you always see," he says. "Home Depot, Walmart... One thing I can't stand about America nowadays is how every town looks the same. You used to be able to tell them apart. Now, you walk around blindfolded, you don't even know where you are."

At the house, he hands me a beer and tells me we'll get the canoe off the car later. The other guys come up, and the whole thing is wonderful. There is homemade salsa, and good beer. There are hot showers and (king-size!) beds and tiny hors d'oeuvres of tomato, basil, cream cheese and cracker. We tell them you don't have to do all this, really, but they wave us off. "Don't worry about it," they say. "We just love having guests. For us, this is fun."

The next day, they go even further and lend us their car. It is a beautiful day and we drive into town with the Eagles' "Life's Been Good" playing on the radio ("My maserati goes one-eighty five..."). With the windows down, we yell as loud as we can. "Waaah! Waaah!" we scream, "Mississippi Project! Waaah! Waaah!" It is something you should all try at home.

In town, we visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Stoa tells the lady at the door that we are paddling the river and she lets us right on through. Inside, we watch a wonderful video about the river and its history, and look at pictures of old generals and steamboat captains. We play with a barge pilothouse simulator but can't keep the thing from running into the shore. We look at river timelines, and learn from a barge video that 55 million tons of grain are exported from the Mississippi River every year. In accelerated time, it only takes seven seconds to go through the locks, and the life of the barge deckhand just seems so damn romantic. We look at how far we have come from Minnesota to here, and at how far we still have to go. We remember the awe of the river all over again. "This isn't just any river. This is the Mississippi River," says one man in the opening video. "It is as great an American icon as the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge." Quotes are everywhere, too good and numerous to digest them all. Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes. There is Norman Maclean, telling you, "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." There is Theodore Roosevelt and Chief Seattle, and Heraclitus, so wise, saying, "You can not step into the same river twice." And then perhaps the most simplistic but also the most honest of them all, in the gift shop written across the wall, there is Winnie the Pooh: "Sometimes, if you stand on a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away...you will suddenly know everything there is to be known."

And that is just the museum. The aquarium has huge fish, crazy fish. It has Cowanose Rays, and bottom-feeding Sturgeon, and four-and-a-half foot Blue Catfish with their whiskers waving out ahead. In one huge tank, an alligator lies half submerged in the water, completely still. "Is that thing real?" one woman incredulously asks her husband, and the alligator slowly blinks its eye. We learn about the poisonous snakes and water mocassins and snapping turtles awaiting us in the Louisiana bayous, and I realize we are going to die. All I can see is dismembered limbs and misty cypress trees. "I'm not trying to become an amputee," Danny says, and asks a museum employee what the best weapon would be to battle the alligators. "A shotgun?" Danny asks. "Nope," says the employee. "Wouldn't do it."

We wander over to the gift shop, and it is the busiest place in the whole museum. People mill about, looking at books and stuffed animals and American River sweet cherry wine, and imitation medicine pouches from a culture we destroyed long ago. There are custom Monopoly sets, train whistles, jaw whistles, rubber duckies, scented candles, t-shirts, track jackets, sweatshirts, hats, postcards, "Snake Crossing" signs, ships in bottles. It is the busiest place in the whole museum. "You ready up there?" asks the cashier as people make their way to the checkout. The Winnie the Pooh quote sits scrawled on the wall, looking at where it's made it to, staring silently down and taking in the whole scene.

Afterwards, we walk across the parking lot to Diamond Jo Casino, where there are far more cars parked than at the museum. We drive to the Fenelon Plaza Elevator, which goes up the main bluff of town and is the shortest, steepest railroad in the world. We stand at the top of it and gaze out at the city, and the river with the museum and casino on its banks, slowly slipping away. We're tired from all the sightseeing, and don't say much. We lean against the rail and bask in the sun, and after a while, we walk back down the hill.

Tomorrow, we are driving down to Savannah, Illinois, where we will be picking up our journey again. Enjoy the pictures and videos below, and miss us just a little. We'll miss you a little too, and we'll check in with you soon. Peace, love, goodnight. TMP


Jamie-Lee said...

The dizzy bat video is hilarious.

Sounds like that rain was pretty crazy- it's been raining hard here in Philly too. Sure, I'm not paddling down a river or anything, but on my walk to work this morning, my flip flop broke and I had to walk from about 41st and Pine to KWH barefoot. How's that for adventure? (Sigh.)

Dudley said...

Desde la ciudad de México: sigue remando!

Suit and tie, keying a bunch of numbers into my computer, I take a break to wonder into the waters of the Mississippi on my mind as I read through your adventures.

9-9, I barely get to see the acid rain falling on this concrete jungle. But the austere wooden boards of my cubicle work as a perfect canvas for my imagination. I sure felt that ferocious rain falling on me somewhere in Illinois.

Godspeed Mississippi project!

famille stoa said...

Glad to see pictures!!!! No rain...any bugs? Tons here in Winona, MN....
Lifejackets readily available in your canoes?
Snakes?????????? Remember that the blog is also read by mothers.....
Have fun in Illinois and keep on paddling.
Famille Stoa

mikepam said...

Thank you, Tom & Susie Orr, the McNellises, Richie & Mickey, the Marrinin family, and everyone else who took the boys in and made sure they ate and slept well, and got hosed off. I know there will be more of you as they continue on their journey, but please know that your kindness is not just to the boys, but to all us parents who have to read from a distance, alternating between pride, wistfulness and horror (snakes, ALLIGATORS!?). Thank you, thank you!

And yes, life jackets, sunscreen, bug repellent, hats... how about "on" all the time? :)

John said...

I am happy to hear you enjoyed your visit to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Best of luck on the rest of your journey!


John Sutter
Director of Marketing
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Susie O said...

Hi Guys-
We are thinking of you and wondering how the trip has gone since we dropped you off in Clinton, IA yesterday.
You have choosen to take a vast and wonderful adventure and we were very pleased to be able to help out by hosting you for a few days. We believe in "Paying It Forward" and know the four of you will do just that many times over on your trip.
Tom called his siter in St. Louis and they'll be out of town so they can't help you out with a place to stay.Sorry.
Be safe. We look forward to reading about the rest of your trip.

To Kevin, Gabe, Danny and Ryan's parents: We had only 2 days to spend with your sons at our home. It was a small window of time to know them but you ought to be quite proud. They are a terrific group of young men and it was a pleasure to have them in our home and experience our Dubuque town.
Susie & Tom

markie said...

To Susie and Tom,
Thank you so much for taking in our boys. Mine is Danny, and I hope he was full of pleases and thank-yous! I hope one day to meet the others. If you're ever out Arizona way, as they say, Mi Casa es su Casa.

markie said...

hey guys! You probably didn't watch CNN last night...It was an amazing story about a spot on the Mississippi, in Illinois, where overcrowded and overfed, (10 to 20 lb), carp are jumping right into boats. The newsman, standing on a boat, got hit twice in the shoulder during his broadcast. He said, "Ouch, that's gonna leave a mark!" they said a jet skier could sustain some damage. so be on the lookout, it could be fun and you'd have free dinner.

Al said...

Hey guys. Al here in Philly. I'm not one of the parents, of course, but feel "parental". So:

1) watch out for the flying carp :)
2) wear the lifejackets (the river's gettin' wide now and less predictable
3) sunscreen (a month from now you'll be happy you used it)

It's Friday morning on what turns out to be a huge summer-weekend travel day. I drove Jamie-Lee to the Philly airport at 6 am this morning and we found quarter-mile-long lines at curbside check-in! You are lucky to be away from all this summery American going-somewhere-quick-ness.


famille stoa said...

Hello! So flying carp, snakes, alligators...hum...
I trust you are all wearing your life jackets all the time on the water as well as sunscreen. ( we live on the Mississippi in Winona and have seen 5 people die because of no jacket within one month...)
Susie and Tom: thank you very much for receiving our sons and offering salsa and showers! ( We are Ryan's parents, the one with the cowboy hat)
This trip is a wonderful way to connect with so many different people and places! Bon voyage!

famille stoa said...

How easy is it to find a place for the night????? Do you make fires? Is it very buggy? When you go to town, what do you do with your gear????
I am asking these questions because people wonder!

Walker said...

Dear Gabe,

Sorry i haven't written earlier... just got internet hooked up today in new house. It has a reall good view. You should come hang out sometime and we can drink cold lemonade.

It hasn't been raining here, but we had water play today at Footfire camp and so I got wet. I like the video and that mascot. Was a he a blue bull?

Sounds as though this is a good journey. Enjoy.

Also, my fantasy team is no longer good, so ill trade you my team if you want. Cheers.

markie said...

yes, famille stoa and I want the full picture. Google Earth doesn't show your facial expressions, darn them. Do you often cook on the shore or mostly restaurant it? Is the guitar getting it's share of attention?

Are you now resting and writing by day to break up the paddling into cooler times? life jackets, LIFE JACKETS!! Remember the good judgement? Accidents happen with lightening speed and you are not on land. Being in contact with your families, this is the voice of your "collective parent", begging. If need be, groveling will be involved.

markie said...

Danny, that was a terrific tumble, well done. I recommend White Sands New Mexico, deserted in March and dunes twice that high. Great fun to roll down them, naked.

famille stoa said...

Hello, paddlers!
Where are you? No news, good news....
Famille Stoa is leaving tomorrow for Yellowstone and Grand Teton....( we will have the cell phone, Ryan!)...any chance of an update on your trip before we leave?????????
Have fun, wear your jackets, watch out for the river beasts.

wanda1234 said...

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