Archive:  Year 4 - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 "Home"

It’s grey and feels exactly like October.  There’s a slow drizzle outside – just enough to keep the decks slippery, but I wouldn’t call this rain.  I just lit a couple of candles on the Boat because I haven’t attached the lights in the back cabin and I’ve been staring, slack-jawed at my boat for an hour.  Tonight is my first night living back aboard, full-time, and it’s a bit overwhelming.  Yesterday, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place – the head was re-installed.  With full plumbing and heat now working, Gracie, I, and my computer, came aboard for good.  


A few friends are stopping by later tonight and I just got done laying down a rug, doing the dishes, and clearing the clutter.  I then settled on the couch to write but instead watched an hour go by just gazing at her.  I loved the Boat before, sitting on the old miss-matched furniture, amid dark walls and chilly floors.  But now, clean and open, she is dazzling me.  There are pockets of the Boat that are still unfinished – a heap of power tools and boxes of screws, a missing light fixture here and there; but more and more she is creeping towards completion.  

There are some adjustments yet to be made. I search for every utensil in at least one wrong drawer, and I keep forgetting about the soap dispenser in the galley sink.  I won’t have curtains or blinds until tomorrow, so thumb tacks and beach towels hang from every window…  But I’m here.  And the Boat is warmer and brighter than ever.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a feeling like this before.  It’s proud home-owner meets proud parent.    

And it’s given me and idea.

I have been fantasizing about making the great trip down the River since the day I moved aboard.  Tuning up the engines, filling up the fridges, and going all the way – 2500 miles, through 26 locks and 10 states - to the Gulf of Mexico.  I want to see the panorama of this River in it’s entirety, and I want to do it aboard this boat.  And the fact is, we won’t be able to make this trip together forever.  Although updated and renovated, the Boat remains a 34 year-old, fiberglass houseboat that has already been pushed beyond her limits with me.  With her face lift and my newly-acquired understanding of the systems and inner workings, there seems no more appropriate time to go than now.

It will take the whole Winter, at least, to plan and to save.  How long will it take?  When should I leave?  How are the engines?  What do I do once I get there?  This and a thousand other questions must at least be asked – if not answered. 

Rare as it may be, a trip down the whole of the River is not novel.  A handful of people do it a year, in all variety of vessels, and many more questionable than mine.  From the research I’ve done, I know that the Upper Mississippi River - from here to St. Louis - is almost a cake walk.  A slow trip because of the locks, this part of the journey is also punctuated by frequent marinas, gas docks, and towns.  It’s the classic River, with the forests of Wisconsin and Iowa; and running through Hannibal, MO – birthplace of Mark Twain.  But once you pass under the arch, and through lock 29 - the last lock on the Mississippi - it is a different world.  It’s a straight shot, over 1,000 miles of open river with no falls, no dams, and few places of refuge for boats like me.  This part of the River is industrial, wide and purposeful, with enormous barges and hard shorelines.  It is known, among boaters, to be one of the less forgiving portions of the River, when you mention going through it, they suck air sharply through their teeth and encourage you to use the alternative course to the Gulf, on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.  

The ‘Ten-Tom’ is a man-made River, especially designed to be a better route for pleasure craft.  It diverges down of St. Louis, runs parallel to the Mississippi, and is lined with services and safe harbor.  Smaller, narrower, and safer, it is a feat of modern technology and I’m glad it’s there.


I can’t do it.  I am perfectly prepared to say it is ego that prevents it, but I couldn’t stomach saying I almost went all the way down the Mississippi River.  It wouldn’t sit well with me to know that I didn’t see it all.  I’ve been here, in this marina, watching the River flow past, hour-by-hour, day-after-day, for years.  She is moving constantly, an endless train to somewhere.  It’s addictive sometimes, to stare at Her, trying to keep up with that ripple, or that floating leaf – wondering how far it will go, where it will end up, where it came from.  It would be the paramount thrill of my life to untie and go.  Follow Her.  Finally.  

No doubt I have just begun to tug on the first strand of a long, and knotted ball of twine.  Before anything, of course, I have to first prepare for the coming Winter.  In a few weeks I will be shrink-wrapped and insulated, seeing with stark clarity the effects of my efforts this Fall. 

But then, once the water is switched over and furnace is switched on, I can sit with charts and maps and try to make this all into reality.  Presuming this will be the only time I will make the trip, I want to see all I can and take in all I can.  I intend to beach frequently and meet the River Rats.  I want to hear their ghost stories and warnings, and (because I’m a dork) learn about the place’s unique history.  One town I’ve heard of, in Tennessee, had a severe earthquake on New Year’s Eve 1811, thus being called “The Earthquake of 1811/1812.”  It was so massive, it changed the course of the River, swallowed whole forests, and exposed the bones of dinosaurs…  Now the town has a population of about 11, and I bet they have really cool stories.  

Gracie is ambivalent about the whole thing, smugly remaining assured that whatever happens she will have a soft bed and treats for no reason.  It might all be worth it if only to stop in at Graceland – a mere 10 miles away from the River – and get a picture of her in a sequined jumpsuit.  

For now, though, I’m just at home.  Drinking a glass of wine and watching TV - and it feels great.


Next Post: November 17, 2009 "Here we go... again"

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**I do make The Big Trip, about 3 years later.  Leap to the future and read all about it.  © Dawn Brodey 2012