I recently discovered two incredible things – Convivium Urban Farmstead and working with pallet wood, which I did at Convivium. Emily and I were lucky enough to get connected with Mike and Leslie, the kindest, coolest people, and founders of Convivium. They not only put us up at their place, but gave us full use of their wood shop where we had planned to build a couple of things, but ended up building other things based on our experiences there. We arrived just in time for the grand opening of their space, two 1920s-era greenhouses, with a commercial kitchen, a coffee house, and wood shop/learning center, dedicated to creating community around food.
Three days ago we were presented with an official city of Dubuque flag from Mayor Roy Buol with Representative Chuck Isenhart and Arts and Cultural Affairs Coordinator Debra Alleyne standing by on the Ice Harbor dock, among other supporters and city officials. Debra called us brave and original and other embarrassing things, and we accepted the honor with the sun hitting my retinas so hard it made me cry. Morgan and Roy were clearly the professionals (close your eyes and count to three and then open them at the last minute, Chuck said from the sidelines, though apparently I’m not much for following directions). They all came out beachy and golden in their photos, while I look like someone is quietly pulling off my toe nails below the crop of the camera frame.
After I recovered from the assault of the evening light and turned to take pictures from an angle that was more backlit, I looked down at the flag we all had stretched out in front of us: it was a simple design, a gold rectangle floating in an expanse of blue and green, which I took to be representative of the Mississippi, though the Mississippi that day was a brownish morass of stumps and logs floating in algae swirls around the docks from the recent storms. The flag was almost as big as Michi Zeebee’s forward wall. It was also upside down. Another round of photos, this way right-side up, and we were formally tied to the city where this idea was first hatched. Officially bonafide.
Thunderstorms are rolling through Dubuque one after another. As rain pelts the windows and power goes out in the neighborhood we wonder how Zeebee is doing.
Zeebee lost one of her canvas doors in the last storm. There are reports of 70 mph gusts for tonight. This will be a true test. We might have to do some repairs in the morning, but alas she is a sturdy craft so all might be well. Stay tuned.
The whole first leg of the trip, which has taken nine days (today is day ten), was about getting to know Michi Zeebee and the Mississippi, their characters, how they interact; it was also about getting used to our respective roles, navigation and driving, figuring out logistics like our burn rate for gas and where to get ice. We’ve now been through eleven locks in various situations—with and without current, with and without barges coming through, with and without other traffic locking through with us. We’ve figured out how to talk on the VHF without sounding like complete novices. We’ve made it through 15 knot winds and choppy waters, anchored repeatedly and at night. We braved mosquitoes and soaked in the landscape.
Yesterday we pushed forward a bit, knowing that thunderstorms were on the horizon and that if we didn’t make it to Dubuque, Iowa, our next scheduled stop, by the afternoon we might be delayed a few days waiting them out. The early part of the day was calm but winds picked up as the heat did, around noon, and soon we were making our way across Pepin-like water in a heat index of almost 100. The wind was coming from the Southwest, straight at us, so I tacked upwind even though we don’t have a sail, to reduce the angle of the waves on our bow and lessen the beating the hull was taking. Waves broke across the fore deck. Morgan changed into her bathing trunks.
We were bright as a firefly on Lake Winneshiek with our running lights and every solar lamp we could muster up on Michi Zeebee. This was our first time anchoring at night and it wasn’t exactly planned. A marina that was supposed to be there wasn’t really. Well it was sort of, but the only way to access it was through a low bridge that only a small fishing boat could fit through. There we were with nowhere to tie up and the sun going down.
Yesterday we left from the south side of Lake Pepin and ended the day at Trempealeau. We spent 52.6 miles, all day, on the water and then pulled in at a marina just above lock 5A. It seemed to be in disrepair, clean but possibly in the midst of renovation. The cleat we tried to tie up to when we first docked was broken, rusted, and other cleats on the nearby slip were missing; the walkways were deteriorating and warped; algae clung thick to the boats around us.
It’s been almost a week on the river. My memory of the Mississippi from the summer I camped on its shores is of a brownish-blacking soup, but maybe that was tinted by the phrases in my head: Old Muddy, Mississippi Mud. I was expecting a river of brown, or due to my own experience of the waterways of Maine, blue and silver, but the dominant color of the river, by far, is green. Serious green. The beginning of the Mississippi, especially around Lake Pepin is dripping with it.
Every day I wake up shortly after the sun rises and pore over the charts and notes I made the night before as the Marine VHF gives the weather report in the background, to make sure we are ready for the day. Actually that’s not true. I usually try to disentangle myself from the mosquito net, somehow hop over Emily without waking her up (Emily is more of a night owl), usually trip over something (a rogue fender, cooking pan, water bottle, what not, shanty boat objects), I steady myself, crawl through a small opening in the canvas onto the fore deck, blink a couple of times, take in where am at, feel that nice cool breeze coming off the Mississippi, then I go in search for coffee (still haven’t figured out the cool Swedish stove Dale lent us that runs on ethanol alcohol). After all of this I finally take a look at the charts.