Captain Sean and “Admiral” Jill are on board Prime Time with Come Along Charters and our guests Mary Ann and John headed from Omaha to Cooper’s Landing near Columbia Missouri. This is the third leg of the journey after Brownville and St. Joseph.
St. Joseph to Atchison
We didn’t leave until about 4 pm so we all agreed Atchison should be our destination. Sean and I had scoped it out with dad on a previous trip and we knew they had good, secure docks and the downtown was in walking distance. Leaving St. Joe as we passed by the town, we were in awe of all the homeless encampments; dozens of tents and shanties dot the riverbanks for at least a couple miles. This was what Joanie was talking about and we were glad we were docked further away even though the riverfront trail connected both ends.
The trip over was uneventful and we pulled in around 6:30 pm. Mary Ann and I handled the lines and John jumped off and tied us off. Once again, Sean did a great job of getting us nice and easy alongside. It was a little more challenging tying off as the current there was ripping so Sean used a couple extra lines. We wanted to get gas and after realizing there wasn’t any cab or uber in this small Kansas town, Sean and John took off walking with the cans. They hadn’t gone a block when a pickup pulled up and asked if they needed a ride. Robert was a very small man with a good humor and apparently also thrifty as he took them to the gas station across the river to Missouri, instead of the one a few blocks away, to save us a couple pennies. While they were gone, Mary Ann and I enjoyed a glass and wine on the front deck and watched the sun go down in spectacular fashion.
After the tanks were emptied into the boat, we headed to town to find a good restaurant for dinner. A group of adults and kids had come down to admire the boat and we chatted a bit and they were getting into their cars as we were walking by. The nice lady asked if we wanted a ride and since I hadn’t been feeling the best, I said yes. We piled in her car, Mary Ann on Sean’s lap and the driver’s little girl on mine and we took off toward Pete’s Steak House. The little boy sitting next to me name was Jerimiah, he told me, like in the bible. We learned his birthday was in four days, what he did in school and much more as he very animatedly filled us in. The mom drove us past the Holiday Inn, where the Virants would spend the night, and pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant. As we piled out John asked again to confirm whose birthday was coming up. He instructed Jerimiah to hold out his hand and close his eyes. As we walked away we heard the absolute excitement and joy as the boy unfolded his palm to realize it was money, and then the scream when he saw how much. “Mom, mom, mom, it’s $10, it’s $10!!!!!!! Mom, it’s $10!!!!” It was so cute and filled all our hearts with that small, kind gesture.
We walk into Pete’s through the back door and through a long hallway and the waitress seats us at the front. John asks about wine and they inform us they only have beer and his jaw drops, “you’re kidding?” he asks her. “No, liquor laws are strict here in Kansas,” she tells us. She makes us swear not to tell her boss and proceeds to recommend a few other places that would be able to accommodate us. John and Sean had seen an Italian restaurant on their way to get gas so we set out for that. Back outside in the pedestrian plaza, a couple of guys stop us and say we look lost and ask if they can help. We ask about restaurants and they proceed to tell us all they know about what is good, what is still open and what we should order if it’s Wednesday and we like liver. The talkative one makes us laugh as he tells us he’s autistic so he can say whatever he wants. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all make that excuse? What a delightful interaction!
Paolucci’s is an old family place divided into three sections; a deli, restaurant and bar upstairs. We, of course, head up. It’s got one table of moms with a few kids and a high top by the bar and the outside is pretty full. They have a big menu with a nice variety. Since it’s supposed to be Italian, John gets lasagna, Mary Ann spaghetti and meatballs, Sean linguini with chicken and me, a big fat american steak! The food was tasty and made in house (well, not the noodles, we were told by our new waiter) and the wine cheap (in price and brand). After dinner I asked another gentleman working the floor if there was a cab service so we could get to Walmart. Without a generator I now realized I didn’t have enough battery operated lights, fans and really needed that elusive yeti for refrigeration. This gentleman turned out to be Ed Begley, the owner (and no, he didn’t look anything like Ed Begley, Jr.) and he insisted that he personally run us the store. There is so much hospitality in these small towns! John and Mary Ann walked the block to the the hotel and Ed dropped us off to shop and came back promptly 20 minutes later. We didn’t realize Kansas had such a drinking problem until we found out Walmart had no alcohol. Dry at Walmart! But Mr. Begley drove us right back over that bridge to the Missouri side where I was able to resupply the wine stock.
Sean and I stayed on the boat docked at Atchison and slept pretty good, even though it was warm without much breeze. Definitely the dog days of summer here the end part of September. Sean was a little paranoid as lookee loos were taking pictures of the boat up until about 3 am, he said. Seems word got out there was a big boat docked at the waterfront and a lot of people wanted to get a view. We were wishing we had the banner already for the side of the boat to advertise the website!
We were up at 7 am to get ready for the day; the goal was to get off the dock as early as possible so Sean went about filling the tank with the gas from the cans acquired yesterday. Mary Ann and John hitched a ride from someone at the hotel and were at the boat a little before 8 am. That’s when we started calling the bridge tender. In Atchison they have a swinging railroad bridge. It spans the river to let the trains go by and one side swings open to let barge or other boat traffic through. We’d asked around and no one exactly knew what the clearance was, or what the river level was at that exact moment, though we knew it had been dropping. Sean figured Prime Time, with the bimini up, was right at 22 feet above the water line. Based on the numbers we could see through the binoculars on one of the pilons, it appeared it would be too close for comfort. Sean left a message at the number we had for the railroad. A little while later, John left a message. Then a guy who had stopped by last night showed up again just to check in to see if we needed anything. He volunteered to drive down to the rail yard and see if he could rouse anyone.
Shortly thereafter we get a phone call from the Atchison Police department. They’ve learned of our plight and apparently have some resources they are willing to explore on our behalf. In the meantime, all we can do is hurry up and wait and watch the time eat into the 10 hour day we had hoped to accomplish. Soon the officer calls back and tells us the bridge tender is in St. Joseph waiting to open a bridge up there and won’t be back until mid-afternoon. Just our luck. After much measuring, remeasuring and both scientific and not so scientific calculations, we decide to take the bimini down (which without quick release pins, what a pain in the ****), lower all the antennae and get a little closer to see what we think. So with our new friend’s help we shove off the dock and head downstream. It looks close but maybe we’ll clear? Holy heck…there should be some way to really measure this?? Sean does a few loops and finally, with all the grit and determination he can muster, turns the boat around and starts to BACK up under the bridge. He figures if he’s not going to clear it will be easier, faster and more efficient to put the boat in forward and gun it out of danger. So here we are, going backward, between two pilons; Mary Ann is videoing the whole thing and John and I each have fenders at the ready to bump off anything that we might run into and lo and behold, we clear with maybe two feet at most, to spare. If Sean would have reached up he would could have touched it. Whew! What a rush! It definitely would have taken off the bimini. After several holy shits, with all of us in high speed adrenalin mode, we tak some deep breaths and watch as Atchison slowly disappear around the bend. [Mary Ann took video on her phone we hope to post soon!]
The Atchison Railroad bridge is a direct link to this community’s history as the ATSF railhead. Built in 1900, this swing truss bridge is still in use today, though closed to through rail traffic. Built in 1875 it is the oldest existing railroad bridge across the Missouri River and the oldest existing railroad building in Kansas. Originally built as a toll bridge this site serviced trains, wagons and pedestrians (and later vehicle traffic) this was a major crossing point of the Missouri River.
Kansas City to Lexington
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We got a nice change of scenery as we went through Kansas City where there were more buildings and industry to see but no real waterfront scene to speak of. Certainly no place to dock a big boat. John had previously made arrangements to get gas at River Bend but we knew it would be tough to get pulled in around the ramp. And they wanted to charge a $250 fuel delivery fee, which was ridiculous. We cross our fingers and hope, given our burn rate and the guy’s calculations, we won’t need it and can get by with 25 more gallons from the cans. As we pass it we laugh knowing there was no frkn way that would have worked. So River Bend comes and goes and we don’t see another boat the whole day. It’s starting to get late and we know there’s a boat ramp in Lexington that’s not too far from the town. Soon we spy the park and begin to brainstorm how we can make it work. There’s a couple wing dams up and down river from the ramp we need to avoid but that could give us a nice break from the current, as well. We see next to the ramp looks like a nice soft mud bank and up from that is a big solid lamp post and east of that, a nice size tree. Otherwise it’s all cleared out with a big gravel parking lot, a small pavilion and a bathroom. John and Mary Ann had been driving and Sean napping on the off chance we wouldn’t find a suitable spot and he would need to drive us all night to get into Cooper’s Landing. We woke him up and by the time he made it to the bridge, John had made his mind up this was the spot and was starting toward shore. With Sean looking on, John ‘stuck the landing’ putting it right up on the bank and from there it really didn’t move. I got out the bow ladder and jumped down with a 100’ of line and tied us off to the lamp post. Sean put on a stern line, swung the back end around a bit and that got tied off to the tree. After running for hours and hours without seeing one good place to anchor or beach, we were all really happy with our good fortune! We were so thankful for John and his intuitiveness in putting us exactly where we needed to be!
The Kindness of Strangers (goes both ways)
About that time a couple show up in a white pickup to walk the bank and they wander over to say hello. They are in well worn, dirty clothes and each missing teeth but they’re friendly and curious about the boat and our trip. John asks if they might take him to town to get ice, our most precious commodity second only to gas, and they are happy to oblige. John asks if they are local and they tell him he’s working in St. Joseph but they are homeless, at the moment, living in a nearby hotel. So they all take off and I set about making up the table and setting out the guacamole and salsa I’d made up early, and broke out the lovely bottle of Cabernet made with Virant grapes. They’re back soon and we load the party size ice bags into the boat and get them organized. Mary Ann has already said she wanted to give them some money and as John gets out of the truck, they exchange knowing glances that he already has. I tell them I have some extra food left over from the party, chips, brats and buns, and ask if they would like them and they eagerly accept. We took their picture for posterity and he tells me “we grew up not having much but we always shared what we had. I believe in helping anyone I can, and know that it comes back to you, eventually.” I tell him I share his philosophy and we wish each other good luck.
Our foursome settles into the bow and relax into a nice sundowner. There’s a good breeze, no bug;s a the street lamp provides just enough light. We congratulate John, still in a little disbelief of our good fortune and his most excellent landing and enjoy a couple bottles of wine. Sean grills some chicken, roasts corn on the cob and we eat gourmet gouda mac and cheese that had thawed from the freezer in a pan on the grill. It was a delicious al fresco meal, perfect after a long day of river boat cruising. There was lots of traffic at the access with kids in jeeps and trucks meeting, talking, smoking, drinking and making out before racing out of the parking lot as fast as possible doing donuts.
We just finished eating when a light colored Buick pulls up and a tall, thin brunette, dressed for a night on the town – skinny jeans, peekaboo blouse and heels – steps out of the car. Immediately John and Sean yell for her to come over and have a chat. Turns out ‘Shelly’ was coming from a little gathering of girls she went to high school with who apparently ordered iced tea with dinner so she ditched and bought a tall boy MGD and headed down to their old stomping ground down by the river to have a smoke. Also turns out Ms. Shelly was 66 years old but looked damn fine for her age (both Sean and John fawned all over her lol). We all chatted and took some pictures for her to text her fuddy duddy girlfriends – I mean they have no idea where she went off to and she end up on a yacht on the river! and she disappeared into the night, presumably to smoke. Later Sean tells me that from a distance, he was sure ‘she’ was a ‘he’ and that’s why he called her over. Me, not so sure…
We cleaned up a bit and called it a night ourselves, hoping for a very early start to Thursday with a long 10 to 12 hour run all the way to Coopers Landing.
Lexington to Coopers Landing
We woke up a little before 7 am with three pick up trucks parked on the road in front of the boat, staring at us. John made friends with an older fellow named Connie (who let me know he was named before he was born) who helped us cast off the tree line. With very little effort we backed off the bank and were under weigh on what was to be the longest day yet on the river. We needed to make it to Cooper’s Landing tonight as John had made arrangements for his pilot to pick them up at Columbia airport and fly them into St. Louis. For breakfast I set the grill up in the galley on the ironing board pad and Mary Ann made pancakes and scrambled egg. We ate that with the leftover bacon from yesterday’s BLT’s we had for lunch and it was a delicious and hardy way to start our day. It was interesting scenery going through Kansas City with lots to see but now everything went back to farm fields and forests. The river seems wider and swifter and the color was more coffee as it became muddier from the more frequent streams emptying into it. It somehow seemed more familiar and comforting knowing we were just a couple hours (by car) from home. Mary Ann and John did much of the driving and navigating from the top but by early afternoon the wind had picked up and was blowing gusts up to 30 miles per hour. On top of that the sun was beating down furiously as temperatures his 91 degrees. Sean convinced them to come down to the salon and I took off the screens to get the best cross breeze and we switched to the lower helm station. It was fairly comfortable and easy to drive from below, even though you loose your 360 view of what’s around you. At one point we based another dredge but otherwise the only other boat we saw was a pontoon filled with Mennonites.
It was hot and sticky when the winds died down some and the heat and boredom made us all feel lazy and sleepy. Sean kept the helm while Mary Ann, John and I caught a few winks. I had been feeling progressively worse over the last couple of days, my RMSF seems to be flaring up, despite me completing my 10 days of antibiotics. I’d been running a fever again, my joints ached, and I just feel so fatigued. I think some cold air conditioning, a hot shower and fresh sheets will do me good! We all get up as we uneventfully pass Booneville (nothing really to see except the casino back off the river) and then round the bluffs into Rocheport, which was spectacular. I got out the binoculars and watched the riders on the Katy trail, scoped out the winery and examined the caves in the high rock walls. The whole time John and Sean are studying the fuel gage and making calculations to see where we’ll end up. They vacillate from ‘it’s going to be close’ to ‘we got this’ to ‘I don’t know…’. John wants to speed up; we all just want to get there – but Sean maintains his conservative approach and we maintain about 11 miles per hour, with the current.
I make us some dinner; bbq brisket I had from another event, baked beans and fresh cucumbers and onions We still have about 30 minutes left to go and the sun has set and twilight has settled in. Sean is comfortable driving at night having so much experience with the water taxi at the Lake of the Ozarks but the rest of us are a little nervous. We had barely finished eating (Sean never did get to his plate) and we see the lights of Coopers ahead. I go down to tie the lines on the starboard side and put out the fenders while Sean calls out his docking plan. Unfortunately, this time in the dark, it doesn’t go as smoothly. We hit the dock a little fast and we see later that where the two docks meet there is about a foot difference where the furthest sticks out from the lower span. So we bounced off of that, scraping the side and we see in the morning, breaking the plastic surround from the lower stateroom window. John tried to get the fenders in place but it was not possible the way the dock was configured, the current and all the logs jammed up against it. We finally do get set, though and it could have been much worse, so we count our blessings.
Soon dad appears at the shore and I’m sure glad to see him! He helps the guy at Coopers get the gas hose ready and fills the tanks while Sean and I put the boat to bed and Mary Ann and John get things ready to depart. It’s much of a whirl wind and everyone is tired and hot and ready to be off the boat for a while! Dad and Mary Ann hit it off, like I knew they would, and I wish we all had more time to just sit and visit. Soon the Virant’s friend and driver shows up and we say our goodbyes and have a group hug. We lock everything up and head to dad’s house for the night, satisfied with a great final day on the water and looking forward to a much needed break. Tomorrow Dad has his mechanic set to come work on the generator and we hope to get things in order for a St. Louis departure by Thursday or Friday at the latest. We’ll have her pulled out of the water in Port Charles, which is about 30 miles up the Mississippi, and the bottom checked and a full marine survey done. That Marina is a certified Onan shop so hopefully they can assess what’s going on with the throttle and the port engine stalling. We expect this could take up to a week. The house closes on October 5 so we should be able to leave right after. Or at least that’s the plan and we all know how schedules and boating go together!