Alarm is set for 6 a.m., but I wake up at 5:30. The sun is shining already.
Remember that I'm in the northernmost part of the U.S., and the days are longer, so it's possible to get earlier starts. I hurriedly check the weather and the forecast is for 10-15 mph north-northwest winds by noon and building to 20 mph in afternoon.
When planning the trip, I had five areas of concern. Picking up my son in the busy river with all the towboat traffic in St Louis was one. Kentucky Lake, Mobile, Pensacola, Ft. Walton, Pensacola Bays and Lake Pepin were the others because of the wide open water and wind.
I know that I need to travel the entire length of Lake Pepin this morning. The Indians called this "Lake of Tears" because so many of them sunk their canoes (and I assume some lost their lives) trying to cross it.
I've looked at the lake several times on Google Earth and I think I've got enough depth near the bank to hug the western shore and be sheltered from the full force of 20-25 mph winds and the waves they can generate. Worst-case scenario, I'll put it on the bank, rocks or no rocks.
I check out of motel and grab a couple muffins and orange juice that I eat while waiting on the taxi. At marina, there's still no one around. Breathe little sigh of relief when I see Dumarse looks same as I left her. I had pulled kill switch (did this every night) and stuck it in my pocket to keep someone from just jumping in and driving off.
Had wanted to buy some gas to repay marina for letting me dock overnite free, but I've still got 11 gallons of gas left (good for approx 110 miles) and I'm anxious to get through Pepin before the wind gets really high.
Idle out at 7:15 and head south. A few miles downriver, the pool widens and I enter the upper end of Lake Pepin.
The huge expanse of open water is a little intimidating. It's beautiful clear water and I pass several boats fishing, probably for walleye. They all are semi-Vee boats with pointed bows and high sides, the kind you need in rough water.
I can feel the wind building and as the lake bends westward. I spot masts of tall sailboats tucked into a harbor 2-3 miles down lake. My river guide indicates Lake City Marina is located about where the masts are, so I veer toward them.
Enter what appears to be the harbor and idle up and down three long rows of boats moored, but can't seem to find the gas dock. I'm getting impatient because every minute I'm wasting the wind is building.
Finally give up and idle back out then spot small cut through the rip rap north of the sailboat moorings. Idle though and to my left is a gas dock.
Soon as I tie off, a pretty young girl comes down the steps and hands me the gas hose. The front tank takes 7 gallons and I put another 2 gallons in rear tank as a reserve because I'm beginning to suspect that I can't depend on these marinas up here to be open.
Hand her my credit card, she brings a bag of ice which I quickly drop in the cooler and I'm out and running. As soon as I exit the harbor, I see whitecaps on the main lake (whitecaps start when wind reaches 12 mph).
About a mile down lake, the waves have started to build and soon I'm having to surf them, being very careful not to come over a wave, drop into the trough too fast and stick the nose into the next wave.
Had I been going against the wind, I would have had to put the boat on the bank. I'm gaining more confidence in Dumarse and my ability to handle large waves, but these waves are getting bigger than I feel comfortable in. I see a small cove and duck into it.
I sit there maybe 10 minutes watching the waves roll by and I think, I can ride those waves better if I will just quarter out slightly even if I end up a little further out for awhile them I can quarter back.
GPS show I've only got another 5-6 miles until calmer water. Worst-case scenario would be to swamp the boat and have to let the wind and waves push me to shore. Might end the trip, but I wouldn't drown.
I move my overnight bag and fuel tank back to give me more bow lift and headed back out again. And it worked. Where I thought the waves would be the worst at end of the lake, the wind actually started to lose a little momentum. The waves were smaller the last 2-3 miles.
When I entered calmer water, I moved things back where they belonged and gave the man upstairs a little silent thanks.
Pools three through nine are an absolutely beautiful stretch of river, with high bluffs and small mountains. Small towns are seemingly nestled at every bend of the river. Railroad tracks run on each side of the river, and I met numerous trains riding along just above the edge of the river.
I got a little too obsessed with making time but the photo gallery is going to do a much better job than I ever could in showing the how pretty this stretch of the river was.
After Lake Pepin, the wind continued to blow hard but fortunately the pools in this stretch were comparatively small (10-20 miles) mostly riverine stretches with no big open expanses of water except near the dams.
Lock 6 did cause me a little concern. The wind was blowing hard quartering across the face of the lock and there were a lot waves building up at its mouth and hitting the seawall.
This caused a washing machine stretch of water right above the lock and inside it. The lockmaster instructed me to go as far into the locks as I could because there was a houseboat coming downriver to lock through with me.
I went to the far end and had to turn the boat back upstream. I stayed in the middle of the lock and used the motor to keep from being banged against the lock walls.
Looking upstream, there's a large houseboat about 200 yards above the lock and struggling to keep his bow pointed toward the gate. The wind is shoving him toward the rocks above the seawall.
There's a lot of houseboat rental places along the river and it's obvious this operator is struggling to control the boat. I'm getting real nervous about that boat coming inside the lock with me. That thing could crush Dumarse if this guy makes a wrong move.
I don't hear anything on the radio but the gate starts to close. Apparently the lockmaster saw a dangerous situation developing and decided to just put the houseboat in the lock by himself. Obviously, I'm glad he did.
I seemed to hit every lock empty with the gate open. Typically I would text family and friends each time I went through a lock, but today I just did it every other lock.
Mid-afternoon I looked at my river guide and realize I would probably be able to reach Winniesheik Marina in Prairie du Chien, Wis. My river guide indicates the marina is located at mile marker 636 and has gas, motel and taxi availability.
The river splits at mile marker 636 and there's no marina in sight when I arrive a little after 6. I take the right split run down a short way and can see what appears to be a marina.
Halfway there I pull over near a fisherman and ask where Winnieseik Marina is, and he directs me back to the river and tells me to take first large slough northward on the left.
I turn into slough, run maybe 1/2 mile back and I'm still not seeing anything that resembles a marina. I spot another fisherman and he tells me to run toward an island (that I can barely see in the distance) then turn between PVC pipes sticking up in the mud.
There's a little channel that I have to stay in. I'm a little bit apprehensive about where I'm running because it's only 4- to 6-feet deep but it's too far to idle so I put it up on plane. Don't see any rocks anywhere so if I hit something, it's probably gonna be mud.
Sure enough, when I near the island I see a trail of white PVC pipes leading across a mud flat and a marina up against the bank. Typical of marinas on the upper river, this is really a bar with a marina attached to it.
Tie Dumarse off, walk up gangplank and give the barmaid $10 for tying off overnight. I ask about motels with restaurants nearby and she recommends the Brisboie Motel and calls a cab for me.
She adds "tell them Melissa sent you." I scramble around get my stuff out of boat and things locked up and get back up the gangplank about the time the cab arrived. Thanks to Melissa, the motel was fine, the internet worked, and the hamburger steak next door was good.
On the way, I text family and friends that I'm off the water. I didn't describe how rough it was on Lake Pepin in my e-mails nor in my post on Bass Fishing Home Page.
My wife was convinced I wasn't going to make it past the city limits of Minneapolis without drowning, so I downplayed it a little but did mention that I needed one of those "pointy nosed boats" a time or two today.
As I mentioned earlier, I realized that "it's the ride, not the destination" that's important on this trip and I lost sight of that today. I know I've got to pick Mike up in St Louis next Wednesday and I don't want him to have to wait on me. Things were just going so good, I got carried away with making time. I resolved to do better the rest of the trip, and I did with varying success.
Today was 11.20 hours in the boat, passed through 7 locks and covered 165 miles.