Engine Troubles, Burger Lexicon, A Theft, and Much Generosity

We threw off the bow lines in St. Paul and floated gracefully away from that great city, on through the maze of bridges. Our goal was to reach Hastings, MN a half day downriver for us by boat.

For the first time for us, the river opened up into a broad lake. We were crossing the interminable Spring Lake. Many navigation guides and anecdotal stories had scared us straight into carefully following the channel. Here was the rule:


Keep the green buoys (cans) on the starboard side,


and the red buoys (nuns) on the port side.

It was a long day’s haul to Hastings with a stop in a ridiculous mudflats where we sunk above our ankles and almost lost our sandals. Hazel was grateful to get off the boat for a moment to pee.

On the silty sand of the mudflat, Kai found a forensic nature drama involving a fish carcass, some avian foot prints, and an eagle feather.

The engine was occasionally coughing and sputtering and stalling like an emphysemac old man. We swapped out fuel tubes and that helped a bit. We made it to Hastings tired and hungry and kind of grumpy. We sought out food before someone got hurt.


We found the Busted Nut in the downtown historical district near the public docks. Where we had decent food and free peanuts whose shells we threw on the floor (a big plus for any bar for me).


We also discovered “California Style” burgers, that is, a burger with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Lest you think this was a one-restaurant anomaly, we saw the same thing at another restaurant downriver. Our reaction was, “What? Charging extra for lettuce, tomato, and mayo? Of course that’s the way a burger is supposed to come!” Which demonstrated definitively that, yes, this was an accurate “California style” variation. It was like the moment when you travel and realize that you not the people around you have the funny accent.

Late in the evening after we had retired, I heard voices outside marveling at the boat. I liked the sound of them, so I went out and talked to them. One of them was Lauren who has kayaked the entire length of the Mississippi from Lake Itasca to NOLA.

During the night we were rocked back and forth by barges going up or downriver. But near morning, one rock of the boat felt different and was followed by a strange rattle. I lay and thought about it for a while and then got curious. I stepped out on to our back deck and found that our old vintage Evinrude gas can given to us by Mike Mosedale had been stollen. Someone had been on the boat and even tried to get in the cabin! To hell with that guy.

I got up and got dressed and walked around to see if I could find them. I walked all around town for a few hours until the sun rose beautifully over the train bridge.


We had a morning appointment to talk to Chad from the Hastings Star Gazette to talk about the project. We had coffee and talked for a while. He was sad to hear about our gas tank and came later to drop off a brand new gas tank. Super sweet.

We ate breakfast at the American Legion overlooking the river. There were old men sitting at a big table shooting the breeze. It took all my restraint not to interrupt these old-timers to see if they had memories of shantyboat communities on the river.


Later I interviewed Lauren who was animated and funny and had great stories of her semi-impulsive journey down the entire Mississippi River. Afterward, she sat with us and we had beers and then lunch of pancakes.

We were kind of ready to pull up stakes and invited Lauren to come downriver with us for a bit. Kai offered to be the landlubber and drive Lauren’s car.

Lauren and I limped along with intermittent fuel issues downriver to Prescott, WI. A nice passing boater offered to tow us but I politely declined. Partly because I wanted to better understand the problem and possible solutions, and partly because I didn’t know how the boat would respond to the relatively fast speeds of a tow. The boater asked me if I wasn’t letting my male genes get in the way of good sense. I didn’t think so, but how could I be sure?

We swapped fuel hoses again while drifting downriver. After that, Mr. Johnson was reliable right until we got to the Prescott launch ramp docks. The engine conked out just as we were coming in. We lost steerage and overshot the dock where Kai waited and had to grab on to the grab rail of a moored yacht and pull ourselves hand over hand with a rope assist from Kai on shore. Still we managed to almost break out our window on the bowsprit of the yacht, instead only sheering off a chunk of our window trim.

All it all, it was not our most graceful landing.


We moved a bit upriver to the confluence  with the St. Croix to the municipal docks near all the restaurants and bars of Prescott. It was a lovely site directly under the train bridge across the St. Croix where trains would scream by every few minutes going to or from the oil boom in the Dokotas.

We took Lauren for beers and tried to convince her that in California when you order a burger without lettuce, tomato and mayo, we call that a “Wisconsin burger.”

When we got back to the boat, a small crowd had gathered. Bronwyn, Beth, Dale, Bud, Tom, and Danika had read about us in the Star Gazette and had come to find us, just missing us out of Hastings.

They spent the next hour or so just after sunset visiting, sharing stories and downriver contacts, drinking beer, and calling everyone they knew for a backup engine for Mr. Johnson. So sweet. We were overwhelmed.


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