"We help families bounce and not break"

Hickman, MO to Caruthersville, MO

The pace between the Upper Mississippi River and the Lower Mississippi River has clearly picked up.

The current is faster. There are no locks and dams to create havoc with your travel schedule. And, because Gus Gaspardo and Bob Deck, with Padelford Riverboats, “fixed” the problem with the water coming into the pontoons, the raft is able to go much faster.

Typically above the locks and dams I was limited to about 6 to 8 miles per hour lest I find myself looking desperately for a place to tie up before the end of the day so I could drain the pontoons. Generally speaking I would be only power up both motors if I needed to get into the lock to avoid being delayed by commercial traffic, get out of the lock to avoid longer than necessary entanglement with the churn at the exit, or getting past the wake of a towboat as soon as I could.

Now, especially that Karl is on the raft with me, we are able to add another 10, 20 and even 30 miles of travel a day to the schedule. The two of us, working together, have a system for removing the water every hour or so when we are at high speed. High speed is mostly around 10 to 12 miles per hour except when we hit some of the areas of the river where the current is much stronger and faster and then we have gotten the raft upwards of 15 miles per hour.

The raft doesn’t steer as well at speeds above 13 I have noticed so we have to pay careful attention to where we are at in the channel when the speed starts picking up faster than that and try to be easy on the steering wheel and throttle down if necessary.

After two days stay in Hickman our goal was going to be New Madrid – roughly 33 miles – and then the next day to Caruthersville – about 38 miles away.

However, projected rain, and Hurricane Delta, required us to re-evaluate this plan.

While I had reached someone in New Madrid who had offered to allow us to tie up to their harbor dock we weren’t entirely sure how that would work for us given the paucity of places to stay outside of the raft. If heavy rains were indeed going to fall I didn’t want us being on the raft but at a hotel or some other close-by dry and safe option. To that end I had reached out to the Mayor of Caruthersville, Sue Grantham, and asked if the City would have any safe and secure place I might be able to tie up the raft for a few days and wait out the rain.

She responded promptly and we chatted by phone. She indicated she had spoken to the head of the community Port Authority who indicated that I could tie up along the river at a place called Reynold’s Park. Based on the conversation I understood that there would be a chain we could tie the raft to and the hotel I had spotted near Reynold’s Park looked only to be a few blocks away. With that information and the promise of a safe and secure location Karl and I talked and we decided we would make way directly to Caruthersville – roughly 71 miles away – and that we would leave at first light.

I should add a few more details about our stay in Hickman, specifically the day and night we spent at the raft after Hans, Fred and Matilda left to return to Minnesota.

We got to the raft about 10:30 and began to prepare to return our clothes, electronics, and extra fuel to the raft. Today I would have interviews with three different media outlets that were scheduled thanks to a member of the Hope on the River Media Team, Mary Jane Rodes with RunSwitch PR – a Louisville, Kentucky based public relations firm. They were absolutely invaluable in getting us great publicity in the short time we were in Kentucky and I cannot thank Mary Jane and team enough for their efforts!

When we arrived at the ferry our friend Jeremy and another person were on the ferry. I had not met Jeremey personally because of the late hour of our arrival and now had a chance to personally thank him for his kindness.

Before I could, however, as I was stepping onto the ferry my right foot began to sink deep into the mud. I quickly pulled it up and out and onto the ferry but it was already covered with thick dark mud from the river. Because of the low water on the river the Dorena-Hickman Ferry is not transporting vehicles. They still take the ferry out and run over to the other side of the river but it’s parked for now except for those runs.

Unfortunately, the ramp that would allow vehicles to board the ferry isn’t long enough to the shoreline because of the low water and there’s about 3 feet of space between dry land and the ferry. I, of course, didn’t look at the 3 feet and went right into the mud!

Oh well, it would dry eventually and come off!

So I chatted with Jeremy, and Karl began to load our stuff back onto the raft. Fred, Hans and Matilda turned around to get gas for the raft and Jeremey said he and his shipmate needed to take the ferry to the other side to deliver some paperwork. A few minutes later they were back and I suddenly realized that with no Ferry there was no easy way back to them!

The only path forward was directly onto the shore where I knew there was all sorts of mud! So, this time, thinking ahead, I removed my shoes and socks and slowly began to walk my way up the shoreline.

Of course, I found myself stepping in the wrong place and both feet went down into the sucking mud right up to the bottom of my knees!

Behind me some young guy on a barge that was doing worked was laughing at my predicament. I suppose it was kind of funny watching me try to get myself out of this mess and then proceed to grab the gas from Hans and turn around and nearly go right back into the mud!

For the next half hour we built a makeshift bridge from the dry part of the shore, over the mud, and onto the barge that we were now tied to. Logs, branches, cement blocks, and chunks of wood were deployed and soon we had something Karl and I could walk across if we stayed low and took our time.

We didn’t have much to do today except wait for the morning so Karl spent time reading, I charged up the powerpack, and did some raft errands. At 2:30 a young reporter from the public radio station, WKMS, Liam Niemeyer, came to do an interview.

We spent about an hour together, I showed him the raft and how it works, he took some photos and we were done. He sent me his story the next day – read it here.

At about 3:30 a reporter from The Waterways Journal named Shelley came for an interview. As we began to walk towards the makeshift bridge she, unfortunately, took a step in the direction of ground that wasn’t as solid as we thought and BOOM her left foot went straight into the mud.  As I grabbed her hand to keep her from going face first into it the right foot became stuck in the mud!


We were able to get her out and on more solid footing and then I went and retrieved her shoes from the deep muck. We decided to finish the interview from the ramp and then I had Karl take a few photos on the raft for her story.

Read her story here. 

We said our goodbyes and then I jumped back on the raft for a Zoom call with WPSD-TV which was short and sweet. Click here for that story.

After the interview was done, Jeremy came and gave me a quick trip into town for fuel and food and along the way I did a Zoom call with Abby, Alexia and Sarah to talk about the last leg of the trip coming up from Memphis to Baton Rouge.

The three of them, along with Kristi, have been kept busy with all sorts of Spare Key projects, including the LendSmart Mike Lust Golf Tournament, as well as helping to steer the HOTR trip to its successful conclusion.

They are a great team and I, and Spare Key, are fortune to have them making sure we can continue to have the privilege to help families “Bounce and not Break.”

Jeremey brought me back and had to reposition the ferry so that workers the next day could attempt to lengthen the ramp further in the river to allow the ferry to do its work once again.

He signed one of my Spare Key houses and wished us the best of luck!

Karl and I then hit the sack and were up around 5:30 to prepare the raft for a quick departure at first light.

We went through our routine, had a cup of coffee, and waited for the light to appear.

Finally, at about 6:52 a.m. we felt it was light enough and we were underway!

Today’s 71 miles was going to be at as much speed as we could make.

The travel weather for the day was also supposed to be pleasant enough with winds pretty light and warm enough to hopefully not have to wear a coat as we travelled down river. Throughout the day we encountered several towboats pushing up river, but we also found ourselves now dealing with towboats pushing downriver. The approach to passing them requires the same degree of caution and communication.

The difference, so far, is that passing a southbound towboat doesn’t come with the same amount of wakes and churn as when we pass a northbound towboat. The biggest challenge so far with passing the southbound towboat is getting up enough speed to get past them as quickly as possible. And, when you are passing them, usually on the green buoy side of the channel the front end of the barges get uncomfortably close to you us as we hug the buoys as tightly as we can without compromising the safety of the raft and the occupants inside!

About 7 hours later or so we were within an hour of Caruthersville and began to talk about how we were going to execute the tie-up to the shoreline. To be honest I was getting a bit more anxious the closer we got because I knew the Mayor would not be available today to give us any additional guidance and for some reason I had neglected to ask her if there would be a point of contact if we ran into a snag.

That was dumb. I am usually pretty careful to make sure that I have identified a second party to connect with if the first person I spoke with isn’t available.

This would soon become the problem I was worried about as we came upon Caruthersville and saw Reynold’s Park on our starboard side. The park is stuck between a grain elevator and a riverboat casino. The shoreline is all rock and there were three concrete ramps. One was obviously the existing boat ramp the other two were ramps of some kind that were obviously no longer being used.

However, as we slowly circled I could not for the life of me see an obvious place where we could tie up. What I saw was the ramps and a LOT of rocks on the shoreline.

I could see, at least I thought I could, was a hopeful sign that the rocks seemed to drop straight down into the river. Meaning, again I hoped, that perhaps if we had to tie up to them that we wouldn’t have the pontoons scraping onto sharp rocks overnight.

Yet, this was not working out how I had hoped it was going to and most certainly wasn’t going to work out for three nights as we had envisioned.

Finally, I suggested to Karl that we would nose the raft onto one of the ramps, put out the anchors and see if that would work.

He was dubious. I don’t blame him. I was, too, but at the moment I felt we needed to at least see if this approach would work. We nosed in carefully and soon we were tied up successfully. However, I could tell that with our butt sticking out into the river, with the water pouring over the top of the pontoons, this was not a viable solution for one night – much less three!

We pulled off and continued to circle and contemplate our options. In the meantime, I called City Hall who gave me the number to the Port Authority individual the Mayor had said we could tie up to a chain on the riverbank.

There was no answer.

I finally called the Police Department and Sheriff’s Department and the Dispatcher said she would send someone down to give us a hand. I thought that someone who knew this section of river would come down and immediately say, “Hey, this is what you need to do!” and that made me feel a bit better about the current predicament.

Truth is, we had plenty of daylight to figure out our options but the ones we saw in front of us at the moment didn’t seem optimal.

I had also called Captain Terry from Wepfer Marine to see if he had any suggestions for Caruthersville.

Shortly, he had me in contact with a local captain from the area named Phillip. He was very nice but indicated he didn’t believe they had anything available but that we could head to Cottonwood about 13 miles down and tie up at a barge location they had in that area. I added that to my mental checklist but I didn’t think another two hours on the raft, fighting towboats, at what was now nearly 4:30 was a good plan for us.

A few minutes later an officer showed up above the shoreline. He sat in the car and I expected he would call me. After watching him for 5 minutes, and no phone call, I contacted the Dispatcher again and asked if that was, indeed, the officer she was going to send down.

It was and she then connected me directly with him.

I didn’t catch his name but after I asked him if he had any advice his response indicated to me that he wasn’t inclined to offer much help other than to warn me several times not to block the boat ramp. This wasn’t going to help so I thanked him for his time and hung up. At this point we decided to travel downstream about 100 yards to the riverboat casino and see if there was any favorable shoreline we could beach the raft for the night.

I also called the General Manager who, while polite and understanding, reminded me that since 9/11 boats are not allowed to tie up on a riverboat casino. This is unfortunate because it would have been an ideal solution for our situation! He sent out his Security Director to see if he could walk us through any options from the shoreline.

Unfortunately, the closer we looked at the shoreline, and the more we talked to him, the less confident I was that the shoreline was a good option, either. Low water meant there was far too much shoreline to ground the raft before we could safely tie-up and the receding water revealed any number of downed trees that were dangerous threats to the raft.

I finally called Gus and told him of the situation. I shared with him information about the rock shoreline and asked if he thought it was wise to try to tie up. He said as long as we went in slow with our nose, and kept the port side to the shoreline, we should likely be okay.

So, that is what we did.
Very slowly.
We approached the shoreline.

As we got to it Karl carefully jumped out and secured an anchor to the port bow side of the shoreline. He then took the other anchor and secured it to the middle side of the shoreline. And, then he took a line I tied to the rear of the raft and tied it to a tree. As we looked at the situation we also took some comfort in the fact that the passing towboat traffic seemed to generally go at low speed in this area and that they were far enough out that the wake they created wasn’t as tumultuous here as it had been in other locations.

We took the fenders from the starboard side of the raft and tied them to the port side to add some extra protection from the rock shoreline. We then drained the pontoons and took the basic necessities we were going to need for the night. Before we left I got a text from Gus who said he had spoken with Lee Nelson of Upper River Services.

The two of them had chatted and Gus had shared with Lee the challenge we were facing from weather and, most urgently, the situation we were in at Caruthersville.

Lee told me to call him via text and I did. He shared with me that he was working on a plan but that we should anticipate heading to Osceola the next day at a property owned by Wepfer Marine.

I was thrilled to hear this news!

I told Lee to keep me updated and then shared with Karl we would be staying only one night here and proceeding to Osceola – 60 miles away – the next day. Both of us then carefully made our way up the rock shoreline trying not to fall. If we had we would have gotten some nasty bruises and cuts.  If we fell on our head even worse!

Finally we heaved our gear up on top of one of the ramps we saw and I took a last look at the raft and took some pictures. As I said to Karl we were safe on shore. All we could do was hope that the location we put the raft, and how we tied her, would be sufficient to be able to see her the next morning and that she would be in good condition.

Grabbing our gear off the ramp we ran into a city employee who indicated that the Mayor had let us know we were coming and that she would be happy to drive us anywhere we needed to go and use the rec center to shower. We thanked her and the Mayor for their kindness but let her know we had booked a room at the nearby hotel.

Her reaction to the news of the place we were staying was not reassuring!

And, when we got there I have to say I don’t blame her! I had to use two different travel sites to book rooms at this location.

On both of the sites I had booked what was billed as a King size room with a couch. I figured Karl would sleep on the bed and I would sleep on the couch. Both were preferable to sleeping on the cots on the raft. But, before we got into the hotel I could see from the windows that this was a tough place. Some had curtains. Some had things that were made to look like curtains. Others had shreds of curtains.

I sighed when I saw a number of handwritten signs on the front doors, including stern demands not to loiter around the front door, etc. When I walked in the lobby smelled of stale smoke. Then, a man and a woman approached behind the lobby counter and asked what I wanted. As politely as I could muster knowing that this was not going to be anyplace that would have worked for three nights for us and it would only need to work for one night I let them know I had booked a room online.

The woman then informed me that she didn’t know if they had any rooms because she was pretty sure she had rented the last one out to someone earlier in the day. I reminded her that the room should have already been booked online so she would need to have a room for me. Both she and the man behind the counter went back and forth about what rooms they had.

One had a door they couldn’t open. Another had a door they couldn’t close. The Queen Suite had a shower that didn’t work and it was a smoking room. Back and forth they went and I finally, again, as politely as I could, asked if they had a room that even had a single bed in it that wasn’t a smoking room. Surprisingly, and for whatever reason, they had been remiss in knowing that they did, indeed, have that kind of room but for only one night.

I said we would take it and as soon as I could get them to complete the reservation Karl and I quickly made our way to the room through the dank corridor of this hotel.

Stale cigarette smoke was everywhere. Handwritten signs threatening to call the police. Fire employees. And kick residents out of the hotel if they propped open doors were everywhere. This was less a hotel/motel than a boarding house and not a particularly nice one, either.

We got into the room and it was about as bad as expected. It stunk. And not just of cigarette smoke. It stunk of a room where people tried to make it not stink.

There were two stick air fresheners that had dried out sitting on a desk and the sink which was another indicator that this was a place where things may have, indeed, come to die!

We decided to take a quick walk to a convenience store to get some things and Karl wanted to grab his cot from the raft.

Once done we settled in for the night but not before Karl realized that the sink had a hole in the pipe so that when you ran water it poured onto the carpet.

Yes, morning couldn’t come soon enough!

Erich Mische Signature