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Continued: Midwest Traveler: Playing captain on the Mississippi

  • Article by: JOSH NOEL , Chicago Tribune
  • Last update: July 27, 2013 - 3:31 PM

“This is a pleasure craft wanting to pass through. Is that, uh, possible?”


“Over!” I said.

That would be no problem, she said. We slowed to a crawl alongside Alma and waited for the lumbering gates to open. We pulled alongside a wall, where the lock operator tossed down a couple of ropes so we could steady the boat as water poured into the lock. Ten minutes later, the other side opened and we puttered out.

Up the Mississippi we went. I gave my father a couple of turns at the wheel, and comfortable now, we listened to music, some easy, breezy stuff fit for the river. We cut through the bluffs, craggy and green and rolling.

Taking a dip in Pepin

Lake Pepin was so wide and empty that I could cut the engine and ignore the wheel. I threw on my bathing suit and launched myself into the brown Mississippi. It was warm, then cold, then warm, then cold. I swam around the boat, getting pushed where the current wanted me. After a couple of trips down the water slide, we fired up the engine again to head back south.

When the sun started to dip, we found ourselves a slice of beach on the Minnesota side of the river and set the weighty metal anchors into the sand just as Matt had shown us. We threw steaks and veggies on the grill and cracked beers.

On our second day we headed south, back through Lock Four, and this time, I called out my intentions like a pro. I was even called captain over the radio. I had arrived.

While my passengers were happy to sun themselves, read and watch the sights, I was happiest driving the boat. Music playing, a soft drink at my side, it was a slow, rhythmic joy, the green bluffs slowly dragging by.

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  • Watching the Mississippi River flow after a day on the houseboat.


    Fun ’N the Sun (S2221 Hwy. 35, Alma, Wis.; 1-888-343-5670; rents houseboats on the Upper Mississippi between mid-May and mid-October. It has 13 boats of various sizes that sleep two to 14 people. Costs range from $600 to $3,395 for three nights based on size of boat and time of the year. All boats are equipped with electricity, water, a full kitchen, a gas grill, air conditioning and heat.

    Other options include S&S Houseboat Rental in Lansing, Iowa (1-800-728-0131; ssboat, Mississippi River Rentals in La Crosse, Wis. (1-608-317-7990; mississippiriver and Huck’s Houseboat Vacations (1-920-625-3142;, also in La Crosse.


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