We Crossed Our Wake! Sweet Home Chicago

8/27/19: We finally did it! We had decent weather today and took TxAu, along with looper friends who have also been tied up in Hammond, up to Chicago to cross our wake. Today we celebrated coming full circle on the Great American Loop!!! We left September 5, 2018 and 356 adventure-filled days later we are right back where we started. Here is a photo of our wake as we returned to Chicago.

Looks the same as when we left huh? Tex was honking the horn as we pulled into 31st Street Harbor’s break wall. You can see our chart plotter with our travel tracks.

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Popping that champagne!

Our friend Bill came out to “catch our lines” and it was hugs all around. Bill was on our boat day one when we left on the loop, so it is very fitting that he be here when we return! Then there was champagne all around with a final bag of Dots pretzels before the traditional photos were taken with the gold flag. It’s official! we are GOLD Loopers now! It’s a good thing we had our friends along as the dock was quiet on a Wednesday.

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Our official best gold looper photo August 27, 2019

We then had the honor of taking our looper friends on the Chicago river tour. It was an amazing slow ride right through the city with Greg and Nancy as docents. “There is the Miller Coors building, my favorite building,” says Tex.

We are proud and sad at the same time. Captain Greg has done an outstanding job. Blue ribbon! He is uniquely suited to all the challenges this trip brought. He can plan and navigate with the best of them, fix just about anything and make friends with any boater in under a minute. We have over 300 boat cards from looper friends!20190827_173915.jpg

Captain’s Log: This is truly the boating trip of a lifetime. Over 6000 miles of North America’s finest waterways and countless locks. We did it right! But the most incredible part of the journey was the fabulous people we encountered. The loopers and the locals are some of the best people you could ever meet. We now have some wonderful friends. We are proud to be American LOOPERS! See you down the ditch.

What’s next? We will see friends in Chicago for the next two weeks. Nancy will attend her friend Michael’s celebration of life. Michael lost the battle to cancer while we were on this trip. The last time we saw him was right before we left on the loop. He was laying on the bow with a cocktail laughing at the difference between how Greg neatly tied the line on the right and Nancy sort of humped up the line on the left. She had a lot to learn and quickly!

Greg has already completed the boat repairs while in Hammond and is looking forward to some golf. We will keep visiting with the Loopers coming through Chicago and maybe get to show some of them our city. In a couple weeks, we will head south. We agree we will never do Chicago winters again! We now have some good looper friends in Florida. There is a plan to be in the Florida Keys for New Years and then maybe the Bahamas in late March. Who’s going?

It has been our pleasure blogging – we are proud of our first blog – and hope you have enjoyed our ‘Looper Life’ stories as much as we have enjoyed writing them! Thank you for reading it! We are so fortunate to have been able to do this trip.

We are one of only about 150 boats that will complete the loop in 2019. The largest class of loopers ever! As we look back on our blog posts we are amazed and glad it is documented. The year went by so quickly. We will print it into a book so we never forget our looper year adventures!

Thanks to everyone,  specifically the AGLCA, for the guidance and recommendations along the way. And grateful we’ll always be.

Love,
Greg and Nancy (AKA Tex and Tinsley) aboard TxAu
…. as we say on the radio “TexasGold out”

 

Loopers in the Loop

8/26/19: Still waiting for calm weather to cross our wake. But we had a plan B as always. Today we showed our looper friends OUR city – the Chicago loop. Greg came up with the title for this post! We took the casino bus to Chinatown, got rained on, grabbed DIVVY bikes and rode to Greg’s favorite: Aurelio’s Pizza.

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A blue and grey day in Chinatown

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Our cozy hideaway from the rain. Best Pizza EVER!!! Glad to be back!

Each of us ate too much excellent pizza and we shared some pitchers while we watched the rain continue. Our friends loved Greg’s favorite pizza spot! The Sullivan’s picked up the check! Everyone wants to treat us to celebrate our ‘almost’ crossing again.

Then we walked the parks and Michigan Avenue in the rain while spouting history the entire time. The flowers were blooming nicely for us with all this rain!

We saw Buckingham Fountain, Cloudgate (AKA the Bean), the Tiffany glass in the old Chicago library, and then stopped for a drink at the old Chicago Athletic Association.

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We had a friendly competition playing shuffleboard at the Chicago Athletic Club. The Sully/Nancy team won! It looks a bit like Hogwarts in there. 

Then we dodged some rain again before stopping into Nancy’s old building The Legacy. The doormen still knew her! We visited her friends Jeannie and Bruce in their 54th-floor condo. Our looper friends were delighted to see how the other half live in Chicago – they have a spectacular view of the lakefront from their condo.

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The Legacy – the building with the zipper. Nancy’s balcony was the one 10 stories down.

Then we walked to the Chicago River and out to see Dusable Harbor before catching the returning casino bus at the Hyatt Hotel. We sure made the best of a rainy day!

Hammond, Indiana

8/25/19: It was a rolly ride into Hammond. Laurie Jean with a 8-foot beam takes the brunt of it. Lake Michigan is not to be messed with. The wind was strong while backing into our slip and we hit the poles multiple times on both sides. That is not like us. Two guys from neighboring boats ran out in the wind to grab our lines. Thank goodness for boatmen!  No damage was done but after going 6000 miles it’s kind of embarrassing to stern in so poorly. It helped to know that others had the same trouble getting in. Misery, company.

The plan was to stop in Hammond where the boats will rest for two weeks while people make trips home. It is now “stall time” given the two locks on the Illinois River are closed for repairs. Done Diggin’ and Laurie Jean wanted to be with us when we crossed our wake so while in Hammond Jodi and Dan and Laurie and Kevin planned to jump on TxAu for the ride to Chicago. What great friends to share this!

But it was not to be. The wind was just too strong to head back out again. We texted our friends who were planning on seeing us at H dock and told them it would not be today after all.  Tomorrow is not looking good either. So we wait for a weather window. So close we can see the skyline!

There are quite a few loopers here in Hammond. It is the best fuel stop before Chicago and only a dollar a foot vs. $3.00 in Chicago. Also, there is a free shuttle ride from the casino into the city and back and it runs multiple times a day.

We all walked over to the Horseshoe Casino right next to the marina. We got our casino gold cards (for free) and Done Diggin’ treated us to a huge buffet lunch to celebrate the “almost”. What a buffet. There was an Asian station, Italian, Mexican, a meat carving station. . . and the deserts. We ate until we could not eat again. Nobody mentioned anything about dinner later.

Everyone felt the need for a nap… but we rode bikes to Walmart where we saw an interesting cast of characters. We stocked up and bought champaign for the crossing party. Now that’s positive thinking! We will see what tomorrow brings.

Michigan City, Indiana

8/24/19: When we woke up this morning we discovered something was wrong with the head. Some unpleasant crap was leaking into the bilge.  So there was no using the toilet today. Back to the red solo cup! Did I forget to mention the red solo cup process from when the head broke ten months or so ago? We do try to leave out some things.

We still went the 35 miles and by the time we pulled into Michigan City Marina the engines had warmed up and the unpleasantness had ripened. Greg opened the floor hatches to cool it down OMG. We escaped to the beach for a couple of hours.

It was a perfect day in the sand and Laurie Jean joined us, however, we could not put off the “shitty” job any longer. Tomorrow we expect to cross our wake and we don’t want to have guests on a foul-smelling boat with no working head. Greg was hoping it was one of the parts that he had extra onboard.  It was truly a disgusting task. Picture a bucket of bleach water with pump parts floating around in crap. Guess I should have taken a photo…

As luck would have it, Greg discovered the bellow was cracked bellow and he had an extra one on board! Mr. Fix it rules again!

Soon we were cleaning everything with bleach wipes and the smell was pretty much gone. Just in time for dinner – another table for eight – at a place called The Fish Camp.20190824_194207.jpg

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Our friends took this and call it our “almost crossing their wake” photo.

We pontificated on how good TxAu has held up over the year. It has been a while since something broke. Her engines have run flawlessly. Greg knows how to fix everything else now. Our friend Sully has been Greg’s right-hand man in troubleshooting issues. It takes a village! We are saddened to hear that there have been quite a few loopers reporting serious boat problems in the last few months. Our friends Jim and Jackie were stalled for 28 days replacing engines!

Benton Harbor – St. Joe, Michigan

8/23/19: The looper fleet is growing. We see more and more old looper friends as everyone knows about the lock closures on the Illinois River. We stayed on the free wall with our old friends BIG and new friends Harken.

Greg has been excited to go to a big marine store so on the bikes we go. Nancy’s does not make it up the hill before the rusty chain falls off. . . again. Go on without me! Greg is fine going alone because all the menfolk are meeting there. It’s one of those huge boat parts stores. Nancy walked the cute shops. Later Sully came and picked us up in his fast dingy and we all grilled out together.

South Haven – TxAu goes Platinum

8/22/19: We had an easy trip to South Haven and on the way TxAu went platinum! and Greg went gold! How is this you ask? Don’t you cross your wake in Chicago? Yes, yes we do and that will be our real marker. However, Greg’s boat has done the loop once before. Past owners – a doctor and his wife from Cincinnati – already completed the loop on her. So she has already earned her gold flag as a vessel. And today she completed the loop again in Saugatuck so the boat is a platinum looper!

Greg bought the boat is Saugatuck, Michigan so that is really his true “gold looper” point. It was a happy yet rough day when Greg bought her. He tells the story that his friend Bill was with him to pick up the boat in Sagautuck and take it to its new home in Chicago. Greg was all excited and had a lot of coffee that morning but never got around to eating. The waves were high and stuff fell on the floor. He bent down from that high captain’s chair to pick up some things from the floor. His head was between his knees see. And then he got that feeling. He quickly unzipped the canvas and barfed coffee all down the side of his new boat. By the time they got to Chicago the rough water had the boat all clean again.

20190822_162550.jpgWe arrived to South Haven behind a wooden schooner and backed into a tight slip at Southside Marina. This is Nancy’s great friend Shelli’s vacation town. She used to come for a week each year and just loved the beaches and the shops. Shelli died of pancreatic cancer almost six years ago. We eat a chicken salad lunch, start laundry and jump on the marina’s bikes.

The weather is perfect for exploring with tourists walking everywhere. The shops are some of the cutest. Later docktails with the crew, burgers and corn on the cob. There is another live local band playing just outside the marina.

Grand Haven, Michigan

8/20-21/19: A few stops ago, Nancy talked with some boaters from Grand Haven and asked for their local insider tips.  “Just stay at the city wall it’s right next to the municipal marina and only costs $10.00.” So we did and it was a good decision. A bit bouncy but nothing we haven’t seen before. We walked the main streets of town right away.

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Favorite T-Shirt from this town!

At Ease is here! Remember them? So, we had a little reunion at docktails on their boat and they served their own version of the bushwacker. They use coconut rum and do not add the Kaluaha. They were delish. Maybe even better and for sure a bit easier!

We were feeling no pain as we walked into town with them for dinner.

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Reunited with our Norfolk Rendezvous friends Chantalle and “Full Bird Ben” on At Ease.

Lots of places were already closing at 8:00 but we found a BBQ and brewery. There was a sweet blonde beer that tasted a bit like honeycomb cereal. And brisket! Sounds great. And it was. Until later. Back at the boat, Nancy threw up and Greg was up most of the night in the bathroom. In the wee hours of the morning, he said: “This would be a good time for a colonoscopy.” Seemed like good brisket at the time (no photos!)

The next day we walked to a decent farmer’s market – more corn on the cob.

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Wall at the end of the farmers market.

We then toured a little museum with a terrific exhibit called Icebound.

Later we rode bikes to West Marine and a thrift store. There is a corn dog place that is popular here. We heard about it and rode to it, just up the hill from the boat. 

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We saw a line. We could not help but study the business model. $1.75 per corn dog. Cash only. Two efficient ladies working. ”How many you want?” “What you want on ‘em?” The dogs are already on wooden sticks in a plastic tote, one dip in the cornbread mix then float 10 at a time into the fryer which is right in the front window. A minute later they are wrapping a napkin around the stick – and handling four at a time. They are open from 11 to 10:00 P.M. every day until Sept 15. We waited in line behind 12 people but it moved fast. Rarely did someone get just one dog – most of the teenagers had three or four! They use a pastry paintbrush to paint on a stripe of mustard and/or catsup. A soda fountain – $1.00 for a medium-sized cheap plastic cup. That is all they serve out of a shed that is the size of those Home Depot models.  Location, location, location. We heard the lady say “Only 25 more days of work this year!”

We are parked right across from where the Grand Haven light and water show happens every night. Good music and lovely colors up the hill over the water. A crowd forms each night at the pavilion to experience it. Laurie and Sully snuggle up on Done Diggin’ to watch the light show…aww. 

We had docktails again (I KNOW… how many times can I type this?) and this time Lucky Me was back with our looper fleet for the night!  They will spend a week at the next stop where they will tour the Tiara Boat Factory shopping for/dreaming of a bigger boat. But they will spend time with our group again in Chicago.

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Docktails in front of Done Diggin’. There was a live band and line dancing before the light show.

Muskegon Harbor – Anchored with our Villiage

8/18/19: We all anchored out separately (no rafting) since we had plenty of swing room. This may just be our last anchor out on this Loop! Laurie Jean picked us up in their dingy with our pulled pork and her pasta and we went to eat on Done Diggin. The last time we did pulled-pork on Diggin was when we almost hit the rocks in Canada! At dinner, Sully commented that the backend of TxAu seemed pretty low in the water. Greg responded, “She is fully fueled up today.” But later when we got back to the boat he checked the back bilge. Full of water!

Nancy commenced to manually pumping out water while Greg pulled the pump and switch. It was the same pump he had replaced 8 months ago. Fortunately, we had ordered two replacement pumps back then in case this happened again. Nancy is still pumping. It’s like when you are doing CPR on someone. You know you can’t stop but how long can you go on? We are both soaked, it is hot down there! Finally, Greg says “text Sully, I’m gonna need his help.” Ah, a forced break. After pumping extra long and hard to get ahead of the water level, Nancy goes up top where there is a wonderful breeze. Laurie and Sully are anchored behind us – sitting out waiting for the sun to set. Sully yells over “What are you doing?” She holds up her phone and texts him “Water in back bilge, pump or switch? Help, and bring your electrical tester.” In a short minute, Sully and Laurie pull up in their dinghy. “We were wondering why you guys were not sitting out watching the sunset like the rest of us!”

Then ‘Iron Man Dan’ anchored in front of us yells over. “What is going on?” Laurie says “I’d better dingy over and get him too or he will feel left out.” Nancy yells back and asks him to loan us another flashlight. So, like a good little boater wife Laurie gets back in the dingy and pull starts that engine (like a pro! – well it took 6 tries) and makes it over to pick up Dan. Dan does not compliment her steering. “Which boat are you aiming for?” Laurie’s reply? ”Just shut the &%$# up.” This is normal banter for our group. But Dan is quickly delivered to TxAu with his huge bright light. Really, that thing lite up the entire boat!

The menfolk make very quick work fixing things, while the womenfolk take photos of an awesome sunset.

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Done Diggin’ Jodi and Iron Man Dan anchored in the sunset.

As we often say “It takes a village!” Later Nancy texts Laurie and Jodi saying “Thank you to your men. Sorry we messed up your romantic sunset.” Jodi’s reply “I think they’d much rather be fixing boat stuff together than looking at a sunset.”  

Ludington, Michigan

8/16-19/19: The moon was still high on a pink morning when we threw the lines in Frankfort to head for Ludington.

20190815_203340.jpgWe see huge sand dunes now. Lake Michigan has “two footers” meaning the waves are tolerable but you have to hold on if you are going to stand or walk!

We just got a note from our first looper friends Mike and Patty on Parrot Bay. They just crossed their wake in Michigan and sent us this photo. Remember rafting in the rain with them?  We also saw them over the Florida winter when we collected over 200 sand dollars! What an excellent loop trip they had. They are also planning on heading back to Florida this winter so we will see them again.

It is the custom to take a photo with your new GOLD burgee once you cross your wake. This signifies that you have completed the Great Loop and are now in an elite class of boaters. In the history of the AGLCA, a very small percent of loopers have ever been able to fly the gold burgee and we will soon join them!

After a less than smooth ride, we reach Ludington Michigan! For years, Nancy vacationed with her best friend Lea Ann’s family in Ludington State Park. So she got to play tour director while we were here for three days. As we walked around town she called Lea Ann and asked what do you remember? 20190818_105418.jpgThe ice cream shop!

We were standing right in front of it. Greg got carrot cake flavored ice cream and Nancy had peanut butter chocolate. His was better. We may have to go back.

Greg did not really want to pose for this Ludington photo below but the ladies ganged up on him! Thanks for the photo Laurie!

Camping in Ludington State Park is the main memory for us. So our challenge the second day was to ride our bikes to the park – four miles, then two miles to the beach once you get into the park and another two miles to the lighthouse. We did it – 16 miles! Laurie, Sully and Dan all rode along. Dan is like iron man and got way ahead. Jodi had to get a pedicure so could not go.

The park was full. There was a line of cars waiting to get in, no parking available and no open campsites. The park was full back in the 1970s and 80s too! We were lucky to be on bikes and could just ride right in. There are 355 campsites and over 20 miles of hiking trails. We got a map at the ranger station, stopped at the volleyball beach, rode through the Pines campground (oh the memories, RIP John and Coral) and then on to the lighthouse. Our bikes were skiing on the sandy trail to the lighthouse as we avoided walkers, dogs, and strollers.
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Dan won the “photo of the day” award snapping this of us (TxAu and Laurie Jean) from the top of the lighthouse. We were watching the musician set up and could not figure out where Dan had gone! Later on the beach, Dan said: “I have not seen this many kids since I dropped mine off at the daycare.” Toddlers with plastic shovels were everywhere!

After the lighthouse, we rode back to the beach and had a picnic lunch complete with rum and cokes. That water was very cold at first but Nancy HAD to go in for old times sake. We spent many days at those volleyball nets! Nancy recalls “Can you believe my dad let me drive the van with our camper attached up here for a week?” She had three other 16-year-old girls along – Lea Ann with Amy and Rachel.  Nancy remembers everyone yelling as she backed that camper into a site.

The salmon are everywhere and so are the fishing boats. We saw men walking on the docks carrying their large catch. They have nice fish cleaning stations here.

Every morning and evening we hear the horn of this huge ship coming by.

We later enjoyed a lovely night docktailing (yes, it’s a verb now) outside of Done Diggin’. The Dots pretzels continue to win people over. Jodi brought cheesezits which were tough competition tonight. The water was almost over the cement sidewalk where they are docked. Due to their 31 foot width, they could not fit in a slip! Sully had us all laughing as he demonstrated how the women could also pee in a jar,  when the water suddenly washed over our feet.

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The menfolk at docktails L to R: Kevin Sullivan (Sully) Greg Stephens (Tex) and Dan Sims (Iron Man) waiting to assist a boater who has to tie up to the flooding cement wall. Laurie says “Oh look at the sausages.”

 

Frankfort, MI

8/15/19:  Nancy loved this stop as there was a nice library right behind where we tied up. We rode our bikes all the way around the lake and walked to the lighthouse.

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View of TxAu (middle) and Done Diggin’ (six to the right) from the other side of the inlet.

Some scenes from our bike ride. And we had ice cream yet again. Nancy tried Lemon.

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We also saw a cool mosaic floor in a class artist’s shop.20190815_163257.jpg

But the best part of all was behind the marina just a street up from the main town, we see this lady had her garage open and you could see her painting in her garage studio. She invited us in. Greg rode off to have a cigar while Nancy got a full tour of her recently remodeled house.

Her name is Ellie Harold a mostly self-taught artist EllieHarold.com. She has lovely porches and gardens and her art is hung on all levels of the home. You can see the artist’s transitions through the creative periods. She sells more out of her home studio then the gallery sells. She also writes books and teaches at artists retreats. Her cat followed Nancy from room to room. Good thing as the art was amazing – but it would not fit in a pocket (smile.)

This is her home! It is immaculate and she lets people just walk through. She has such high energy and enthusiasm. It is keeping her young and happy! A great inspiration!

Then she said you have to see the basement. OMG a dream come true. Her husband had built shelving units for frames and storing art and a large work space to make frames.

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This was just one of the corners of her basement. HUGE!