Spent four days in Grafton, IL enjoying the Key West of the Midwest and getting a small coolant leak fixed.  I would have tackled it myself at home, but with 200 miles of Mississippi ahead I had a pro do the fix.  Scott from Bloch Marine did an absolutely bulletproof job and gave the engine a good once-over.  An interesting guy who gave us a lot of local knowledge about the river system.

These small towns and cities (at least some of them) are really doing a good job trying to attract the boating dollar, since they are pretty depressed otherwise.  The marinas in Grafton and Alton, where we’re staging for the next Mississippi leg, are magnificent — covered slips, private shower rooms, pools, restaurants on site.  Both towns also have nicely developed waterfront areas with parks, bike trails, etc.

Grafton is a funky old place full of bars, produce stands, artisan outlets and B&B’s.  No local provisions, however, so we did a Walmart-grocery run in the marina’s courtesy van to the metropolis of Jerseyville, IL.  Huge thunder and lightning storms blew through while we were there, so it was good to be tied up.

Alton is blue, blue collar, but trying hard.  Downtown is sort of fixed up and there are some good restaurants.  The waterfront is dominated by the giant Argosy casino.  Gambling took its normal course here — it was supposed to be a way to support the riverboats, then they decided the riverboats could just tie up for the gamblers, then it was okay if the casino’s just had a riverboat theme, now it’s “what the hell, they can do anything they want since they are the only things around here making money.”

This is the Land of Lincoln for sure, which I am really enjoying since I am reading David Herbert Donald’s great Lincoln biography as we move through.  I was reading about New Salem on the Sagamon River where Lincoln established himself as a young man, and looked at the chart, and by God, we were just passing the Sagamon River.  The final Lincoln-Douglas debate was here, and there’s a nice park, but it seems unfortuneately close to the casino.

Going out with the other Loopers tonight, as we form up our nightly support group getting ready for the big jump.  They all like John, and he is the honorary grandchild of the group.

Small world story — we were in a really good lunch/antiques store yesterday having a sandwich, when we both suddenly realized that the beautiful girl at one of the tables was very, very familiar.  It was Cristina Olsen, John’s fellow bass clarinetist from Wilton High School for three years, and now a student at nearby Principia College.  Had a nice chat, and she will Facebook John’s travels out to the Wilton Class of 2011 world.

Downtown Grafton. A dead ringer for Key West, right?

I doubt if I will every voluntarily stay at anyplace called “End of the Trail”. Great logo — dead cowboy on a dead horse.

Grafton — Lincoln is everywhere around here

Confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers on a rainy morning

Sandstone cliffs line this part of the Mighty Mississip

Alton — a bit grim from the marina side, but it gets better

Alton Historic District

Argosy Casino, Alton

Alton — Lincoln-Douglas Park

So, Abey, what say we go over to the casino when this is over? I dunno, Steve. What if a nation CAN stand divided against itself?

Alton Telegraph where Molly Cole worked as a cub reporter XX years ago.