People have asked why we chose to go down the west coast of Lake Michigan when most Loopers go down the east side (actually, from what I have seen on the AGLCA’s app called Meets, we are 50/50 on either side of Lake Michigan). We always begin with what Jerry calls a thirty-thousand-foot plan, which is a broad-brush idea of what we want to do and where we want to go, along with an approximate date range of execution. Over the last 9 months and 5,200 miles, we have learned that getting too attached to those plans can lead to major disappointment when weather or mechanical issues come up. And so, we have learned to be much more patient and flexible than we were when we began this odyssey, allowing plans to change in response to what’s going on around us. That means that times change and so do destinations, along with plans to meet people at specific places! That is a real challenge.
Because we had a weather window and a desire to see Jerry’s childhood home, we came down the west coast of Lake Michigan. This was a change of plans made possible by a weather window that allowed a safe and uneventful crossing of Lake Michigan and allowed us to change our former plan to travel down the east side of the Lake. The east coast has more lovely lakes in which to anchor and relax and hopefully we will get a chance someday to see those places but the decision to come down the west side gave us opportunities to see cities that I never anticipated seeing, like Milwaukee, which is where we began this week.
Milwaukee from Lake Michigan
We get an early start and so are docked early in Milwaukee. Blake takes off, leaving Jerry and me to enjoy a little bit of down time. We definitely have some challenges keeping up with him! He is an inveterate explorer and hits town with a plan and the stamina to execute it, us…not so much, we have the plan but the stamina is sometimes a challenge!
Milwaukee City Hall
Later in the afternoon, we set out and really enjoy exploring Milwaukee. The architecture is amazing and there are great places to eat everywhere. We find the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, which is a bar/cheese place that pairs its cheeses with specific beers for maximum flavor.
We taste a huge variety of cheeses and end up bringing a bunch back to the boat for later snacking, including a chocolate cheese that is improbable but delicious! We continue to walk along the Riverwalk and then return to the boat, looking forward to seeing more of the city but done for the day.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Sunday sees me changing sheets and swapping state rooms while Jerry and Blake go to the airport to retrieve Zack. There is one thing I definitely want to see in Milwaukee and so am really grateful that everybody approves the plan. I offer an Uber but all state that they’d rather walk, at least until we are 6 miles into the journey when there starts to be some whining but luckily, we arrive at Marquette University and quickly find the Chapel of St. Joan of Arc.
Chapel of Saint Joan of Arc on Marquette University Campus
It is just lovely, nestled into a lush garden. This chapel was originally situated outside of Lyons, France. When Gertrude Hill Gavin, the daughter of an American railroad magnate and a devotee of St. Joan of Arc, learned of the chapel, she bought it, had it dismantled and shipped to her property on Long Island where it was reassembled stone by stone. She later sold the property and chapel to Marc and Lillian Rojtman, who eventually gifted it to Marquette University, which required it to be taken apart once more, slightly enlarged and reassembled on the campus where it has been lovingly cared for ever since.
We enter the small chapel and do a hushed and reverent exploration of the building, noting the original tapestries, wooden kneelers and various decorative items.
We see the altar stone where legend says that Joan prayed before going into battle. I am so happy I got to see this and am now good letting the guys call the rest of the activities for the day.
We walk to the Pabst Blue Ribbon facility where they have the Packers vs. Vikings game on a big screen and we watch while we wait for the tour. We have done numerous brewery tours but this one is particularly well done, in that our guide handles the history of Pabst very adeptly.
It is interesting to know that most Pabst beers are now produced and packaged by MillerCoors except for some specialty beers that are award-winners and which are made from old recipes that were found in some of the archives. Those beers are brewed and kegged on sight. We enjoy the samples after the tour and I especially like the Pabst Andeker which is a German Helles style beer.
From there, food is in order, so we stop at the Milwaukee Brewing Company, where the game is also on. I love the space, it is open and airy with large community tables inside it. We order lunch, which turns out to be amazingly good and it is fun to be in a place where the energy for the Packers is so high.
We cheer with the crowd because you just have to be a Packers fan when you are in Wisconsin! The game goes into overtime, so we order the DoTD (Donut of the Day) which is an amazing, piping hot, spicy/sweet perfect ending to our meal, as we watch overtime play out and end in a tied game (which Blake had called earlier on).
We explore the city, finding the Bronze Fonze (from Happy Days) and take a photo of Zack with him and then we continue on to the historic Third Ward where I pick up some lettuce at the World Market and we get some coffee for the guys at Kickapoo Coffee. From there, we Uber back to the boat where Jerry and I are again done for the day.
We all huddle up and laying out a couple of choices for routes, the consensus is to scratch Kenosha and head directly to Chicago the next day, so the guys have more time there before they fly home on Thursday. Blake and Zack recharge their batteries for an hour or so and off they go. We have no idea what time they return and hope they had a good time.
Jerry and I are up and ready the boat for departure, making it a couple of hours into our journey to Chicago before we see the boys up and about. It is a gorgeous day to travel with a light breeze, cool, comfortable temperatures and an amazingly calm Lake Michigan. Thank goodness! (As I sit writing this now, in Joliet, there are 35 mph winds and 9 foot waves reported on the Lake!) We are now leaving undeveloped woodland and farms behind and the shore is dotted with large factories and then beautiful high-end homes overlooking the water. We are definitely entering civilization and after a few hours, we see Evanston and then Chicago emerge from the light mist that is rising from the smooth water ahead of us.
We dock and after getting settled,
(Caption Contest: I know there is a “How many Colemans does it take to ….” joke here somewhere!)
we stroll along the RiverWalk and grab a bite to eat at the Chicago Brew House, after which we come back to the boat and the boys again go on from there, meeting friends and discovering new places.
The next day, Jerry and I set out for a church and a museum. Intuit, is a museum on the West side of town, devoted to untrained artists. Blake and Zack decide to go to the Chicago Art Institute (we had done this museum the last time we were in town).
We arrive before the museum is open and so, seeing the bell tower, we decide to go visit St. John Cantius Cathedral first. What a find this turns out to be!
St John Cantius was from Krakow and is the little-known patron saint of teachers, students, priests and pilgrims. The church itself was started in 1893, finished 5 years later and served a largely Polish community, adding a grammar school as well. The congregation reached a peak of 23,000 in 1918. Soon afterwards, major highways were built, destroying much of the neighborhood and putting a dent in the congregation as well.
The depression added more stress and the church fell into decline until the congregation ultimately reached 200 parishioners and the school closed.
In 1988, Father Frank Phillips embarked on a mission of “Restoring the Sacred” and the church is now considered to be a treasure of Chicago with a congregation 30,000 strong and growing and The Chicago Academy for Fine Arts is housed in the old grammar school building.
Here is a link to this amazing transformation if you are interested, plus you can actually see more about the gorgeous interior of the building.
We have the church building to ourselves until a tour bus unloads a gaggle of tourists and so we mosey over to the museum, which describes itself this way: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the understanding of and appreciation for intuitive and outsider art through a program of education and exhibition. It is small, with a collection of interesting art ranging from abstract to classical and some just plain weird stuff thrown in there as well.
Brushes with Greatness by Mr. Imagination
From Intuit, we walk back towards downtown and end up at Water Tower Place where we mark my birthday by selecting a new watch to replace my old one that the jeweler declared DOA. This one I can see even without my glasses! After a little down time on the boat, we meet up with Zack and Blake and one of Blake’s old roommates for dinner at Piece Brewery and have the BEST pizza EVER!!! It was a very nice way to spend a birthday!
Our last day in Chicago is spent visiting the Museum of Science and Industry, which has a science behind the scenes of Pixar exhibit but even better, I get to see a chicken hatch!
Next, we make sure Zack’s bucket list item of Wrigley Field happens but unfortunately there is no game today.
The weather has changed and we are really hoping that it holds for our trip down the river the next day.
Fortunately, we wake to only partly cloudy skies but we can see a line of black coming over the skyline as we depart toward the lock that will allow us passage into the downtown Chicago River. The wind whips up to some pretty gusty conditions as we enter the lock (typical!) and Blake does well handling the stern line in his first lock. It hampered his photographic endeavors but it was a huge help to us, given the conditions.
We clear the lock and pray that the bridge heights are as advertised. They are supposed to be 17’ at the lowest, which will give us a good 18” of clearance above our radar dome, if we get both antennas down.
Being able to cruise downtown Chicago is a highlight of our Loop that we have been waiting and planning for and it doesn’t disappoint! Since starting the trip, we have agonized repeatedly over whether we could get under the city bridges, finally believing that we can. I stand on the hardtop to make sure we are good to pass under the first bridge and while it is close, we are good to go! It is much scarier to stand inside the flying bridge because it feels like we will be decapitated each time we pass under one of the 30+ VERY low bridges.
Traveling the blue-green waters, we gaze up at the beautiful Chicago Tribune and Wrigley buildings, the Willis (formerly known as Sears) and Hancock Towers, The Chicago Board of Trade and the Merchandise Mart, along with my favorite, Marina City (looks like something out of the Jetsons)
and we see our reflection in several of the mirrored buildings that are close to the water. It is SO cool!
We are all snapping photos and shooting videos and we still manage to make it through without incident.
We have deliberately planned to do this run early in the morning to avoid the commercial traffic that will pick up later in the day and so we encounter only a couple of water taxis and one pedal boat. We pass China town wishing we could stop for brunch but now time is ticking.
We have Google earthed a place just south of downtown where we think we can let the guys off so they can catch a train to the airport and thankfully that goes as planned. It is sad to see them go, Zack was with us for just a few days but Blake was here almost two weeks and we will miss them.
The river changes very quickly once we are south of the city, going from skyscrapers to rail yards and industrial parks. Then it narrows down into a stone block lined, man-made canal that goes through a lot of green space.
Still later, we are in the midst of more raw materials than I have ever seen in one place. Sand and gravel, rock and mulch are all pyramided high and being loaded into waiting barges.
Later, we learn how much energy transporting this material by barge saves. One barge carries approximately the same load as 13.4 rail cars or 58 semi loads! This is a HUGE energy saving method of transporting raw goods over a long distance and we get to experience it up close and personally!
We are now in with a lot of tug and barge traffic and a few other pleasure craft (PC’s) and it is a cat and mouse game to get past the commercial traffic but we have one boat leading who likes communicating on the radio and he makes it easier for all of us to know what we are doing. As we approach the second and last lock for the day, we are shuttled over to tie up on the side for an hour and a half while some barges take priority through the lock. We are now 5 motor vessels and 2 sailboats and once they clear the lock, in we go; big boats on the lock walls and smaller boats rafted to us.
We raft with a darling 23 year-old on his way down to Florida, then to the Bahamas, Caribbean and ultimately to Suriname to join some buddies who want to go up the Amazon. Having him rafted to us, we learn that he is retired (at least temporarily) and is solo in his very small sail boat and I am glad I’m not his parents having to be concerned about his safety!
We clear the lock and all of us make it to the Joliet wall where we help each other tie off and get situated. The temperatures have hit 100 degrees during the day and we are all heat-exhausted but we introduce ourselves and trade boat cards prior to relaxing with cold drinks and making dinner.
We are getting reports of a lot of debris in the water lower down on the river and so are contemplating taking some time off the boat to go visit family in Denver. I wouldn’t mind letting the temperatures drop down a bit either!
That was such an interesting trip with places new and interesting. Just so clear and easily understood, a vicarious cruise. Thanks so much.
If you do come to Denver, let me know! I’d love to see you and meet Jerry. Maybe we can get Sue Bruce, Julia Morris Kashkashian and Sarah Martin Finn to join in!