From Hammond, IN, to the “rolling river” (the Illinois), to “Old Man River” (the Mississippi), to the “O-HI-O”, Tennessee and the Tombigbee, our trek down the dreaded rivers, October 14 – November 25, 2019

There was much concern about the rivers this year, due to the lock closures just south of Chicago.  From September 21 – October 6, three locks (Dresden, Marseilles and Starved Rock) would be closed for much needed maintenance.  There were nearly 100 Looper boats who did not rush to get through the locks before their closure.  Additionally, there was a big back up of commercial vessels, along with other (non-Looper) pleasure craft, all working together to coordinate traffic and ease congestion.  We were so fortunate to have AGLCA, Waterway Guide, and the Illinois Lock System working together along with the boaters to ensure an easy passage.  Misty was set to join Looper Group #3 in Hammond Marina, Hammond, Indiana,  to coordinate our flotilla.  We had a great group to travel with:  No Schedule, Domino, Columba, Yots of Fun, Drifters, Thunderbolt, Kissed Some Frogs, Velsignet, Pura Vida and Long Way Home.

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Approaching the industrial Hammond skyline southbound from Chicago

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Misty being welcomed in Hammond by the crew of No Schedule:  Carol, Malachi and Ken

After our fabulous week in Chicago, Hammond was a disappointment.  The marina is vast, and the water was shut off the day we arrived. The long walk to anywhere wasn’t a problem, as there really isn’t anywhere to go in Hammond. The marina is behind a casino that has seen better days, smelled of smoke, and had no real dining options that were worth the walk.  They are also in the middle of a huge construction project to expand and heighten their sea wall.  It was extremely loud, and they started work VERY early in the morning.

Hammond Marina, the casino and the work barges

We were thrilled that our friend Zyg/Domino was there, and he kindly took Nancy to Walmart for provisioning in his rental car, and his company is always enjoyable!  We also enjoyed docktails one evening aboard Misty, with the crews of Thunderbolt, Drifters, No Schedule, Velsignet and Yots of  Fun, and enjoyed a couple of pretty sunrises and sunsets, despite the disappointing backdrop!

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Weather unfortunately kept some of us in Hammond for an extra day, but we were in good company with the crews of No Schedule, Yots of Fun, Thunderbolt, VelsignetDomino, Columba and Drifters.  Ed aboard Yots of Fun led our team down the rivers, coordinating our travel with the barges and locks along the way.  He was great, and the added treat was that Ed sounds EXACTLY like the actor Sam Shepherd.  Not a bad voice to hear repeatedly on the VHF!  Thanks, Ed, you were awesome!

We left Hammond at just before 7:30 in the morning and headed to the Calumet River towards the Thomas J. O’Brien Lockonly 7 miles down the river.  

The flotilla heads down the Calumet River

We fortunately pulled right in, and “floated” for the lock rather than tying up, as there was no commercial traffic going through when we arrived.  Phew!

Heading into Thomas S. O’Brien Lock, the flotilla coming in behind us, and following Thunderbolt out of the lock and through the open bridge just past the lock gates!

The Calumet and the Illinois Rivers are very industrial, and they both have a tremendous amount of commercial traffic. 

We’ve traveled pretty extensively aboard Misty, and we’re no strangers to commercial traffic.  But this is different.  The tows on the rivers here push barges that can be stacked 5 – 6 deep, and 3 – 4 wide.  It’s most common to have them pushing 3 barges wide, which is 105′!  Remember, they rule the rivers, and it’s essential to communicate with them and ask how they prefer us to pass them on the water.  The captains are great to work with, and amazing to watch, as they thread their way through the winding channels, under bridges, getting into locks, and share it all with a bunch of pleasure craft heading south!

At this point we were meeting up with the other Loopers who took the Chicago River route, so our fleet was expanding!  The coordination among the fleets, their group leaders, the Lock Masters and AGLCA was remarkable…we couldn’t have done it without this incredible group effort!

 Barges…lots of ’em!  And they’re really big.  YIKES!!

We continued downriver for 30 miles before meeting the infamous electrical barrier at MM 296, designed to prevent the spread of the invasive Asian Carp that are so pervasive in the waters south of here.  Fortunately, through VHF chatter we learned that there is a very specific procedure for passing through the barrier (not noted in any of our nav books!).  Only one vessel at a time can pass the channel at idle speed, notifying boat traffic of your entrance and exit of the barrier area on your VHF so the next vessel can proceed.

The electrical field in the Illinois River to block the Asian Carp migration

While we didn’t have any encounters with the carp, we did see them jumping out of the water in the wake of some barge/tows.  They are huge fish, and are champion jumpers, and have been known to end up in the cockpits of passing boats!  The noise and vibrations of boats gets them going, and as large fish, they make quite a bit of noise when they hit your boat!

We got through the Lockport Lock without incident, and finally arrived at the Joliet free wall at 6:20 pm, just as the sun was setting.  It was a long day, but we were grateful for the free tie up and electricity.

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Lockport Lock with Charlie/Yots of Fun, Malachi & Carol/No Schedule, Loopers on the Joliet wall, murals near the docks, and another row of Loopers behind us in the lock.

The group was ready to roll at 7 am, but the lock initially told us we would have a 3 hour wait. As we started to settle in for the day, we got a call back from the lock telling us to untie our boats and head down to the lock. We were thrilled, as our goal was to get through the Brandon Road Lock, the Dresden Lock and the Marseilles Lock to Heritage Harbor Marina at MM 242.3.   It was only a 45 mile run, but we were at the mercy of the locks.  Fortunately, our only wait was an hour for the Marseilles Lock, and we arrived at Heritage Harbor Marina at 2:15, in plenty of time for Jeremy’s “River briefing” at 4 pm!

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AGLCA Group #3 heading down the Illinois River..so grateful for the incredible team work!

The crews of Long Way Home (Jen, Matt and Felix), No Schedule (Carol, Ken and Malachi), Drifters (Vicki and Mike) and Yots of Fun (Charlie and Ed) and Nancy had a great dinner at the marinas on site restaurant, Red Dog Grill. Rob bowed out, as it was the first game of the playoffs, and the Yankees were on.   They won, but he did miss a fun evening!

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Carol/No Schedule, Nancy, Matt & Jen/Long Way Home, Charlie & Ed/Yots of Fun, Ken/No Schedule

It was a beautiful morning to continue south on the 19th…calm and sunny, and while it was cool in the morning, it ended up around 65.  The day began with a truly beautiful sunrise, and the water was like glass.

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Beautiful sunrise at Heritage Harbor, and a big thank you to Carol/No Schedule for the sunrise shot of Misty

We left at 7:45 am, as we had word that we could lock through at the Starved Rock Lock if we got underway immediately…so we did!

The fleet leaves Heritage Harbor

Not only did we cruise right in to the lock, but they “split” a commercial barge to accommodate us.  This means that half of the barges being pushed up river were on the upriver side of the lock, and the other half was waiting downriver with the tow for us to be locked through before joining his other half upriver.  We snaked our way around the lock cribs and the upriver section of the barge through a VERY narrow opening into the lock.  When we gathered later with our fellow Loopers who are familiar with the rivers here, they told us that this NEVER happens.  Commercial traffic always has the right of way and gets priority in passing through the locks.  So, for them to hold half of the barge back to accommodate us was quite amazing!  We suspect that all of the contact from AGLCA and the careful coordination of the Loopers on the rivers made the lock masters more sympathetic to getting us through!  Whatever the reason, we were grateful!

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Winding our way into Starved Rock Lock…a bit of a nail biter

There were some beautiful bluffs shortly after exiting the lock, and we spotted a white pelican!

Everyone made the 74 mile run to the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY), where we enjoyed docktails aboard Yots of Fun with Charlie, Ed, Carol and Ken, followed by a pasta dinner aboard Misty with Zyg, who arrived late, tired, cold and hungry!

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Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY)

Domino, No Schedule and Yots of Fun depart IVY

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Dreary day to leave IVY, heading down to Peoria

We decided to move the 5 ½ miles south to the Peoria free docks, as it would put us in a more central location.  We were unimpressed with IVY (facilities could use a face lift), and were happy to save $50!  We spent 2 nights at the free docks (with electric) in Peoria, as the weather turned and we stayed tucked in with one day of wind and rain.

Peoria Free Dock views

Our first day there we wandered a bit in town and along the waterfront, where there is a memorial to native son, Dan Fogelberg.  In his honor, we played a lot of his music and a couple of games of backgammon to relive our days at Drew U!

Peoria Waterfront park

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Dan Fogelberg monument, Peoria waterfront.  Love him, so many beautiful memories involve his music. 💕

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Caterpillar is based in Peoria and is the heart of this small city.  Their museum across the street from the free wall is well worth the visit.  The docents we met there were retired Cat employees, and super friendly.  At one point, Rob and I were walking towards one of the exhibits, when one of the docents called out “Are you Loopers?!”  The people along the rivers are well aware of Loopers and their travels, and some are super curious about our adventures.  After a nice chat, we wandered over to Thyme Kitchen for lunch.

Caterpillar Museum, Peoria

The walk over to lunch took us past an ongoing display of outdoor sculptures around the city, including a statue of Richard Pryor, another native son.

Peoria street sculptures

The huge replica of the couple from “American Gothic” that graces the front lawn of the Peoria Riverfront Museum was pretty spot on!

We had a wonderful meal at Thyme Kitchen, enjoying bone marrow, roasted brussel sprouts, slab bacon and grilled cheese.  Completely decadent and delicious!

Thyme Kitchen

We hosted Geoff and Ruth/Geru and Mike and Brenda/Velsignet for docktails  before departing Peoria the next morning.  It was still cloudy, cool and windy, but it was time to move on.  When the water is high on the Illinois River, the wickets of the Peoria Dam are lowered so all vessels cruise right over the dam.  Hooray, a pass though rather than locking through!

Flow through for the Peoria Lock

We spent the night of the 22nd tied up to a barge at Logsdon Tow Service.  So, for $42 we were literally tied to a barge along the banks of the river, bouncing around with the wind and waves. Oh, did I mention we had no water or electric for that 42 bucks?  Oh, well…

Misty tied up to the barge at Logsdon Barge, Beardstown, IL.

We did venture into Beardstown, which was once likely a lovely town around a central green referred to as “the beauty on the bend”, but it has sadly seen far better days.  We did venture into the small museum that houses the courtroom where Abraham Lincoln defended Duff Armstong in the famous Almanac Trial. This is the only courtroom where Lincoln practiced that is still used as a courtroom to this day.

The Lincoln Courtroom, Beardstown

Downtown Beardstown

Fortunately, the winds and the river calmed down significantly overnight, and we headed out at 7:30 am under cloudy skies.  Again, the day began cool (42), but warmed up to 70!  We were making a long run to Grafton, IL, which is nearly 88 miles downriver. Fortunately, we had the current giving us a 5 mph push. Misty breezed right over the dam again at LaGrange Lock due to high waters, so we pulled into our slip at 3:15 pm.

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Cruising over the LaGrange Lock

This section of the Illinois River is known for being a winter migration area for Bald Eagles, and as with all the rivers, flooding.  The homes are all built on high foundations or stilts to accommodate the river surges.

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Bald Eagles, just chillin’

Homes along the Illinois River

Ten miles north of Grafton is the 50′ Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine.  She was built after a disastrous flood in 1951, in gratitude for the water stopping just short of flooding the village of Portage des Sioux . Every July, there is a blessing of the fleet held at the Shrine.

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Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine

The town of Grafton, IL is small, but cute, so we wandered around a bit to stretch our legs.  We found a nice farmer’s market with home made jams, a huge wood furniture shop with beautiful cuts of cedars, red woods and more, along with a few gift and holiday shops.

Downtown Grafton, Illinois

We hadn’t had any luck reaching marinas with hot tubs before they closed for the season, but Grafton had just turned theirs off that day, and it had not yet been winterized.  They were kind enough to turn it back on for us, but this “hot” tub was never more than a “luke-warm” tub!  Despite the disappointing temperature, we enjoyed a soak along with a Mike’s!

After we dried off, we had dinner on board and a spectacular sunset!

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And then we had this truly remarkable sunrise before we left in the morning!!

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Oh, what a beautiful morning!  Grafton, IL., Mississippi River sunrise

We would  now be traveling on the Mississippi, a river we have heard a lot of tales about, none of which are good!  Despite the continuing cool and cloudy weather, we had a beautiful ride to Alton, enjoying the rocky cliffs and fall foliage lining the banks of the river.  The river, as advertised, does indeed have some crazy current!

Mississippi River current, and yes, that’s a tree caught on the bridge!

Shortly after leaving Grafton, the east side of the river is hugged by beautiful white cliffs that were accented by the last of the fall color.

Once we got settled into our slip, we walked up the levy into the small downtown area of Alton. There’s not much there, but we did enjoy amazing sandwiches at The Brown Bag Bistro.   Truly delicious and decadent, served by a cheerful staff in a small, cute room, with a small patio out front.

Yummy and decadent lunch at The Brown Bag Bistro

The Alton Marina is nestled under the beautiful Clark Bridge, which is particularly beautiful at night.

The Clark Bridge, Alton, IL

Our friends Kathy and Braendon live outside of St Louis, and we had plans to spend Friday and Saturday with them at their home, and visiting the city.  They came to pick us up Friday morning, and showed us around St. Louis.  We had a fun afternoon seeing the Arch, some city landmarks, through beautiful Forest Park, and a fun lunch at  Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop Neighborhood, known for its fun restaurants, bars and the St. Louis Walk of Fame.  

Exploring St. Louis

Blueberry Hill is a landmark restaurant and music club filled with fun pop culture memorabilia.  It was a fun spot to catch up with Kathy and Braendon!

Lunch at Blueberry Hill with Braendon and Kathy

The St. Louis Walk of Fame honors notable people from St. Louis who made contributions to the culture of the United States. All inductees were either born in the Greater St. Louis area or spent their formative or creative years there.  The inductees contribution can be in any area, but most made their achievements in acting, entertainment, music, sports, art/architecture, broadcasting, journalism, science/education and literature. As of April 2019, the walk consisted of more than 150 brass stars and bronze plaques, each containing an inductee’s name and a summary of his or her accomplishments.

A bit of the St. Louis Walk of Fame, and Chuck Berry

We had a relaxing afternoon catching up with Kathy and Braendon at their lovely home, but unfortunately, Nancy got sick with one of her tummy attacks, and our visit was cut short.  After a couple of days in St. Anthony’s Hospital, and a couple more to recuperate back aboard Misty, we departed Alton on October 29th.

St. Louis and it’s famous arch is about 20 miles south of Alton, and we would be cruising right by it.  Unfortunately, it was a cool and overcast morning, but at least it wasn’t raining.  We were thrilled to be traveling the rivers with Meredith and Scotty aboard Thunderbolt. After fueling up for our trip down the largely fuel free rivers, we set out, agreeing that we would photograph one another in front of the famous arch!

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Misty passing the St. Louis Arch

There are few places to tie up or anchor along the rivers.  This year was particularly challenging due to the high water levels, adding another concern to waters already challenging due to strong currents.  We spent our first night out of Alton tied up to the Kaskaskia Lock Wall, a short distance off the Mississippi on the Kaskaskia River. While we would not be locking through, they are kind enough to accommodate travelers with a spot to tie up for the night.  It was cold and rainy, and after warming up a bit with Meredith and Scotty (they have a propane heater aboard Thunderbolt!), we had an early night after a long (84 miles) stressful day on the water. The good part about the current on the river was the push it was giving us from behind…5 mph!

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Leaving the Kaskaskia Lock Wall in the rain, 7:35 am, October 30, 2019.

We debated about venturing out the next  morning as the weather was still bad, but we wanted to push on.  And push we did…117 miles later, we dropped anchor at Angelo Towhead, only 1.5 miles before we merged on to the Ohio River.  With the wind, current and tow traffic, it was a bit nerve wracking, but we survived the night!

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Tow and barge passing us in the night, Angelo Towhead Anchorage

Our next stop was Paducah, only 48 miles down the Ohio River, but it was quite the ride. There was a lot of current, and the tows throw some huge wakes, but we saw 4 – 5′ waves in front of a dismantled dam!  Crazy!

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Rolling (literally) on the river, cruising to Paducah on the Ohio

We had heard great things about the little town of Paducah, Kentucky, and we weren’t disappointed.  We stayed for two days to relax, explore and let the weather settle.  Paducah is a designated UNESCO Creative City, and it shows! 

dsc_0593Due to the huge fluctuations in water levels and flooding, the city is surrounded by towering flood walls.  There are openings to pass through to get from the waterfront to town, but you can see where there are huge metal gates embedded in the pavement at wall openings to accommodate cars, which slide up the tracks built into the walls should the waters rise. There are also steel door frames on the walking paths that can accommodate “door plugs”.  The floating docks in town slide up and down on the tallest pilings we’ve ever seen!

Paducah Municipal Docks…Thunderbolt, with Misty behind, and Wanderlust in the foreground

Marker on the flood wall showing highest flood levels, and steel flood gate in the road

Nancy was excited to visit The National Quilt Museum, located a few blocks from the municipal docks. With a permanent collection of over 600 quilts, only a fraction are on display in the three large galleries.  

The National Quilt Museum, and the five life-size statues celebrating the Lewis and Clark expedition that includes Lewis, Clark, two Native Americans, and Lewis’ Newfoundland dog, who took the entire journey with them! 

The museum strives to show quilts as art works, and the detail and craftsmanship was amazing!  These are not your Grandmother’s quilts!  Truly breathtaking, and I found myself re-visiting some favorites before heading back to Misty.

Quilt art at the National Quilt Museum, Paducah…Spectacular!

While the National Quilt Museum is widely considered Paducah’s #1 attraction, the city’s “Wall to Wall” Flood Wall Murals are a close second. Created by Robert Dafford and the Dafford Murals team, these 50 life-sized panoramic murals depict Paducah’s rich history on the river, and they’re amazing!  A spectacular way to mask the huge flood walls that surround the city.

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“Wall to Wall”, the Paducah flood wall murals

A monument of Paducah’s extensive railroad history is located downtown along the riverfront wall, across from the Railway Museum.  This locomotive, a 1923 Mikado, along with a baggage-mail car and a caboose, is located at the southern end of the murals.

The town of Paducah is adorable, and we enjoyed wandering around town, enjoying home made pop tarts and macarons from the bakery, and found a Moonshine bar, where we sampled the goods, and did some Christmas shopping!

Enjoying downtown Paducah

After nearly two weeks of cloudy, windy, cold boating, getting through the lock madness south of Chicago, and running long days, we decided that a celebratory dinner was in order!  We enjoyed a fun and delicious meal at Freight House with our traveling partners Meredith and Scotty. Their famed shrimp and grits were incredible, and there was enough for leftovers for both of us!

We were glad to stay in Paducah for a couple of days to let the weather settle.  It was a bit foggy and misty the morning we left, but the rivers were calm, and the sun came out!

Misty morning to leave Paducah

Green Turtle Bay Marina is an iconic Looper destination.  Arriving there is a milestone, because it means that THE RIVERS ARE OVER!  Well, sort of.  We still have to head down the Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway, but the big bad ones are over.  The ongoing debate for this part of the trip is which lock to take to get to Kentucky Lake and/or the Cumberland River:  the Kentucky Lock (a super busy commercial lock) or the Barkley Lock, which is closer to Green Turtle Bay.  However, the Barkley Lock only locks pleasure craft through at 6 am or 6 pm, which would be in the dark.  No thanks!  We instead headed to the Kentucky Lock, where we anchored for 2.5 hours and ate lunch while we waited for our turn in the lock.  It was a beautiful day, so it was no hardship!

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Following Thunderbolt towards Green Turtle Bay

The marina is clean, staff is great, and the facilities…well, there was an indoor pool.  Guess who was happy?

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SO wonderful to be back in the water!

There were a ton of Loopers at the marina:  Valentine, Columba, Domino, Thunderbolt, Pura Vida, Kissed Some Frogs, Wanderlust, Vitamin Sea, Drifters, Shoreline Traveler and Selah Way.  While we only traveled 29 miles, and arrived at 2 pm, we were pooped.  We did take one of the golf carts to explore the resort and go into town with Meredith and Scotty.  We had a blast zipping around, checked out Patti’s 1880 Settlement in town (the restaurant was being rebuilt after being destroyed by a fire, and was expected to open before Christmas), hit the grocery store, and caught up with some Loopers at the Thirsty Turtle, before heading back to the boat to collapse.

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Rob and Scotty on the beach at Green Turtle Bay

Green Turtle Bay is home port for Steve and Vicki/Drifters, who pulled in later that afternoon, officially crossing their wake and earning PLATINUM!!  That means that they have done the Loop twice.  Vicki was doing a happy dance on the bow, thrilled to be done!

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Steve and Vicki, crossing their wake an earning Platinum!

Christmas lights at Patty’s 1880 Settlement

We rented a car, as we were leaving the boat at GTB while we went to visit friends in Eastern Tennessee. We were going to play, Misty was getting an oil change.  But first, we had errands to run, laundry to do, and a well deserved celebration for our friend Zyg/Domino.  Zyg had just “crossed his wake” and completed the Loop!  We first met Zyg in Peterborough, Ontario, and have been traveling together on and off and enjoying his company ever since.  Zyg completed the loop SOLO in his  32′ sailboat!  He only had 4 days left to get home to Nashville, so we got together with Meredith, Scotty and Harold and Debbie/Columba for dinner at the GTB Yacht Club right in the marina to celebrate before he left.  We had a fun time celebrating, reliving the journey, dreaming of “what’s next”, and laughing about the horrible and confusing service, and uneven food at the restaurant!

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Zyg with Domino and his Gold!

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Celebrating Zyg earning his Gold at GTB Yacht Club with Harold, Debbie, Meredith and Scotty (Zyg was behind the camera!)

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Foggy GTB sunrise

We were super excited to get some time off of the boat.  It’s been cold, rainy, and the rivers are either flooded or low, most with crazy currents, and let’s not forget the locks.  Our longtime (24 years!) NJ friends Steve and Donna Suppa now live on Douglas Lake in Dandridge, TN, just east of Knoxville.  Our 5 day visit had a pre-requisite of relax, relax, relax, combined with catch up, catch up, catch up!!  The best part is that their home is spectacular, super comfortable and the perfect place to do just that!

Our first evening at Donna and Steve’s…ahhh!

We spent our first day exactly as planned…doing nothing.  We cooked, we ate, we sat in the hot tub, played games and caught up.  We had a great afternoon ride out on the lake in their pontoon boat, enjoying the sunset just before returning home.