Selected excerpts from the book Source to Sea:A Journey down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Contact us for the latest information on release dates and reprint rights.


Flash Floods and Cheese Curds


Fountain City, Wisconsin



Today started out like most Saturdays, as we were on the water at dawn to try and beat some of the boater traffic. Leaving that early gives us a few hours of relative peace and quiet, but once the crowds come out we’re dodging boats and wallowing in all the wakes churned up. I guess it’s only fair to share the river on the weekends—the rest of the week we have it to ourselves.

Fountain City Wisconsin

We were crossing one of the many pools that make up this stretch between Minneapolis and St Louis. It was turning out to be a typical Saturday on the river with lots of recreational boaters out, with lots of recreational beers in hand. I’m not a teetotaler by any stretch but I can’t help but wonder if a guy should be piloting a speedboat while working their way though a six pack.

After a few hours we decided to take a break at Fountain City, Wisconsin. If you’re heading downstream, Fountain City is on the outside of the bend. The outside of a bend is where the water will generally run the fastest. Usually when you go around a curve you want to be on the inside of the bend. There was a small dock to tie up to by the boat ramp, but even so the wakes would cause it to rock every time a barge would some by. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we tied up and walked up the hill to find a place to pick up some snacks. A railroad bridge was about twenty yards away from the ramp. About thirty minutes later that bridge would turn out to be our best friend.

We went out to search for ice cream, at the same time trying to coordinate a time to meet with our buddy Randi who was driving up from Iowa and this was the only place we’d had cell phone reception all day.

We made our phone calls, bought plenty of junk food at a gas station, and headed back to the canoe for a picnic. As we were walking down the street, the wind picked up and the sky turned black.

Jess turned and said “This is going to get interesting.”

That was an understatement.

We made it to the bridge just as the deluge hit. The wind came roaring from the northwest as lightning crashed all around. It was raining so hard you couldn’t see fifteen feet. Things started to get a little hairy under the bridge so we decided to make a run for shelter. By some divine intervention, the closest place was a bar named Joe's Place.

Fountain City sits at the base of a large hill, and traffic was at a standstill as the floodwater came rushing down right through the main street. We ran into the bar and sheepishly dripped in their doorway. It felt just like being back at the Forestry Station Bar and Grill. I wondered why did these places keep popping up in the worst weather. Luck? Faith? Baccuvian intervention? Who knows? Who cares? At least we were out of the storm.

After dripping there for a few minutes I started getting worried about the canoe. The last thing we needed was to lose that thing. Not only would it end the trip, but we’d also lose alot of expensive gear. Neither option was great to think about, so it was back to the maelstrom for me.

As soon as I stepped outside I know I was in for a fun time. Not in a fun "ha ha" kind of way, more like a fun "I can't believe I'm in the middle of this mess instead of nuzzling a beer inside the warm confines of the bar" kind of way. It was raining cats, dogs, frogs, and horses at this point, but there was no way I was going to let that canoe disappear.

There was already foot of water in the street and it was rising quickly. I stayed to the drier spots but was just getting drenched. Eventually I made it down to the dock and found the canoe still intact but filling up with water. At least it hadn’t come loose from its moorings.

By now the ramp was underwater, so I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and jumped for the dock. I untied the painters then pulled the boat back to shore. I piled the gear up on the bank and tied the canoe to a chain link fence. With everything somewhat secure, I could finally relax a bit.

After all that I needed of some food and refreshment. I slogged back up the hill as muddy water continued to pour down the street. Eventually I made it back to the bar where Jess had already met a few some new friends.

I saddle up to the bar and ordered a cold libation. It had been a long day already and there was no use in getting dehydrated. A man has to take care of himself after all.

The bar was sponsoring a drawing for some random prizes that day. We felt lucky so we bought three tickets. First drawing – no luck. Second drawing—no luck. One more drawing—no luck. This wasn’t our day.

After a while I started to get a bit hungry. I looked down the bar for some food and spied a few bowls containing some white, blobby substance.

Not pretzels.
Not peanuts.
Not popcorn.
Cheese curds.

This place was like many others I'd had found myself in over the years. Pool table in the back, neon signs everywhere, and posters promising a good time with fine looking friends if you purchased a particular brand of beverage. The usual suspects were holding down the fort. Instead of the usual bar fare, the good folks of Fountain City Wisconsin were serving bowls of white cheese curds to their patrons. Cheese curds! As in a raw curd of cheese. Really.

Apparently Wisconsians are nuts about cheese in any shape, form, or stage of completion. People were dipped their fingers in to grab globs of curdled white masses dripping with cheese juice. I thought about eating a few, but the thought of multiple fingers mixed with milk products kept getting in the way. I'm no culture snob, but that's too many appendages in that culture for my tastes.Maybe next time.

We paid our tab and headed back to the canoe after things calmed down. Boaters were pulling up to the dock, drenched from the storm. We loaded the canoe, turned downstream, and thanked our lucky stars for yet another place to hide from a storm.