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It took us all day to drive from St. Louis to Lansing, Iowa, and we arrived as the sun was setting.

Fortunately, Lansing is not an expansive town and we found S&S Rentals on Front St. without any difficulty.

The Captain and his skeleton crew were already aboard, but only ahead of us by about half an hour.

All of us were tired but there were bagels and fruit to eat, cocktails made, and by the time darkness fell we were feeling considerably mellower.

I walked out into the night air with a beer and my camera to enjoy the view and breathe in the clear air. It was warm, and a few mosquitos bit, but nothing to fuss over (and certainly nothing at all compared to last year's Ontario jaunt).

We selected cabins to sleep in – tiny, closet-like rooms that fit together as snug as a wooden brick puzzle. The beds were comfortable and the gentle rocking of the boat lulled me to sleep in no time at all.

Next morning we decided to head into town for breakfast before setting out on the river.

The cabin boy and I walked along the single track railway that led up to Main Street, an aging line that seemed too decayed to convey the giant trucks of the Canadian Pacific railway that trundled by every few hours or so. But it did.

We stopped at Milty's Restaurant for a delicious breakfast of eggs and coffee, enlivened further by discussions of politics with the waitress.

Then it was back to the boat to meet Jack who was our trainer and guide for our first sortie onto the Mississippi.

And an involved training it was too, with an hour spent going over controls, equipment and charts before we even left the jetty. Necessary, though. A lot of traffic went up and down the river, ranging from canoes to giant commercial barges, and all of it had to be negotiated in our surprisingly hard to control houseboat.

Ours was a single engine craft, adequately powered but not particularly responsive to the wheel requiring considerable concentration on heading and steering.

The Captain was selected by Jack as the boat's master, and we went through all the drills. This included learning how to beach the boat perpendicularly to the shoreline, hold it steady, and secure it with sand anchors.

After a few tries, the Captain got the hang of controlling the unwieldy craft, and we took Jack back to the dock to unload him and set off downstream and back for a short exploration. This gave me, the cabin boy and the rest of the crew a chance to steer the boat. It was not easy.

While the channel was clear this was not a problem but when we came close to a large barge we needed to be careful.

But we didn't hit anything, and by the end of the afternoon we felt pretty good about our abilities.