Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Used Car For Sale


Used Car for Sale: 1958 Packard, rust color, could use light body work and may need engine tune up. We had seen a number of car graveyards along the river throughout the day, one with no fewer than eight cars heaped together (it is kind of hard to tell exactly how many there were as they were all huddled together in a rusted mass). One thing the cars had in common, other than being left to decay in the Red River, was that all the chrome parts, such as the bumpers, door handles and some trim, were in perfect condition. There is something to be said for the staying power of chrome.

Chilly nights seemed to be becoming the norm. It was again in the upper 30’s in the morning, but it was really a beautiful morning. While I didn’t want to get out of my tent initially, once I did I could tell that it would warm up quickly.

It was a quiet morning paddling as Kobie and I barely spoke. I don’t know if it was because we were focused on what we were doing, didn’t have anything to say or were just enjoying the wildlife, but we paddled in silence.

There was almost sensory overload with all the wildlife that was out and about: a beaver jumping in the river, a blue heron taking off over there while some deer ran along the banks. I even thought I saw a moose, but it turned out to be a horse on a farm. Nonetheless, that hour before the sun cracks the horizon is still my favorite time of day to paddle.

I had been thinking about the many Great Blue Heron that I had been seeing. I can think of no other avian creature that would better resemble a pterodactyl. The heron look almost prehistoric. I wouldn’t be surprised if in computer generated images that are used for movies they base the pterodactyl on a blue heron.

I was feeling quite sluggish, almost as if I was paddling uphill. In truth, I was. Were I not paddling uphill, I wouldn’t be paddling up river. I was just thankful that the Red River Valley isn’t very steep and not making the job of paddling up river any harder.

Kobie and I didn’t paddle together for any part of the day. For one thing, the river wasn’t really wide enough. Paddling side by side would have been like playing in the marching band. When making a turn, the musician on the inside basically pivots while the one on the outside has to make a good run to keep in line. It is at a time like that you are thankful you play the flute and not the sousaphone.

At one point when we had stopped, I was able to get in touch with my kayak manufacturer to see why they didn’t call me back regarding the problems I was having with my kayak. Actually I didn’t care that they didn’t call me back, but I did want to get to the bottom of my kayak issues. Phone reception was poor, so I left it that I would call them back when I get to the next town. One thing more frustrating than a defective kayak is poor cell phone coverage.

The majority of the day had us paddling East and West, moving only ever so slightly South with each turn. It also seemed that the banks, quite thankfully, were far sandier than they had been.

The afternoons wildlife highlights included an owl, which until this point I had only heard, but not seen. There was also a large number of Canadian Geese. I tried several time to photograph Canadian Geese, but they generally don’t stick around long enough. As soon as one goose spots me, it begins honking soon to be joined by its compatriots. When the cacophony grows to a considerable level, the geese fly off, sometimes just around the next bend, so that we have to go through the whole thing again.

We ended the day at Fort Abercrombie, ND and old military post from the mid 1800’s.

The visitor center for the fort was closed for the season, but had just been redone and was lit up like a Friday night High School football game. There was a picnic shelter and even electricity, but we were kind of exposed to the road.

I went off to town to find water, as we were nearly out. The spigot at the park was shut off for the winter, so that wasn’t an option, but it was a good lesson: we can’t expect to find water in all the places that our map will claim to have water available. Town consisted mainly of a market, the phone company, a firehouse and a bar, all of which were closed, save the bar. All activity in town was firmly centered at the bar. The steak dinner that was being advertised was appealing, but my goal was to fill up on water. I didn’t really want to go into the bar to try and get water

Oddly enough, it wasn’t possible to get water at the firehouse. I ended up knocking on someone’s door and asked if I could use their outside faucet. I would have hated the police to pull up had I not asked and then be arrested for stealing water. That wouldn’t get me very much street cred in jail. While the guy stared at me askance for a moment, he broke his look by saying “sure”.

As I walked back to the Fort I chuckled at how lit up the place was. When I got back to the Fort, Kobie was speaking with one of the curators of the museum out for his nightly bike ride. He told us a bit about the fort and told us to enjoy our night camping, as that what the facilities are for. Our only other visitor for the evening was the town police. I wasn’t surprised as two guys with kayaks are a less than common sight. There had been some problems with vandalism, but after the police officer spoke to us for a bit said, “works for me...have a safe trip”.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Cold Day of Dams, or a Damn Cold Day

It was a chilly morning with the mercury hovering in the low 40’s. Despite the morning being clear and crisp, I still really didn’t want to get out of my nice warm sleeping bag. One of the things I dread the most in the morning is the actual act of getting the kayaks back in the water and then getting myself in the kayak. This morning though the kayaks slid right in and I was able to use a stone as a step to get in the kayak without so much as getting my feet wet.

It was an early start and while I wasn’t a fan of crawling out of my sleeping bag, I just love being on the water before the sun rises above the trees. There is almost always wildlife to be spotted and this morning was no different. As it was just getting light I saw the silhouette of two deer (one a pretty nice six point) on the bank with nothing but the sky behind them. Aside from deer, the other usual suspects were up early, including: heron, hawks and beaver.

The river seemed to hardly be flowing. It was almost like paddling on a lake. While that was enjoyable as we were able to make some time, the morning was slow to warm up. It was only as we were approaching Hickson Dam near lunchtime that I removed my paddle jacket. It became evident that we were nearing the dam as there were bubbles riding the surface of the water, having been created as the river flowed over the dam.

I had some concerns about having to portage around the dam as the map read, “NO IDENTIFIED PORTAGE”, written exactly as such. While the capital letters made me nervous, getting up out of the river was no worse than when we had to go around the rapids under the bridge in Canada. While we were going around the dam, we figured that we were already out of the water so we might as well have some lunch. I was forced to once again don all my cold weather gear as we sat and ate.

There was more wildlife to be spotted in the afternoon, highlighted by a rafter of turkey flying across the river. Why does a turkey cross the river? To roost on the other side, of course.


As the day wore on there seemed to be more river blockages than in the past. For the most part the blockages, consisting mainly of trees, weren’t an issue other than causing a bit of fast water. I grumbled about one section of river as I thought a downed tree went clear across the river, which would have forced us to find some way around. We were able to snake our way through the log jam.

In the early evening we approached our second dam of the day, Christine Dam. My map again gave no indication as to a possible portage again in capital letters. I didn’t think much of it as the previous portage wasn’t bad other than a bit steep on the way back in. Our options were significantly limited in this instance though. It would involve carrying the kayaks up a collection of boulders; swing it around some trees and then the person in the back walk on the dam to get the kayaks up the last little hill.

By the time the kayaks were up and out of the water we were ready to be done for the day. Again, we were already out of the water, so we figured we would use it to our advantage. The only wrinkle to our plan was a bevy of “No Trespassing” signs posted to number of trees. As luck would have it, a name was displayed on the signs, so in one of the rare instances where I had cell phone service, I called information and got the property owners number and gave him a ring. He wasn’t home, or at least not answering his phone.

As that didn’t pan out, I decided to run over to a house about a half mile away and check with them. I have to admit that I have really have had some really good luck when it comes time to ask for permission to camp on private land as they always seem to be outside, or just coming home. The case fell into the latter category. At first I got the usual guarded look of “what are you doing on my property and what do you want”. It generally only takes a few seconds to explain what we are doing and then I usually get a barrage of questions. Once the questions are fully answered the conversation closes with, “no problem”. Thankfully, this time was no different.

I was rather amped as we had a nearly perfect camping spot on private property (I am not a fan of camping in city parks) and a subdued, but reddish sunset over the soybean fields. I fell asleep to the sound of the Red River rushing over Christine Dam.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunny Sunday


I finally managed to get the mud out from under my fingernails and between my toes and it was time to get back out on the river. We only had about 100 miles left to paddle on the Red River, so I was feeling pretty good about getting on the river and cutting into that remaining distance.

Before setting off, Kobie and I met a reporter from the Fargo Forum Newspaper down at the river. The story can be found here, or if that link isn’t working, here.

I had a few aches and pains, but the worst one was realizing that we forgot our lunch food in an ice bucket at the motel. We would have to make do with what we had, as I sure wasn’t going back to the motel to fetch it

The river level had risen about two feet since getting out of the river, but it was still good to get paddling again. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the last of the dams in Fargo. It was marginally annoying having to get out and go around the dam after having just gotten in the water for the day, but at least it was an easy portage.

It was apparent that South Fargo was the upscale area of the city. Houses were nicer and plots of land much larger and well manicured. It seems that they were also hogging all the wildlife. Before getting out of the city proper I saw a number of deer and a rafter of turkey.

As it was Sunday, there were a few people boating on the river, including one thoughtless individual that didn’t even make an attempt to slow down when passing. In such a narrow river, a 14 foot motor boat can leave a steep, sizable wake in and of itself, not to mention it bouncing off the bank and coming back for a second pass. I turned into the wake, which swept over the nose of my kayak all the way to my deck bag. I guess it was good training for what we will get on the Mississippi River. The barge wakes will probably be larger, but the time between the ripples of the wake will not be as frequent and they will not be quite as steep.

It was a calm day, which left me feeling like I was paddling on a lake. Kobie even mentioned that it was probably the calmest day of the trip.

I had paddled on ahead as I was in a rhythm. I would periodically peek over my shoulder to check if Kobie was there and at one point thought that I hadn’t seen him for at least a half hour. I stopped and waited. I waited some more and then more still. No Kobie. We have a series of signals using a whistle, allowing us to communicate without seeing one another. I signaled to Kobie but heard nothing. As I was about to go back and look for him he appeared from around a bend and paddled up river. Apparently I didn’t hear his whistle blasts either as he had been signaling. He had capsized.

I didn’t witness the event, but Kobie mentioned that as he paddled along near the bank, his rudder became hooked on something. As he turned around to free himself he drifted under an overhanging tree one of the branches on the tree hooked his PFD and dumped him straight over. And as it was “one of the calmest days of the trip”, he didn’t have his cockpit cover on. While it is never a pleasant experience to get overturned involuntarily, it is even less enjoyable not having the cockpit cover attached as the kayak quickly fills with water. Fortunately, the river was shallow enough that Kobie could stand and get himself righted.

In general the banks were quite shallow with little mud. In addition there was nothing in the way of brambles guarding the shore.

The afternoon seemed to zip right on by, having covered 10 miles in a flash. The possibilities to camp were significantly better than they had been for the last few weeks and we were able to find a flat patch of ground with no mud whatsoever. It was certainly one of our better campsites. By 6:30 though I was driven into my tent by a mix of mosquitos and rain.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fargo, Again

One day never seems enough to get all the errands taken care of. While I have to ensure the logistics of the kayak trip run smoothly, I also have to pay bills and tend to things in the real world. Not least of which is my financial situation which, like everyone else has been taking a beating.

Being that Wall Street is still in my blood, I spent a good deal of time looking over the 700 Billion dollar bailout plan. I didn’t really as in depth as I would have liked, at least not to the point of having an educated conversation regarding the situation. I do however generally feel that we are a capitalist country and the government should generally get out of the way. I have always thought that it is the government’s job to provide roads, military and other mandatory public services. It seems though that the government is leaning towards socialism. While I wouldn’t trade what I am doing for the world, I really miss Wall Street.

Somewhat related to that I had the presidential debate to digest. This trip is about kayaking, not politics, so I will leave it at that.

I finished my night by taking a dip in the hot tub. I am pretty sure the early settlers and runners of the river did it somewhat differently.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Rock On, Fargo

We started out by doing the usual chores: cleaning our gear, laundry and resupplying our food stock. One other thing on my "to do" list was call the folks who manufactured my kayak. I got someone straight away, but he wasn’t sure what the story might be with the kayak, so he said he would ask around and get back to me either later in the day or have someone ring me the following day. Neither happened.

Kobie and I hopped the bus to the west side of town, via the downtown area. There was little going on downtown, but Kobie was familiar with it as not only did he have to change buses there on his way to Winnipeg from Minneapolis prior to this trip, but he passed right through on a cross country bike ride last year.

While I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything interesting as far as an outfitter was concerned, I was greatly surprised in finding a place called Sheels. While most outfitters in the area cater to hunting and fishing, Sheels had something for everyone. It was total kid in a candy store syndrome. I went straight for the hockey section and looked over some skates. They now make skates out of carbon fiber that run in the $600 range and should last a season. I worked my way though the fly fishing section and over to the paddling area. Were I in need of anything, they would probably have had it.

The highlight of the day though was dinner with a couple, Wayne and Sharon, that we met the week earlier at Belmont Park / Frog Point. They were on their way back up to Belmont Park and were going to swing through Fargo and grab us for dinner. As when they made us dinner the week prior, I enjoyed the conversation. I find it so interesting speaking to people who have grown up in different parts of the world. It is always an education

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fargo, ND

I didn't think it would really be possible to get such a goods nights sleep in a tent as close to a city with an effective population of 130,000 between Fargo, ND / Moorhead, MN. It could be that I knew I would be in a motel by the end of the day so I wasn't in the least bit stressed out. 5:30 did however come around rather quickly. It was anther morning setting out as it was just light enough to make out where we were going.

The morning was overcast and there were huge bolts of lightning in the distance. We weren’t all that concerned as the lightening was far enough away and we didn’t have far to go. We took it easy in the morning as we knew it would be a short day. There were a few odd smells along the river that changed quickly. The scent of freshly baked cookies would give way to burning corn to laundry detergent.

It was obvious that we were nearing Fargo proper as the muddy banks gave way to concrete banks and flood control walls.

When we got to Fargo, ND / Moorhead, MN we had the first of the three city dams to deal with. In checking the map, in bold letters it stated: NO IDENTIFIED PORTAGE. It turned out not to be so bad as there was a new narrow concrete ramp just before the dam. Getting back in the river was also easier than I thought it might be as we were able to jump right in.

Paddling in the controlled water environment was fantastic. There was little current and no cross-currents of any kind. We were zipping along at four miles per hour without out pushing it. It felt as if I was paddling in air.

If portaging the first dam was easy, the second was a non event. There was a boat ramp on each side of the river. What more could we ask for? As we were portaging we also met up with a local TV station, WDAY who put together snippet that I can’t seem to find on-line.

We were going to leave the third dam for the next day and get off the river in Lindenwood Park, which had carry in access. The real trick was going to be finding a motel that could house both us as well as our kayaks in some way.

As we walked along, not a few hundred yards from the park we met Maureen, a Fargo local. After speaking for a few minutes she offered her yard as storage space until we were going to set back out on the river. Not only that, but she then gave us a lift to a motel, twice. Once when we were sussing out our options and then again as we returned for some of our gear. Unbelievable. The kindness of the people we met on the trip is unprecedented. Thank you everyone.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Throwing Rocks

I had a very reasonable nights sleep considering I slept in a barn. It is always a good night if I wake up fewer than six times. It took quite a bit of time to get all the gear packed up as everything was so hastily thrown together in the storm last night.

While the morning was cold, I did have a hat and gloves. In addition, I thought that would be good in reducing the mosquito population. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue and the wind was light. The first five miles in the morning just drifted away.

Since leaving Winnipeg I had seen many farm buildings in various states of disrepair. I always wondered if the buildings were designated historical buildings so that they couldn’t be taken down, if the buildings were abandoned or if there was some other explanation entirely. At the very least I would take the structures down to use them as firewood.

As the day warmed up I stripped down to my PFD on my upper body. I always enjoy the complete unrestricted movement while paddling. Also, I will probably never know when it is the last time I can paddle without a shirt with the cold weather moving in.

The river narrowed markedly to the point where I could throw a rock across it. I thought about just that. I didn’t want to just say that I could do it; I wanted to do it so there was no hyperbole.

For lunch, Kobie and I stopped at the junction where the Cheyenne River entered the Red as there was a low bank where we could sit and dine. After lunch I went back to the thought of throwing a rock across the river, but had one problem: I couldn’t find a rock. As I searched I had to settle for a hardened clump of mud. I heaved the projectile and while it broke up in mid flight, the majority of it reached the opposite bank, which I consider that a success. Either the river was in fact narrow or I have a really good arm. Given how tired my arms were from paddling, the smart money would be on the former.

The river was different than up north as there were now many tighter turns as opposed the big loops. The river didn’t have the power to carve wider turns. Paddling had become easier as the water flow had dropped, but now there was so much debris in the water, mostly in the form of downed trees, but also of old farm machinery and household goods, that the river was a veritable obstacle course. One of the bigger problems was that we regularly encountered was when a downed tree blocked a majority of the river width, causing 100% of the water to run through 40% of the space. It involved some vigorous paddling to make it around some of the partial dams. Also, even when the river was clear, Kobie and I weren’t able to reasonably paddle next to one another.

It was rough going in the afternoon. At times it felt as if the viscosity of the river actually changed and not to our benefit. Part of my frustration was that my kayak was still misbehaving. Not only did it want to constantly turn left, but the skeg, which is meant to keep me running straight, was wobbling back and forth bouncing off the sides of the skeg box. That was when it wasn’t just flat out vibrating.

As we neared Fargo I saw the first Red River mileage sign, which my map claimed would be all over the river. I guess I just missed the others as the first one I saw was at Mile 440.

Nearing large cities it gets more difficult to find places to camp. I had called the Parks department in Moorhead, MN across the river from Fargo, ND and asked about camping in one park north of town, but was told that there is no camping under any circumstances. While the park didn’t pan out, we were able to find a small wooded peninsula where we could hide for the night. While the campsite was fairly secluded from people, we were discovered by a deer. The deer came by every couple of minutes and snorted in anger only to return shortly thereafter. This went on for a half hour before I got out of my tent and hurled a stick in its direction. Where is that deer in hunting season?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moo

It was another stormy night. While we learned not to camp under trees with dead branches, I was concerned about live ones coming down with the wind we were having. As a gust of wind would pick up, the pitch of it blowing through the trees grew ever higher. I kept thinking,”OK, that’s it”, but the wind would blow harder still, further increasing the pitch as it wound through the treetops. As in the past though, we were lucky as the rain had cleared by morning, leaving it unusually warm.

I have a routine in the morning that if necessary, I wear my long paddling gloves and a head net, in essence, leaving no part of skin exposed. Being that I had forgotten my head net in Randy’s car, so I had to defend myself as we departed Mosquito Hill in a rush.

It was still completely dark when we set off, but were able to use the moonlight to make sure we didn’t run into anything. In avoiding obstacles it helped, but was no guarantee staying in the middle of the river.

Kobie wasn’t feeling all that great as his back and neck were giving him a little trouble, much as mine had in the first week of the trip. I knew exactly what he was going though as I was in the same situation a few weeks prior. Aside from the fact that it is in general no fun to feel less than 100%, that displeasure is multiplied when physical activity is requited and there are no creature comforts available.

Despite injury and fatigue we were able to slog along, covering 14 miles by the time we stopped for lunch. We may not have had Fargo, ND in our sights, but it was in our heads and we wanted to cover some ground so as to get us there as soon as possible for some well earned and needed rest.

In the afternoon the wind had died completely and I was witness to a curious sight. At first I thought I saw a small beaver swimming across the river, but it turned out to be a brown squirrel. I guess I never really thought about whether squirrel swim as I had never seen one in the act.

We had planned on ending our day at a carry in access point and camping at a county park. It was a disappointment to say the least that not only was there no easy carry in access, but the county park had been leased to the local black powder rifle club and camping was not permitted. Would you really want to with all those rifle blasts?

Across the road from the park was a cattle farm. In the segregation of duties of this trip it is my job to secure us permission to camp, so off I went to speak to the farmer. The farmer was pleasant and didn’t mind in the least if we set up our tents behind his tool shed. We would however have to be mindful of a single wire electric fence and may face the periodic bovine. Given the day we had and the terrible time getting the kayaks out of the water, we were grateful to be camping in a cow pasture.

Kobie and I set up our tents and while there was a little noise from the nearby bridge, thought that it was a decent camping spot, albeit a bit exposed. We jumped in our tents to have dinner and just as I was getting out to pass something to Kobie, a storm came out of nowhere. Ten minutes prior there was a clear sky to the point where Kobie and I talked about photographing the sunset.

The wind blew and it blew hard. The end of my tent pitched to the wind was buckling under the strain. While the tent was firmly staked down, the tent was still making a noise akin to a flag snapping in a brisk breeze. As it hadn’t started raining, Kobie thought it might be a good idea to move the tents. While I really didn’t want to get out and move, it was probably the smarter idea, but it was all precluded by rain.

While we probably would have lasted the night out there, we wouldn’t have gotten any sleep whatsoever, so again I was at bat. The farmer was moving his car in the garage, so I asked if we could pitch nearer his house, using an outbuilding as a wind break. He did us one better by giving us the go ahead of staying in the barn.

We had to run back and forth with our gear, shuttling it from the tents to the barn until we could get the tents down, each time dodging the electric fence in the dark. When we finally got all our gear in the barn, we paused as if out of a movie with the actors wringing wet having come out of a storm.

We set up the mesh screen from one of the tents to keep the mosquitos off and shared that for the night. We were also sharing the barn with a black cat, which to us was not a bad sign but rahter a good one. We figured it would keep the mice or rats away. Again, we were grateful for our campsite.

I had woken up several times during the night as usual and was able to see out the barn as there was no door on the front of it. The first time I woke up it was still overcast and raining, but when I woke up later, I looked up and saw a sky full of stars. I sighed and feel into a deep slumber.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rain, Mosquitos and Wind, Oh My

I got very little sleep as there was high wind and heavy rain along with thunder and lightning. What struck me as odd was that someone was milling about the boat ramp at 4 AM in what can best be described as inclement weather. Given who was hovering about the prior evening, it gave us some cause for concern, though it was most likely a hard core fisherman. Miscreants are always a concern when camping in somewhat public areas, but this night, as with all others to date, we didn’t have any problems.

Fortunately the morning was clear so we didn’t have to worry about paddling in a storm. I drove into town to pick up our supplies and when I got back Randy was waiting at the boat ramp to send us off. His kindness was quite unbelievable. I was fairly certain Kobie and I would meet tons of nice people on this trip, but my expectations were dwarfed.

There seemed to be many more shallow spots in river as we paddled on. There had been numerous areas with shallow water before, but not nearly as many. We had to make an effort to steer further around the outside of banks, no more taking the line a race car driver would choose navigating the bends.

Despite all the rain overnight, the river didn’t really rise. The wind gave us no break though as it was howling straight out of the south for the second day. As I paddled, the water drops coming off the end of my paddle blew straight into my face. I also learned that paddling against the wind is much like getting a plane to fly. It takes an inordinate amount of lift and thrust to get a plane aloft as opposed to solely keep it from dropping out of the sky. I have seen many an airline passenger give the armrest a white knuckle grip when the pilot throttles back after take off. It is the same with a kayak. Once up to speed, it is much easier to maintain that tempo against the wind. One of the main differences between the plane and kayak example as far as I am concerned is that a pilot simply has to give the aircraft a little more throttle whereas I have to manually paddle like the dickens.

I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, or at least didn’t notice it, possibly because I was gritting my teeth and focused on paddling. Despite the harsh wind though, the afternoon brought more in the way of shelter from the wind in that the river seemed to be looping east and west with only small sections of the river running south. In a narrow river like the Red, it is easy to change which bank we are paddling against to avoid the wind. When we get to the Mississippi River though, it will be a different ballgame as the river is several miles wide in spots.

While concentrating on paddling I did notice that leaves are changing color and some trees are dropping their leaves. It can only mean on thing: Autumn. It may be a bit of an oxymoron, but I thought the scenario brought life to the river, at least in color. It gave me something to look at other than green brambles and a muddy brown river.

Late in the day we realized that there was too much mud in the area for good camping, but after having paddled a hard day finally settled on a place we dubbed Mosquito Hill. I was so tired and really didn’t feel like doing anything, but knew I had no choice. I did everything I could to get my tent up as quickly as possible and dive right in. As I scrambled to set up the tent while fending off the persistent mosquitos I thought back to my bike ride earlier in the year and knew I made the right decision staying in a hotel each night. No bugs, a hot shower and a comfortable bed.

I was thrilled that we had found a place to camp, but I had never in my life seen more mosquitos than were hovering about looking for a meal. I say that I have never seen more mosquitos as I didn’t think there were any more. Period. It seemed that every mosquito on the planet was within a ten foot radius of our tents.

It was quite warm after my harried effort to get into shelter, so I sat in my tent for a few minutes to relax and cool down. As I sat there I heard a constant high pitched drone. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was a large collection of mosquitos trying to gain entry to my tent. The noise sounded like a remote control car rally, with their miniature engines whining. I sat in the tent and watched the mosquitos attack the screen. I had absolutely no intention whatsoever to exit the tent for any reason until morning, so it was a can of cold soup for dinner. After dinner I used the can as a spittoon while brushing my teeth and convinced myself that I didn’t need to go to the bathroom.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kindness

To continue along the same vein as the previous night had ended, I was woken at some indiscriminate hour by what I can only guess was a turkey ambling around our campsite, clucking away. Rounding out the theme of the campsite we had chosen I was able to smell a skunk just outside my tent. Kobie and I would dub the campsite, quite aptly I believe, “The Zoo”.

Kobie and I had planned another 5:30 wake up call hoping to beat at least a few mosquitos to the punch, but it was to no avail. As I rushed to take down my tent in the dark I thought, "Were a mosquito looking for an honest job, I would hire him in an instant. They are persistent as all get out, they work well alone or in groups and they, much to my dismay, work all hours of the day or night". I would even let them wear khakis and leave the tie at home on Fridays.

Once getting out on the river and leaving the campsite behind, it was a perfect morning: there was but a light current, zero wind, cool temperature, I saw about a dozen deer in the first hour and best of all I was kayaking to the Gulf of Mexico. That hour before the sun crests the top of the tree line is my favorite time to paddle. I also enjoy the evenings, but along with the evening comes the hunt for a place to camp.

We knocked off 12 miles by 12 noon, due mostly to our early departure. Conditions were perfect in the morning and I was in an all around good mood. It was another one of those days that I was thrilled to be out on the water; at least in the morning anyway.

The afternoon was a much different affair. It all started with me losing one of my water shoes off the back deck of my kayak after leaving our lunch spot. Kobie pointed it out before we made in any distance, so I went back to have a look, but it was claimed by the Red River, perhaps to be found by a couple of kayakers in another 50 years. Not that I was going to wear one shoe, but to add insult to injury I lost the good shoe, instead of the one with a hole in it.

The switch for the wind had been turned on and as usual the knob was turned to high…in our direction. I was able to clearly see the wind pushing across the water, leaving ripples in its wake. I was able to prepare for the gusts as there was no mistaking them coming up the river. The change in wind turned a fantastic morning into a rough afternoon.

We pulled up the boat ramp in the town of Halstad, MN and while my map showed that camping near the boat ramp was permitted, a sign indicated otherwise. While Kobie watched our gear, I ran into town to see what was going on. I asked a couple of people in town about the camping situation and the common thought was that it would probably be OK; no one would give us a hard time.

Just after getting back to the boat ramp a gentleman by the name of Randy stopped by. After speaking to Randy for a bit he offered to take me on the back of his ATV to check out another possible campsite a little ways off. While the other campsite didn’t pan out, Randy, being a lover of the outdoors knew some of what we were going through. With that Randy inquired as to what we wanted as he would get it for us. A short time later, Randy returned with some ice cream for Kobie and me. He also returned with his wife, an extra car and an invitation to use their shower and soak in their hot tub. If I were able to choose anything within reasonable possibility along the river after several days of paddling, a hot tub would certainly near the top of the list. I said that I would be there.

As Kobie and were getting setup, there was a guy milling about, inching closer and closer eyeing down our stuff. It was just one of those situations that made us feel uncomfortable. We ended up talking with the guy and he was probably harmless, but again, we weren’t feeling it. I had a good laugh when we were talking about Fargo and he suggested that we put the kayaks on the bicycle racks of the bus to get to a motel. It's not like we were describing the kayaks to someone and they couldn't guage how long 17 feet is. The guy had actually seen them. I guess it just didn’t occur to him that the kayak would stick out four feet on each side of the bus.

In any event, it’s not like we have much of value, but it would be a bummer if any of our stuff walked off. With that we didn’t want to leave our things along, much less only have one of us there after dark. I said I would stop by Randy’s, so, off course, I had to go. And while I was there, I figured I might take that shower he offered. I would have loved to jump in the hot tub, but I didn’t want to leave Kobie by himself. It was difficult to leave as they were so nice and we started looking at photos from the 97 flood, but they gave me those go along with some homemade cookies and drove off in the car they lent us. I couldn’t believe it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wheeeeeeee

It was an exercise in misery trying to get our kayaks up the mud slicked boat ramp a day earlier, but on this day we were going the other direction. I climbed in my kayak near the top of the ramp and Kobie gave me a solid push, sending me sliding down the mud covered ramp a good 25 feet into the river. At times, most of the time really, I am a big kid. It was the most fun I had had in several days.

It was another day with a post card sunrise and another day with a light wind against us, gathering power as the day wore on. Surprisingly, the river widened. I was expecting the river to continue shrinking narrower until we reached the narrowest point at the source, where the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers converge to form the Red River of the North.

A similar oddity of the river was that the high water mark looked to be nearly eight feet higher than the current water level. The prior day it was only at four feet, a rather large jump for a small number of river miles.

The river was running in fits and starts throughout the day. Some sections of the river were barely moving whereas others rushed along as the water was funneled along a downed tree. There was also a series of islands that appeared in the middle of the river. It mixed things up a bit as it gave us a choice as to which path we would take around the island, though in the end we wound up paddling along the same river, with the same steep muddy banks, that had the same brambles growing just above the same water line, which were inhabited by the same mosquitos.

During the morning paddle we witnessed a casualty of the Red River. There was what looked to be a fiberglass Jon boat suctioned to the silt/clay mud of the red river, leaving only a small section of the bow above the surface of the running water. I still can’t figure out if most of the debris we see in the river is due to heavy flooding where people don’t have their possessions tied down tightly enough, or if folks are trying to get rid of some things that are past their prime and decide to launch them down river towards Canada.

While the morning was quite cool, as we sat down to lunch things began warming up. Some people have inquired what types of things we eat on the trip and for this particular lunch we had baloney & cheese sandwiches with tomato, avocado, & mayo. It was a fairly typical lunch for us. I carry a little cooler and really, items that are supposed to be refrigerated last far longer than the USDA would suggest. For the longer stretches between towns, we do have the requisite jar of peanut butter, although we still have the same jar we left Winnipeg with.

Other than the sore muscles of the arms and shoulders, I am feeling quite good. While kayaking, the majority of the power in a stroke should come from the core muscles in your trunk, but the arms and shoulders get a solid workout as well. To try and get a handle on what we are doing, think about going to the gym and doing some curls. Nothing crazy here, lets just grab a five pound weight in each hand and start doing curls. No problem, right? Now do that for eight hours. And again the next day and the next and, well, you get the idea. Other than fatigued muscles there is the odd callus forming on my hand and a rash developing on my lower back from the friction of my seat, but all in all, I am feeling just fine.

In the early evening we began looking for a campsite, but anything that was level enough to land our kayaks on was too muddy. We were also near farm land that had sheep grazing on it, so that took away a significant amount of real estate. It took us a half an hour to find a campsite that was marginal at best, but it would be our home for the night. Little did we know what we had in store and for once it wasn’t mosquitos. We were still within earshot of the bleating sheep, not to mention that shortly after getting set up there was the hooting of an owl coming from the trees, though I managed to fall asleep. I was later woken to a start by howling coyote. We knew that there weren’t many coyote in the area, but these sounded as if they were just across the river. While Kobie woke up as well, he managed to drift off to sleep much quicker than I.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pleasant day Paddling

Kobie and I arose before sunrise to try and evacuate before the mosquitos attacked, but it was to no avail. The mosquitos picked up right where they left off, driving us back on the river without breakfast. All of our gear was hastily thrown in our kayaks and we made a break for it in a less than eloquent manner. We slid our kayaks down the bank, jumped in and paddled off with a trail of mosquitos in tow.

It was evident that is was going to be a warm day as I began to sweat within minutes of setting off. I was however covered from head to toe in fleece clothing to keep the mosquitos at bay, but that all came off in short order. While we sat in our kayaks on the river disrobing we also had a bit of breakfast.

It was a relatively uneventful morning, but as I learned in my travels, it is usually those hum-drum sort of days where something colossal happens to break the monotony. In truth I was quite happy for the monotony as long as it meant there was no wind, which turned out to be the case. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it warmed up to the mid-80's. It was the warmest day since leaving Winnipeg, or at least that is what the amount of perspiration on my brow was telling me.

We have been seeing quite a few beaver splashing into the river as we paddled near, but haven't really gotten a good look at any until today. For some unknown reason there were an inordinate number of beaver out and about. The best look we got was when a family of three beaver casually made their way from the bank into the water, seemingly uninterested in what we were doing.

With the drop in the river level and the weaker current we were able to average a speed of just under three Miles Per Hour. While we were grateful for the slow moving river, it gave us some concern about the Bois de Sioux, the river which we will need to paddle following the Red. The Bois de Sioux is small on any map I had seen and if the Red River is dropping, the Bios de Sioux may but nothing more than a muddy hiking path for us.

We had a planned stop for the day at a campground that was listed on my map. Georgia, our friend from last night, confirmed that it was still there, so we weren’t going to have a repeat of the night we had to push on to Drayton Dam.

At the spot my map had designated there was a boat ramp as planned. It was however, completely covered in about five inches of mud. We paddled past the ramp thinking there might be another way to get up to the park, but we were out of luck. As we turned around and paddled down the river to the boat ramp, Kobie clocked his speed at over six Miles Per Hour and that was with an easy current. We reveled in the thought of what the Mississippi River might bring.

Back at the mud covered boat ramp I got a solid start and ran my kayak up the ramp as far as I could, only to slide back down into the river. Kobie found the best way to get up was to exit his kayak in the water, fasten a rope to his kayak, navigate the ramp and once on dry ground above the boat ramp, pull the kayak up.

Our home for the night was Belmont Park at Frog Point, ND, just down the rode from Climax, MN, and surprisingly not an Amish town like Intercourse, PA. It wasn't long before we had a few visitors. We kind of stick out with kayaks in tow and as an article about us appeared in the paper this morning, people were wise to us.

We had the pleasure of meeting Ron, the County Commissioner and also the supervisor of the campsite. He told us that we could find a marking on a tree designating the high water mark from the flood of 1997. He mentioned that the river was about 18 feet higher than its current level and that last week the water was six or eight feet higher than it was now. We also met two fantastic people, Wayne and Sharon who have traveled to some degree and enjoyed getting away from home by coming out to the campground on the weekends.

After getting set up I grabbed Kobie’s computer and tried to catch up on some writing. I was interrupted several times by some drunken yahoos that at one point came over rattling a woodsman’s axe and making various comments about me, which I ignored. If that is that worst of what I have to put up with in some of the campgrounds I will consider myself lucky.

In the evening Wayne and Sharon invited us to their camper for some barbecue. While barbecued chicken was a big draw and certainly better than what Kobie and I had planned for dinner, it was great to talk to people interested in our travels and that really enjoyed the outdoors.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moving On

It was difficult to leave the comfort of our motel, but we had an appointment to meet a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald down at the river. That story can be found here. As Kobie and I stood and spoke to the reporter we were blasted by a south wind, meaning it was going to be a tough day of paddling for us.

As we set off I felt fantastic. I was a new man after two days rest. That being said, I knew I would be sore the following morning. I was just happy being back out on the river and it didn't take long to get out of Grand Forks proper.

There was little wildlife throughout the day, with one Bald Eagle being the notable exception.

It was quite apparent that the level of the river had dropped quite significantly. In the morning, by watermarks on the shore we were able to tell that the river had dropped two feet. By the afternoon the drop in the river level was over four feet. Notice the change in the color of the bank in the photo where the water level had dropped. We thought that as we were traveling further south we were getting away from the mud. As it turns out, it was just that it hadn't rained in a bit and the banks of the river were relatively dry.

After lunch the wind picked up further and there really wasn't anyplace to hide, so we just paddled on. With the drop in the river, the flow was not nearly as hard as it had been so at least that offset the force of the wind to some degree. Another point of solace on windy days is that when we get to a campsite, the wind usually keeps the mosquitos away. The hitch in that plan is that in the evening, just as we are making camp the wind usually drops off.

I had a supremely frustrating afternoon of paddling as my kayak was misbehaving. The tendency to pull to the left was really getting to me and to the point where I wanted to douse the thing with kerosene and set it alight. As I had to constantly correct for the kayak I had to paddle on the left side of the boat far more than should be necessary, much to my chagrin. My arm and shoulder muscles are building unevenly and I am starting to look like a fiddler crab.

Kobie even pointed out that at times when I am go against the grain and try to make a right turn I don’t look so much as if I am making a right turn rather than battling it. This just can’t continue; especially not when I just paid a few thousand dollars for an oversized piece of Tupperware.

The evening left us on private property, but true to the rest of the trip, we were given to go ahead to set up near the river. Georgia, the owner of the property mentioned that she had seen the article about us in the paper. Not that anyone has denied us permission to camp on their property, but having been in the paper should give us the benefit of the doubt, were anyone to have any about permitting us to camp on their property.

Shortly after getting the go ahead and setting up down by the river Georgia came down from the house and asked if we wanted to camp up there or even sleep in their pontoon boat in an effort to evade the mosquitos. It was another one of those situations where we were already set up and were just about to climb into our tents for the night, so it would have been more effort than it was worth.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Real Rest Day

It was a true day of rest. While we did have a few things to do, we had taken care of the lion’s share of our chores the previous day. It's so rare that we get an actual day to rest. We felt that after the paddling we had done in the past few days our bodies could use the break. The problem with paddling everyday is that muscle fiber doesn't have a chance to repair itself, so muscles don't really become any stronger, just more fatigued.

While Kobie won't be able to do so, I mailed my passport off as I wouldn't need it any longer. I already had one that was destroyed, so I am somewhat overprotective of this one. Besides, it has a bunch of cool visas and stamps in it.

The busiest part of our day involved looking though the gun collection at the local outfitter. It was a good time cruising through there with Kobie as he used to be a firearms instructor. While I know a bit about guns, Kobie was pointing all sorts of things that only an experienced marksman would know. I am sure it is fun for him as well, as he has been living in Singapore for the last five years where guns are only for military and police.

Being in town for a few days we stuffed ourselves with all manner of fast food and other things that aren't all that healthy so I pretty much had my fill. I think I am ready to get back to some camp food.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Errands


It was so pleasant to wake up in a comfortable bed. It was a bit of an effort to tear myself out of it, but I knew I had to get the day started. Kobie and I decided to give the chambermaid the day off, because really, there was zero floor space to vacuum and we had all the towels we needed. A couple of 17 foot kayaks would probably have been one of the more interesting things she saw in a room though.

Kobie and I checked out Grand Forks, which reminded me a bit of Mobile, AL in the style of architecture in the old parts of town. The tall buildings found in downtown Mobile were absent, but nonetheless, I thought of Mobile. One thing Grand Forks had that I didn't see in Mobile was a cairn indicating the high water marks for various floods, with 1997 taking the infamous top spot.

We spent the day loading up on groceries, visiting the outfitter, doing laundry and even took in a movie. A word of advice to all moviegoers out there, give Tropic Thunder a miss.

Having one computer between the two of us somewhat limits the amount of updating I can do on my website especially that I still have to e-mail, answer questions and take care of my life in general. It always seems that the first day off in town zips on by without having really accomplished much. Cleaning our kayaks and gear generally takes the better part of the morning. With that, we decided to take a second day off in Grand Forks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

East Grand Forks, MN


We began paddling at first light in an effort to get to town as soon as possible. On days we know we will end up in town, we try to arrive as early in the day as possible. It really is nice to have that half day in town to start sorting out laundry, resupplying, and doing other things, such as eating on a table as opposed to on a rotted out tree trunk. I also generally enjoy having access to the other things I have voluntarily given up which man has worked thousands of years to earn.

The closer we get to a town the more our chatter seems to drift towards us being in the town. Conversation grows more concentrated on the things we want to do in town or what we are hoping the town might have. When we have four days to the next town there is the casual mention that perhaps it would be nice to get away from the mosquitos and have a shower. By the day before arriving in town we describe in vivid detail what we are going to do, going to eat and most of the time have our menu choices carefully planned out. Not every town has our restaurant of choice and that can at times lead to disappointment, but it doesn't last long as we are just happy to be in civilization .

Surprisingly, the river ran in near straight line into the city of Grand Forks. Of course my use of "straight line" is relative as there were numerous bends, but we did cover much more distance heading south than on any other day paddling a similar number of river miles.

Before arriving in the city of Grand Forks, ND Kobie and I had to portage around a dam. While getting out was straightforward, getting back in involved some bushwhacking. The best part of it all was that it was being captured by the local TV station, WDAZ. They threw together a little snippet about the trip, which can be found here.

When arriving in East Grand Forks, Kobie and I weren't sure what to expect, but were told that there was an outfitter in town where we might be able to pick up a few things that we needed. The bigger problem was what to do with kayaks if we were going to stay in a motel.

We were able to tackle the kayak issue with the assistance of a very friendly hotel manager at the Plaza Motel in east Grand Forks. He didn't seem to mind if we went ahead and brought the kayaks right in our room.

As our kayaks were filthy we sat out on the sidewalk of the main road though east Grand Forks and washed our kayaks. We did get a fair number of looks from passers by. The real trick was to actually et the kayaks in the room. I could tell without the use of a measuring tape that the room was exactly 17 feet long, as my kayak went from wall to wall with only millimeters to spare. It didn't make it easy to navigate around the room as we constantly had to step over our kayaks, but at least I knew they were safe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Surfing USA


It was a windy, rainy night, which meant little sleep. It also took us somewhat longer to get ourselves packed up than normal, so we were a bit late for our breakfast appointment. Bud and Joanne were waiting for us and put on a massive feed. They used to have five children living at home, Joanne mentioned that she is used to cooking.

It was great speaking to the couple as they had so many good stories to tell. In this day and ae we have so many ways to document things, but unfortunately, so many stories will die with the people who lived them. Among other stories, Bud mentioned that there was no electricity on the farm upon which he grew up until 1949. Let me repeat that, no electricity. Kids today can't even relate to being without the internet for a day, much less without harnessed electricity. Breakfast was more than I could have hoped for, but eventually Kobie and I had to tear ourselves away to get back to paddling the swollen river. We here however sent off with a doggie bag. Thank you so much Bud & Joanne.

The river looked significantly different from the previous day. The water level had risen over another foot and many plants were under water. There was also a significant amount of debris floating down river past us. The changed river made for a more difficult morning in that the water was running harder against us, but also that we had to dodge the debris coming down river.

We did catch a break as the wind was blowing at our back. In the afternoon the wind picked up and assisted in shoving us along. On a long straight section of the river the wind was kicking up waves running in our direction. Kobie and I were actually able to surf the one footers for several hundred yards before they lost momentum and our kayaks slowed to a near stop. The waves mixed things up and certainly made for a fun half hour on the river.

Camping, as usual, was on a steep muddy bank. I was asleep by nine and woke up to a noise outside. I was hoping I had slept most of the night through, but it was eleven. A skunk wandered through our camp to check things out. I was happy in the fact that he didn't stick around very long.

I generally have a fair bit of concern for our kayaks overnight. If for no other reason than they are our form of transportation. I tend to sleep better though when we are able to get our kayaks up right next to our tents. Some nights it just isn't possible to get the kayaks up the bank of the river, so we have to leave them tied up just off the river unattended. The area we have been paddling in has been so desolate that there shouldn't be that much concern, but I am from New York City, While not a misanthrope, I do firmly believe in taking care of my possessions.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oslo, Minnesota

It should be no surprise that we were chased out by mosquitos in the morning. The tall grass was an ideal hiding place for them and as we got up and packed the tent away, we must have woken them up.

While the river pushed against us, it was mirror smooth, broken only by the periodic branch breaking the surface or rising fish in search of an easy meal riding along on the current. Deer were waking and rising from the tall grass near the river. I never tire of the mornings on the river, not just that it means we have broken camp and escaped the wrath of the mosquitos, but that with every paddle stroke we inch our way closer to the Gulf of Mexico.

Around mid-day things on the river can become a little stale, but it gives me the opportunity to look at things on a finer scale. One good example is that I noticed when a pelican takes flight, its feet move in a hopping motion as opposed to other avian creatures such as the Canadian Goose, which employs a running strategy. OK, I think some of you may have actually died of boredom reading that sentence and it is probably information that I will not ever need or reference ever again in my entire life, but it is one of the nuances of nature I get to observe first hand each and every day as I paddle along.

Another observation is that when looking at the water when I paddle it appears as if I am moving quite quickly. Unfortunately for me though the river is traveling in one direction while I travel in the other. It is the same as two cars driving in opposite directions. While the two are moving away from one another at a good clip (their combined speed), each car is moving much slower when measuring from fixed point. Glancing from the water over to the land confirms that fact, somewhat painfully I might add. When using the river bank as a frame of reference it
appears as if I am barely poking along.

As a rest stop, we took a break at a place we called Frog Island. We make up names for everything as it helps us easily reference them later on. We weren't exactly wracking our brains to come up with the name Frog Island as it was, yes, you guessed it, home to many frogs. In truth Frog Island was a peninsula, but Frog Island had a better ring to it. While I was poking around the small peninsula I found a few odd bits of trash, including a nearly perfectly preserved steel Pepsi can with a ring pull top that is probably 30 years old. Again, being lodged in the clay of the river, no oxygen can get to the can causing it to rust, so it must have recently surfaced as the water level receded. The receding water was only temporary as after we stopped an hour for lunch, there was a noticeable difference in the water level. The river level was on the way up and running harder.

Everything looked greener on the river, most likely due to the rising water as there was no muddy frame around the greenery. Despite the shaky weather I saw a dozen bald eagles. A light rain began falling, which turned heavier and heavier still. I opted to not put on a rain jacket as I would have sweat just as much inside the jacket, soaking me either way. There is a fine line as to whether to put on a rain jacket or not and experience is really the only way to know what to do. The temperature and wind play the biggest roles in the decision.

All we wanted to do was get to the town of Oslo, MN. At one point the town was less than two miles away as the crow flies, but as two goof balls kayak it was still eight and a half! We picked up the pace and started knocking off river miles. At next check the town was four miles away, then two. We were never so happy to see the water tower with the word "Oslo" written across it. We were wet and a touch chilly, but we had made it.

We got our kayaks out of the water, on to the wheels and began our walk to town. As we arrived in town the market was just locking the door. They weren't open the following day, so we were out of luck for taking any food with us when we left. We did however have enough to get by.

It was just a matter of minutes before someone asked us what we were up to with the kayaks. After a brief chat we were invited to a birthday party on a farm a few miles out of town. We figured we should get our tents set up and get out of the rain before we did anything though. There was camping permitted in the town park, which was right near everything. And when I say everything I mean the local bar, as it was the only thing open in town.

As the rain cleared, kids came out and were milling about near our stuff, so we couldn't really leave it unattended. I ran to grab a pizza from the bar to go. The bartender knew immediately that I was one of "those guys kayaking". It was not like I was wearing a shirt that had "kayaker" emblazoned across the front. News travels fast in a small town.

Kobie and I ate our pizza in the park and were still hungry. Sitting outside in the cold wind was rather miserable and with the children having gone inside as it was dark, Kobie and I went over to the bar for another pizza. We weren't in the bar for a minute before we had beers shoved in our hands. Business had picked up in the bar and it was much more crowded than when I stopped in for the first pizza. We met a ton of great people in the bar, several of which asked if we wanted to stay at their house. As we were already set up in our tents, it would have been a hassle, but we certainly appreciated it. One offer we did accept was breakfast with a kindly couple by the names Bud and JoAnne.

While we stayed out later than we probably wanted, we didn't turn into pumpkins. We were able to confirm that over five inches of rain fell south of Oslo, MN which was was causing the rising river level. we never did get that second pizza though.

Friday, September 12, 2008

River Discoveries

I had an absolute fantastic nights sleep at Riverside, as we had dubbed our campsite. In the morning though we didn't get any early sun leaving all of our gear covered in condensation. Had we camped on the other side of the river in North Dakota as opposed to Minnesota, we would have gotten the morning sun, but we rank the campsite as one of our better ones. For nearly all of our trip, the river upon which we paddle will be the boundary between two states.

As I set off paddling, my right shoulder felt like a rusty gate hinge that had been weathered for all of my 36 years. Despite a great nights sleep I had a few aches. The rusty gate opened and closed a little easier as the day wore on, so I was guessing that I slept on it for too long. The sleeping mat which I use is like sleeping on an extra firm bed, so I roll over quite a bit in the night. I have a hard time sleeping on my back and when I do I tend to snore, something Kobie wouldn't really appreciate as we usually pitch out tents close together.

There wasn't a single cloud in the sky and the day was shaping up to be good one. That was at least until the wind chimed in. I did however end up paddling the entire day sans shirt. I was making a bid to turn my truckers tan into a farmers tan. While we probably don't need to wear our PFDs on this tame section of river, Kobie and I try to get into good habits and stick to them, which means always wearing our PFDs.

We had been seeing several "dump" sites over the last few days. It seemed that some people dumped pickup truck loads of debris in the water several decades ago and in the oxygen poor clay, the debris didn't erode. There were old bottles, toys and even and old wagon wheel in one of the piles. Another common sighting along the banks of the river are bones sticking out of the mud. The majority are most likely from cattle, but a number also belong to bison that used to roam the area.

In the afternoon, using the GPS we made the fun but disheartening discovery that the speed at which we were traveling up river was less than that when we were floating backwards with the current and being pushed by the wind. We just hoped that the math would work out a little better when we had the current in our direction.

We were looking for a place to camp and had several issues. The river bank on the Minnesota side was dry but steep, whereas the bank on the North Dakota side was flatter but seriously muddy. It took some work, but we found a small patch of dryish ground covered in tall grass where we could fit one tent, so we had to share a tent fort the night.

Throughout the afternoon, as with several previous there was an insect hatch on the water. It was very late in the season for mayflies, but there they were hatching on the water. The area above the water was dotted white with the Ephoron Mayfly. Hundreds of fish were rising to the surface to feed on the emerging mayflies. I was getting bitten by mosquitos, but I was entranced by the growing number of mayflies. at one point the sky was so thick in Mayflies it looked like snow blowing about. I am a fly fisherman and have seen some good hatches before, but I had never seen a hatch as think as this one. I went to sleep with pictures of mayflies dancing in my head.

I woke up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature and as I exited the tent and looked up, the stars were in full glory, shining as brightly as I remember seeing them anywhere in the United States. The constellation Orion was overhead and glowing with a fullness that radiated from the stars many years ago.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Pleasant Day Paddling

It could have been the warmest night of the trip to date and in any event allowed me to sleep with my sleeping bag unzipped. There was some drizzle throughout the night, but it had cleared by morning though the sky was still gray.

Just as we were setting off, we were met by Larry, the reporter that we had met the day prior as we just entered town on our way to the grocery store. We spoke to Larry about our trip for a little while and then set off for the day.

We had a slight wind at our back and I was thrilled. The miles just melted away. As this was the first time with the wind at our back, Kobie and I even had a lighthearted discussion about some type of sail that we could attach to our kayaks.

The morning was over in what seemed like an instant and as Kobie and I stopped on a bank for lunch the sun made its way through the clouds. We even had some fresh vegetables from our new friend Ron's garden. It was just the right thing to bring lunch to another level. We ate, we talked, we joked and then lay down on the bank in the warming rays of the sun. I almost felt like Huck Finn plying the river, though not yet even on the Mississippi. It was powerful fun.

Despite the paddling being hard work, it was such an enjoyable day on the river. It was enough to make the day one to reflect back upon, but more so given my whereabouts on this day seven years ago: tower one of the World Trade Center.

After lunch Kobie and I got into a rhythm paddling. It was the first day of the trip that we stayed together for nearly the entire day. Usually one of us will stop to adjust something or another and the other will push on.

We weren't sure what we might find for a campsite at the end of the day, but Kobie spied a rare low, flat area of dirt on the side of the river. It was an easy out for us and our kayaks and would be an easy in, come morning. I took the time to explore the area a bit following a deer path. The path led me to a small dirt road and a large field of corn, broken only by a farmhouse in the distance.

Following our usual camp chores we had ourselves a blazing campfire. It added a little warmth to the cool evening, but there is just something about a campfire. Even if it isn't utilitarian, I can enjoy a camp fire for hours. Camp fires seem to push me to a level of introspection I don't have otherwise, always welcome following a glorious day on the river.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

From Drayton, ND to Drayton, ND

I was feeling rather spry given the previous days paddle, which may have been in part to a hefty dose of ibuprofen before turning in. When I got out of my tent and saw Drayton Dam, I was less than impressed at its stature, but had I been coming the other direction I wouldn't have wanted to go over it in a fully loaded touring kayak.

As we had a rough day previous, Kobie and I decided to make it a short day and just loop around the other side of town on the river and call that our day paddling. It was with very little difficulty that we were able to get our kayaks around the dam and back in the river. Mother nature not wanting us to get away with an easy day, decided to turn on the wind machine. It was only a five mile paddle, but each of those five miles was hard earned.

The most important thing I had learned during the day came when paddling just above the dam. Were we paddling with the current, it would have been nearly impossible for us to see that we would be going over the falls until we were just about on top of the dam, at which point it would be too late. Not only that, but there was nary a warning sign that there was a dam just around the corner. I would hate to be surprised by that one. It was a really good wake up call to us to keep our eyes peeled when we are paddling in the direction of the rivers further south. We had a map that allegedly denoted all the dams, but we found out with Catfish Haven just how reliable that map could be.

We contemplated checking into one of the two motels in town, but not too surprisingly the nicer one was full. At that point we figured pitching a tent in the town park would be just as pleasant and significantly cheaper than the lesser motel.

On our walk into town we stopped at the grocery store to get one of our chores out of the way, but before we even got in the store someone had struck up a conversation. One conversation turned into two, which then turned to three ending with an invitation to lunch at the senior center by a gentleman named Ron. We also met Larry in front of the grocery store, who runs the newspaper in the area. We would catch up with Larry later.

Lunch was a pleasant affair and I had the opportunity to meet some wonderfully kind people. I also learned so much about the area. It was explained that in the spring, water runs nearly up to the main street, a rise of about 30 feet from where the river currently ran. I always enjoy a good conversation with some local folks about an area which I am passing through. I also learned that there was a mountain lion that had been skulking about the area through which we had just come. At least we were already past there. The most interesting nugget of information that I garnered though was that Catfish Haven has long since been washed away by a flood. Nice that the map produced nearly ten years later still had it listed.

Following lunch we managed to pick up those groceries and wheeled our kayaks into the town park. The campsite was nicely sandwiched in between a highway and railroad tracks. As that wasn't really noisy enough there was also a dog that seemed to enjoy barking.

We spent the afternoon planning the details of our push south and watching a some TV shows on Kobie's laptop. The evening found us at a small diner called "Andys", where it seemed like the whole town congregated for dinner. I guess the two for one burgers were the big draw. It worked for us. We finished off with some ice cream and went back to the campground where we tried to fall asleep to the lulling sounds of traffic and the periodic train horn.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Longer Than Planned


The Grotto, as we dubbed our campsite was so quiet throughout the night and was in general a great place to camp. The only drawback to the campsite was that it was overrun by slugs. The slugs set up shop on and under our tents, complete with slime trails. The biggest pain was that the slugs were small, about the size of a thumbnail, which made flicking them off our gear nearly impossible. We did the best we could clearing the slugs, but took a few along for the ride.

We set off paddling and I felt good about the day. The river seemed to be running against us a little harder and the wind was trying to nudge us backwards but I really didn't mind.

The wildlife was active in the morning. I got the best view of a beaver I have ever had when one decided to splash into the river right next to me. The beaver was the size of a Labrador and did a fantastic belly flop.

Fish were rising to the surface all around us. I had a fish leap out of the water and hit the back of my kayak, but Kobie did me one better. As Kobie and I were chatting, a fish of about two foot in size leaped out of the water and nearly into his lap. It hit the deck of his boat, and like a basketball hanging on the rim, could have fallen either way. The fish probably knew what was best for it and flipped itself back in the water.

As we paddled upriver we got a fly-by from a border control helicopter. I could hear the thing coming long before I saw it. The helicopter was at an altitude that just barely cleared the treetops. Kobie gave a wave and received one in return, so we figured we were OK. I wouldn't be surprised if they radioed the border post and checked as to whether we came through the immigration checkpoint.

Later in the day we hit a few relatively straight sections of the river. It actually seemed like we were making progress, albeit slowly. I wasn't sure if I liked looking a relatively far distance up river as I slowly paddled on or if I preferred the twists and turns, wondering what would be around the next bend. Come to think of it, there really was very little wondering what would be around the next bend. It was usually another bend.

We planned on camping that night at a place called Catfish Haven that was shown on my map, so we felt good about where we would be spending the night. Kobie was slightly ahead of me and I anticipated that he would see the boat ramp, get out and when I rounded the bend he would be standing there stretching his legs. Instead, I paddled past where my map indicated Catfish Haven should have been but saw nothing remotely like a boat ramp, campground or otherwise. Hmmm. I caught up with Kobie and we paddled together a little further, but still, no Catfish Haven. After several miles, we reluctantly gave up the thought that as we rounded the next bend, there would be the campsite (See, I told you that after the current bend there would just be another one). This threw in to doubt any and all other things that appeared on the map.

Light was slowly fading and there weren't many places along the river that looked even remotely possible to set a tent upon. That was if we were even able to get up the steep banks. We had a hard day and the last thing I was interested in doing was hunting around for a campsite. With no other choice, we poked along the river banks looking for a suitable place to set up shop for the evening. After covering a couple of miles in our search we realized that it was only four additional miles to the river town of Drayton, ND. Despite the new doubt in our map, we firmly believed that the boat ramp indicated on the near side of Drayton Dam would not be fictitious, so inspired by a sunset draped in reddish hues, we paddled on.

It was now nighttime and the moon only had a little light to offer us on our seemingly endless session on the river. We were able to use the glinting moonlight on the moving water to guide ourselves. Fortunately there was little in the way of logs, large branches or other obstacles in the water. While it had been somewhat masochistic paddling up stream, we knew that we would wind up at the base of the dam as opposed to the top of it. The joke between Kobie and I was. "When you see a wall of water in front of you, thats the dam. Make a right".

We eventually did see that wall of water and there was a fairly large pool in front of it that had more in the way of moving water than any other place on the river than we had encountered. We bobbed up and down as we decided what to do. We hadn't seen a single person the entire day and now that we wanted to get off the river and camp, there were a bunch of kids partying at the boat ramp. As we didn't want to get involved with that scene, we ducked off the river as an opportunity presented itself prior to the boat ramp. There was a very limited area in which to camp which basically put us in patches of tall grass at at the end of dirt road. I must have misunderstood Kobie's description of the potential campsite as I thought he wanted to set up the tents on the road, a project I didn't care to participate in. I think it was the first time in the trip where Kobie was a bit annoyed at me. I should have known better, but as it was a long day and we were both shot, it turned out to just be a misunderstanding. We had a couple of cold cans of soup and were done for the night.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Leaving Town

I had one last hot shower before setting off for the day. As I never know when the next shower will be, I take full advantage of showers, especially hot ones. As Kobie and I strolled back to the boat ramp, we stopped at the hardware store to pick up an allen key to fix Kobie's rudder. As we had parked our kayaks out front we drew a little attention and ended up spending a good 15 minutes chatting with people. Having two kayaks in tow is a surefire conversation starter. And I was also told that a puppy worked best when trying to meet girls. Just when we thought we had free passage, a woman came running after us and explained that if we were heading to the boat ramp we could drive down there. She seemed so kind and genuine that I hardly had it in me tell her that no, we couldn't. She thanked us for visiting town and with a friendly wave sent us on our way.

The sun was intermittently poking through the clouds, but the day was mostly overcast. The temperature has been reasonable for the most part. During the day it is warm enough to get away with short sleeves, but it cools down at night where long pants and a jacket are in order. It makes for a rough wake up call crawling out of my sleeping bag in the morning, worse if it is still dark.

As Kobie and I paddled along in Canada we kept saying, "things will be different when we hit the United States". I don't know why we thought that, perhaps because we had actual paper maps of the river, showing river miles, but in truth little was changed. The river was running
a bit harder and the mud along the shores had relented to some degree, but it would be premature to say the "gumbo" had ended. The one major change since crossing the border, and I found this odd, is that no one, I mean no one, finished their sentences with "eh". It seemed as if everyone had to leave that expression at the border check point. I find it just like New York, except backwards. In Canada someone might say "You stepped on my foot, eh.", whereas in New York you just turn it around to "Hey, you stepped on my foot."

We had been seeing many dead fish floating on the river, presumably from previous warming of the river water, removing much of the oxygen. It happens to trout in the summer as water warms up. At least I hoped thats what it was, not some more sinister reason that could affect us as well. For some reason Kobie and I decided to count how many dead fish were doing the backstroke. By early afternoon we were in the neighborhood of 160 before growing bored of counting. Most of the fish were Channel Catfish, but there were also Carp as well as other indeterminate species; indeterminate due either to ignorance or its state of decomposition.

We had some indecision as where to stop for the day. We didn't find anyplace that was spectacular, so we rounded the next bend and then the next and so on. It is tough to stop paddling as there is always the possibility that a great little campsite is around the very next turn. I have to say though, it has never been the case that the following morning after camping we would have found some awesome campsite had we paddled another couple of miles.

We settled on a place that had a somewhat steep but only partially muddy bank. Once over the bank though, there was a splendid little grotto. It wasn't the grotto at the Playboy mansion, but it was all we needed for the night. The trees provided protection from the wind, the ground was level and the area of trees was a welcome change to looking at the muddy banks of the Red River all day. Kobie and I wondered about the presence of bears in the area, but we hadn't seen any evidence of bears since leaving Winnipeg, so figured we were safe. As I was looking at the back of my map before going to sleep though, there was a description of wildlife in the area which included the periodic Black Bear or Mountain Lion. Excellent. Thats a great thought to try and fall asleep to.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pembina, ND


We took a day off in Pembina to see the sights. Seriously though, we took the day off to rest and get things done. On a trip like this a day off isn't really a day off. It involves planning how the trip proceeds from town, resupplying, doing laundry, doing a little writing and what ever else you might have to tend to, such as Kobie's broken rudder.

As I was walking along to the laundromat I realized that I really like small towns. I am not saying that I would want to live in one, but I do like that the towns have personality. I love that in a random conversation with someone (which doesn't really happen in New York City), I can find out when and why the town was founded, about the flood in 1997, or any number of other things. I also like that people waved to me as I walked down the road. All the people are very real. No one is putting on airs, but are just being who they are, doing what they do.

We closed out our night with a few beers and another pizza at "The Spot". Should you happen to be in Pembina, ND, I recommend stopping in for the Taco Pizza.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Border Crossing


Kobie and I were up at 6:30; late by farm standards, but we weren't going to paddle before sun up. We weren't even able to say goodbye to our kind hosts as everyone was already up and out on the farm. It took us a bit to get our boats back down the rocky bank on to the other side of the rapids, but eventually we prevailed. Kobie didn't have the best morning as he lost his paddling gloves and a screw from his rudder, rendering it useless. He muddled on though.

We didn't have a particularly long or difficult day planned as we allocated a significant amount of time to get across the border into the United States. We took it easy and had the usual wildlife sightings of Blue Herons, beaver, Bald Eagles, Canadian Geese and numerous fish rising to feed on the surface.

Just before crossing into the United States on the river there was a boat ramp. Kobie and I pulled off the river so that I could scout our route across the border. I walked along an embankment for about a half a mile and caught the attention of a Canadian border control agent. After I explained our intentions, he radioed the US border control post and we were told to go grab our stuff and head on over. I ran back down to the river to collect Kobie and our kayaks. We dragged our gear to the Canadian border post and was told that we could leave our things there and even come back to Canada to get back in the river where we got out, as there was no reasonable place to enter or exit the water on the US side.

Kobie and I walked across the road to he southbound lane of traffic and took our place behind a car in the immigration line. I was laughing the whole time as we must have looked rather peculiar, standing in the road wearing our PFD's waiting to cross the border. Despite being told to use the car lane, we opted to walk in the building that is used by bus passengers. No one paid the least bit of mind to us for well over five minutes, which I didn't think bode well for us. I was just going to my home country, but Kobie already got a hassle when he flew over from Singapore to Minneapolis, before taking the bus to Winnipeg.

An officer eventually asked if he could help us and as it turned out, was one of the agents I spoke to when I called the border post to find out what we would need to do. We got a couple of the usual questions a border control agent would ask as well as a few specifically about out intended trip. One of the officers had worked in Iowa for the Coast Guard and mentioned to us that the Mississippi was running particularly hard this year, a bonus for us as we would be traveling with the current.

The officers inquired to the whereabouts of our kayaks, which we left on the Canadian side of the border so as to not have to lug them along. They didn't seem to be bothered, wished a safe journey and said that it would be fine to go back to Canada to get back on the river. Other than having to stop at the Canadian border control post going north and explain what happened, we were back to the river.

As we got back to to the boat ramp there was a couple fishing. We chatted with them for a few minutes and among the questions we were asked was "Aren't you scared of anything, like sharks?" Sharks? Thats news to me if there are sharks on any of the rivers we intend to paddle.

Our stop for the evening was in Pembina, ND. As we have maps of the4 Red River in the United States, we knew there was a boat ramp and even a motel in town. I ran into town to inquire about a room while Kobie minded the kayaks.

We were hoping for a town with a choice of motels, and outfitter and a nice place to grab some dinner. What we found was a town with one motel, one supermarket and two bars. Close enough.

We wheeled our kayaks the half mile to the motel and as we were getting them cleaned up a border control agent approached us. It turned out that someone had seen us on the river and called the border control. He was just checking that we did the right thing when we crossed the border. We were able to store the kayaks in the basement of the motel which was quite handy as it isn't necessarily easy to stay in a hotel when you have two 17 foot watercraft to be concerned with.

Kobie and I got cleaned up and went out for our big night in Pembina, ND. We hit up one of the bars as we were told we could get a decent pizza there. There happened to be exactly three other patrons in the place, not exactly crowded. We had a few beers, a pizza and the night ended with a Jell-O shot. Cheers!