Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

It was a warm night in the low 40’s, so other than being woken by the sound of a few trains I slept quite well behind the bar/restaurant/bait shop. It was a new one for us.

If I needed a reminder that it was Halloween, I got just that as I walked in the door of the bar to get some breakfast. Something went boo and made a cackling noise as I walked past. The bar was having a Halloween party that night and in a way I wanted to stick around. I haven’t had the opportunity to interact in a large group for quite some time; even longer in a large group wearing costumes.

As we ate our breakfast, a guy was sitting at the bar and downed no fewer than four beers in the length of time it took us to eat breakfast. It was 7 AM. As we were eating a work crew came in to put up a fence on the property. Where do you think they are putting the fence? Exactly where our tents were pitched, of course. I poked my head out and asked if we should move our stuff, but they weren’t in any hurry.

It was a beautiful morning with only slightly more cloud coverage than yesterday. As the cloud cover yesterday was effectively zero, I didn’t mind how “cloudy” today was. In the morning I paddled along looking over the side of my kayak at the rippled bottom of the Mississippi River. Other than many leaves and the periodic patch of grass, there was little to see, but I still had to check it out.

I am always a fan of being able to paddle in the least amount of clothing possible and today was a day I was able to go with nothing other than a PFD on my upper body. I wasn’t just doing it to just do so, but because it was legitimately warm. I would be thrilled if each day of the rest of the trip was just like this. There was hardly a single ripple on the water with the exception of when the odd fishing boat or duck hunting boat would pass by.

I paddled past the town of Dresbach, MN, which had a perfect location, hemmed in between the river and the bluffs beyond. I can’t see how people live there though as in that half mile stretch of land between the water and the mountains, there is an Interstate Highway and a heavily used stretch of rail. I couldn’t do it. I did however see an Amtrak train, which was the first passenger train I had seen running on any of the tracks alongside the river. People ask what we are going to do once we get to the Gulf and one option is to take Amtrak back up to New York, as they would take the kayaks as freight.

We arrived at Lock and Dam # 7 and had to once again pull the cord to get someone’s attention, but they right there waiting for us. It would be so much nicer to have a radio as if there is a barge in the lock or will soon be leaving the lock we wouldn’t be able to pull up the small boat cord. The running joke is of me making a nonsensical call to the lock on a fictitious radio, insulting myself on the call. Hey, we don’t have much else to do while paddling.

When the lock is at the south side river level and being filled for us going through, there is a current pulling us into the closed lock door that we have to be mindful of. For this lock of an eight foot rise they move 3.6 million gallons of water or that of about six Olympic size swimming pools in about seven minutes. All that just for us.

At our lunch stop I called a number of marinas in and near Prairie du Chien, WI to see if there might be someplace to store our kayaks for a few days while we visited some family friends. They are getting on in years and have a small farm they can’t entirely tend to in their later year, so we are going to help out. I had nothing firm in the way of a place to leave the kayaks, but I was sure that something would work itself out.

It was beautiful afternoon paddling, but we had a dilemma as to where we should camp for the night. Initially we checked out a campsite in Brownsville, MN, but it was closed. We could have camped if we really wanted to but our map indicated a campsite a little further down river that was open. I rang the other campsite and there was the promise of a hot shower. On the paddle over to the second campsite our Bald Eagle sighting streak was kept alive by several eagles swirling on the wind looking for a meal down below.

We had to get off the main part of the river and cut though the channel to get to the campsite. We paddled through a bunch of river grass that was quite popular with water fowl, as well as those people who hunt them. Along with the hunters, came the fisherman. There were so many fishing boats our there I thought there was a fishing tournament going on. It was a busy afternoon on the river.

We made the campsite before dark and the fellow working the place was kind enough to set us up with some electricity to charge our electronics. What he neglected to mention when telling me about the hot shower was the proximity of where we would camp to the train tracks, which was about 30 feet. I didn’t think it was even legal to be that close to the tracks.

We got set up and were it not that we had joked about trick or treaters coming to our tents, I am sure Kobie would have come knocking. We were treated to a sunset worthy of sitting down and focusing on nothing but watching the sun dip below the horizon.

After our can of soup for dinner we sat down with out laptops plugged in and were surprised to learn that there was WIFI. It kept me up later than planned. Well, that and the trains.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Slick New Wheels

Overnight it was colder than the 32 degrees that was forecast, but it was still warmer than the night previous. From the shelter of our tents we thought it to be a completely overcast morning but as it turned out we misjudged where the sun was going to rise. It was just behind a stand of trees. The lack of sun caused us to mill about in our tents longer than we should have and hence got a later start than was ideal.

Before long we approached the next Lock and Dam. For those of you paying close attention you might surmise that it would be Lock and Dam # 6, but that would be incorrect as you neglected to factor in that the Locks were built by the US Army Corp of Engineers. The next lock was # 5a. As with lock # 5, it was open and waiting for us with the green light welcoming us in. I could get used to this. As we pulled in the lock a sailboat had snuck in from behind. That was perfectly fine with us. We can share.

We were again fighting the all too familiar south wind most of the morning. When just paddling along the wind really wasn’t bad, but it became frustrating when the wind died down and we noticed that it made over a one mile per hour difference in our paddling speed. Our distance over a day would be significantly increased on a percentage basis without the wind.

As we were padding by the town of Winona, IA I pulled in to make a pit stop for new tires. Seriously, I was making a pit stop for new tires. A few people had mentioned that there tires were aplenty in Winona and I shouldn’t have any trouble locating what I needed for my kayak cart.

There was no boat ramp in Winona, so I had to get out over a steep section of rocks near the same sail boat that had joined us in the lock earlier that morning. I began searching for tires near where I got out of the river checking various stores that might have what I needed: hardware shops, car tire stores and the like. After four strikes I thought that was about it until someone suggested a farm supply store near the highway. The problem was that the highway was nearly 4 miles away.

In the last store I began speaking with a retired gent by the name of Jim who works at the store a few hours a week. Jim was going to be going nearby the Farm Supply Store on his way home in 15 minutes and offered me a ride there. I jumped at the offer. While I waited for Jim I began speaking to another fellow in the store who, after hearing about my trip, shared a tale from one of his fishing trips in Canada. In summary, one of the guys on the trip died of a heart attack and had to be put on the roof to keep the bears from eating the corpse. It sounds like the inspiration for the film “Weekend at Bernie’s” to me.

The farm supply had nearly every imaginable tire under the sun, except, of course, the ones I needed. I found a set of tires that would fit the rims of the current wheels and decided that while less than perfect, I would have to settle. I didn’t want to end up like Kobie having to wheel into Fairmount, ND with a flat. I bought the tires and obviously didn’t have the tools to change the tires, so I went to the automotive section and had the pleasure of being charged $10 for the installation and waiting 45 minutes. It gave me a chance to speak with Jim who was kind enough to wait for me before giving me a lift back to the river. I could have probably bought two screwdrivers for a couple of bucks each and changed the tires myself in less time, but at least it was done.

Having had a two hour break from paddling, we once again hit the river. We were quickly on to Lock and Dam # 6 and without a radio had to pull the small boat cord. Apparently the lone worker was out back power washing something or another, forcing Kobie and I to wait for a solid 20 minutes before being sent through.

As we came out of the lock on the south side a boat pulled up to us. It was Jim! He came by to say hello and tell us about a place where we could get a good meal in us before continuing on. We chatted for a couple of minutes and Kobie and I paddled to the nearby Hungry Point.

With only some difficulty we located Hungry Point, a bar/restaurant/bait shop. As it was getting late we would have to be finished paddling for the day if we were going to have a sit down meal. I asked the girls at the bar if there was a place we might be able to set up our tents nearby. There were several potential possibilities, including a cabin for rent up the road, or possibly eve pitching out tents in the 30 feet of lawn sitting between the river and the restaurant, but nothing definitive. While waiting for a couple of calls to be returned regarding our overnight possibilities the girls at the bar said they would be sure to find us an acceptable place to camp or stay one way or another, so we could pull up the kayaks and tuck into a meal. They even told us that we would be able to keep our kayaks in their bait shop garage should need be.

To be done with the searching and begin the relaxing, Kobie and I decided to just pitch our tents out back. Once that was successfully complete, we went into the bar for some food and a couple of beers.

One question that we faced and it wasn’t the first time was, “Are you guys independently wealthy or did you win the lottery?” Kobie seems to get somewhat annoyed at this question. He usually brings up the example that he doesn’t smoke or really drink for that matter. The woman sitting at the bar who posed the question was quite clearly a regular was puffing away and had four drinks while we sat there. For ease of math, let’s assume she spends five bucks a day on cigarettes and $25 a night each of the four times she goes out a week. Between the $35 a week for cigarettes and $100 a week for booze it works out to over seven grand a year, significantly more than we will spend on this trip.

We enjoyed a real dinner and a couple of beers while chatting with a couple of girls that were actually in our age range. It is surprising how few girls we met on this trip of a similar age. I had to call it a night at 8:30 or the bar staff would have had to push me out with the broom at the end of the night. I think I am really missing the social aspect of life having been on the river for so long.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cold Morning

While I think the odds of winning in Vegas are better than that of a meteorologist forecasting the weather with any degree of accuracy, the overnight temperature being in the low 20’s was spot on. It was 21 degrees. I woke up a few times, somewhat chilly and once added a layer of clothing, but I have slept in colder temperatures with less in the way of sleep gear. The bigger problem is that the condensation from my breath collects on my sleeping bag, making it soggy. That is in addition to my bag losing the down feathers for some unknown reason.

The cold temperatures kept us in our tents longer than most mornings, only emerging at 8:30. As I looked around most things were still covered in frost, our tents and kayaks included. I checked the water bottle I had left outside and it was frozen. As I looked to the river where we had gotten out of the lake last night, it was covered in a sheet of ice.

It may have been cold, but at least it was a bright and sunny day. We lingered at the campsite for a bit to let some of our things dry. While the sun dried our gear it also helped to melt some of the ice we would have to break through to get back in the water. As we set off in the morning we crunched our kayaks through the remaining ice covering the edge of the lake. I was able to punch my paddle through and move much like an ice breaker ship. I was just glad I had a new pair of gloves and boots.

Shortly after getting going on the river we approached Lock and Dam #4. I noticed a barge in the lock so figured we would have to wait a bit, so I radioed the lock to find out what was going on. I was told that it would be at least a half an hour as it was double sized barge. There barge was a size that only half of it can fit in the 600 foot lock at one time. The barge is untied in the middle, or decoupled, and sent through in two pieces. A winch is usually used to move the unpowered section of barges. As the barge pushed through, a pleasure boat pulled up next to us to lock through as well. At 100 x 600 feet in size there was certainly enough room in the lock for a 30 foot motor boat as well as two kayaks. Locks seem as if they will be the biggest variable as to how far we paddle a day. Perhaps we can skate through all the locks without waiting, but I would gather not.

I had my biggest surprise of the trip as I paddled out of Lock # 4. I could see the bottom of the river. With all that I have heard about how polluted the Mississippi River is, I was shocked to be able to see the bottom of the river. Giving it the paddle dip test I must have been able to see the bottom of the river in five or six feet of water. And this was as I was passing a coal fired power plant. I think that is testament to all of the organizations that have worked so hard to clean up the river.

While not quite as shocking as how clean this section of the river is, I am also a little surprised that I keep seeing Bald Eagles everyday. Today there were two that were great photography models as they didn’t fly off at our approach. Surely, our streak of Eagle spotting has to come to a close at some point.
Also in the wildlife department for the day was a red fox. We stopped on one of those sand beaches created by dredging sand and a fox came out of the brush to within 30 feet before noticing me. The fox then turned and retreated into the safety of the woods.

The afternoon warmed up to the point where I took my paddle jacket off. I learned a lesson on Lake Pepin to always keep my marine radio handy in the event I would need it in short order. Today I learned another lesson with respect to my marine radio: if I keep my radio clipped on to my PFD, I should also have it attached with a lanyard. As I took off my PFD to remove my paddle jacket, the clip for the radio came undone and the radio dropped into the Mississippi River. Unfortunately for me, I was paddling in the main channel which is no less that nine feet deep and was not where that clear water I was speaking of earlier was to be found. Nice work, Kev.

We could see the Lock and Dam # 5 from over three miles away across the calm river. As we paddled nearer we were cut off from sunshine by having to paddle near a riverside cliff covered in trees with rust covered leaves.

As we approached and despite not having contacted the lock in the absence of my radio, we noticed that the doors were open and we had a green light to paddle right in. There is an actual traffic light similar to that you might see on the road in front of the lock, so when I said we had the green light there was no hyperbole. The guys in Lock #5 were on the ball, as opposed to their colleagues in Lock and Dam # 3 who let us struggle in the four foot waves and 55 mile per hour wind.

Just after coming out of the lock I saw someone cleaning trash out of the river. I asked if I could give a hand as he was trying to fish out a square four foot section of plastic from the side of the river. I asked him about camping possibilities and was told that we could use the nearby campground which was closed for the season, or just camp in the area where he standing. As campgrounds generally have tables at the very least, and occasionally bathrooms, we opted for that.

The main detractor of staying at the campground was that it was situated just next to the railroad tracks. Train tracks line both sides of the Mississippi, carrying all the freight when shipping is shut down by ice at the end of November. Who would opt to camp there with so many other choices? Oh, wait…

The campground was desolate and like many others didn’t offer much in the way of shelter. Kobie and I found one lone tree with green leaves and close to the ground no less, so decided to set up our tents under there. For our second night in a row we lit a campfire, again to provide heat. We also concluded that as there would most likely be more in the way of fires in our future, we could start buying some food to be prepared over an open flame. While I don’t mind eating cold cans of soup, some variety is always nice. I was certainly spoiled living in France for a year and a half, so I reaaaalllly appreciate a fine meal, but when I am camping, I go for what is simplest.

As we sat by our fire talking about what the rest of our journey might bring a police car come rolling through the campground, seemingly uninterested in our presence. As we were putting the fire out to go to sleep, at 8 o’clock mind you, I took one of the large stones from the fire ring and put it under the awning of my tent, hoping it would radiate some heat. While it wasn’t forecast to be as cold as the night previous, I still thought it might give me a few additional degrees of heat and in any event it wouldn’t make it any colder.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lake Pepin...Again

I was up at 6:15 to thank our hosts before they left to start their day. As it was still dark, I crawled back into bed for just a minute and woke an hour later with sun shining through the window lattice. It looked as if it was a splendid but cold morning as there was frost on the ground.

Kobie and I got packed up and had a decision to make as whether to walk our kayaks back to Lake City where we got out of the water or to just put back in where we first met Jamie and redo the near four miles of Lake Pepin once again. We opted for the latter for several reasons, not least of which that I still had a bum wheel for my kayak cart. Not to worry though I subtracted the 3.7 miles that we had already paddled from the total.

The lake was a much different body of water than it was just two days prior. We may have been paddling the same lake, but it was much different water. Compared to the other day I felt as if I was paddling on a cloud the water was so smooth. It was another one of those little things that made me happy as could be; leaving me feeling like all was good in life. It is amazing how important weather is in my life and how different it was two days ago.

Perhaps I was looking at things through rose colored glasses as there was a little chop on the water, but I was just so thrilled that it wasn’t a repeat of the other day. Even in what little I was wearing to start the day, I was stripping layers as we paddled on.

Some waves kicked up as we were nearing the end of the lake, but the biggest was no more than two feet. Despite the waves being much smaller than two days prior I still took on water as I wasn’t paying attention. As I took off my spray skirt to adjust my seatback, a wave snuck up and soaked me.

We celebrated the end of the 22 mile Lake Pepin by having lunch on a wonderful sandy beach with lots of low cover to keep us sheltered form the wind. With the air still and the sun beaming on us, despite the temperature being in the 40’s it was delightful. More significant than our celebration was that once we were back in a narrower river, we had a pace in the mid five mile per hour range. All the water from Lake Pepin funneled back into a narrow river, picking up pace as it did so.

In the afternoon we paddled past something new, which was a dredger. It was taking sand from the river bottom and pumping it to the side of the river. The dredging that is done on the river is pump dredging for the most part and not trawler dredging that scrapes the river bottom. Sand is vacuumed up with a big suction hose and pumped out the other end. There were massive piles of sand along the riverbank in spots, some well over 50 feet tall. Other piles of sand were spread flat, forming beaches along the side of the river. That worked for us as it was an easy place to get off the river if we wanted to. I did however get a little nervous paddling past the dredge hose; not that I thought I would get sucked in, but rather that it might create some serious turbulence and dump me in the river, then sucking me in.

Late in the day we spotted a campground on our map. It was somewhat out of the way, off the main channel of the river, but we figured it would be our best bet. To get to the campsite we had to paddle through wetlands with high grass and trees in colorful glory lining the side of the river. Mallard ducks took flight as we came past. They are a spectacular looking creature, especially the males with their green heads that appeared a rich shade of green in the fading light.

When we arrived at the campground we saw that it was on a narrow spit of land, completely exposed to the elements. Not only that, but the boat ramp was under construction so we would have to climb a bank several feet high to exit the water. With the temperatures forecast in the low 20’s for the night we would get the full brunt of it in such an exposed location, but as dusk was descending upon us we had little choice.

We settled in the best, meaning most sheltered, campsite and had only our second campfire of the trip. The first time was back on the Red River just for fun, but this time it was to keep us warm. We were happy to find that someone left behind a pile of wood. As the campsite was in a wetland preserve, we were serenaded to sleep by the quacking of ducks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Frontenac, MN

I slept soundly through the night and didn’t even hear Jamie and Jane leave for work in the morning. While it wasn’t raining when I glanced out the window it did still appear windy. The wind didn’t seem even remotely as bad as the day previous, but it still wouldn’t have been much fun to be back out on Lake Pepin. In truth, I think Kobie and I had already written off the day before it had even started. All the talk of how bad the weather was supposed to be left us mentally unprepared to paddle.

We had little in store for the day as it was an unanticipated day off. I caught up on current events, including the Presidential race and what was happening on Wall Street. I also did a bit of writing while sitting in the guestroom/study. Jamie had a collection of literature to die for: Kierkegaard, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Dante, Dickens, Melville. I could go on ad infinitum. Were I forced to spend in eternity in one room, it is quite possibly the room I would choose. There would be absolutely no shortage of quality literature to keep me occupied.

In the afternoon Kobie and I went for a walk in Frontenac State Park. It seems that we timed it nearly perfectly to catch the leaves changing color. It reminded me of so many autumns as a child, watching the leaves turn and then fall to the ground, being then forced to spend a Saturday raking them.

The park offered a vista over where Kobie and I had paddled the day prior. The park also overlooked the historic town of Old Frontenac. Frontenac was originally settled and developed by two brothers, Israel and Lewis Garrard, who were taken by the beauty of the tall bluffs and prairies that surrounded Lake Pepin. The old town of Frontenac dates back to 1839 and still has nothing in the way of street lights and little in the way of paved roads. There is nary a retail business in the town and in addition, and I like this one, the railroad was routed around the town. Frontenac is a quaint little town steeped in history and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lake Pepin itself was named after Pepin the Short, King of the Franks. A more familiar name relating to the Franks is the son of Pepin, Charlemagne, who succeeded Pepin as king. Charlemagne became the ruler of Western Europe, developing roads, a monetary system and defined rules relating to the feudal system, not to mention encouraging learning and

As we walked along there was a sign describing the fateful events of July 13, 1890 when the excursion steamer Sea Wing capsized in 60 mile per hour winds. Hmm, that sounds familiar. In 1890, 98 people lost their lives and made me reflect back on the sign I saw yesterday, “Everybody has a good time on Lake Pepin”. I couldn’t be the only one who disagreed with that quote.

When we returned from our walk, Jamie was back from teaching so we ran into Lake City to do a bit of shopping, both for out trip as well as for dinner. Kobie was at bat again in the kitchen. Jane made it home earlier than expected so it gave us all the opportunity to chat while preparing dinner. My specialty in the kitchen is staying out of the way as I am of no use whatsoever. When I moved into my apartment in New York City the kitchen was brand new. When I moved out six years later, the kitchen was brand new. I never even took the papers out of the oven. Most people have to clean their kitchens, I had to dust mine. That pretty much sums up my cooking experience.

We had a fantastic dinner and some great conversation concerning nearly ever discernable interesting thing. I certainly enjoy meeting people from all walks of life, but it isn’t necessarily commonplace that conversation flows as well as it did. Many times in my travels the conversation relates to concrete things, such where I have been, but it is so nice to delve into the abstract. One of my biggest complaints of being away from “work” is the lack of mental challenge, so a spirited conversation goes a long way to keep my mind from collecting cobwebs.

After dinner we had another visit from our friend Tom. He first met us in Mankato, MN with some camp gear and here he was again. Tom is like Santa Claus; every time I see him he comes bearing gifts. For Kobie it was another new sleeping bag as his last one didn’t quite cut it and for me some neoprene paddling gloves and socks.

We retired to the garage for some home brew and darts. Jamie’s neighbor, Mikkel stopped by to join the fun.

Most people get to see our toys as we are paddling them, but we now had the opportunity to see some of the toys that Mikkel had at his place next door. Among his toys were several kayaks, a motorcycle and a tree house. A tree house? Yes, a tree house. It isn’t your nail some old lumber in a tree kind of tree house, but a geodesic dome tree house. I was suitably impressed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lake Pepin

I slept a little better than the previous evening, but that wasn’t saying much. The snow showers that were predicted didn’t seem to be much of a threat as there was blue sky behind us, with the percentage of blue to that of white ever increasing. There was however water frozen on the deck of my kayak.

Our morning began by paddling past what looked to be a semi-permanent camp on a small island in the river. As Kobie and I were discussing the day ahead, a gun shot rang out from the camp. I tend to think the shot was for our benefit; not that it was aimed at us, but so that we didn’t go snooping around the island. It felt like an episode of Scooby Doo.

We had a gusty wind at our back and I wasn’t going to complain, but it took some work to keep from getting pushed around sideways as the wind tends to want to do to my kayak. It was also a battle to keep on the line towards a point in the distance that I would use as a navigation marker.

We paddled though the town of Red Wing, MN, a town named as a derivation of the Indian name “Hupahuduta”, an Indian Chief that translates roughly to “a swan’s wing dyed in red”. It seemed like an interesting little berg and one that I might have enjoyed exploring. I had no real basis for that feeling, but the location and the way the city was laid out in the bend of the river made the city appear somewhat atypical for the area.

Past the city of Red Wing the Mississippi river widened as it led into Lake Pepin. The lake is 22 miles long and varies from one to two miles across. The wind also picked up and changed direction, now pushing us from the side. As the river grew wider the waves increased in size landing in my lap more often. Kobie likened the paddling to riding a drunken horse as we were being pitched about by the waves.

As we got further onto Lake Pepin things grew more serious. Waves were reaching the four foot range and the wind was gusting to 55 miles per hour. It took a fair bit of paddling skill to keep the top of my kayak facing the sky. I grew up surfing and have surfed kayaks before this trip, but I had little interest in doing so today.

On the early part of the lake the wind was blowing Kobie and I straight into Lock and Dam # 3. We managed to fight our way over to the area where the lock was located, but the bigger problem was that I couldn’t take my hands of my paddle long enough to get the marine radio out to call the lock. Each wave threatened to dump me in the lake. After several attempts I riled out the idea of getting out my radio.

As a backup, Kobie tried to reach the small craft pull cord that is located just before the lock. Each lock is outfitted with a cord so that small craft without radios can signal the lock. As Kobie approached the wall though he was just being thrown around and had no chance of reaching the cord without being bashed into the wall of the lock.

I tried again to retrieve the radio, but it wasn’t going to happen without me going for a swim. I watched Kobie back paddle so that he could reverse his direction of travel and make his way out of the main lock area. I tried to remain stationary hoping we would be spotted. When I looked back at Kobie, he had disappeared. I myself then back paddled to try and get away from the lock. As I slowly moved against the wind, I saw Kobie on the side of the river, having been slammed into the rocks on a small shoulder to the side of the lock.

I thought I saw someone in the tower of the lock building, but the lock wasn’t opening. I figured my best move would be to join Kobie on the shoulder of the lock area. Kobie yelled towards me, but even though we were only 30 feet away I wasn’t able to hear him over the noise of the wind.

With great difficulty I was finally able to back paddle and make my way to the rocks where Kobie was standing. Kobie gave me a hand so that I too wasn’t dashed against the rocks getting out of the lake. When I safely made it out of the lake I was finally able to retrieve my radio to call the lock. It goes against protocol to use a marine radio on land, but I was cold and angry. I first asked about portage around the lock and dam, but was told that they would lock us through. I was even angrier. There was a zero percent chance of us being able to get back in our kayaks on the top side of the lock. The wind and waves precluded it.

Another annoyance was the guy at the lock also mentioning that they weren’t expecting anyone today. It is their job to expect people. What really ticked me off though was when the person working the lock came out and said that he was watching us all the while, wondering if we would be pushed against the lock gate or if we would be able to make it to the side. Hey, Mr. Incompetent, here is an idea, open the door for us! At least give us a flashing yellow light on the lock so we know you are making the lock ready so we can soon enter. You could clearly see that we were struggling. I was so annoyed. And cold. I remained calm though as it wouldn’t have done any good to point out his incompetence.

Kobie and I were able to make our way behind the lock and get out of the wind to have an ever so brief lunch. As we stood there, shivering, we hastily ate a crudely thrown together sandwich. Sleet began to fall upon us. It made me immediately think of my 2005 bike ride when I got snowed in crossing the Rocky Mountains.

On the marine radio, on of the functions is that it picks up the weather forecast from the NOAA weather service. I turned on the radio to see if there would be any improvement, but there wouldn’t be. They reaffirmed that winds would be up to 55 miles per hour for the rest of the day, so our afternoon would basically be more misery.

If I thought it were possible I would say that the afternoon paddling was worse than that in the morning. We still had the four foot waves and 55 mile per hour winds, but along the Minnesota side of the river on which we were paddling were sheer cliffs with absolutely no place to bail out should we need to. It may have been more psychological than anything else, but if either one of us were to be dumped form our kayak it would mean trouble. It was not like we could even stay close together as we were at the mercy of the conditions. I would later discover that the area is called “point no point” as it appears that you can paddle around a point and put it past you. This nonexistent point is an optical illusion as the river bends to the right giving the appearance of a point.

I felt as if I was paddling inside a big washing machine with the agitator set to high. Waves had no semblance of uniformity as they seemed to be coming from every direction and in varying sizes. The majority of waves were coming from diagonally behind me so I spend several hours paddling while looking over my left shoulder for any potential trouble.

I was completely spent having to work my kayak across the waves. You can’t beat Mother Nature, at least not in the long term. I had to tack across the waves to make any progress and it took a lot out of me. I have to admit that I was somewhat envious of Kobies rudder, though I am not sure of how much use that would have been in these conditions.

We pulled into a small cove to come up with a game plan and saw a gentleman, Jamie, walking along the bank of the river. We inquired as to where we might find a place to camp for the night and were told that we probably wouldn’t have any trouble if we wanted to camp right there in the cove, but the area was unlevel and exposed. He also mentioned a campsite with hot showers in Lake City, MN several miles down river. Kobie was familiar with Lake City as he rode through the town on his most recent cross-country bike ride and said he knew it, so we paddled on.

The day involved lots of shivering, cold fingers and toes. I took more than several waves right in my lap. As the waves were largely coming diagonally from behind, they would push water up and on the back of my kayak and then over the combing of my kayak into a pool in my lap. Somehow the water found a way into my cockpit, soaking any stitch of clothing that I wore on my lower body. Worse though was that one wave nearly swamped me and tipped me over. I was able to keep myself upright using the flat paddle blade against the water to keep from going in the drink. The wind pushed harder and harder. I could feel the acceleration when the wind gusted. It was also the first day paddling since Canada that the two herniated disks in my neck gave me any trouble. I would attribute it to having to paddle while looking over my left shoulder for several hours.

We paddled on through the afternoon and planned on camping in Lake City. Kobie mentioned that if we have to pay $20 for a campsite, we might as well pay $60 and get a motel. After paddling in all manner of precipitation and wind all day, being soaked to the bone, Kobie knew that a roof and four walls along with a hot shower was worth an extra 20 spot to me; not least of which that it was to be in the low to mid 20’s at night.

We weren’t exactly sure where to beach in Lake City, but Kobie seemed to recognize and area he remembered where there was a motel. As we pulled to shore a man approached and I posed the question to Kobie, “is that the guy Jamie we saw earlier”. It was. Jamie came over and asked if we were interested in staying with him and his wife to get out of the horrendous weather, throwing in that he brews his own beer and has a sauna. If that doesn’t sound like a closer to me I don’t know what does. He mentioned that he came up with the idea of having us stay just as we were out of earshot following our initial meeting. The major obstacle, as is always the case, was what to do with the kayaks. After deliberating, Jamie called a friend and was able to borrow a pick up truck. While it was the right idea, the bed of the truck was eight feet long, leaving more than half our kayaks sticking out the back.

While Jamie ran home to grab a few long pieces of wood we could use to brace the kayaks, I changed out of all my wet clothes right on the side of the road. I was in the early stages of hypothermia and had a little frost nip going on, so I wasn’t shy. As I was still cold, I went in a nearby restaurant. While inside I noticed large picture on the wall of some women playing cards on a boat with the title, “Everyone has a good time on Lake Pepin”. Really? What is the guarantee, as I tend to disagree with that statement?

Jamie returned with an old set of doors that we used to extend the bed of the truck. We were golden. While we drove the five miles to the town of Frontenac, MN, where we had paddled past earlier Jamie explained to us that Lake Pepin was known for high winds and very little current.

When we arrived at the house it smelled of the most wonderful chicken soup and there was a fire in the fireplace. As far as I was concerned it could have been heaven. We were introduced to Jamie’s wife Jane and had a lovely meal. We lingered over dinner and talked about all manner of things before calling it a night.

I looked out of the window before going to sleep and tried to figure out what Kobie and I had done to deserve all of these absolutely amazing people that have looked after us on our trip.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On the Mississippi

I was much surprised that we weren’t harassed the entire night at our campsite. I did however sleep very poorly. Perhaps I have been getting too used to motels, but I was up at least a dozen times. It was certainly warm enough as I even left my sleeping bag partially unzipped. Wait, I know what it was: planes, trains and automobiles. I was able to tune the noise of the three out for the most part, but the periodic jet blast would wake me. Damn those Asia flights leaving at all hours of the morning.

A few drops of rain fell overnight, but it was dry as Kobie and I were packing up. It was a cool but tolerable morning, allowing us to get an earlier start than we had been for the last few weeks. As we were packing up a barge came down river, giving us the opportunity to scope out the wake left by the boat. The wake didn’t seemed to be all that bad, but I had a feeling, much like surfing when looking at the waves from shore, they seem smaller that when I am actually out there amongst them.

We made quick work of the one and a half miles to the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. The event was rather, well, uneventful. There were no fireworks, no music, no balloons falling from the sky, there wasn’t so much as a sign indicating that we were now paddling the Mississippi River. The river did however increase in width if not in strength. I still wasn’t the mighty Mississippi that people speak about. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at how little the current increased. I didn’t expect to be whooshed away at ten miles per hour, but some noticeable difference would have been nice. I thought about it a bit and for some reason it escaped me that the Mississippi River was dammed, so in essence we were paddling not on a river as it were, but rather a series of lakes.

Shortly after reaching the Mississippi River I saw the first other non-motorized craft on the river. Up until that point I hadn’t seen another kayak, a canoe, or even a kid floating down river on an inner tube. The stretch of river that we were paddling was used by the Minnesota Rowing Club. There were a handful of folks out on the river rowing crew. I was impressed by the speed of those boats. If Kobie and I were rowing one of those things, we would have long since been in the Gulf of Mexico, though as soon as a little wave kicked up it would mean a swim.

Kobie and I chatted with a group of girls rowing who probably thought we were a little out of it, but they invited us over to Rowing Club to use their facilities. It was great to have some folks on our level, meaning, there was a low dock for us to exit the water without having to get our feet wet.

As we left the rowing club we were paddling through St. Paul, MN. We are done with the scenic and wildlife portions of the trip, at least for now. It was a drastic change to environs in which we had been paddling, so it was nice to mix it up, but I wouldn’t want to go for an average Sunday paddle on the Mississippi River in and around St. Paul. The area through which we paddled was very commercial, very industrial, having barges moored all along the side of the river, three or four deep. There were also numerous trains running along the side of the river and smokestacks belching out, yes, you guessed it, smoke.

The wind had picked up an while it was at our back, that would only last until we got out of the city of St. Paul as we would slowly loop back and once again and head south, the first time since Mankato, MN. While the was blowing in our face, I took solace in the fact that we were heading south to warmer climates. Unfortunately though, it wouldn’t be fast enough as one of the girls from the rowing club mentioned that there would be snow flurries tomorrow.

In late morning the sun began peeking out from behind the clouds. As the day progressed the clouds dissipated completely leaving a perfectly blue sky. If the wind stopped it would have been a most pleasant day. While the wind would periodically pause, it seemed only so the wind could gather strength and blow harder still.

We paddled past several marinas, but most boats were encased in shrink-wrap, being stored for the winter. There were only very few recreational boaters on the river and most of those I would suspect were taking their boats for one last spin before winterizing them. To add to the boat traffic was the odd fisherman.

The river was now over a quarter mile wide so there was no jaunting over to the other side of the river. It would involve a commitment not just in paddling, but in looking both ways before crossing the main channel in the river that the barges and tugs use.

After lunch the childs play was over. The wind was kicking up waves in the two to three foot range. There were times where coming over a wave I would bury the first four feet of my kayak underwater only to have the water rush down my deck , jump my deck bag and splash straight in my face, with the remainder ending up in a pool on my spray skirt. This went on for half an hour until we turned and the wind shifted so that the wind ended up at our backs once again. I was able to really surf the kayak. Not like on the Red River, but actually surf the kayak without having to paddle for a good distance. We were really moving along with the help of the current and wind.

Late in the day Kobie and I came to our first lock & dam on the river, Lock and Dam # 2. Lock #1 was further up river , so we started on Lock # 2. I had never been though a lock in a kayak before so despite knowing how a lock works in theory, I was still unsure exactly what to expect. This was the United States though; if it wasn’t inherently safe to paddle a kayak though a lock, it wouldn’t be permitted.

The first problem arose in that the voices on my marine radio were garbled. I had no idea what was going on, but I did know that there is a rope for small craft to pull to alert the lockmaster. As we got closer, the lockmaster came in over the radio and said that they were making the lock ready for us. It takes a little while to fill the lock with several million gallons of water, generally about seven minutes depending on the size and depth of the lock.

One of the advantages of paddling the Mississippi this time of year is that there is very little boat traffic using the locks. That works out well as the priority for craft locking though is as follows: 1) Vessels owned by the US Government, 2) Passenger Vessels, 3) Commercial Vessels, 4) Rafts, 5) Pleasure Craft.

Each lock has a differing amount of lift, but lock # 2 lowered us the 12 feet gently until the far doors opened and we paddled on out on the open river. It was like letting the water out of a bathtub. There was even an audience watching on the far side. They probably got a good laugh seeing two kayaks come paddling out of the massive lock. The lock size itself was 110 feet by 600 feet, enough to fit nearly 2,000 kayaks

The folks working at the lock explained that there was a lull in the river traffic, but would pick up a bit and virtually end on the upper Mississippi at the end of November. It just seemed like a lot of effort moving millions of gallons of water so that two kayaks could paddle on, but I figure we are worth it. Actually, what I did figure was that some of my tax dollars go to maintaining the locks, so I am just reaping the benefits of my tax money being spent. There are so many other things the government spends our money on that we will never be able to use, so at least I was getting my tax dollars out of this one.

Within a few miles after coming out of the lock we were ready to call it a day. We found a nice isolated campsite with one small detractor: there was a house across the river with a bunch of guys all standing around watching us. The chances were small that they would drive around and hassle us, but perhaps the land belonged to a friend of theirs. The area was unmarked and there was nary a “No Trespassing” sign to be seen, but we just weren’t feeling it. While it was nearing dark, we got back in the kayaks and paddled on.

We only needed to paddle another mile down river to the Gores Wildlife Management Area on Prescott Island. We figured being on an island would significantly reduce the changes of anyone hassling us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

End of the Minnesota River

We awoke later than planned, somehow oversleeping the alarm. We crammed down breakfast, checked out and hurried down to the river. While the day outside was unpleasant, the day on Wall Street looked less so. The S&P futures were limit down 6.5% in early electronic trading, meaning that it wasn’t possible to trade at a price lower until they opened up for regular trading at 9:30.

I was looking at the positives in the morning, which were that it was moderately warm and when we started out, wasn’t raining. I also spotted what has become the requisite Bald Eagle within five minutes of setting off paddling.

The sun made a futile attempt at showing itself but the clouds easily quashed that plan. The river didn’t seem to be flowing at all. I was hoping we would get a boost from the running river, but it seemed as if it was going to be all paddle power. I was thinking about our direction of travel and given the conditions we had experienced I would have preferred to travel in the opposite direction, from St. Paul to Winnipeg. It just seemed as if it would have been so much easier.

As we started off, Kobie mentioned that arms felt like lead, to which I replied, “they feel that light?” I was especially tired as I got caught up last night watching a movie. It was one of those things that wasn’t that great, but I was committed so I couldn’t just shut it off.

Thinking about where we needed to go by days end, it wouldn’t be an easy stop at night so close to the Twin Cities. It was obvious that we were encroaching on civilization. We were seeing far more houses and roads alongside the river not to mention seeing more in the way of air traffic.

The sun tried several more times to crack through the clouds and eventually found success, but only ever so briefly. Even though it wasn’t the sunniest of days, I managed to strip down to a long sleeve shirt, which was a welcome change from the prior day. As there was little or no wind I was plenty warm.

As we paddled through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Recreation Area there were large smokestacks visible and a noticeable film on the still areas of the river surface. That’s some Wildlife Refuge. I couldn’t possibly imagine that we would be in the midst of a state park just down river.

In the afternoon I saw dozens of low flying planes coming and going from Minneapolis / St. Paul Airport. It reminded me much of my bike ride earlier this year on my last day approaching New York City when I rode past Newark Airport. The closer I got to the airport, the lower the planes would be when they passed overhead. In this case I was able to smell jet fuel. It wasn’t quite like the airport in St. Maarten, but the planes got rather close for the continental United States.

Also later in the day, with fewer than 15 miles of the Minnesota remaining, I had to continually look over my shoulder for barges. We were on the navigable portion of the Minnesota and there were some rather large docks to which river barges cold dock. The first barge took me by surprise, but it was the shock of the size more than anything else. Not that the barge was all that large at 200’ x 30’ (OK, it was fairy large), but in comparison to any other river craft we had seen until that point, it was, in short, big. On a positive note, if there were barges of that size on the river, my concerns of shallow water were allayed. The river was over one hundred feet width and increasing. We were no longer big fish in a little pond, but rather the converse.

We ended our day in Fort Snelling State Park, which didn’t really allow camping and closed at 10, but we had little choice. We weren’t trying so much to hide, but we didn’t exactly make ourselves conspicuous and hoped we wouldn’t be spotted.

So at the end of the day not only did we get the traffic from the highway bridge above us and the train across the river, but we also under the flight path of many a 747. We did however get to within a mile and a half from the confluence of the Mississippi River.

While the Minnesota River portion of the trip was still 1.5 miles from being complete, I want to review the numbers. Going first back to the Red River, it took us 27 days to paddle 510 miles, or about 19 miles a day. On the Minnesota River we paddled for 11 days, covering about 315 miles, giving us an average of nearly 29 miles a day. A ten mile increase over the Red! I just hoped that the trend would continue when we got on the Mississippi.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chaska, MN, Take II

I was unable to sleep in as when I first opened my eyes, the enormity of what I needed to accomplish for the day began to weigh on me. In running the usual errands though I was able to learn quite a bit about the city.

Chaska's history is deeply rooted in Native American culture. While the town was initially named Little Rapids, it was renamed Chaska, which is derived from a Sioux name often given to the first born child.

The signing of the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, ceding land to white settlers allowed the founding of the town, initially 20 acres in size. The town became a large producer of bricks due to the clay readily available in the region. It wasn’t until the Minneapolis and St Louis Railway was brought through town though that the expansion of the city took root. Later, the area branched out in the production of any number of agricultural commodities.

Today the city of Chaska has a population of just over 20,000 and more importantly, is home to a Best Western, right on the bank of the Minnesota River.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chaska, MN

We had found ourselves a nice secluded campsite sheltered from the wind and some of the rain that fell overnight. It was only a few degrees warmer than last night, but those few precious degrees made all the difference. I had only woken up a couple of times during the night, once to coyotes howling and another to chase away an animal that came through camp, most likely a raccoon.

My new tent beaded water like a freshly waxed car. I’m not talking about some kid wiping on some turtle wax either. I’m talking about the buffer. I was pleased with my purchase.

As we were breaking down camp the rain cut us some slack and stopped falling, but just long enough for us to get out on the river. The morning started with a light drizzle. Kobie mentioned as he does periodically in the morning, “If the weather stays just like this for the day, I’ll take it”. At least he is reasonable; he isn’t asking for 70 degrees and sunny, just the same steady drizzle with little wind.

In the morning as far as wildlife is concerned I saw a Bald Eagle, a few birds and little else. Actually, scratch that. I saw a Bald Eagle, a few birds and nothing else. All other animals were smart enough to stay home. The day was miserable enough that if someone were initially planning to go out for a day paddle trip, I suspect it would be called off with the exception of the most hardcore paddler.

The day was an exercise in misery. The morning was just grim. The forecast was for a day of rain and a high of 40. The rain was on and off for most of the morning, though mostly on as it became persistent.

We pulled under a brige for a quick lunch out of the rain, but as we were already wet, the breeze chilled us to the bone. My spray skirt is allegedly waterproof, but if it is, my lower body would have been far dryer than it was. I would have been able to wring out my shorts. We wolfed down a quick lunch and jumped back in our kayaks. My feet were cold, my fingers were really cold and I was just thinking about crawling in a dry tent and a warm sleeping bag. There was however some talk about a hotel, though we weren’t sure if we would be near enough a town to get to one.

I started seeing increased plane traffic at lower elevations below the rain producing clouds. It gave me some hope that we were slowly reaching Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and the locus where we would again turn south.

There was one section of river that I believed to be a small section of rapids, however, they were fixed flat rocks just below the surface of the water. I made the wrong move of picking up speed and succeeded at climbing the rock section and managed to firmly lodge myself. It took me a couple of minutes to extricate myself as there were other rocks pinning me in place and hoped that would be the end of it for the day. Instead it would be a harbinger.

Shortly downriver I heard a rumbling sound. I thought it couldn’t be water as if it was, it would mean a one heck of a ride. As we rounded a bend I saw hundreds of gulls picking off small fish in the rapids. The rapids were more significant than anything we had encountered. Perhaps as the water level was low, more of the rock formerly below the surface was exposed.

We did some reconnaissance on the rapids and determined that our best option was to take the left side. It turned out to be the wrong decision. Perhaps it turned out to be the correct choice as the result of some of the other options may have had a drastically different and more dire outcome.

The rapids had three distinct drops, each of several feet. I paddled for all I was worth, aiming myself into a pocket between two rocks. Even my best effort paddling wasn’t enough to keep me from getting lodged on the uppermost section of rapids. As water was rushing against my kayak threatening to tip me over I struggled to free myself only to drop several feet and repeat the process of getting stuck once again. It happened a third time before I finally extricatied myself from the rapids and was able to paddle in open water. Kobie was bound to a similar fate. On the rating scale the rapids would probably be labeled as Class II+; not crazy but also not something we should be running in touring kayaks. This area we are in is called the Carver Rapids Wildlife Unit so what did I really expect?

The rain in the afternoon was more cooperative, but I was no less cold. I was kept amused at the squeaking sound that my gloves were making as I rotated my left hand on the paddle to take a stroke. It sounded identical to a car windshield wiper squeaking along. At this point that sound has become Pavlovian to me, indicating rain.

At just the right time of day when we wanted to stop paddling we rounded a bend and there was the town of Chaska, MN. Better still was that the first indication of town that we saw was a Best Western sign right on the river! When we witnessed that, the decision was made. I had thoughts of a repeat performance of Mankato, but in an expansive hotel the woman at the front desk told me that only six rooms had been filled for the night, so we would be able to get out of the rain.

As we pulled up the boat ramp and to the hotel I got the first real look at the town. While I can’t say it reminded me of an older European city entirely, the cathedral tower did make me at least consider it.

At the hotel there was an underground parking garage which would serve as a home to the kayaks. While the area was secured we still had our doubts, so we put the kayaks in a maintenance structure that was I the corner of the garage. That was a new one for us, or rather our kayaks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cold Autumn Day

I certainly wasn’t wrong about it being a cold night. I woke to everything outside being covered in a heavy frost. My new tent was pitched under some degree of low tree cover, so I fared better than Kobie, whose kayak and tent were white. When I took the rain fly off my tent though the condensation from my breath on the inside had turned to ice. Again, Kobie had it worse than I as he had collected enough snow in his tent to make three or four generously sized snowballs.

I was supremely happy with my new spacious tent as well as my sleeping bag. One point of concern with the sleeping bag though was that it lost a good bit of the down insulation. The down should remain in the bag and not end up on my sleep clothes.

Just before heading down to the boat ramp I grabbed the bandana I had sat on a nearby picnic table. The bandana must have been moist as it was as stiff as a board after sitting for a few minutes. Were the day to warm up just a hair and precipitation would fall, it would be a miserable day paddling in the freezing rain. The day however, seemed as if it would warm significantly. It did and gave us completely cloud free blue skies to boot.

Down at the boat ramp when packing the wheels from my kayak cart away, I noticed the tube poking through the tire; the same affliction that brought Kobie to a standstill in Fairmount, ND. I decided I should try to get replacements before leaving town. I ran to three different shops without success, but was told I could probably get them in Mankato. Thanks. I would have to be cautions with the tires I had.

Similar to the prior day I saw a Bald Eagle within minutes of beginning to paddle. Later in the morning I had a Bald Eagle fly straight over my head from behind, clearing me by 15 feet. Seeing those eagles fly at close range is a breathtaking experience.

I don’t usually leave my phone on while paddling, but I did for some reason. Oddly enough, my phone rang with someone from KYED news in Mankato on the other end wanting to do a story about our trip. The story can be found here. I notice three major mistakes with the piece, can you find all three? I will get you started; throwing the word “tycoon” around is one.

The day never really warmed up to the point where I wanted to strip much in the way of clothing at any point in the day. At lunch we dried out our tents as they still both had ice on them. As we paddled away I noticed the rust colored leaves coating the trees. It was exactly how I imagined Autumn would be in Minnesota. I just thought that it would be a few hundred miles south of here.

Kobie and I made a quick stop in the town of Le Seuer, MN to meet the woman from the TV station. I figured they would send the low person on the totem pole, but she apparently interviewed Al Franken, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Minnesota, that morning. Unfortunately, she got a few of the facts wrong and became a little creative with the story. She did however tell us that it was supposed to rain later in the day; perhaps she had spoken to the meteorologist before meeting us.

In the afternoon we had a little company on the river as a beaver swam next to us for several hundred feet. It was quite surprising as beaver are generally shy. Usually, after a beaver spots us and has deemed us a potential threat, the beaver would duck underwater, slapping its tail as it breaks the surface. It is a warning sign to other beaver that there is potential danger lurking.

Over the last few days the area surrounding the river has become quite sandy. The sand doesn’t stand up nearly as well as the mud further north and erodes rather easily in comparison. Several of the oxbows in the river had been cut off as the straight line direction that the river wants to run had penetrated the bank to the far side of the oxbow. This made the river distance shorter, but only by a negligible amount.

The sky clouded up later in the day, so we were happy to find a campsite that was secluded and had tree cover. It seemed such a long time that we had camped alongside the river in a primitive campsite though it had been barely a week.

As we were near enough Minneapolis I called two of my buddies who are originally from there. The theme of the conversation had the same sentiment in both cases; get south fast as it would be getting very cold, very soon.

It seems that the news girl was right in one respect as it did start raining. I was serenaded to sleep by the raindrops tapping on my tent and a periodic howl of a coyote.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cool Day Paddling

Kobie and I were back on our old schedule of rising somewhat early. It was a good thing as well seeing how the day got away from us yesterday. Our gracious hosts whipped us up a hearty breakfast before shuttling us over to shop where our kayaks were stored.

Phil and Margie took us over to Scheels to pick up our kayaks before dropping us back at the river. While at the store, Kobie and I had the chance to meet a whole bunch of great people that worked there, including one person with the last name Scheel. We were even sent off with a few sweets to give us a little pick me up on the river.

Phil and Margie drove us back down to the river and said goodbye. It was so great to have the opportunity to meet such an amazing couple. It seems that it is a certain kind of person that takes a stranger into their home and in my travels, those are the people that are the most open and interesting. I am so humbled by the kindness showed to us on our journey to date, this example being one of the finest. It was hard to leave, but as there was a measurable snowfall in North Dakota reminding us that winter is nipping at our heels.

We set off and while I had noticed some further defects in my boat such as missing washers, it did track straight. Whenever I looked down at the pitted areas of the kayak though I grew annoyed. I have since spoken to some people about Confluence Watersports / Wilderness Systems and was told that the company has grown too quickly and hence their quality control has suffered significantly. Well congratulations Wilderness Systems, you have churned out another piece of crap.

When leaving Mankato I saw a Bald Eagle within 20 minutes of starting to paddle. I took that as a good omen. The eagle was soon followed by a number of deer in the East Minnesota Game Refuge. When Kobie and I see wildlife on the side of the river, the person in front stops paddling and points like Babe Ruth calling his shot, so that the other guy doesn’t miss it.

It was a hair colder than would be ideal, but it was close enough for us. It was that north wind we had been looking for the last seven weeks that had finally arrived bringing the cold air. The only problem was that from Mankato to St. Paul, MN we would be traveling northeast. We would have to head north for 110 miles before making our turn south again. Murphy’s law.

We followed Highway 169, that which links Mankato to Minneapolis, for the entire day. It wasn’t the most serene day paddling, but when the river turned away from the road it was pleasant enough.

In the afternoon we saw a guy get out of a van and take photos at various bridge crossings. He was from the Mankato Free Press newspaper. When we stopped at the boat ramp in the town of St. Peter, MN we met the photographer, but he wasn’t taking photos for the paper but rather a book about the history of the river. One of the photos did appear in the paper, though I haven’t seen it.

It was a short day paddling as we didn’t start as early as usual and we found a campsite well before our usual stopping time. As I had a new tent to figure out, it wasn’t a bad thing. It also gave me a chance to call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and chat with them about the river conditions that we had experienced. They also gave us a few warnings about the river up ahead, in that it may be blocked and that many campsites had been washed away.

The short day also allowed me to mail off a few things at the post office and pick up a couple subs for dinner from a place called Eberts & Gerberts. I have never heard of them, but apparently they are a chain in the Midwest.

Tom & Steve delivered the new tent and sleeping bag just in time as it grew significantly colder overnight..

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where Did the Day Go?

I awoke to the smell of pancakes. Margie decided to make pancakes for the crew and while still full from the night before packed them in. I knew that the following morning I would be going back to a banana along with some sort of breakfast bar.

Tom & Steve had to get going shortly after breakfast. Big thanks to them for driving our new gear down from Minneapolis. We sat down in front of the TV with Phil and Margie to watch the Vikings. It was a tight game, but the hometown Vikes lost a high scoring affair.

Somehow the day just got away from us. We had every intention of getting back on the river, but when Kobie told me it was nearly four o’clock, I hardly believed him. We certainly didn’t wasn’t to overstay our welcome.

We were welcomed to stay a third night, longer than anticipated, but the day was probably the first day of the trip that I didn’t think about the river, plan for the river, or update the website regarding the river. That is what I call a rest day, not running around like a lunatic to get errands done. Rock on.

The four of us went out to dinner for a change of pace. When we returned, we were offered to take an Audi TT for a ride. How could a boy resist? While I wasn’t going to go hard on the car, it did handle quite nicely. Wdoes this have to do with kayaking? I don’t know, but when I envisioned this kayak trip, it didn’t involve driving sports cars.

We ended the night talking about history and looking at some photos from the 70’s. While some people might cringe at the family photo album, I am nostalgic for things like that. So much changes throughout time, as in one photo Phil showed us from Arches National Park One of the Arches, Wall Arch, was still standing in their photo, but earlier this year the arch crumbled to the ground. This change and now more than ever I have a yearning to see things as they once were, as I one day hope to look back and see how things have changed within my lifetime.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Gear & Dinner

I slept in, which was just awesome to get solid nights sleep in a real bed. Hotels are fine, but there is nothing like sleeping in a home. Kobie and I spent the morning getting acquainted with Margie, our gracious host. Our friends Tom & Steve were going to drive down to say hi and deliver our new gear, so we had planned on again finding a motel for the night. Margie wouldn’t hear of it as there was plenty of space. If I was gobsmacked at their kindness yesterday and now they were even putting our friends up for the night, I didn’t know what to think.

In the morning I called the manufacturer of my kayak, Wilderness Systems or rather their parent company, Confluence Water Sports,. The best I got was something along the lines of, “At least it should go straight. If there is anything else we can do for you let us know”. I was angry. Very angry.

As there was going to be a full house Margie suggested a big dinner; so the three of us made the rounds at the butcher, wine shop and grocery store to pick up supplies. Shopping complete, Kobie and I were set up with a car to drive up to Sheels, where we were going to meet Tom and Steve. We also had the chance to do a little shopping while we were at it. Unfortunately though, what I was looking for, namely neoprene socks and paddling gloves were not on offer.

Also while at the store I transferred my gear to my new kayak, trying to not let on that I was seething. As I was doing so while the four of us were chatting I mentioned my interest in gloves. A woman in the back where our kayaks were stored was just marking down a huge bin of gloves to the low, low price of one dollar. While none were really paddling gloves, I did end up walking out of the store with a half dozen other pairs of gloves. For that price I could ship them home and still be ahead of the game.

Back at Phil and Margie’s the cooking began, including Kobie preparing his signature carbonara. The six of us ate drank and were merry. Everything was delicious and it will certainly be one of the more memorable meals that I will have had on this trip for sure. Similar to the night previous, things wound down in the hot tub.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Not So Random Act of Kindness

I woke to a very unwelcome rain. The weather was to be sterling for the next few days, so it was somewhat deflating to look out the window and watch the raindrops make rings in puddles. Being out in the rain when it is 45 degrees is generally unpleasant, not least of which when we have to paddle in it all day.

Before doing anything else I called the shipping company that was transporting my kayak to see if they could hold my kayak at the depot in Owatonna, MN. Owatonna is about 50 miles from Mankato, MN where we would be paddling through, so the plan was to rent a truck and pick it up at the depot as it was only going to be carried around in the back of a truck for several days before actually being delivered to Mankato.

I got someone on the phone immediately and the woman first said, “no problem”, but then reneged and said that the kayak would be delivered to Mankato within a few hours. I was somewhat skeptical and asked the question in several different ways that my kayak would actually be delivered to Mankato that day, to the point where she probably thought I was neurotic. While the whole process seemed much ado about nothing, I still wasn’t going to believe the kayak had arrived until I was able to see it with my own eyes.

We checked out of the motel and the proprietor wished us well. He seemed quite happy for us, doing what we were doing. He found it amusing that I had been right next to his home town in southern India as well as to the town in which his sister lives in Sri Lanka.

Kobie and I set off from the motel with kayaks in tow in a steady rain. It was one of those rains that didn’t seem as if it would quit anytime soon. We had about 35 miles to cover to get to Mankato, but we also had a few oxbows that had been cut off to subtract from that distance. While looking at the map I also noticed that there were absolutely no boat ramps anywhere near the area in Mankato where we would need off get off the river. We would figure it out though, we didn’t have a choice.

When we got on the river it seemed, as if it were possible, that the river was actually flowing slower than before it had started raining. I took solace in knowing that there were several oxbows that had been cut from the river which would make our trip a couple of miles shorter than what the map showed.

OK people, I have a rant. What’s up with putting your old recliner alongside the river? The banks will erode and it will fall in or some mischievous kids will toss it in. Aside from that, do you want to sit in it when it is wet? Why do you put so many chairs on the side of the river? Stand or take a foldable chair with you. OK, rant over. I just don’t see why people do that.

Several days ago I had paddled past Gneiss outcrops and as I paddled along today I thought I noticed another type of metamorphic rock, Schist. So from several days ago, geologically speaking, things went from being totally Gneiss, to complete Schist. I know, enough with the Geology jokes, but what kid didn’t giggle in Earth Science when learning about Schist.

The rain tapered by noon and a hint of blue sky was even visible. When we stopped to have a late lunch, it wasn’t raining, but it got much colder.

There was a fair bit of wildlife throughout the day. While it was the first day that I hadn’t seen a single deer, I did spot several rafter of turkey and a couple of Bald Eagles.

As we neared Mankato there were numerous people loitering around the river, mostly fishing. One group of people enjoying their Friday evening after work was doing a bit of rock climbing on the cliffs alongside of the river.

While getting into Mankato proper, we were caught between large flood walls on either side of the river. While we thought this was going a big problem, or at least one that would cause us to have to paddle or walk longer than expected, we were heartened to see a break in the floodwall exactly where we needed to get out of the river. We grounded our kayaks 20 feet from the side of the river forcing us to get out and walk to the bank. The next project was to climb up loose rocks with our kayaks and get up to the level of the city. We have had worse times getting our kayaks out of the river, but it was by no means the easiest. When we got up to the city though, we were standing smack dab in front of a Holiday Inn in downtown Mankato.

As we were standing there I figured I would check to see the availability of the Holiday Inn. And while they did have one overpriced room left for tonight, they were full for tomorrow. We would need at least two nights in collecting my kayak.

It seemed that the town was full for parents weekend at Mankato State University. While Kobie posed the thought of booking a motel before leaving New Ulm, I dismissed the idea as in all my travels only once, in Calcutta, India, did I run into trouble of not being able to find a place to stay. While I was hoping Kobie’s streak of having trouble finding room at the inn would be broken, it seemed that my string of good fortune would come to an end. Or would it?

After calling a few motels and being denied, I figured that perhaps we should get my kayak sorted out first. I called Scheels, the sports store to which my kayak had been shipped. Much to my surprise, it seemed that everyone at the store I spoke to knew all about it. I figured I would get passed around to a dozen people before finding the one soul who was aware that some guy was going to come in and pickup a kayak. Better still that they knew all about the situation, they had a truck and would be able to pick Kobie and I up down by the river giving us a lift to the store, two miles inland. Not only was the store two miles away, but it was up a large hill. I heard someone say that Mankato is the hilliest city in Minnesota, but to us at that point we had a ride up the hill. Coming down would be the easy part.

As we waited to be picked up, I also found out that as part of parents weekend there was a big hockey game between the local Mavericks and the Fighting Sioux from Grand Forks. Had I Known, I would have loved to catch the game. Instead, Kobie and I caught a ride to Scheels with Phil. Phil was the one time head honcho of the store, but “retired” so that he now only works 50 hours a week. Phil told us that we would be able to store our kayaks while we got ourselves sorted out. When we arrived, he also made a few calls to try and find Kobie and me a room for the night. I too tried a few other motels while Phil had some business to tend to, but I received nothing but bad news. Between the two of us along with Cory, another friendly chap from the store who also made a few calls and got a list of pretty much all the hotels/motels in the area, our efforts turned out fruitless.

Just when I got the sinking feeling of “what do we do now”, Phil came back and suggested that we stay with him and his wife. He mentioned that they had two kids that recently moved out, so they had plenty of room and wouldn’t mind a little activity in the house. We were taken aback by the offer, but couldn’t be happier to accept.

I had a chance to look at my new kayak and while the keel looked arrow straight, there were some other problems. While the boat would float and probably go in a straight line, so could a modified bathtub. And I wouldn’t pay nearly two grand for the bathtub. The cable that retracts the skeg was drilled several inches in the wrong place, the straps for the seat system were completely twisted and there were pock marks all over the surface of the kayak that would soon fill with dirt and look like black freckles. Were the circumstances even slightly different, I would have declined acceptance of the kayak. I was between a rock and a hard place.

While we had to wait for Phil to finish up, Kobie and I ran out into the shopping mall to which the store was attached and grabbed a late dinner. We were relieved and once again dumbfounded by the kindness of strangers.

Arriving at their home, we had the pleasure of meeting Phil’s wife Margie, who immediately made us feel as we had lived there. We got settled in and chatted, while enjoying a few drinks and some shrimp cocktail Margie put together. As if that wasn’t enough, we adjourned to the outdoor hot tub.

When things seemed most dire they turned around and we ended up in a diametrically opposite situation. When I walked out of New Ulm in the rain the morning I really didn’t think my night would end with shrimp cocktail, a couple of beers and sitting in the hot tub looking up at the stars.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Ulm, MN

It was such a silent night with the exception of the kids driving around in the parking lot doing donuts, coyotes howling next to the tent, a couple of deer grunting and being woken up at sunrise to gun shots. Other than that it was quiet.

The temperature was in the upper 20’s with the entire ground covered in a heavy frost. It was downright cold. I was a bit chilled in the sleeping bag, but like Kobie, bought a new sleeping bag that we would get when our friend Tom met us in the next few days. I also bought a new tent that I would collect at the same time.

Getting paddling was a rather dismal experience, simply because of the cold. My fingers were cold to the point where I could hardly manipulate them. Some good waterproof gloves would have been nice.

As we set off there was a think blanket of fog on the water, spindling upward becoming ever thinner until they vanished. Except for the temperature, it reminded me of paddling on a witch’s cauldron.

There was something odd about the day that I just couldn’t put my finger on. It took me several hours to realize that there wasn’t a single breath of wind. The water was still, as if we were paddling on a pool. I wasn’t discouraged that the current wasn’t running hard as it had been the last few days, I was just glad it wasn’t running against us.

Later in the morning the current pick up in places. Also making our day shorter was that the river had cut off numerous oxbows that were shown on my map. So instead of circling in big loops, we had to continue straight on several occasions where the river changed course.

Just about when we were ready to have lunch we happened across a camp of some sort that had a hodgepodge of tables and cut logs to use for chairs. In addition, there was a picnic table misplaced in about a foot of water. We would have eaten there as it was comical, but it would have been a little cold with our feet dangling in the water.

The afternoon warmed nicely. That morning I never would have guessed that I could paddle later in the day wearing nothing but a PFD on my upper body.

Kobie and I paddled next to one another for pretty much the entire day. At one point we saw a group of duck decoys and a poor attempt at a duck blind. One of the main rules of hunting is to know your target and what is beyond and obviously I am not a misanthrope, but I just don’t trust drunk people with guns.

I was feeling better than the day prior, so I enjoyed spotting some wildlife, which included: an egret, beaver, blue heron, numerous deer, and a varied assortment of ducks

We ended the day in the city of New Ulm, MN sister city to Ulm, in southern Germany. It was a short walk to town and there were numerous motel options. After settling on a motel we went through the game of trying to find a place to store them. After the usual things, such as trying to get them in a room, basement, storage area or outbuilding, the proprietor said we could leave them in the lobby as it would be manned the whole night. It worked for us.

In checking e-mail, I learned that my kayak wouldn’t arrive for another five days to a place we would be tomorrow. I was somewhat deflated, but had to roll with the punches. Kobie and I decided to walk to the downtown area of the city for a good German meal while discussing the options of collecting the kayak.

We considered renting a truck to go collect it where ever it might be, wait until it arrived in Mankato, MN and rent a truck and drive back or to simply spend some time in Minneapolis and try to have it rerouted there.

It was a considerable walk, or at least longer than we thought it would be to get to the downtown area. I felt as if I was walking back in time. The downtown area of New Ulm looked much like the Gaslamp district in San Diego. I wasn’t sure if that was intentional or if the intent was to have the area look like something entirely different. The one main difference was that the Gaslamp district was far more vibrant, with far more people around. Other than a couple of drunk women leaving a bar and shouting at Kobie and I, we saw nary a soul.

The Kaiserhoff Restaurant, threw together a good, filling meal, even if it is not exactly how my mom used to make it. We had the walk home to help digest. We also decided that I should call the shipping company in the morning and see if I could have the kayak rerouted to Minneapolis. Hopefully we would come up with something.