Friday, October 10, 2008

Minnesota River

The night was rainy and miserable, so our stay at the motel was that much sweeter. As it was still miserable in the early hours of morning, we slept in. While having breakfast in the lobby I overheard a duck hunter mention how rainy and horrible it was outside, so much so that he wasn’t going to hunt today.

I was in a bind as I had lost my waterproof, cold weather gloves. With the forecast of more cold temperatures and rain, I wouldn’t have to worry about all the skin on my knuckles splitting open as my hands would fall off from the cold.

I stopped at every place on the way out of town that would logically have gloves, including a hunting shop. The shop didn’t have any gloves for sale, but the proprietor had just bought a new pair of neoprene gloves for himself that he would sell me were they to fit. They didn’t. The last stop was the local hardware store, but they too had little to choose from. I was told that were I there a week later, they would have their full compliment of ice fishing gear in stock including all sorts of gloves. It was of little use to me. As I walked back to the river, there was sign in front of the bank that read 43 degrees.

While I was on my quest for gloves, Kobie set us up with a new spare tube fore our kayak cart tires. We still had no way to pump up a tube were we to get a flat, but a pump is easier to find along the river than the specialized tubes that we need for the kayak carts.

I met Kobie again who was talking to a reporter for the local newspaper, the Ortonville Independent. The story, inaccuracies included, can be found here.

The reporter followed us over to the Minnesota River and witnessed our joy in that we would finally have the current running with us. Also at the start of the river was a sign, indicating the distance to the Gulf of Mexico at 2,130 miles. We had a long way to go.

There was a steep bank getting in the river past the Ortonville Dam, so it took some additional time to get in, making the reporter wait. For good news though you have to wait…

We posed for the requisite photos and started our paddle with the current running in our direction. It took all of 30 seconds for Kobie to get stuck on a rock. It wasn’t how we thought this portion of the trip would proceed. At least it had stopped raining.

Within the first 15 minutes of paddling we hit a section of rapids. The rapids were a little more than we had to paddle up on the Red River, but still in the category of Class I. Rapids are generally graded from Class I (some riffles and fast moving water), to Class VI, (a coin toss as to whether you will survive should you run the rapids). We weren’t expecting much more than a Class II at any point on the river, so this was a non-event. That being said, seventeen foot kayaks are not meant to run rapids.

Within an hour of setting off we began hitting shallow spots in the river requiring us to get out and walk our kayaks along, much like on the Bois de Sioux. And also just like on the Bois de Sioux, the water was quite cold. Then it happened. I am not exactly sure how, when or exactly where it happened, but we lost the Minnesota River. There were no real tributaries or rivulets since getting on the river, but Kobies GPS indicated that we were smack dab in the middle of an open field. I didn’t know where the river went, but we certainly weren’t on it.

We were at a loss as both my paper map and Kobie’s GPS offered no assistance as to where we went wrong. We did however know that we had to find the river. The choices were to either walk back to where the GPS showed we were on the river, or to get out of the river bed and walk along a farm field. As the water was frigid we opted for the latter. It seemed that on a section of water a half mile back we should have turned left. I remembered the spot, but there was even less water than what we were trying to paddle. So much for it being a straight shot along the Minnesota River to the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico.

While I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of having to walk along the river, I was just glad it wasn’t raining. We managed to bushwhack our way off the body of water that was not the Minnesota River and on to a farmer’s field. As we walked on, it appeared that we were in an area that was once wetlands, but at present they were nowhere in the vicinity of wet.

I saw a sign for the State Wetland Area so went over to have a look. As I stood there trying to make sense of what happened and where we were, a truck pulled up. It turned out that two guys working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were there to ascertain why exactly there was no water in the Minnesota River. As surprised as we were to see them, they were just as surprised to see us. It would have been nice though if they would have figured this all out and taken care of it prior to our arrival.

The small body of water we were standing in front of while speaking to the two gentlemen was the Minnesota River. The river was completely clogged in sections and formed stagnant pools in others. If we had stayed on the Minnesota River instead of taking our little detour we would have been in even worse shape. At least the guys gave us some really good information and pointed out on the map where we needed to go, suggesting where there might be some good water for us to paddle. They said we would have to walk for at least a mile or more before finding clear water, but a mile to us is a short jaunt at this point.

One other question we had for the DNR guys was concerning the closure of Lac (Lake) Qui Parle, on the Minnesota River. The lake is closed each year for the Canadian Goose migration and on our streak of bad luck, the lake would be closed to all traffic that night at midnight. As the lake was no less than 20 miles further on, we had no chance to make it before the closure. Were we to be law biding citizens; it would mean another 10 mile walk.

Again, the DNR guys were fantastic and even made an attempt to get us a special permit to circumvent the regulation closing the lake, but the only person who could issue the permit was on vacation. They gave us our options of either doing the walk or skirting the south side of the lake. They suggested that perhaps it might not be a problem on the lake as none of the Geese had yet come, but were we to be caught on the lake we could be fined. In any event, those two guys were a goldmine of information concerning the next few days paddling.

Kobie and I thanked the guys and walked on to where they said we could probably get back in. As we passed some random guy in a pickup truck on our walk Kobie chatted with him ever so briefly having been given the advice that we should have brought a chain saw. The river was that clogged with downed trees.

The spot where we were told we could possibly get back in the river unimpeded looked questionable, but we figured we would have lunch while deciding what to do. As we sat eating our lunch on the side of a dirt road in a protected wetlands area, the same DNR guys came by and offered us a lift up the river. While we declined the outright ride, I took them up on the offer of a scouting mission to see what the river looked like a little further on.

In looking at the river somewhat further upstream, it was clear that the river was still clogged in certain sections. We decided that after lunch we should walk a bit further before getting back in the river. We thanked the DNR guys as they left, to which they expressed their confidence in our successful completion of the journey. While their confidence would have no bearing as to our chance of success, it was a solid vote of confidence.

We jumped back in the water further down river still and for the first little bit it wasn’t bad. We had to work to get through some sections that were a bit shallow, but it was mostly clear. I got a good laugh at looking at Kobies GPS as it showed us in the middle of a big lake. We were paddling on but the smallest flow of water. The river had tight looping turns. I classified that part of the river as fun, paddling around the little turns with tall cattails on each side. I felt like I imagine a dog would at the dinner table. He knows there is something going on up there but he has no idea what it is as he can’t see is there. We curled back and forth through the high grass, now knowing what was going on, around us.

Early in the evening we paddled past the town of Odessa, MN. It seemed that when we had just started our day paddling we had to stop as we were running out of light. We pushed just past the town of Odessa and stopped at a dam, as we would have had to get out of the water there anyway.

Down by the dam there were two kids fishing for Walleye. They had a couple of fish, one of them the largest Walleye I had ever seen. Then again, I haven’t seen all that many Walleye.

The weather was looking questionable for the night and the only place to set up a tent was an exposed area just next to the river. There were however a couple of concrete bathrooms there, so we kicked around the idea of sleeping in there.

As we were still deciding where to sleep for the night we had some dinner. In the midst of our meal about a half dozen people showed up. Apparently the one guy that caught the large Walleye had called his buddies who were all at the local bar in Odessa. We quickly drew attention from the guys who were all in various states of intoxication, some with beer in hand. While we generally concern ourselves with the appearance of a large group of locals, we quickly deemed this crew to be harmless. They were just out on a Friday night having fun. They made an effort to cajole us in joining them at the local bar, claiming they would put our kayaks on the roof of their car and give us a ride back later. Hmm, no. Actually it probably would have been fun spending a Friday night in Odessa, but we would have had no place to leave the kayaks.

After awhile the kids grew tired, or ran out of beer, I don’t know which; but they left to head back to the bar. I was just hoping they didn’t think it would be a good idea to come back down to the dam at 3 AM to do a bit more fishing.

The kids didn’t come back at 3 AM; it was closer to 10 PM. Given the rain and high wind that was supposed to head into the area, Kobie and I had opted to sleep in the ladies room. While the restrooms were there for many years, there were obviously not many women that visited. Kobie and I had just enough room to sleep in an “L”.

Word spread in the bar of our trip and there were some nonbelievers, so someone thought a field trip was in order to meet the two guys who were allegedly doing it, despite us being in a slumber in the ladies room of all places.

When we heard a familiar voice yell, “you guys in there?” we figured it best to make a guest appearance despite it being in the 40’s and us in our sleep clothes. We got to meet more of the local crowd, but they also brought us gifts to wish us well on our journey: a case of beer and a dozen sausages, sustenance worthy of the heartiest adventurers. We wouldn’t be able to fit a 12 pack of bottles in each of our kayaks, so we had to turn away half of the gift, Kobie and I each settling on a six pack.

We stood outside in the cold chatting with the boys from “The Refuge”, the local bar in Odessa. We shared stories. The best of the lot was of a canoe trip one of the guys had done. They wanted to go for a canoe trip, but only had one paddle. So in the stead of a second paddle, they used a garden rake.

The guys made their way back to the bar and for the rest of the night we felt safe in that we met all the people in the area who might generally fit in the category of someone who would give us a hard time. Not only that but we were sleeping in a concrete building. We had also rigged up a little alarm system for the kayaks using pebbles in aluminum cans. It wasn’t much, but we thought it to be enough to get our attention should anyone try to make off with the kayaks. It isn’t all that easy to make off with two 17 foot kayaks in a hurry.

I slept thought the rest of the night uninterrupted.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

think you need to copy the e-mail mike Swenson sent me and put it in your writing, not what's there now.
Regards from Christina, New zealand