Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mississippi River Canoeing, Part 1: Adventurers.

Over the course of this trip we were called many things, crazy, ambitious, river boys, angels, among many others, but I think the term we would have used to described ourselves when we pushed our little boats into the swollen Mississippi river above St. Paul that morning would be adventurers. 
The trip was already in danger of not happening before it even started. High water levels caused by extreme amounts of rain had closed the first three locks that we had planned to do the first day. We had briefly considered delaying the start of the trip till the water levels went back down but it would have been at least a week and we felt if we didn't start now we never would, so we simply started a bit below the locks.
So we set off into the fast current which whisked us past sights we knew all too well from the land. It was the feeling that you have when you leave your neighborhood for vacation, seeing everything you know and just wondering what adventures lay around the next bend.
Barn's bluff in Redwing as seen from the river.
Locking seemed very scary to us at first since we'd never gone through one before and weren't sure how the radio worked.  We found, however, that locking was very easy.  You could just pull a little rope 200 feet away for the lock and the lock master would get you all set up.
The high water levels seemed to bring a curse as well as a blessing. Many of the sights we could have camped at were submerged. As a result we started having to put in more miles then expected each day just to find a place to put up the tents. Here we were able to find a great campsite and set up all our tents! That's my tent on the left, then Stephen's and Andrew's on the left. One side effect of all the paddling we were doing was that as we were falling asleep we would get the illusion that we where still in the boat and that it was rocking while going over waves or a barge wake. More than once we woke up in the night in a fright that the water had risen into our campsite.  It's odd how the river plays tricks with your mind.
Despite my best attempts to fix it, my kayak had been getting progressively more leaky as waves finally brought it to the end of it's life. The decision was made to finish the trip with just the canoe.  I was sad to say goodbye to my kayak since it meant I would not be able to go all the way to the gulf; but I was happy to spend more time with my brothers.  After some repacking and reorganizing we had quite a comfortable set up with one person resting in the middle on a kind of makeshift seat. Immediately we where happier.  We would each paddle for 2 hours and then take an hour resting in the middle. In Stephens case playing the harmonica. 
Andrew and Stephen backing the canoe into a handicapped parking spot in a flooded parking lot.

 The last campsite for the week was this tiny slip of sand which we called sinking island since it was slowly washing away. 

As the week came to an end we realized the trip would not be exactly as we had imagined it -- more paddling and fewer campsites then we had hoped for. But these are things that all adventurers must face.

Continued in Mississippi River Canoeing, Part 2: Mariners