Day 04: Time to experience the river
My oh my!! The Mississippi is mighty even when it is small. What a first day. It started off at Bear Paw camp site. I packed the tent and all the gear. Today was the first day on the river. John and Joe helped me bring my boat down to the lake. Everything seemed balanced. I left my camera with Mary to capture some images of the start. I headed out into Lake Itasca aiming for the headwaters at the North end of the lake. Right off the get go, the winds were picking up making it a little challenging, but I could do it. I cut across the lake to miss a lot of the wind. I began moving as I looked for the headwaters. After a few miles, something just was not right. I looked at all the maps in detail except Itasca. I was going to the East end. Opps!! I turned around and started moving. I saw a lone fishing boat out on the lake. He approached and I waved him down. Because Mary was waiting at the headwaters with my camera, I asked him for a ride. I held on the side of his boat as we aimed for the headwaters. Wayne, just retired, was my little time saver as I was a few miles from the start point. He dropped me off close and Mary captured some shots as I approached. I got out to run up to the gift store to pick up a few things. I got some stickers and headed back to the boat.
I talked to a few others as I was setting up a few cool shots. I knocked those out and began. Mary went ahead to the bridges to snap a few more images. The river was small, tight, and moving quickly. I had to get good at moving my 17.5′ Wilderness Systems Tsunami through the channels. As I headed out of the park still getting a few for the boat, I saw them one more time at another bridge. I was trying to get to one side of a log while the current was pushing me to the other. I got it dead center and got hung up. I lost my Go Pro as I was fighting the water. I ended up finding it as I got to Mary. We snapped a few more pics and I said my see ya laters to them. I was off to paddle the Mississippi.
As I left the park, the waters opened up a bit and I was able to enjoy the beauty of MN. Along both sides was a shorter grass about a foot out of the water. I looked off onto the distance at the red and white pines that covered my horizon. I was so happy to be there at that point. I would paddle along and then take breaks as I soaked up the sounds of the frogs and dragonflies. The river twisted and turned back on itself as the sun shined and the clouds floated past me. I came across a few ducks and a pair of white geese. Some points I pushed to feel the speed of the boat. Other points, I just let the river take me. I paddled till I got hungry and I realized my energy was draining. I made my first Backpackers Pantry meal and enjoyed evey bit of it. Feeling refueled and rested, I got back to the meandering grasslands of the river. Just after lunch while lying back in my boat, I looked up to see some dragonflies. Not just a few, but around 100 of them. They were just flying with me as I paddled. I doubt this occurrence will happen again on this trip, so I just smiled at the beauty of life and carried on. That was one of many happy points that I anticipate on this trip.
Around mile 08, I heard a sound, rather bunch of sounds, as I approached a land bluff. I stopped paddling and realized it was a lot of timber wolves yelling. I understood they can be some distance away, but they seemed too close for my comfort. I picked up my pace as I stayed near the middle of the river. At this point, the river has been as large as 20′ and as small as 5′.
The current was picking up near mile 09. As I flowed around a corner, I could head strong rapids and a small waterfall. I was at Vekin’s Dam. I did not see the sign to portage the boat and took it on. That did not work. I got stuck up on a tree on the right side. I jumped out to reevaluate. I went back and saw the sign behind some trees. Opps. It was only about 50′ but up a hill with a heavy boat was not looking friendly. As the mosquito swarms started attacking me, I scouted the drop and rapids out. I thought to myself and then got back into the boat. If the old settlers could do it, I could do it…..I hoped. I backed up and headed for the right side. I approached it and came at it full speed. There is only one way to find out what you got in those situations, so I went for it. I made the drop and then almost immediately got caught up in a tree. There is something to be said for small boats. I hopped out in the rapids and cleared the tree. I paddled through the rest of the rapids to a clearing. My boat spun around and I had to reset.
The adrenaline was fun, bit little did I know what was ahead of me. I had about 10 seconds of rest as I turned my boat around and then I was right back into the thick of things. The next 3 miles were all rapids, tight (sometimes too tight) turns, and multiple river blockages with downed trees. One down tree had me pushing my boat on land under it. Another one stopped me right after a corner. I had to eject into the middle of the current to free my boat and lift it over the tree. I was getting tired but the current was not letting up. I found myself fighting the current, the low lying trees, and the hidden rocks and branches. I began to get better at attacking the river, managing my paddle in sticky situations, and flipping back or ducking as need be with the trees.
At mile 12, I pulled out. My body was beat up and sore. I was getting tired and I simply needed to call it a day. I pulled my boat into this little land outlet. There was firewood and some chairs there. It looked like a good place for me to call it. I made dinner, changed into some clean and dry clothes and set up camp.
I have given up on counting mosquito bites. I have only had 5 ticks on me with one sunk in. It was a wood tick and he was removed from my tent. No free rent here!! I took a picture of this great camp location. I am glad I found this. Now, I am tucked in my mummy sac and sleeping bag. The river is 10′ to the right of me outside my tent. The sounds is like a meditation cd. The night birds are beginning to talk and I am sleeping without a rainfly to enjoy the stars when I wake in the night. The sun just set and I am ready to call it a long day. The Mighty and Muddy Mississippi is living up to its name. I have seen both sides of that today. I am planning on a long day tomorrow. It will start off with rapids and more tight maneuvering. That should last only a half mile and then I should be in the clear. I know I will be hitting more grasslands tomorrow. The river as a whole is running quite well right now. I got on it at the right time of the season. I am looking forward to the new adventure awaiting me tomorrow.
Never. Miss. A. Moment.