Day 18: The Push, the dam, and the people
The Push Forward
En route to Brainerd and beyond (stopped in Baxter because life just works out that way) Baxter is the town right after Brainerd.
My oh my!! What a day it has been. I woke well rested feom a comfortable bed. I love the Thermarest I am sleeping on, but it does not compare to a good bed. I talked with Jack this morning while I made a half dozen eggs and some ham for breakfast. After, I went with him on his 4 wheeler to load my gear. It did not take long as I did not unpack much. I thanked Jack for his hospitality and pushed on. It was in less than a mile that I saw my first bald eagle. I am so lucky to be able to see them on a daily basis. The great outdoors is like an incredible zoo, but free.
The current was flowing quickly and I had a nice tail wind all day today. Yesterday, I hit that traveling mental hump. It slowed me down for a bit, but I had to push through it. It is like any of the marathons I have run in the past. 2/3 the way through, I would hit a wall. I knew I was able to complete them, I just had to get past that mental road block. Mine was big, but not anything that I could not handle. So, today felt like a fresh day. The adventure was on. I moved through the river until I hit a long lake. I was grateful for the tail wind, but that also made it a challenge. I had a rear, slight cross wind pushing me forward. I made it most of the way across the lake before I decided to take a lunch break. I knew I had a 300 yard portage coming up ahead and I could use the energy. I made my Backcountry Pantry meal and enjoyed a quick swim into the river. Then I was off to find the damn I needed to get around. The winds picked up to the point where the waves were crashing over the top of my boat. I just kept paddling and pushed through the rough waters.
I made it to the dam and was looking at my first solo portage. I have been fortunate enough to get help at the other 3 portages. I pulled up to see a paved path around the dam. I put my transport wheels on and pulled my boat past it. I got back into the water and was now in Brainerd, MN. I was hoping that there would be a Wal-Mart in town to resupply my snacks. I realized after the dam that they did not build houses because of the potential flood zone. I pushed downstream until I began to come upon houses. I spotted this one on the right that had a bald eagle wooden sculpture in it. I saw a woman working the landscape. I turned my boat around after I passed it because I had a good feeling. I approached and met Dee. I asked her if they had a Wal-Mart and if I could get a ride to it to refuel. She had a slight hesitation, but then agreed. I pulled my boat up onto her slightly river flooded lawn and went with her. She droped me off and I told her it would be 15-20 minutes. She was cool and waited for me. I picked up some light munchy snacks for the paddle to Minneapolis. On the way back, we were talking about the trip. She said someone must have really been looking out for me to make this trip happen. While I can go with that, I also know it took a lot of hard work that most people will never see to make this trip happen. As I packed my snacks up and was getting ready to leave, she came back and wanted to get a picture of me. We had good talks and I know she will have a story to tell too. Life is great that way. I shot a picuture with her and she got some of me. I smiled as I left feeling good about people. I have always said that there are a lot of good people out there in this country. She was a shining example and my hero for the day.
Feeling good and fueled up, I go back on the river and started clipping along. I had about 3 hours to pick up some good milage. As I was going, I kept hearing these huge bangs. Not like thunder from a super cell storm or trains colliding, but bigger bangs. I knew I was approaching Camp Ripley and figured the military was blowing some things up. I passed a couple having a beer and watching the river pass by. I said hi to them and I forgot to ask what that banging sound was. I figured I would ask the next locals I saw. This is where the evening became more interesting.
So…..I see these two guys fishing up on my right side. One has just caught a fish as I was approaching. It was a nice size sucker fish. I pulled up and asked what were those big bangs. This is where I meet Ron, retired military and a chill guy, and Kevin, a chef, business owner, fisherman, and dad and Kevin’s dog who is part wolf. Ron tells me they are testing rounds of 105 and 155 shells. I was hearing the little 105 shells. He said the 155 shells would rattle your windows 25 miles away. I found that interesting. Then he offers me a beer. I politely said no as I don’t drink beer, but I do drink hard alcohol very rarely. Kevin then jumps in and says, “How about a shot? I will go get you one right now.” I smiled and then agreed to that. Sometimes, life is like the current and you just have to go with it. He goes up to the house and comes back with a shot of R&R wiskey and a rum and coke. This is going to be a fun stop. I take the shot and have the rum and coke. He tells me about the glass my drink is in and says I can keep it. The glass is for the Ice Castle which is his friend Dennis’ s boat near LaCrosse, WI. It was a healthy drink and he told me how I should look him up in Kings Cove when I get down there. This adventure just added a treasure hunt element to it. I sat in my boat as we shot the breeze and had some laughs. Kevin is a proud dad and a stand up guy. He said he wasn’t always, but he carried himself that way now. He was funny. I was learning about fishing, the prep of them and about life. He is 58 and he said he is still figuring out what he wants to do. He smiled and said I was living one of his dreams. I smiled at that and felt proud to be doing what I am doing. He offered me another drink and I realize I am not going any further this night. I get out of the boat, pull it up on the lawn, and here goes the night.
I was handed another drink and he offered me a place to crash that night. It turned out to be a good thing as another big storm line was heading my way. Ron took off and Kevin could not say enough good things about this guy. Before he left though, I captured some great shots of him by the river. He gave me permission to use them in my book as there were some I really liked. I showed Kevin and he requested copies, which I will gladly do. The sun began to fade and he only caught one more small catfish. His dog came up to me and began warming up to me. Kevin said that was a good thing. I don’t have honest time for a dog at this point in my life, but I do like them. If I get to the point where I am not traveling, I would like to have one some day.
I grabbed my gear and we headed up to the house. This house is his mothers. He moved back here to help take care of her and is planning to move to Fort Myers, FL after his sister gets up here to help. I sat down at the table as we were talking and he heated up some burritos for me to eat. He offered me a warm, hot, and really hot sauce.I put one on each of the burittos. I liked the really hot sauce. Since his wife left him with a “Dear John” letter and his kids have grown, he has picked up some fun toys. He was proud of his Mustang GT and his 1968 Corin (I think) boat. It is a sleek speed craft like the one used un James Bonds Live an let die movie. He put in the movie to show me what it was like. He was happy about it as he should be. It was a nice boat. We ended up staying up till 2am just talking about life. Kevin was yet another example of good people and I was honored to be a guest at his place. The shelling kept going on into the night and that big storm line finally got here. I fell asleep to the cracks of lightening and the thunderstorm. The smell that a storm brings filled my room I was sleeping in as the night faded away. Today was a highlight day of this trip. I could not be happier or more honored to be doing what I am doing. This is what a good life feels like for me….and the adventure continues.
Never. Miss. A. Moment.