Day 15: 30 Miles
After an enjoyable day off in Brainerd yesterday, we got back on the river this morning. We had breakfast with Mike before bringing our stuff back to the canoes and heading out. We left just after 8:30am, so we missed out on the placid early morning hours and had some wind against us right away. It seemed like the current was faster today, so even though we were battling the wind all day, we still made good time. We took a lot of float breaks which stretched out the day, but they are totally worth it. The river was really quiet again today…we only saw one motor boat and one other canoe. When we stopped for lunch, we were in the shade, and with the wind blowing we all got pretty cold. For most of the afternoon, we were passing by a large military camp on the western shore of the river. We heard multiple big booms and bursts of gun fire…not really the sounds you expect to hear on the river. There were stretches this afternoon where the water was quite shallow and rocky. That is always nerve wracking, as it could be easy to tip the canoe if we hit a rock just right with this strong current. Luckily we didn’t have any problems and we think we have made it past the bad section (at least the current one…we know there are more coming up). Our goal for the day was a spot listed on the map as “landing and campsite.” Well, it does have a landing, but it is a big stretch to call this a campsite. We have found places to camp, but there is no picnic table or privy…our favorite parts of the “campsites.” We got to camp early, so we took some time and cleaned up the canoe a bit. The shores tend to be really muddy these days, so we track a lot of mud into the canoe. We try to clean things up every few days. We had dinner and then played a few rounds of Pitch while standing up. It is too uncomfortable sitting on the ground, so we figured it would be better to stack up our coolers and make a table to stand around. That worked pretty good until we decided the mosquitoes were too bad and now we have all taken shelter for the night. It is pretty warm tonight, so we should sleep quite good.
Day 16: 22 Miles
Oh, Mississippi River. Why do you hate us? We had planned to do a lot more miles today, but we couldn’t manage to get any further. The wind was blowing against us from the beginning of the day…no calm morning paddling for us today. We had 8 miles to our first portage in Little Falls. As luck would have it, the final day of a weekend-long craft fair was getting started and we were able to enjoy some food from the food court. The portage went smoothly, but took us some time, since it was a good distance (about 325 yards) and it takes us multiple trips back and forth to get everything. We ran into Jeff at the portage and chatted with him while we ate. All five of us headed out together with 9 miles before our second portage of the day. The wind really picked up and was just brutal until we got to the portage. We had to take several breaks during that stretch, just because we were so exhausted from paddling against the wind and the resulting big waves. We came up with ideas of what we would rather be doing than paddling in the wind, and Qball said he would rather be in prison listening to Rascal Flats…so you know it was really un-fun. When we got to the second portage, there was some crazy steep and staired sections and it was REALLY long. The map said it was shorter than the earlier portage, but it was easily double or more. By the time we got all of our stuff and both canoes to the other end of the portage, it was easily an hour and a half or more. We were starved, since we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so we finally sat down to eat around 2:30pm. We debated whether we should just stay there for the night, since the wind hadn’t let up, but we decided to go to a campsite five miles further. Not only did the wind stay really strong, but we had a stretch of really shallow and rocky river. The water is dark-ish now, and with the choppy water, it was nearly impossible to see what was coming at us. As we went though shallow rapids, we just had to hope for the best, since we couldn’t see the rocks to steer away from them. We did skim the bottom a few times and hit a few rocks, but luckily we didn’t tip over. We finally got to camp just after 5:00pm and we are all wiped out. We really hope that the wind is gone tomorrow so we can make good miles.
Day 17: 34 Miles
Once again, we are ending the day totally wiped out by the river. We’re still waiting for this to become a bit easier. It was a really warm night last night. The river rose during the evening, so Beardoh went to the canoes and pulled them further up the bank and tied them to a tree. We haven’t been tying our canoes up at camp, but we will definitely start doing that from now on. We were grateful to have calm water this morning as we made our way towards Saint Cloud. We had a portage north of town which we had heard was the worst portage on the river. After the horrible portage yesterday, we were curious to see what this one had in store for us. It turned out to be quite good compared to yesterday’s portage, even though we had to carry the canoes down a slope of boulders. We stopped and had lunch in the soft grass before continuing on. Within two miles, we came to the Sauk Rapids which were noted on the map (and signed on the river) as dangerous and requiring caution. There was even a portage around the rapids which we seriously considered. We tried to scout ahead with our binoculars to see how they looked, but it was hard to see. Based on where the rapids were marked on the map, we figured it didn’t look so bad, so we decided to go ahead through the rapids in the canoes. It turned out the rapids became more legitimate beyond the place where the map had marked them. They were quite terrifying to go through for us as total novices, but luckily we all made it through unscathed. Once we had made it through and knew we were all ok, it felt exhilarating. But, we all agreed that if we had known what the whole rapids entailed, we would have portaged around. And soon enough, we got to our second portage of the day. It was quite long at 650 yards and we had to carry the canoes down a very long flight of stone stairs to get them back to the river. That portage really exhausted all of us and we weren’t looking forward to having to paddle ten more miles to camp. When we got back in the river, there were lots of little islands in the river, and we apparently chose the worst possible route to go. Since we were on the left side already, we just went down that route, even though it wasn’t the most direct or the widest route. We definitely paid the price for that…it was really shallow and really rocky. The water was moving so quickly and we ended up getting out of our canoes and walking them for awhile through the water. It totally water logged our rubber boots, which made walking quite tough. The water was thigh high on SweetPea and the rocks were super slippery. We were relieved and even more exhausted when we finally got into deeper waters again. The paddling was quite a bit nicer for the rest of the afternoon, with just a few spots where it became super shallow. We were happy to finally arrive at camp a little before 6:00pm. Jeff is camping here again tonight, and we are all in bed early because the mosquitoes are so bad.
Day 18: 32 Miles
We’ll, today has probably been our favorite day on the river so far…it seemed like the river decided to give us a break for once. We headed out as the sky was turning pink. The current was pretty strong and we made good miles in the morning. Even with a couple breaks, we made it 20 miles by 10:30am. We stopped at a park in Monticello in order to fill up our water jugs and to get Dominos pizza. We met a really nice guy at the canoe landing who had a townhouse right near the landing. He offered to have us fill up our water jugs at his place which was great, as it was closer than the park water. We ordered our pizzas and walked the quick block and a half to Dominos and brought our food and drinks back to the park. It was so enjoyable to sit in the soft grass eating our hot food with cold drinks. We ended up staying there for over an hour and a half before finally deciding to head back out. We were planning to got another 20 or more miles, but after about 7 miles, we encountered a river angel out in his boat. He was looking for a guy who is doing the river on a stand up paddle board, who he was planning to host at his house tonight. He invited us to his house as well…hot showers, hot cooked dinner, and a grocery store run. We figured we couldn’t pass up such an offer, so we decided to head to his house which was about five miles further down the river. So, we ended up with a much shorter day than we had planned, but it should all work out in the end. River angels, Tom and Kris, have been really welcoming and generous to us, and a real pleasure to spend the afternoon and evening with.
Day 19: 27 Miles
After a great evening getting to know Tom and Kris, and eating a wonderful meal, we awoke to Tom making us french toast and sausage for breakfast. He knew we wanted an early start, so he had breakfast ready by 6:45am. It was so kind of him to get up early and make us breakfast. We all feel really fortunate to have crossed paths with Tom and Kris.
We headed out on the river around 7:30am and we’re happy to see our swift current was still around. The wind seemed to be going against us in the morning and just got worse as the day went on. We got to the Coon Rapids dam around lunch time. We met a guy, Steve, at the boat landing who was kind enough to drive our gear from the beginning of the portage to end other side. So, we just had to roll the canoes over. We ate lunch at the picnic tables before launching the canoes for the afternoon paddling session. As we got closer to Minneapolis today, we are trying the figure out the tricky timing of logistics tomorrow. Not only are we going through our first major city, but we will have a 1.5 mile portage through downtown Minneapolis tomorrow morning and then we will come to our first lock which won’t open until 10am. So, trying to figure out the timing of the day will be tricky.
It is also difficult to find a legal place to camp in a big city. We probably aren’t legally camped tonight, but it looked like a good and fairly private spot at the north end of a park in the northern section of Minneapolis. We got here before 4pm, so we had a relaxing evening of rinsing off in the river, cleaning the canoe, and Qball did some more patching of their canoe. We even played cards for awhile and waited to set up camp until it was getting dark. We’ve got another warm evening tonight. It feels like we were paddling near or under freeways for a lot of the day, and it is quite noisy with traffic here as well. We’re excited to be almost done with portages and to be able to experience a lock tomorrow.
Day 20 (Part 1): 11 Miles
We had another sweltering night of sleep. Who would have guessed that we would be experiencing a heat wave in MN in the middle of September? Strange. We paddled the final last five miles to our final portage of the trip. Even though it was our longest portage at 1.5 miles, it was our most enjoyable. We got an Uber to transport all of our gear , and then we just rolled our nearly empty canoes along a paved walking path that went along the river. We had multiple people stop us and ask us where we had come from and where we were going. When we explained our trip to canoe the whole river they were pretty surprised. Even once we were back in the river and nearing our first lock, some folks in a motorboat had us stop and chat when they realized we were going the whole way. Everyone seemed really interested in our trip. That group of folks were interesting as well, because they worked for the city and were collecting water samples from the storm drains into the river. They told us how Minneapolis has been working to keep household water and other contaminants out of the river. We went through our first lock with no problems. It was really incredible how deep this lock is. We kept being surprised as we went further and further down…39 feet in total. Once the other side of the lock opened, we paddled out and headed to a nearby park for lunch.