Day 9: 17 Miles
We had a restful night in the motel and enjoyed breakfast and lunch in town. We walked to the grocery store and picked up five days of food to get us to Aiken, which will be our next town stop. We were able to get the electric company to give us, our canoes and all our stuff a ride back to the river from our motel. It was incredibly kind of them and a big help to us. We headed out on the river at 1:00pm and were happy to have a good current and no winds. The wind did pick up some while we were paddling, with about half of the time being in our favor and half the time not. We did trying breaking out our wind sail, but the wind wasn’t consistent enough to be able to use it for long. We are looking forward to being able to use it more when the river widens up after Minneapolis. We are actually camped across the river from the designated campsite tonight. The bank of the river at the real campsite looked really steep and the water was deep next to shore, so we went to the other side which has a nice sandy bank and good hammocking and tenting spots. This appears to be a spot where cows graze, but we’re hoping they won’t be visiting us tonight. The mosquitoes are bad here tonight, so everyone was in bed by 7:00pm.
Day 10: 34 Miles
After ten hours of sleep, we were refreshed and ready for another day on the river. We enjoy the early morning hours on the river the most. The water is usually like glass, the fog is floating off the water, and we often see lots of birds fly away as we paddle close by. We are usually feeling the strongest in the morning as well, which helps to make that time more enjoyable. Since Grand Rapids, our pace has picked up from about 3 miles per hour to about 4 miles per hour. We figure most of that is from the current quickening, but we have also been changing up our paddling after talking a bit with the canoe racers…not that they were advising us on racing techniques, but just ideas to help with steering and stamina. We made 22 miles by lunch, arriving at a campsite and boat launch which we thought would have more than it did. We ended up just eating our lunch near the boat launch and chatting with the folks fishing who came by. When we told one guy that we had started at Lake Itasca, he figured we had started 3 days ago. When we told him today was our 10th day, he figured that the river must turn a lot…indeed it does. There were a lot of dead trees and branches in the river today…most of them were easily visible as we paddled, but some snuck up on us. We saw several motorized fishing boats on the river and thought they were a little crazy taking them in this part of the river. After lunch, we were paddling and noticed a chipmunk swimming across the river. He got within a few feet of our canoe and then turned around. We never knew that chipmunks could or would swim. A few miles down river, we stopped and walked a short distance to a convenience store in Jacobsen for a snack. We had some ice cream and soda and then got back to our boats and continued on. It was a nice break in the day. We got to camp around 5:20pm. The campsite is another one which is built on a steep slope up from the river. There was a canoe landing spot about 100 yards down which was a bit better, but still not great. Then we had to lug all of our stuff along a trail back to the campsite. When we are backpacking and going ultralight, it isn’t any big deal, but when we have coolers and giant water jugs, it quickly becomes a big pain in the butt. Mosquitoes are pretty bad here again tonight. We did managed to get in some card playing before we all headed to bed. We are all in bed tonight by 7:45pm.
Day 11: 28 Miles
Last night a storm came though as we were heading to sleep. There was thunder, lightening and rain, but the weird part was that the thunder continued for about 45 minutes without taking even a second break. We had never heard anything like that before. We got out a bit late this morning, as it took us longer to carry our stuff to the canoes load them up. The river was calm and flowing quickly this morning, which meant we were able to keep a good 4 mile per hour pace. We came upon the next campsite six miles in just as Jeff was setting out in his kayak. We chatted with him for a bit and then he pulled ahead. We took several breaks throughout the day where we just hung on to each other’s canoe and floated down the river together. We enjoy the breaks, as it gives us a chance to chat as a group and just relax or stretch. The weather looked like a storm was brewing around lunchtime, so we stopped at a campsite and put up one of our hammock tarps. The campsites are getting quite frustrating, with no good landing spot for canoes. The campsite at lunch, had us going parallel to a steep bank and trying to crawl out holding onto the grass for grip. Getting back in after lunch was worse, as we basically slid into the canoes. The storm at lunch wasn’t bad, as it seemed to just skirt us. We had planned to go further today and stealth camp, but we were getting close to a campsite just before another thunderstorm was predicted to come through. So, we decided to call it a day just after 3:00pm. We were able to get our stuff set up before the storm came through. There was a little rain, but a lot of wind. There were even some big branches that came down near our canoes. We just waited out the wind and then came back out and played some cards before making dinner. It is pretty chilly here tonight and tomorrow is supposed to be on the cool side as well.
Day 12: 35 Miles
It was cold this morning as we got underway. We kept our mudboots on in order to keep our feet warm. We didn’t take many breaks in the morning, because we would get too cold when we stopped paddling. We have been seeing a lot of bald eagles on this trip and often one seems to be traveling along with us for several miles…the bird will move from one tree to another a bit down river and then when we get close, it will fly a little further down the river to another tree and then wait for us to get close again. It is pretty cool to watch the eagles fly so close to the water then head up to the trees. We are always excited when we see one. We made the 15 miles to Palisades by 10:30am and stopped at the community campground. Jeff was just getting ready to leave when we arrived, so we chatted with him for bit before heading to the cafe for second breakfast. We were all so chilled when we got to the cafe, so it was nice to be inside and drinking warm drinks. The food was great and we enjoyed the morning break. We decided to pick up a bit more food at the convenience store to get us to Brainerd (our original plan was to resupply in Aiken tomorrow). We didn’t get back on the river until 12:45pm and then we still had 20 more miles to paddle. The afternoon felt long with strong winds sometimes in our favor and sometimes not. The campsite we had planned to stay at was no longer maintained by the DNR and there was no sign, so we just ended up finding a stealth spot that is pretty reasonable nearby. Thankfully there are no mosquitoes here tonight. We are all feeling tired and it is getting colder, so we headed straight to bed after dinner.
Day 13: 33 Miles
Another calm and beautiful morning. We started with more layers on this morning, so it didn’t feel so cold. We had a quick 12 miles in Aiken this morning arriving at 9:45am. We met up with Bob, who is the cousin of Beardoh’s mom. Bob was kind enough to meet us and drive us to a great local diner for breakfast. We had a great time chatting with Bob and he even brought us some tomatoes and apples from his garden. It was a really nice stop and then we were back on the river in under two hours. Shortly after leaving Aiken, Qball noticed that their canoe (named Daisy) had a bit of a leak. He just sponged out the water periodically over the afternoon. The rest of the day was mostly calm on the river. It seemed like the current was a bit slower today, but maybe we are just feeling tired. We saw quite a bit of wildlife on the river today…muskrats crossing the river, a beaver crossing the river who smacked his tail on the water, and three eagles following us and each other in the afternoon. At our final floating break, we decided to each guess the minute of our arrival in camp and whoever was closest would get a point added to their score for our ongoing Pitch card game. SweetPea edged out Qball by a minute for the point. The campsites continue to get more disappointing as we go down the river. There was really no landing for the canoes, and then we had to climb up a steep and muddy slope to the site. Qball and Safety brought their canoe up on the slope in order to patch their leak. Hopefully everything is sealed up good for the rest of the trip. The temperature was really pleasant this evening and we enjoyed more card playing after dinner.
Day 14: 32 Miles
It was pretty chilly and grey this morning as we headed out. We got a few sprinkles of rain, but luckily it never materialized into anything. We had several layers of clothes on again which helped us stay warm until the sun came out. The river has really widened and straightened out over the past few days. It is nice, because we can look around more and just enjoy the river instead of watching out for obstacles. We decided to take an early lunch since we came to a boat landing at 11:00am which made for a good pull off spot. Otherwise, we might have just had to stop at a muddy bank, which didn’t sound as nice. We started to see some motorized boats again for the first time in about four days. We have been enjoying having the river to ourselves, but we knew that wouldn’t last. When we got to Brainerd, we had our first portage since leaving Grand Rapids six days ago. The dam we had to portage around was being worked on, so there were more obstacles than normal to deal with, but we were able to get through it pretty quickly. We are lucky enough to be able to stay with a host in town through “Warm Showers.” It is a network of folks willing to host a traveler (mostly used by bikers, and Safety used it when he biked across the US at the beginning of this year). The travelers can shower, do laundry and sometimes share a meal. Our host, Mike, and his adorable dog, Nemo, have been really great. Mike even hiked the PCT last year, so we have a lot to talk about. Mike lives close to the river and we were able to tie up our canoes at his neighbor’s house who is right on the river. It is so convenient and gives us peace of mind to have our canoes in a safe place. We are going to take a zero day tomorrow, which we are all really looking forward to. Our arms, backs, shoulders and butts all really need a day of rest.