August 6, 2019
Dear Family & Friends:
This is just too much fun!
This is our 11th day on the Big Muddy. So far, we have travelled 262 miles. Our longest day, in terms of mileage, was yesterday. We logged 36 miles. Today we are camped at a beautiful park in Palisades, Minnesota.
I feel like I am getting into the rhythm of the journey. I have mastered a kayak paddle stroke that is comfortable and maintains a good speed for my canoe. I am learning how to read the River and watch for riffles that signal underwater hazards, like sandbars, rocks and tree stumps. I can also stay in the seam of the current where the channel is deepest and the water moves fastest. I have paddled in glassy and turbulent waters. I can manage sharp turns and avoid the many obstacles in the water, some of which are hard to see. On a more basic level, I get better each day at packing the canoe so everything fits nicely. I was concerned about portaging and installing and removing the wheels. Now, I do that like a pro. Navigating was a big concern when I started this trip. With some apps I loaded on my phone before I left, and a great app suggested by Jeff (Avenza), I don’t worry quite so much about getting lost. Overall, I feel like my canoe and I are operating more like a unit, and I am far less stressed than I was when I started this trip. It helps that I am past some of the most challenging sections. But, I know more challenges are in store, especially when I have to compete with tankers and tugs for space on the River. All-in-all, not bad for someone who never even sat in a canoe before this trip.
Because of my mountaineering trips, I am pretty competent at camping. This adventure is no exception. I love my new tent, and my cooking skills aren’t too shabby. Last night, I had pesto pasta with a touch of Ghost Pepper. Really good. I had to buy a new sleeping bag because the zipper broke on the bag I brought. I lost an air mattress on a portage, so that was replaced too.
On the negative side, the mosquitos and biting flies are aggressive, voracious and obnoxious. I keep them in check with bug spray, bit I still have bites all over my body. They chase you into your tent at night, and patiently await your exit in the morning. Also, I packed way too much for this trip. I have well over 100 pounds of gear, and I now realize a lot of it is unneeded, especially all the changes in clothes. As soon as I reach a large city, I plan to ship some gear home.
Recapping the last two days, yesterday we travelled 36 miles from Jacobson Camp to Sandy Lake Recreation Area. Jon left first under dark and cloudy skies. Jeff and I were still packing our gear into our boats. Within ten minutes, the skies were full of driving rain, lightning and thunder. Jon immediately pulled off the River, parked his canoe and sat miserably in the tall reeds waiting for the storm to pass. Jeff and I took shelter in the screen porch of an unoccupied cabin. After a wait of about one hour, we were all back on the River, paddling in a light rain. After eleven hours of paddling, we started to search for our next campsite along the River. We determined that it was not accessible without exiting our boats into eight feet of water. So, we pushed on for another 4-1/2 miles to the Sandy Lake Recreation Area, which required us to paddle about 1/2 mile up a tributary. What a great call on Jon’s part.
This was a delightful park, with grass, potable water, showers and a laundry area. The Park Ranger was friendly and accommodating, and the elderly maintenance man spent a lot of time chatting with us and telling fish stories. There were lots of families in RV’s, and it was fun watching them enjoy their end of the summer vacation. I loved watching the children ride around on their bicycles. The family on the campsite next to us brought us cold beers and grilled chicken! This was after we had already cooked and eaten our dinners.
Today, we pushed off at around 7:30 am. It was an easy and fun 21-mile paddle to Palisades, Minnesota. On the way down the River, I put on my orange Danny Giger wig in order to get a reaction out of Jeff and Jon. I’m guessing they were trying to figure out how to ditch this weirdo from California. (I assume you all know my beloved Danny loved to sport fancy outfits for his fraternity brothers and friends in Colorado) We arrived at a city park in Palisades at 1 pm. This is a really nice park in a small town that has one main street with no stop sign or stop light. After shopping for a few things at a general store, we had a great lunch at Gabby’s Cafe. A group of five elderly residents were hosting a Bible Study in the Elvis Presley corner of the Cafe. Tonight, we are cooking brats on a grille in the Park, which we will wash down with cold beer. Tomorrow morning, it’s back to Gabby’s Cafe for breakfast before we push off down River for Aiken.
That’s about it for now.
Love and blessings to all of you,
ps: three days ago, the Mississippi River morphed into the Big Muddy. The pristine, clear, blue water is now chocolate brown.
pss: Added audio report below