Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mississippi River Day 8 (High Banks, 83 miles)

Today was very overcast. I took a late start, hoping that some of it would burn off, but nothing really changed. I had to portage at a dam today, which was pretty cool to canoe back up to the bottom of the dam for pictures. Along the way I saw a lot of herons and ducks, and a few birds of prey. It started raining in the afternoon, so I called it an early day at an area called the High Banks, because you climb up a large sand dune area, which had an awesome view of the surrounding area. It was very steep, but a lot of fun to jump back down.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mississippi River Day 7 (Stump Lake, 75.9 miles)

Today was definitly a lazy day. It looked a bit threatening, and it did start to rain at a few points in the day. My arms were pretty tired, and I was very lacking in motivation for the day. Instead I was able to get a lot or reading done, and some streching, etc. I also took the opportunity to organize some of my gear, and plan out for the next few days. Other than that, I mainly enjoyed being outdoors.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mississippi River Day 6 (Stump Lake, 75.9 miles)

Today was a long day. I had intended to only go to silver maple campsite, which was roughly 12 miles, but I got there around lunch, and it wasnt a very nice campsite. It was already buggy, even at noon, and was right next to a major highway. The only other alternative was to push through Bemidji, which meant another 10 miles or so, a town stop, and lake travel. I had intended doing it as 2 separate days, but I decided to make it a single day.

I had actually already stopped once for the day, at a campsite that seemed relatevily nice. It seemed to early to be Silver Maple campsite, but it had a toilet, a water source, and picnic tables in the middle of no where, so it seemed right. Then I read the map more carefully and realized that I was on the wrong side of the river, and hadn't passed two roads that I should have. So I decided to keep going to Silver Maple, and then eventually beyond.

Just south of Lake Bemidji is Lake Irving, which is the first real lake on the Mississippi. It was a bit wavy, but I decided to cut across instead of going around, since it is relatively small. On the way I met a man on a stand up kayak type thing, with his dog standing on the front. He advised me where the channel to Bemidji was, and then asked how far I was going. Apparently he had canoed much of this section, and he strongly encouraged me to go around Lake Winnie, where people had apparently died trying to cross. That was still several days away, so I didnt worry about it.

I pulled up to Bemidji, and luckily there was a grocery right across the street, so it was easy to resupply. I got in and out as quickly as possible, since I'm still not sure how I feel about leaving the canoe somewhere. I also stopped at Ace and McDonalds, at Ace I got a tarp and a large tupperware tote, to keep things dry. At McDonalds I was able to upload several pages of journal, and check email, before I ran into their 1/2 hour time limit and they asked me to leave. Then began my trip around Lake Bemidji. It is a larger lake, and the waves were definitly bigger. I skirted the south and east sides of the lake, and went for the downstream channel. However it was quite hidden in a bunch of bullrush, and I was only able to figure out where to go based on seeing the bridge over the channel. There were several teenagers who were bridge jumping and swimming in the channel, but I didnt stop to talk for very long. That left 7 more miles to go to get to camp, and it was almost dark by the time I got in. I had to pass through a series of smaller lakes, which were really just wide sections of river. However, they were wide enough to slow down the current, and make me have to look for the channel out. I finally got to camp, and was too tired to cook dinner, so I had a bit of lunch and went to bed.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mississippi River Day 5 (Iron Bridge Camp, 53.8 miles)

Today was another short day, I had planned on a long day (24 miles), but the river was against me, and I'm in no rush. Most of today was going through wetland areas, full of wild rice, grass, and cattails. Iron Bridge campsite is on the border of civilization. Across the river I can see a farmhouse, but this side is all wooded. The shelter is on the top of a hill facing west, so the fading sunlight over the wetlands was pretty nice.

On the way here I got lost a few times. The maps caution that large portions of bog can break free and disguise the channel. That must have happened a few times, since I was forced to cut across a few sections of plants, where the current was flowing underneath them. While I was at the shelter I saw another canoer head upstream. I shouted to him, but he didnt notice me at all. Then a few hours later he was headed downstream, and this time he waved to me.

With these short days I have managed to get a lot of reading done, which is really nice. It is one thing that I really missed most of the time while hiking. The kindle is defitinly one of my better purchases.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mississippi River Day 4 (Fox Trap Landing, 41.9 miles)

Today I slept in till 11 and had a very relaxing morning. The maps called for rapids, but I didn't see anything that was really troubling at all today. I saw a couple turtles and an otter around noon. I decided for an afternoon break at Bears Den Landing, but the place was trashed with garbage everywhere, which was really annoying. I was about to leave when a mini-van showed up, and three locals got out. They were planning on fishing, but the garbage was annoying them to, so they started to pick everything up. The third one asked me what I was doing, and we talked about how it was a lifelong dream of his to do the Mississippi. All three were nice to talk to, and they carried most of the conversation by themselves. They were slightly drunk, which definitly helped them talk, and they jumped from topic to topic.

The view from Bears Den was extremely nice, so I took some pictures before I left, planning on heading on to the next campsite. I only made it about a mile to the next campsite before it started drizzling, so I stopped there for the night at Fox Trap Landing. Again, it was an extremly nice view, since the shelter was up a ways on a hill. I got a fire going pretty quick so I was able to cook dinner, and then about a half hour later I heard a noise coming up the hill. I figured it was just some little animal, when a bear decided to poke its head up from the brush and look at me. I was too slow to grab my camera, but the bear was pretty close. There was also a fellow hanger in the shelter with me, since a bat had also decided to call my hammocking spot its home.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mississippi River Day 3 (Spruce Valley, 29 miles)

Today I woke up late at the portage, I'm noticing a pattern here. The first several miles involved class I rapids, but nothing major. The high water actually helped to cover a lot of the problems. Since the banks were closer in, I saw a lot more wildlife today, including turtles, frogs, deer, hawks, ducks, and a bunch of fish. 

From 12:30-3:30 I took a siesta/shade break at coffee pot landing, then headed on through another marshy area.

I aimed for a place described as a narrow spruce forest for the night, and found a wonderful campsite for my hammock.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mississippi River Day 2 (Vekins Dam Portage, 14 miles)

I woke up late today, forgetting to change my alarm clock to central time zone. The water was still incredibly calm, covered in mist, and it felt surreal as I paddled to the headwaters.

When I got there there was no one around, so I waited for 1/2 and hour to eat breakfast and wait for someone to take my picture at the headwaters sign. Finally a couple showed up, and they recognized me from the road the day before, and were happy to help me out. I also met two park rangers who started asking me about the canoe. It turns out that they were the two that had helped Fleet unload it the day before, and were curious about what I was doing.

The headwaters is a series of rocks going across the river at the edge of the lake, so my first portage was to go around these rocks. The first mile or so was a nice forested river, then it turned to 4 miles of marsh, full of long grass and cattails. Luckily for me the water is 1-2 feet higher than normal, so the channel is still quite clear.

When I was hiding under a bridge to get out of the sun for lunch, a man came down the hill and started asking what I was doing. Then he asked if I could test the wild rice for him, apparently all the long grasses are wild rice, and it is just about ripe.

At mile 5 I found Wandaga landing, a nice AT style shelter, a privy, and a water source. I used this opportunity to rest for a while and sort out gear. I also took a 4 hour long siesta, and had dinner. About an hour later I came upon Vekins Dam, an old log dam used for logging in the area. This required another portage, and the trail provided an excellent spot for hammocking for the night. Another buggy night.

So far, my muscles are tired, but no blisters, which is what I was worried about.
It was incredibly peaceful to fall asleep to the rapids/waterfall of the dam, knowing that no one else was anywhere near.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mississippi River Day 1 (Schoolcroft Island, Lake Itasca, 4 miles)

Tonight I slept on Schoolcroft Island in the middle of Lake Itasca, which is the lake that feeds the headwaters.

I got off the bus in Park Rapids, walked 1/2 mile with all my stuff to L+M Fleet Supply, where I hoped to buy a canoe. Interesting place. I walked in, walked around, and didnt see any canoes, so I asked a clerk. They had 2 day kayaks and a canoe out in the parking lot, and that was it. Not a whole lot of choice.

I went inside to ask about the canoe, especially about delivery. 
Problem 1. Lake Itasca is outside of their normal delivery zone. Well I can pay extra, so OK. 
Problem 2. I need the exact address of where to deliver it. I just want it on the water anywhere on the lake. 
Problem 3. The lake is a state park, so they need an entrance sticker or something. OK, drop it at the gate and I'll carry it in. 
Problem 4. You can't ride along, its a company vehicle.

Long story short, $422 later, I was hitching from Park Rapids to Lake Itasca. About an hour in, a nice Native American family picked me up, and started asking me about my travels, etc.
Finally got to the park, happy to find my canoe still where they said it was, and not stolen already.

I carried it to the south shore of the East Arm of Lake Itasca, roughly 6 miles south of the headwaters, and took off, right into the wind. And boy was it windy. The only way I was able to make any headway was by going along the shore and pulling on the weeds and cattails. The wind eventually died down, and I looked for a place to camp as it got dark, finding the nice island in the middle of the lake.

Then the mosquitoes hit, and all the warning I had was a loud humming. I jumped in my hammock and called it a night.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mississippi River (Fargo ND to Park Rapids, MN)

I spent the night in/near the Fargo bus station, with a 12 hour overnight layover. Luckily it was a relatively nice area of town, right near a Denny's and a Walmart for last minute supplies. Spending the night with me was a family of Amish, a Mexican bodyguard, and an 18 year old hitchiker. The Amish kept to themselves most of the night, the bodyguard wouldn't stop talking about how his great-grandfather was the right hand man of Pancho Villa. Needless to say, I spent most of the night talking with the hitchhiker. He has left Wisconsin with 5 of his friends, planning on heading to California. Apparently his friends all slowly dropped off, catching buses back home. He was the last one, and he was headed back home from Jamestown, where he got his last ride. We played cards for a while, and he slept some. Somehow it came out that he had been dealing with AIDS for the past year, which had prompted his adventure. He had gotten it from drug use, and he hinted that it was with full knowledge (girlfriend or older brother maybe?). He wasnt taking any medications, since in his words they were worse than just being sick. He described it as feeling like he was having the flu all the time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mississippi River (Park Rapids, MN)

This is going to be a record of my travels down the Mississippi River.

Right now I am in a bus terminal in Fargo, ND, on my way to Park Rapids, where I will hopefully buy a kayak or canoe, and then make my way to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi.