Neither Beginning Nor End

The common cliché to opening a blog has definitely become "leaving _______ was not easy..." so it is with a wide grin and happy heart that I am able to write the next sentence. Leaving Yellowknife was easy. It was August 7th, and well into the 200s for consecutive days on trail. The weather forecasts we were happy to hear but typically ignored on a day to day basis were starting to paint a bleak and unavoidable picture. Conditions were only getting less and less favorable from here on out, and the longest, most remote stretch lay in front of us. But it was not only fear of the tundra fall that drove us. We were excited for the landscape and water to come, and, most of the all, that feeling of an inevitable gratification coming to fruition, delayed since January 2nd on the Gulf of Mexico. We were ready, demonstrated clearly by the lack of reluctance pushing off that windy August afternoon...  

An important distinction to make here is that while it may have been easy to leave from a mental standpoint, physically distancing ourselves from Yellowknife did not go as well. We made it only a few miles from town before the wind, which had continued to build all morning, put an end to the day for paddling. This was not horrible, as some of us were able and interested in ONE last shopping/food excursion and the Delanos were kind enough to track us down once again and drive us around town. A case of Red Bull and some Hawkins Cheezies later, the towngoers returned to the shorebound, with calmer water ready to be paddled around 8 pm. A short night paddle finally cut the cord, and we were officially off for Kugluktuk.

Our route from Yellowknife to the Arctic Ocean involved completing the northern arm of Great Slave Lake and leaving by way of the Marian River, one of two remaining upstream endeavors before the height of land portages over the final divide and then downstream on the Parent and, most anticipated, Coppermine River. Winchell had the distinct pleasure of paddling this route the year prior with the Copper Kids, so we expected things to go pretty smoothly.

And boy did they ever right off the bat! The weather cooperated enough that we were able to sail the majority of our way across the north arm and even Marian Lake before wrapping up the day catching some LUNKERS (colloquially 'big fish') at the first marked rapids on the Marian River. For every picture shown of fish on this blog, there are five just like them, FYI. With that, the last stretch of upstream paddling was well underway.

We found our rhythm quickly. The days upstream on the Marian and Emile rivers were much less work than their predecessors, so the conservative estimate of 20 miles per day upstream went more like 25 or 30. And it only got more beautiful every mile we moved north, each lake claimed to be the clearest yet, only to be usurped by the next ad infinitum (although the unofficial consensus probably went to Boland Lake). By August 13th, we were well over half way done with upstream travel and already far enough ahead of schedule to have a layover day without needing to blame the weather. The single layover day only made us stronger. We traveled the remaining 90 miles upstream in three days before arriving at Lake 321, the typical launching point for a series of six portages that take you across the divide and to downstream travel. No one anticipated starting these portages so early. How were we doing it?!?

We learned shortly thereafter that it was by the weather's good graces alone. On perhaps the smallest body of water of the trip to that point, we were windbound for three straight days. Yes, three straight days. And not only did the wind blow but the rain fell, and not the predictable misting of the dry far north, but heavy, drenching rain that kept all save for the most intrepid camper (or resigned and reluctant cook) tucked well into wig, waiting for it all to end. By the third day, the rain began to recede, but that only made it colder. For the first time, late fall realities were abundantly clear.

Counterintuitively, soreness levels were at an all-time high the morning of August 22nd when we paddled a short distance to begin the portages. Apparently lethargy and atrophy are bosom buddies, and, as Toby Keith reminds us so eloquently by way of song, we're not as good as we once were, but (thank God) we're as good once as we ever were.

And by that I mean to say we showed those portages a thing or two. All said and done, double-portaging accounted for, it came out to about 20 miles in two days before Grenville Lake, the headwaters of the Parent River, and for our purposes, a large tributary of the Coppermine River. To be honest, initial feelings were pretty sour on the old Parent. In the previous year, it had treated the Copper Kids pretty poorly, with low water levels amounting to frequent portaging. However, the wind and the rain we had cursed just days prior were quite the blessing in disguise. We only had a few quick and easy portages between Grenville, Rawalpindi, and Parent lakes, and none (yes, none Copper Kids) between Parent Lake and Red Rock Lake AND poor weather to boot. The three-day-layover debacle was looking more and more like a hiccup rather than the trend.

And Red Rock Lake. What else is there to say? Besides Red Rock Lake. And thank you. And long live the Arctic Fox! What incredible memories. 

The fun was only beginning. From Red Rock Lake, the Parent joins the Coppermine River, and two consecutive days of rapids await the anxious paddler right off the bat. These early rapids retain an alpine feel, as the tundra we had entered only days before quickly retreated near Red Rock Lake, not to reemerge until just miles before the end. After a lot of fun shooting rapids, the Coppermine calms for around 100 miles, an area aptly known as the 'flats.' Our good fortunes still well-intact, we actually got to sail DOWNSTREAM the final day of flat water as we rounded the Big Bend and approached the canyon section, nearly 60 miles of straight class I, II, and III rapids.

At this point, it was August 30th, and the count down was on. The weather took a turn for the worse that night that would set the trend for the rest of the trip, but nothing could shake the spirits of six guys less than 100 miles short of finishing a trip that had lasted then over eight months, spanning an entire continent. Smiles persisted amidst clouds of black flies, laughs were had clad in sopping wet rain gear, and bleak weather reports from Brad Delano far, far away were casually dismissed despite no evidence to the contrary. 

And like that, it was over. The wind could not blow hard enough, nor could the paddler paddle soft enough to keep the Coppermine from moving us quickly towards Kugluktuk. Winchell's work the previous summer paid dividends as well, with only one rapid requiring a scout from land, which meant no time (or heat) lost getting in and out of boats every quarter of a mile. On September 1st, we pulled into Bloody Falls, our last remaining portage of the trip, with only 12 miles left to go. The weather forecast was bad (high near 48 degrees and winds around 20-25 mph out of the east), but no one even suggested changing schedule. We packed-up for the final time, dumped the accumulated rain water out of the boats, and pushed-off, Kugluktuk or bust. Our only pause came at a sandbar on the east side of the final peninsula, and we debated the merit of continuing-on in the wind or portaging into town through the industrial sector. John managed to keep us honest and encouraged the final approach via boat, and, with that, we rounded the last corner and pulled into an empty shoreline on the west side of Kugluktuk. That we were alone, with no welcoming party, hullabaloo or press was actually quite fitting. Despite the glaring discrepancy of our anonymity, the closest comparison would be like Kevin Garnett after the 2008 NBA Finals. 

We sit now in Yellowknife with a couple of days to decompress before the reality of days without paddling truly sink in. We also get to enjoy the incredible hospitality of Ross and Dawn Marie Ashlie, a local couple who epitomize the overwhelming graciousness we have experienced the entire trip.

There are no words or deeds that can encapsulate or return the kindness we have been shown for 246 days. To say thank you falls so short the fingers cramp attempting to do so. But we will do it anyway. Thank you so much to everyone out there who has made this trip into what it is. When we set out so long ago to paddle from the Gulf to the Arctic, we thought we were going on a wilderness adventure with short cultural intervals. Turns out, the trip was mostly about the people we met, relationships we formed, and memories together outside of our crew that mattered most. Can't say we saw that coming. 

In the coming weeks and months, please continue to check back for updates on the documentary and the lives of six dudes post paddling adventure. Hopefully we live up to the hype. 

La Penúltima

To put it simply, the week that followed our departure from Buffalo Narrows felt like a month. Or, more accurately, like a year spent toiling down deep in the mines on our bodies. The resupply might have spoiled us as well, made us soft, even though it was the only one thus far to include an afternoon spent paddling our canoes from where we had left them on that windy Fourth of July day. But we were packed and ready to leave the morning of July 7th, prepared not to see the Delanos again until Yellowknife, NWT sometime in early August. We had a drop prepared for Fort McMurray, Alberta as well, some 180 miles away in order to make the looming Methye Portage more manageable. Manageable indeed (meant to be heard dripping with sarcasm). From there, the rest of the way to Yellowknife would be by way of the Clearwater, Athabasca, and Slave rivers (downstream!), then 160 miles north across Great Slave Lake, hopefully all within a three-week time-frame. 

Our exit from Buffalo Narrows was very brief. As we rounded the last part of the Narrows, we got our first look at the large and shallow Peter Pond Lake, and also our first taste of what even a slight breeze could do to the water. After battling a side-wind for an hour, we decided to make camp at the last available spot of rock and wait out the weather. That lasted the rest of that day, all of the next, and through the morning of July 9th. By noon, the waves that had continued to keep us from paddling were nearly gone, and we took advantage of the seldom calm by completing all but three miles of the lake that spanned all of forty as the paddler paddles. We reached Hay Point by 10:00pm, well past the newly discovered witching hour for mosquitoes, and were bombarded unlike anytime before until we were safe inside our tents. No matter how dry of a year it has been, the bugs will find a way. They always do.

The La Loche River (according to our 250,000 scale, Harlem-dashed maps measured-out by Winchell) flows 27 miles between Peter Pond Lake and Lac La Loche, the latter our final destination of upstream travel before the Methye Portage. A quick Google search puts the length of the river closer to 35-40 miles, which could be a significant oversight when one travels around 2-3 miles per hour. So when we woke-up at 8:00am thinking we could complete the section by 8:00pm, turns out we would be paddling through an uncampable, meandering marsh around 10:00pm, walking up bony rapids in the dark through midnight, and camping after an hour of paddling Lac La Loche in the hazy twilight of nearby forest fires. But we did see our first Northern Lights of the trip, those ephemeral displays of light just enough to lift the spirits despite the circumstances. We were also rewarded the next day with a sailing wind for the final 20 miles of Lac La Loche, even sailing as a giant catamaran for a floating lunch, three Wind Paddles wide! Nick Wiltz would be so proud.  

And there it was. In Wallis Bay. The massive cairn dedicated to Peter Pond and his exploits, marking the beginning of the Methye Portage. By most accounts, the trail runs 12 miles between the waterways of the Athabasca and Winnipeg regions, historically connecting flourishing trade routes in centuries past. For our purposes, it was just the easiest way to get six bums and their stuff from one end to the other.

The plan was to get everything onto our backs and eliminate the costly time spent double-portaging. That worked well for the first six miles until our luncheon conversation slowly revealed, one by one, how miserable it had been, but no one had wanted to admit it first. Imagine that! There were a lot more smiles after commiserating the experience and planning the remainder of the double-portage likely to span into the next day, but be much more comfortable. And by much more comfortable, just simply bearable. We were seasoned paddlers at that point, not necessarily seasoned portagers. And the trail, by our account, seemed closer to 14-15 miles as the rediscoverer rediscovers than 11-12, FYI, for you potential future users out there. 

But the trail was nice, and as far as trails go, a pleasure to walk. Rendezvous Lake is no slouch either. We were expecting a green, algae-filled marsh to mark the two-thirds point, but found a crystal clear beauty instead. Had it not been for our ever-diminishing food supply and the drive to see the end (and the Clearwater River with it), we'd have camped for sure. So instead, by 9:00pm, we had all of our packs at the small cabin along the Clearwater River, our canoes back at Rendezvous Lake the only remaining task before downstream travel. Despite everyone walking with their own distinct limp the next day, the boats were reunited with the packs by 4:00pm, outfitted and ready to hit the upcoming whitewater. The whitewater was a bit of a disappointment, as was the overall pace of the Clearwater River. The scenery, however, was not, nor was the novelty of paddling downstream. Yes, downstream!  

Fort McMurray was about 80 river miles to the west from where we camped immediately after the portage, and only 50 miles from where we finished our single day of whitewater on July 14th. That night, we ate our last packaged dinner, the next afternoon our last packaged lunch, and casually arrived in Fort McMurray, empty of all provisions and too late to pick-up our next set, yet serendipitously three hours before bar close and six blocks from the Wood Bison Brewing Company. Our new-found host and guide Graham Whatmough met us at the Snye, and the night went on from there. In fact, the next couple days went on from there. The town was too much fun to leave, and the folks over at the Podollan Inn were kind enough to host us Thursday night (July 16th), albeit making our departure the next day more difficult - and painful.

We were told that the Athabasca River after its confluence with the Clearwater River would wipe away any bad memories of lethargic current. And boy, oh boy, did it ever. The wind on July 17th had been building all morning as we slept-in and lazily packed-up to go. By noon, it was a 15-20 mph headwind out of the north. We still managed to cover some 35 miles in six hours of paddling before breaking our first camp on the new and greatly improved Athabasca River.     

The most noteworthy part of the Athabasca River was not something, but instead someone (or some persons to be exact). We were lucky enough to be floating at the end of the day near where Krazy George Clark was working on his cabin with Atilio Crotta, and they welcomed us warmly onto the homestead. It was a late night and a lot of laughs. Good enough. Good enough.

By July 21st, we had made it to Fort Chipewyan, and were still about 300 miles short of Great Slave Lake. It was here that we heard a sentiment echoed from some paddlers back in Fort McMurray - that the rapids coming up near Fort Smith were certain death traps, and under no circumstances could they be paddled. It seemed strange that the mellow Slave River we knew and loved could transform into something so violent, but we couldn't just ignore the overwhelmingly strong message from so many locals. So when we arrived at the Fitzgerald boat launch on July 23rd, it seemed appropriate to pack everything up and avoid the upcoming rapids.

Man, were we wrong.

And without Genevieve Cote and John Blyth, we probably would have skipped the most beautiful section of water thus far on the trip. Our gear and boats were safely on the downstream side of the rapids, but that didn't stop us from spending a layover day PADDLING, yes, paddling (kinda like going back into work on your day off), only we did it from a raft. And shot rapid after rapid (sometimes even portaging the raft back upstream to run certain sections again) before enjoying an evening eating BBQ ribs with Jason Panter and family back in Fort Smith. We were a week early for PaddleFest (which hopefully, but probably, went off without a hitch and was a hoot), but couldn't afford the time to stay and enjoy it. The Grand lac des Esclaves was calling our names.        

The remaining 200 miles of the Slave River passed without issue. Before long, we were just five miles short of the mouth, ready to face the endless expanse once more. The wind on July 30th, however, had other plans. We had barely paddled into the delta before shallow seas and a wind out of the east cut the paddling short. Fortunately, we were able to find some elevated ground with enough of a clearing to put up our tents and wait out the weather. Brad Delano handled the resulting SAT phone call like a champ, and passed-on a cheery forecast. The weather window for which we hoped was coming, but it was going to require paddling at night.

And what a night it was. The section of the lake we were about to paddle was mostly shoreline before heading north into an archipelago-like series of islands. We had to make a five-mile crossing in order to get there, and there was a moment, in the midst of it, when there was (1) sunset, (2) full moon, (3) northern lights, and (4) a thunderstorm in the distance, with intermittent lightning bolts. If ever there was a  surreal moment, this was it.

After paddling from 8:00pm to 4:00am, we decided to get some rest before continuing-on, well-assured that it would take some serious weather to keep us off the water now settled so nicely into the tight island circuit. Our good luck still intact, the wind was not forecasted to rise above 7 mph for the next 48 hours, and we took advantage of it. Around 8:00pm on August 2nd, we paddled a meager tailwind (a tailwind nonetheless) into the bay near Old Town in Yellowknife. Patti and Steve Delano, an incredible resupply duo whose list of exploits and accomplishments thus far could occupy an entire post itself, were waiting for us with locals Ross and Dawn-Marie Ashlie, who transported our gear to the Fred Henne campground. Best of all, the Explorer Hotel has been gracious enough to put us up for a couple days for our time in Yellowknife.

So, the question is now, to revel or tremble? Probably both.

Smoke on the Water

Fire in the sky. Never been a huge fan of Deep Purple, but simply cannot find a more fitting musical title.

We left Jimmy and Mary Anne's Wilderness Camp bright and early the morning of June 15th. Fresh off an extended and restful stay in Flin Flon and boosted by the kindness of locals Neal and Jan Dimick, who baked and delivered several rations of rhubarb crisp para llevar, getting back into the swing of things came pretty easily. Al and Agnes Mills chipped-in as well, as did Hillary and Jay Cooper, who hosted us at their cabin for an evening around the grill and dessert pastries until it was difficult to breathe. 

The stretch upon which we were about to embark was highly anticipated for several reasons which included, but was not limited to, better angling prospects, clearer water, prettier scenery, nicer camping, and the gradual process of moss and rock displacing sand and mud. Cartographically speaking, we had the remainder of the Sturgeon-Weir River to finish before Frog Portage and onto the Churchill River, which would be our final stretch of upstream travel before the long portage over the divide. Our plan was to meet Patti and Steve Delano in Buffalo Narrows some 15-17 days later, near the beginning of July; hopefully in time to celebrate our country's birthday.

The Sturgeon-Weir River after Amisk Lake did not disappoint. While some marshy sections appeared here and there, the river and the lakes through which it ran came as advertised, and made camp life much more enjoyable (it's a much less grim prospect to bathe when the walk back doesn't leave you dirtier than when you started). Rapids continued to pop up, but the weather for most days was warm enough where getting out of the boat and into the water was a relief from the heat. Besides a couple windy days, we made quick progress up the Sturgeon-Weir until we reached Wood Lake, the last big body of water before the river hardly resembles itself as a deep meandering stream; lily pads, reeds, and algae strewn about instead of the invariable rock decor of the previous week. However, this was not Wood Lake's only significance. It was also the first place we really experienced the most pervasive feature of this stretch of the trip - the effects of fire.      

Smoke from the flames created surreal traveling conditions and lighting

Smoke from the flames created surreal traveling conditions and lighting

Not only bad to look at, the burn areas were especially difficult for camping

Not only bad to look at, the burn areas were especially difficult for camping

While Wood Lake was probably the most benign example of what we would experience, it was the first time we considered how large of an impact fire would have on travel. As the days progressed and we traveled north/west courtesy of the Churchill River, we would have entire days with visibility limited to 100 meters, soft, deep red sun barely able to poke through the plumes of smoke and entirely unable to warm the landscape. Then there were the days that the fires would be clearly visible (altogether too visible at times for comfort), but, when enjoyed from a safe distance floating upon its arch nemesis, it could also be quite mesmerizing, the beautiful destruction.  

But the fires were only a backdrop to a scene that required no aesthetic improvement. Frog Portage connects the watersheds of Lake Winnipeg and Lake Athabasca by a 700 meter rail cart (quite a bit of fun to use) and we made quick work of it on June 19th to begin our last upstream leg before Great Slave Lake. The volume of the new river impressed us immediately. Grand Rapids was fewer than 20 miles upstream, and we reached the series of three rapids late in the evening and decided to camp instead of lining them due to how much work it would be to get through. A couple hours spent catching mudbugs earlier in the day (as diminutive as they might be in Canada) may have cost us the chance to get through Grand Rapids in the same day, but Tomy, Becky, and Cory would be proud. The walking and lining the next morning was slow and careful, yet progress was not near as slow as we imagined. The payoff of these drastic elevation drops became evident as well. The Churchill River drops extensively from lake to lake, but very little current is sustained much longer than a mile above or below rapids and falls. It calls for more time out of the boats, either portaging or lining, but still a pretty efficient pace overall.         

Then it was time for a big surprise. On June 22nd around 8:40 am, we paddled just short of the route 102 bridge and were interupted in the scouting process by far-off shouting. Winchell returned from surveying the rapids and said, "You guys hear that bird? Kinda sounded like a dude shouting." Adam replied, "I think it's the people on the bridge. And that looks a lot like Stevie D." Turns out, Adam was spot on. The Delanos called a bit of an audible. Without getting into too much detail, obviously we were not the only ones whose schedule was impacted by the fires raging across northern Canada. Patti and Steve hoped to intercept us and change the resupply schedule in order to postpone the next meeting. They were not at the bridge longer than ten minutes before we showed-up, and barely caught us, but the layover was on!

Milt and Carol Burns, the newest addition to the Rediscover North America team, accompanied Steve and Patti to Missinipe as guides, and helped host the festivities back in La Ronge, as it was much easier to transport bodies rather than the whole camper set-up over the "well traveled" roads. A couple relaxing days later, the crew was back in Missinipe, ready to push past Buffalo Narrows and arrive at La Loche instead...We'll come back to that later. From Missinipe, the Churchill River runs its most remote stretch. It should be noted that remote for the Churchill River is "well-traveled" portage trails as opposed to "well-constructed" timber ramps. Honestly, pretty hard to complain about life on the Churchill.  

The remaining rapids were enough of a reality check, however. As easy as boat ramps are, the lack thereof is equally depressing because of the void it leaves. As most boats going upstream have motors, and those going downstream don't require trails, the average upstream canoeist gets the rub. But, as like before, remarkably warm days greeted this stretch of the trip, and walking the boats upstream, albeit adrenaline-filled at times, made the days feel less monotonous. And the haze! The fires were no less persistent west of Missinipe. Entire days without much sun were not uncommon, nor were long minutes spent trying to navigate lakes without a single point of land due to the low visibility.   

The stretch from Missinipe to Buffalo Narrows did not take much more than ten days. WAIT! Buffalo Narrows, not La Loche?!? Yup. Yet another logistical audible due to fire conditions across northern Saskatchewan and Alberta. A few days after we left, the fires finally caught La Ronge, as well as La Loche, both of which became mandatory evacuations. Buffalo Narrows became the new goal, and our last option for a resupply.

Such were the conditions that ended the month of June. We continued to battle rapids and the haze during the day, sweat fire patterns at night (but sleep a little better because of colder temperatures), but still move at our best pace since the Atchafalya River last January so long ago; from Missinipe to the mouth of the Churchill River at Buffalo Narrows, we did not fail to paddle less than eight hours a day for well over a week. An exhausting feat, to be sure. In fact, the first day we paddled less was on July 3rd, and that by only half an hour. The repercussions were relatively harsh given the offense, as the next day, we were unable to paddle much after lunch, and were a depressing seven miles short of a paddle-up RV park with camping, electricity, wash rooms, the whole nine yards.

Top-notch resupply team

Top-notch resupply team

We don't have any fun

We don't have any fun

The Delanos teamed-up with the Pedersens to make everything all right. The road near the shoreline we crashed into was, well...reliable up front, but really let you down later. It took some pretty painful satellite phone calls, spotty texting, and curious minutes before we realized the Delano RAM 3500 truck was going to be a couple miles short. Enter the Pedersen trail truck. That RAM 2500 was made to take the abuse, and they were kind enough to shuttle us far enough to meet the Delanos and make it the rest of the way to Buffalo Narrows, where we sit now.

The biggest takeaway here: we're safe, ahead of schedule, and can hardly wipe the smiles off of our faces. No news is good news, and we'll be in touch again from our LAST resupply in Yellowknife sometime late July. 

Hope Springs Eternal

Was Alexander Pope paddling Lake Winnipeg when he penned An Essay on Man? Doubtful. Could he have been? Absolutely. How else to explain the tiny spark of optimism latent within six paddlers despite the powerless feeling as wave upon wave upon wave of wind-powered water crashed against rocks, sunny daylight hours slipping away from idle hands trapped in a bay with shorelines that barely fit canoes before rocky cliffs separated sand from soil 40 vertical feet apart. 

These wind-bound days were not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the days rediscovering North America. But it was a beginning. 

Before the rigors of ocean-like lake travel, we still had the small remainder of the Red River to finish from the Royal Manitoba Yacht Club northward until Lake Winnipeg. It was hard to leave the incredible hospitality of Guy Beriault and the scrumptious pierogis courtesy of Dolores, who was gracious enough to spare a couple dozen late in the evening to help celebrate John's 31st birthday. Does it get any better than those pastries aside onions and sour cream? We tried to get her to come along and cook for the remainder of the trip, but she emphatically declined to swap employers.  

On paper, the paddle should have occupied a whole day, but we were able to reach the lake even after a noon departure. Even more remarkable was that as the river's mouth emptied through marshy channels into the wide-water expanse, it was complete glass as the sun was setting late in the evening. Some ripples did eventually disrupt the experience, but conditions were so good we did not set-up camp until 1:30am. This type of schedule was something to which we knew we would have to adapt in order to move efficiently across the near 350 miles of lake that could prove perilous in less than 10 mile-an-hour wind from the wrong direction.

And, of course, this was demonstrated in the starkest of terms the night of May 16th when we paddled just north of Balaton Beach near Riverton, Manitoba. We knew that winds forecasted over 40 mph were expected, as well as two inches of snow, but who can believe weather-casters these days? Apparently, dirt-bag paddlers (also known as river-rat bastards). That's who. And we did. The payoff was some very bombered tents and the solace of comfort despite the conditions outside. The wind and snow came as predicted, and the only surprise came in form of Marvin Hamm, a local boater who recognized the crew as he was driving by, took some of us into town, and provided a BBQ while the wind blew and the snow fell. What a guy! The best part was how he recognized us: "No one around here has tunnel tents - especially Hilleberg tunnel tents. Had to be you guys." Thanks Petra!

But, as our old friend Layne Logue always encouraged, mean old wind die down...MEAN OLD WIND DIE DOWN! And it did, but not after two crazy days that left the shoreline resembling nothing of its previous self. Needless to say, we were happy to depart on calmer water May 19th, with weeks left to paddle yet on the lake.

The biggest surprise still lay in store for us. If anyone had offered the bet of remaining ice ANYWHERE along our route, I'd have bet the house to the contrary. Or, in trail terms, I'd have bet my Pearsons Nut Goody in confidence. And I'd have been sans Nut Goody the afternoon of May 22nd as we paddled around a peninsula to see what appeared to be ice, but it just had to be a mirage, yes? 

Nope. Ice. A lot of ice. Rotten, cold, miserable ice. Murphy's Law, I guess.

This depressing development also ushered-in a new concept for the late-spring Lake Winnipeg paddler. Not wind-bound. Not ice-bound. But ice/wind-bound. Nothing new? Yeah right.

We would watch as the wind rose, and the ice islands shifted, seemingly capable of setting an anthropomorphic course for the bay we were crossing, and attempt to stifle all progress. It would, for lazy moments, but after long stares managed to make-out patches of open water on the horizon, dragging boats along the shore and through chunks of ice became the way to travel. A Bose stereo and a safety harness strap later, we were still on the move towards Grand Rapids, Manitoba, our next resupply (progress slowed slightly, but progress nonetheless).

Oh, and those idle days ice/wind-bound? Not completely idle. Just pretended it was a photo-shoot...      

We did not make it to Grand Rapids on time, so we had to settle for a road-accessible spot just short of town in order to meet Diane and Greg Trigg within their window of opportunity. So great to see them! As lovely as Grand Rapids was, however, it was nice to be back on trail the next day with three weeks of food in the packs, ready for an extended stretch of travel that would get us well into the much anticipated Churchill River section of the trip.

The Saskatchewan River was the reward for finishing Lake Winnipeg. This is like telling a child that brussels sprouts earns him/her cauliflower. This reality did not set-in right away, thankfully. There is only a short eight-mile stretch of river between Lake Winnipeg and Cedar Lake, the latter only about a fifth the size of the former, but would cost us twice as many wind-bound days given the mostly unfavorable weather.

Two anecdotal pieces stand-out here. The first was the red carpet laid-out by Manitoba Hydro as we began our portage over the dam between Lake Winnipeg and Cedar Lake. They brought us in from the cold, opened-up the sandwich bar, salad bar, and dessert bar before giving us a tour of the facilities and an exit homemade ice cream sandwich. We did have to smell the steaks and lobster being prepared for the evening meal, but that was a small price to pay for satiated appetites accustomed to jerky, nuts and fruit...

And the second anecdotal piece. Our very near Cedar Lake exit. The last decision on May 31st was to sail north, away from the sheltered shore to an island a few miles north in some pretty strong wind across some very shallow water. The result was a crash landing (we thought it a paradise beach) on a marshy shore that remarkably had pretty accessible dry land not far inland. We stayed there a couple days, so thankfully the impulsive thirty minutes of sailing did not cost us very dearly.  

And back to the cauliflower. The best way to describe the Saskatchewan River is the Red River in reverse, with slightly less offensive mud. But calling the Saskatchewan River shoreline mud would likely insult mud everywhere and not truly convey why it had its own uniquely infuriating qualities. In this case, two parts mud with three parts sand; incredibly diminutive granules of sand. Perfect for traveling with you wherever you go and sticking despite even the best removal efforts. Just ask Adam how perfectly suited Saskatchewan sand is for coating tent bodies and rain flies. 

By June 4th, we made it to the quaint northern town of The Pas, and spent the better part of an evening through the next morning enjoying the amenities of civilization and the hospitality of Alan Gibbs, who graciously made a room available at the packed Wescana Inn for showers and internet access. We were also able to get on the air with Mark Andrews for a short while, quite the treat considering how many hours we had spent listening via the commandeered radio that traveled in John's boat to the radio station of the arctic (102.9 CFAR). 

The remainder of the Saskatchewan did not go gently into that good night...for Jarrad, at least. Irony saw it fit to strike down the champion by his most trusted weapon - potato salad. His famous last words to me as I scooped a spoonful into my mouth earlier that day was "oh man, no deviled-egg in that bite? Bummer." Nope. Bummer for him. Poor guy had to convalesce as the rest of the crew celebrated Winchell's 31st birthday, Harlems and all. Jarrad did make a full recovery, and has not yet forsaken potato salad completely.

It was around the same time that we noticed a trend that would only be exacerbated in the days to come. Hazy days (seemingly from the heat) turned into incredibly hazy days that soon became difficult-to-see-around-the-next-bend-hazy days and finally we saw the forest for the trees (or at least the smoldering embers thereof). Forest fires were raging in northern Saskatchewan, this reality hardly a week after being confronted with miles and miles of ice lingering on the lakes.

A trip of ice and fire?!?

Thankfully, the Saskatchewan River died an unceremonious death. We had not planned on a short-cut that shaved 20-30 miles off our route, but John was insistent that the water would be there for us, and it was. Cumberland Lake was a sight for sore eyes.

This began one of the more anticipated sections, the Sturgeon-Weir River. Clear water, stiff current, and rocky edges differentiated the Sturgeon-Weir from all of its predecessors, and we were excited to reach it by June 10th, more than two weeks ahead of our anticipated schedule. It took us only ten hours of paddling to climb over 100 vertical feet and reach Amisk Lake. It was not our destined resupply point, but the morning of June 12th proved to be more miserable than we cared to paddle in, so we called the Delanos, likely to be in the area for the resupply only a few days ahead. As usual, they dropped everything, showed-up early and did not forget beers before arriving at Jimmy and Mary Anne's Wilderness Camp ready to assist and depart back to Flin Flon.

Which is where we sit now. Again, we're thankful for the Delanos and their effort getting our resupplies taken care of thus far. Can't imagine being in better hands.

I'll admit that, yes, there was a meager attempt to theme this blog around what poetry came to mind (reveals a rather unsophisticated palate, no doubt). Tom and Jan were kind enough to forward along one of our favorites, and I think it encompasses a crew-wide feeling moving forward:

"Here my sprits are high. Yes, humanity is beautiful. But it's all in them. And it's all in me. Love it all I say. There will be no tomorrow if today keeps on happening. So that's where I'll figure I'll be. That's a scary thought. I just have to do it. The birds of the air. What do they care. And me, I'm Just free." (SJK)

Courtesy of JCP

Part of the joy with this trip has been the remarkable people we've come to meet. Jonathan Chapman ranks as highly as anyone thus far. A consummate professional and genuinely great guy, he and his crew put together a great shoot while we were laid-over in New Ulm and this is only some of the fruits of their labor.

We would also like to recognize Joseph McMahon (the voice of Luke Kimmes and contributing editor), Chris Joye for the original sound score, Sam Bohlken with the graphic design, and Coelement for the motion graphics. These guys all produced this stuff pro bono because they felt passionate about the trip and willing to help out a small-budget project. We don't deserve the help, nor could we afford it, but we are especially grateful and indebted for the effort. Again, thank you Jonathan and your crew. Wesley, hope your games go well!

A Deana Carter Song

Upon our arrival to the Bois de Sioux River, I was reminded of an expression my Dad (Steve Delano) would use when something was built-up, highly anticipated, looked forward to greatly, then completely underwhelmed. He would chuckle, look over at you, and in his worse twangy country voice possible, recite the refrain "Did I shave my legs for this?" 

He was, of course, referencing a Deana Carter song in which she tells the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, promises made habitually un-kept, the hope that her man would change into what she wanted should she continue effort on her end, despite all empirical evidence to the contrary. Deana Carter's fictional husband was our Bois de Sioux; the river we paddled upstream nearly 2,000 miles to meet, the promise of current flowing in our desired direction, casual floating for God's sake, all evaporated as we surveyed the grim view from the White Rock Dam. We saw only the vestiges of the Bois de Sioux.

Walking boats just north of White Rock Dam

Walking boats just north of White Rock Dam

It's not much, but it's all we've got...

It's not much, but it's all we've got...

But I guess this installment doesn't begin there, does it? It was Browns Valley first, that beautiful small town on the south end of Lake Traverse that still held the prospect of easy days yet to come. The Keavenys met us there, along with Patti Delano, to deliver the resupply through Grand Forks, ND and hang-out for the day. It was nice to relax, albeit with one minor bit of work completing the portage through town in order to camp lakeside for an early departure the next day.

We paddled from Lake Traverse April 27th, and made it well past Mud Lake and onto the Bois de Sioux all in the same day (ideal conditions). And as bleak as the opening paragraph to this blog and the Monday Boys made it seem, the Bois de Sioux wasn't really that bad. Just not the downstream Mecca we'd built it up to be. In thirty-six unceremonious hours from when we'd camped that first night, we were already through Wahpeton, ND and Breckenridge, MN and onto the Great Red River of the North.

How this river escaped its more true moniker, we have no idea. It should be the Mud River. No, the Incredibly Muddy River. Naw. The Worst Mud of All-Time River. One more try. The Seriously How Does It Stick to My Boots and Collect Grass to Make Muddy Clown Shoes River. Yes, that last one fits best.

Although it wasn't all mud. We actually shot our first rapid just miles from the Ottertail/Bois de Sioux confluence, and have walked several rapids since. These features are all the remnants of dams removed, replaced with tiers of boulders, which the paddler, we're told, doesn't even notice in average years. The low-water levels for 2015 are sometimes low enough that we couldn't even walk the boats through them, let alone paddle. But those we walked were great breaks from the heat, and fun navigating the tiers.

Dam removed near Breckenridge, MN

Dam removed near Breckenridge, MN

Lining tiered rapids north of Oxbow, ND

Lining tiered rapids north of Oxbow, ND

We made it just past the Fargo/Moorhead area on May 1st, and were happily surprised by the ever-gracious Red Dog, who brought Chipotle burritos, and local Saint John's alum Alan Christenson, who brought provisions including Fargo Brewing Company's Iron Horse Pale Ale (the brewery yet another Collegeville connection; well done, Johnnies). The visitors did not stop there. The next night, we camped near the County 39 bridge in order for Mary Long to meet us and spend the evening together. We love those nights. Will be a tough week without her, but Winnipeg will come soon enough.

Maybe a quick paragraph on the Red River itself. It is muddy; no doubt about it. However, it has its redeemable qualities as well. The wildlife is the most active and diverse we've seen on the trip thus far - snapping turtles next to painted turtles sunning themselves around every corner, deer running along the terraces of the banks, geese fleeing the canoes or hiding discreetly, and the occasional coyote is a real treat. The camping (once you trounce through the constant six-foot mud barrier on the river bank) has been dreamy, with grassy terraces or inexplicably manicured lawns on most nights. Overall, if you can manage the mud, it's really a great experience. But we wouldn't be surprised if you chose not to.

The Red River continued to meander, and us with it. We had beautiful weather to boot. It was on a day such as this we arrived in Grand Forks, ND with sun shining and south winds blowing. It would be our last American resupply before entering Canada, so it included new items such as passports, customs forms, and firearms. Sandy Dobmeir at the Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged for us to store our gear at a local pump station and was kind enough to run us around on errands. Patti Delano again arrived with our resupply boxes, only this time with another surprise: Maddie and Paelynn Delano! It was a mini-pool party Tuesday night at the Red Roof Inn, then a productive Wednesday before we departed Thursday for the border. 

Pool Party!

Pool Party!

Checking-out all the gear...

Checking-out all the gear...

Or so we thought...the weather we knew was coming did not change course, and it was not a hard decision while performing interviews in the dry pump station to stay another night and leave Grand Forks in conditions that would not condemn us to walking through mud AND camping in it as well. The push-off Friday morning was more comfortable, but we knew it would cost us in the long-run by requiring longer days in order to reach Winnipeg by Wednesday the next week, which included passing through customs at the Canadian border.

And what an experience that was! In all honesty, anyone looking at the six of us walk into the customs office, filthy clothes, muddy boots, complete lack of hygiene, would do exactly what ended-up happening - they ran us through the ringer. This included, but was not limited to, interrogation room pat-downs prior to transportation back to the river, several rounds of individual questioning, website scrutiny, and many, many innuendos as to what we were purportedly handling. Long story short: six vindicated men paddled away from the marina after a very thorough customs crew did their job as professionally as possible (honestly, must have been pretty hard to take us seriously).

At that point, it was 4:10pm on Monday, May 11th. We had the rest of that day, Tuesday, and Wednesday to travel approximately 120 miles in order to reach our destination north of Winnipeg by the last possible window Mary Long could meet us and spend any meaningful time before the more isolated stretch of the journey began. The weather cooperated (JUST enough) and we had to paddle over 10 hours on Tuesday, and just under 12 hours on Wednesday, but we arrived at the Royal Manitoba Yacht Club in time to set-up tents before Mary arrived and get situated at the spot we'll likely spend the next couple days.

Some quick house-keeping notes for the weeks ahead. Lake Winnipeg looms, and with it the prospect of a quick finish or a knock-down, drag-out ordeal. And after that, it doesn't get any less remote for a long time. Communication will come as best it can, and the same for updates to the site as well. We appreciate all the good vibes and patience in advance.   

For the First Time in Forever...

I can't say that I know exactly how excited Anna felt after being sequestered inside the castle all those years, on the verge of welcoming all those guests to Arendelle for her sister's coronation. Nor can I affirm so strongly that "nothing's in my way!" because there are, in fact, a litany of things in our way; huge lakes, voracious bugs, whitewater, and early mornings, to name a few.

(If the previous paragraph did not register, pause here, watch the movie Frozen and then continue)

But for the first time in forever...downstream. It is likely no one has traveled so far or worked so hard for so little. We paddled just shy of 2,000 miles upstream through winter, rain, and sun to meet the mighty Bois de Sioux and eventually the Red River. And although we have yet to reach it, we hear that the Bois de Sioux above the White Rock Dam is flowing at a torrid pace of 6 cubic feet per second (cfs). This is down from its annual median of around 160. For some reference, if you were to look at the Mississippi River near Saint Cloud, MN in April, average cubic feet per second is near 5,000. If you were downtown in Granite Falls near Jimmy's Pizza and looked just above the dam, average cfs in April is near 2,000. Single-digit cfs flow is hardly enough water to float an empty boat, let alone paddle. 

But those are problems for tomorrow. Let's look back instead.

We left Saint Paul knowing that there was a long-overdue break in store for us in New Ulm and it was only 135 upstream miles away. Suffice to say, we traveled accordingly, and we had a lot of fun doing it. The current on this first stretch of the Minnesota River was meager, and the weather (mostly) cooperated with us. When it didn't, divine providence placed perfectly situated bridges in our path to shelter us from the rain. Chipotle burritos with Mary Long under the County 5 bridge is a special memory that comes to mind.

It took us five days to complete the stretch, and we paddled into New Ulm through the wind and the rain on Thursday, April 9th. Waiting for us were our hosts, Tom and Jan Keaveny, along with local boosters and news affiliates. We had to make quick work at the boat ramp. Everyone was soaked from rain and sweat, and simply tired, ready to lay-over without the prospect of paddling on the mind. Tom had warm chili waiting for us at the house, ever the prepared host.

The break flew by. Most of the crew spent time in New Ulm through Sunday, the afternoon of which we were hosted by the Oakwood Methodist Church for an opportunity to gather with friends and family and catch-up. The mayor presented us with gifts from the city, and it was overwhelming to have so many people, previously know and unknown, show-up and share stories. 

From there, our focus shifted to gathering and preparing food/gear for the remainder of the adventure. Tom and Jan passed the hosting duties onto Steve and Patti Delano in Cold Spring, MN. In only a couple days, we managed to finish our tasks and still enjoy ourselves over great food and with great company. Our remaining resupplies now fit into a small section of the garage instead of occupying it completely. Pre-trip images and memories came flooding back as well, mostly late nights bagging food and mixing nuts over purple beers with 'Drinks after Work' radio in the background.

And like that, we were back on trail, wondering where the break had gone and trying to account for how we felt MORE tired after our LONGEST layover. But that was easy to explain - we just had too much fun!

Our second stretch of the Minnesota River, approximately 180 miles, did not resemble its gentler predecessor. We were still able to manage around 25 miles a day on the river; it was just harder work and longer days. It did not take long for people to miss us, either. Just a couple days out of New Ulm, the Keavenys and Kalahars (Winchell's local relatives) met us near North Redwood Falls and took us out for dinner. Word to the wise: if you order prime rib at Duffy's "as rare as you can," it will come out that way.

From North Redwood, it was only two days before Granite Falls. This stretch of the Minnesota River is where the river's character is most on display. Huge rock outcrops define tight corners, and sandy (some muddy) beaches lead up to flat, grassy terraces, great for camping. If you were ever looking for a long weekend paddle destination, put in at Montevideo and travel down to New Ulm. Really beautiful.

In Granite Falls, we were lucky enough to draw the attention of Nicole and Doug Jans while lining the final stretch of rapids before the dam. They encouraged us to camp in their yard, do laundry, shower, etc. It so happened that Tom Kalahar, Winchell 's uncle, was in town, and put us in touch with Tom Cherveny and Dave Smiglewski. We had an opportunity to talk smart over chicken wings and pizza and learn a bit about the river yet to come from some experienced local paddlers.

We were looking forward to the dam effect above Granite Falls; that is, the current-less pooling that generally occurs topside of dams and what upstream paddlers love. Not such a prevailing force there, unfortunately, and the wind, which lasted for over four days and averaged between 20-30 mph (gusts over 40), did not help either. It was actually not a huge concern on the river as the winding, tight corners, about which we had previously complained, mitigated the wind's impact. Lac qui Parle neared, however, and the forecasts continued to deteriorate. Higher and higher winds, colder and colder temperatures loomed.

As we rounded our last turn before the Lac qui Parle dam, we knew things were likely pretty grim on the other side judging from the white caps that were able to form within just a 500 foot stretch. Ask a local what a 30-40 mph wind out of the northwest looks like on Lac qui Parle. Turned-out to be as bad as we thought. Lac qui Parle is not only large and oriented northwest/southeast, but also shallow, which is a recipe for turbulence. Our fears confirmed, we portaged the dam and set-up camp, the lake a blur of blue and white in front of us.

But if you're even vaguely familiar with this adventure, you know that nature's ability to put up roadblocks is matched only by the benevolence of the people we meet. Or, to be more precise, the people who reach out to us. Enter Joan and Barry Fust, locals of Appleton, MN and owners of Shooters Bar and Grill. They contacted us, worried about our spirits on such a tough day, and offered to pick us up and get us out of the wind. Steve Mitlyng, proprietor of the Bait and Tackle Shop that bears his name, offered to hold onto our stuff, and we headed over to Shooters. Of note there, the Super Shooter burger is delicious (Barry knows his kitchen well), and in a triathlon of darts, billiards, and bags, the old-timers (Winchell, John, and Adam) beat the young guns (Jarrad, Dan, and Luke) 2-1. Those Iowa boys know their bags, but billiards and darts went to the old-timers.   

After another wind-bound day, we paddled through Lac qui Parle and Marsh Lake on glass-like water onto the last stretch of the Minnesota River before Big Stone Lake. There was still no lack of surprises in store for us. We ran into an old Cathedral High School educator of ours, Mrs. DeVries, just before leaving Lac qui Parle, and some more friends, Alex Trigg, Corbin Chaffee, and Pinky, just above the dam north of Marsh Lake. We were beginning to wonder if we'd even left New Ulm behind...

And then that realization hit us quite hard just near Odessa, MN. The low water we had anticipated and the entanglement we were promised all occurred at once, and required some creative travel. We were able to make it far enough north that we could portage (double, actually) through the state park just south of Ortonville and land back into a drainage ditch in order to paddle the remainder into Big Stone Lake proper. Nine miles on foot, achy bodies, and a late night push to Rustling Elms Resort culminated less than two weeks spent paddling the Minnesota River.

But we weren't done yet. Big Stone Lake is 26 miles long, and the Little Minnesota River had the last portion of upstream travel left. It was a long day, but Jay Lindahl (blessedly) stopped us just short of our goal and guided us to a city park in Brown's Valley; chips, gatorade, and beer didn't hurt, either. On the afternoon of April 26th, we portaged the Laurentian Divide between Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse, effectively ending what began about four months ago - paddling up the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers to where the current flows north, in the direction we intend on going; just under 1,000 feet of elevation gain from sea level.

Ahead of us is some brief lake travel before down the Red River and onto Lake Winnipeg. And hopefully some nice weather and well deserved rest.

As always, we know there are too many people to thank, and too many we passed by without contact. To everyone, thank you for coming along thus far, and we look forward to paddling on with you!   

Homecoming Part Two: Minnesota

Leaving the Keokuk Yacht Club wasn't easy. In fact, it was downright difficult. It was the first time the Moores and Kimmes were able to meet and hang-out with the whole crew and spend quality time together. However, had we known how well we'd be able to travel and how much fun we'd have doing it, the metaphorical band-aid would not have been such a pain to pull off.

Actually, the band-aid really wasn't as much of an ordeal as it sounds. We left Keokuk, Iowa with the warmest temperatures of the trip on the horizon, and no real wind of which to speak. We did have a short respite on the radar as well with Tim and Kari Painter, who had a paddlers' cabin some 55 miles upstream. And by paddlers' cabin, we mean one of the cutest little spots we've seen on the river thus far. We stopped early to spend the night with them, and left some calm conditions on the water, but that decision did not hurt us as we thwarted the wind that blew the next day by traveling a small slough on the east side of the river. The Quad Cities were only a few days away, and Minnesota, our beloved Minnesnowda, not long thereafter.

Paddling and camping continued to be a treat as we approached the Quad Cities. We became experts at the pool system and its locks and dams by planning wide-water paddles in calm conditions, calling ahead to streamline lock entrances, and navigating shoots off the main shipping channel to cut-off mileage. It felt like we had finally abandoned our Lower Mississippi routine of wing dikes for the Upper Mississippi lock and dam system. And it felt good.

Then came the Quad Cities and Jo Mason. We knew there would be lunch coupled with minor paparazzi buzz, but both of those would both be incredibly underestimated. Over four different news affiliates were on hand with the local newspaper, and Jo did not just bring lunch - she catered giant pork tenderloin sandwiches and root beer float shakes at the local Navarro Canoe Company, which was just blocks off the water near downtown Rock Island. It was all delicious, over-the-top, and totally right up our alley, as were the casino hotel rooms Jo later arranged for us that evening just five miles upstream. The buffet did not hurt either. Nor did the king-size beds. And the huge glass showers were OK, too.

Were we still on a canoe expedition? We almost forgot.    

Not very long after, Mother Nature reminded us that, unequivocally yes, we were still on a canoe expedition. The weather that had fueled our fast pace from Keokuk through the Quad Cities and beyond made an about-face on Day 82 with 6-8 inches of unwelcomed, warm, miserable snow on a late night JUST short of a planned pit-stop in Mcgregor, IA, where we had an apartment at the Little Switzerland Bed and Breakfast waiting for us, as well as a meal at the Old Man River Brewery. We still enjoyed these the next day, but the forecasted temperatures told us that camping prospects would not look good for a while as the snow melted slowly and saturated what had been pleasantly dry ground.

But who needs camping when you have the best Wisconsin hospitality anyone could ask for? Dick Kish and company were just minding their own business, reducing sap into syrup and smoking an assortment of meats for a big shin-dig the next day as we passed-by late in the evening looking for camp. Without a second thought, Dick invited us to stay at the compound and try to eat all the brats we could; this included all the beer and syrup we could drink. 

It also involved an incredible reminder for which we will always be grateful. We were enjoying the food and drinks provided and hearing every reason to pack it all in and just stay another day for the party when Dick quieted all of the separate conversations (and I'm paraphrasing here because Wisconsin hunting/fishing cabin language is not always appropriate). "They're getting the heck out of here tomorrow morning. Early. You can't paddle all the way to the Arctic Ocean sitting on your butts." And that was that. Thank you, Dick. We mean that. Truly.

The remaining days were all focused on one thing: reaching the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. It had been a long time since the whole crew could narrow-down a goal so concretely and strive in one direction with gumption. But on April 3rd, after well over three months of paddling through snow, wind, rocks and rain, we passed mile-marker 843 to an island just before mile-marker 844, and left the most iconic American river behind us for one of its much lesser known midwest tributaries. What a milestone, and quite the feat.      

This is also a point at which we'd like to thank everyone for their part in our journey thus far. And this includes those who haven't heard back from us via our website, or Facebook. Quite frankly, the outpouring of support has been unreal, and for every event on the level of Don Helms (and email after email of useful tidbits) we likely have several parties either ignored or skipped due to poor reception or our own inability in the moment to write back. For those of you we passed by or haven't responded back to yet, our sincerest apologies, and know that your emails/messages likely still get read and help motivate us everyday to get back out there and keep paddling on.

Ahead of us is the Minnesota River and New Ulm, MN where we are looking forward to a longer rest and will gear up for the remainder of the journey.