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.