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
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
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.
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.