Sunday, 7 October 2012

Mississippi: Bemidji to Grand Rapids

To say that this trip has been challenging would be an understatement. To put it positively you could say that our learning curve has been very steep. At least we have survived so far...

Day one: It takes us two hours to get all our shit together and packed in our kayaks. Eventually we are on the water in glorious sunshine sweating in T-shirts and shorts. Brian is ahead of me - and all of a sudden is disappeared. I don't know whether he is still ahead of me or behind. I almost panick (how would I explain to his parents that their son mysteriously disappeared on day one hour one of our paddling trip) and even call him on his cell phone when he suddenly turns up behind me. He had tried a shortcut through the reeds and got stuck.

Day two: We have to go through some Class 1 rapids in the morning and I am nearly wetting my pants so scared am I. Of course I get stuck on rocks several times and have to get out of the boat to free myself. Brian only gets stuck once, but.... Later that day he starts complaining about water in his boat and pumps out serious amounts of water. It becomes apparent that he has a leak! He has punctured his boat already on day two and is definitely not happy about it. We stop early and check the bottom of the boat. And for sure there are three holes. They are easily repaired but Brian is definitely not happy with his Folbot.

Day three: We cross Lake Andrusia and get swamped by high waves in the wind. After half an hour we are completely soaked and exhausted. Although our boats were very stable I felt completely uncomfortable in the high wind. To make things worse tomorrow we have to cross Lake Winnie, the third largest lake in Minnesota with a high wind weather forecast, a cold front moving in and the knowledge that each year several paddlers die on that lake.

Day four: We have decided not to die on Lake Winnie and hitch around it.  To see how desperate we were imagine this hitch: We have to pack up all our gear and boats, walk a mile up a dirt road to a minor paved road, try to get a driver to stop and come down the dirt road to get all our gear, get a 20 mile ride along two highways to the other side of Lake Winnie and reassemble our boats. But luck was on our side. When we still tried to find the public landing, a local saw us and waved us over. First he invited us to camp in his back yard, then to have a beer, then to a huge breakfast and eventually he even offered to give us a ride. On that day Richard has definitely done so many good deeds that they will last for a month! Without him we would probably still stand at this dirt road and he deserves a river angel medal for his  help. It only took me 2 hours to reassemble my boat which is a huge success for me.

Day five: Last night had a bad ending. We could not find a campsite and had to paddle almost into dark. When I wanted to cook my petrol stove died and could not be revived. This is the day when the cold front moved in and while paddling the temperature dropped more and more. We barely made it to a designated camp site before becoming hypothermic. I could hardly feel my toes anymore and Brian just collapsed in his tent. Although I tried I still could not repair my stove and finally snow started to fall on our tents....

Day six: After a morning group meeting we decide to try paddling despite the weather forecast being even worse than the day before. We put on several layers of clothes and luckily even have a dock to help us getting into our boats without getting our feet wet. Our goal is to paddle 17 miles to Grand Rapids. The temperature is 3 Celsius and there are gusts up to 60 km/h. Still the paddling goes surprisingly well- at least as long as we don't stop and get cold. Then a snow storm hits us and I mean serious snow. I can't believe we are doing this and people stare at us in disbelief. A small lake turns out to be brutal in high winds. I try not to think what will happen if I capsize. But miraculously we somehow make it to Grand Rapids in one piece and no frost bite. It is snowing hard on us when we beach our boats....

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