Friday, October 12, 2012

Mississippi: Grand Rapids to Aitkin


These last days have been pretty miserable due to the extremely cold weather. The forecasted 3-day cold front extended into a whole week of freezing weather. We have been paddling in snow, hail and rain, but precipitation has not been our biggest problem. It is just way too cold for the season! We have had frost almost every night and I mean serious frost. Today I woke up staring at the fog my breath created in the tent. Then I could not open my tent zippers because they were frozen solid! Packing the frozen tent in the morning in the worst part of the morning routine. The tent becomes very bulky and after 30 seconds your hands freeze. This is definitely not the Indian summer I had expected.

But on the plus side the river is very beautiful and feels very remote. Every day we see tons of wildlife including dozens of bald eagles that were almost extinct several years ago but are widespread in this part of Minnesota. The have an impressive wing span and build even more impressive huge nests. But we also saw plenty of beavers, otters and deer - plus more and more cows watching us from the shore. The water is surprisingly clear and Brian drinks it without treatment - so far without any ill effects, although I am still treating my water. The only good side of the cold weather is that we do not have any bug problems. I have not seen a single mosquito in 10 days.


Camping has become easier than expected. First we tried to stay at the designated DNR campsites but this has turned out to be a mistake. They are usually located high up on a bank with no or very difficult access. Whether this is intentional or due to erosion I have not been able to figure out. I only know that the few times we tried to stay there turned into a disaster and me almost being in tears. The bank is so steep that you cannot properly beach a kayak and with our foldables being so sensitive it is almost impossible to drag them up. The ground is usually so muddy that you sink in immediately and get stuck. On top of all that the kayaks are so difficult to pack and unpack that the whole process turns into a muddy and slippery nightmare. The campsites themselves do not offer much either beside a picknick bench, a fire ring and a rustic toilet seat. Even the camping area is tiny.

We therefore quickly gave up on these designated campsites and started free camping which turned out to be much more relaxing. We chose the site according to its easy beach access and although I still got stuck in the mud a couple of times things are a lot easier on a flat beach than on a steep bank. And usually it is not difficult to find a bit of flat ground in the woods. Still, our kayaks are covered in mud and look very used. I am daily scratching out the mud and all my clothes are mud spots all over.


The cold weather makes everything really tiresome. Day time temperatures are below 10 Celsius and every night has been below freezing. We spend our breaks trying to warm our frozen toes. Breaks are not very relaxing and we keep them short because we are freezing. Cooking at night with frozen fingers is also not too much fun. Surprisingly enough I have not been cold at night yet. My new quilt is much warmer than expected and of course I am wearing several layers of warm clothes. But getting out of my warm quilt in the morning and start packing the muddy and wet boat - that is another question. But things get really nasty once you get wet. Brian has had special bad luck in this regard and got stuck on rocks and sand banks several times. When he had to get out of the kayak he got water inside his rubber boats - a disaster when you already have cold feet in almost freezing temps. When we beached at Aitkin he almost completely fell into the water because he got surprisingly stuck in the knee deep mud. Luckily this was the end of the day....Alex, a solo canoeist we had met in Grand Rapids has stayed with us the whole time and does a great job with building camp fires every night. This is a great help after a long cold day on the river!






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