Thursday, October 31, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 6 (Hudson)

Hudson seemed to have a little trouble with its own identity. It was first called Massey’s Landing, but then named Willow River after being established in 1840. It was then renamed again as Buena Vista, and finally the first mayor petitioned to change the town’s name again to Hudson in 1852 since the bluffs along the St. Croix reminded him of the Hudson River Valley in New York, from which he had migrated. With a population of 12,719 (2010), Hudson is the St. Croix’s second largest city.

After crossing under the Stillwater lift-bridge, we paddled into the harbor at Hudson. We had protected water, a nice sandy beach to land on, and a small park for camping. We had six porta-potties, which was a great luxury after the first night with two. We were on our own for dinner in town, and we scattered out to patronize most of the establishments in town. It was a very relaxing and friendly environment with children playing in the playground, sailboats sailing gently about the harbor on the light breeze, which was also being enjoyed by a number of hot-air balloons.

I just liked this picture.  The long focal length was able to combine
the nearby trees, a flag on a piling in the marina down the harbor, and
the balloon crossing the river from Bayport.  The elements span a
couple miles, but the flag is superimposed on the balloon and framed
by the trees.

One of the fun parts of large paddling groups is the opportunity to meet the wide range of people, from all walks of life, that are attracted to paddling. You have both the chance to share their life and paddling experiences, and pick up paddling tips that will enhance your abilities and your enjoyment of the sport (or philosophy for life, depending in which category you count paddling). For example, I decided to purchase Buddy, my 14-ft. Kevlar Hornbeck, because of meeting Ralph Schroeder, of Quincy, CA, on last year’s River Rumble. Ralph had a Placid Boatworks 15-ft.RapidFire solo canoe, an adaptation of the famous Adirondack pack canoe. Placid Boatworks advertises a finished boat weight of 25-30 pounds. Ralph said his was 25-pounds, and I marveled at every stop how he could just throw his canoe on his shoulder and start up the hill. We all chipped in to help each other get our boats up from the river to a secure area for the night. Ralph would just say, “Thanks, but I’ve got it,“ and off he’d go. We had been back from the Missouri River trip only a few days before I started a search for a lighter pack canoe, a search that led me to the Hornbeck 14. Placid Boatworks has since found new facilities, but at that time had lost their production plant to a fire.

Ralph Schroeder and Maryellen Self at the Hudson park.
I doubt there’s anyone on the Great River Rumble that doesn’t know Maryellen Self. If she doesn’t know you, you’ll see her heading right at you with her arm outstretched as she says, “Hi there. I’m Maryellen. That’s Mary and Ellen, but together as one name. Who are you and where are you from?” Every day she’s a floating Welcome Wagon as she paddles from one end of the fleet to the other so she can talk with as many people as possible.

Michael Anderson passing one of the many bluffs along the St. Croix.
Being back in close quarters for camping, I again appreciated the necessity of earplugs for a good night’s sleep when camping. This night it was a half-dozen women sitting right outside my tent swapping stories and laughing, but as in the past, it could just as easily have been trains, tugboats switching barges, industrial noise, late-night guitarist/singer wannabes, card games, or any number of other distractions. Trust me. Don’t leave home without a good pair, or several good pair, of earplugs. The next morning will look a whole lot rosier after a good night’s rest.

The Hudson park that was our camp for the night.  Our canoes and kayaks
spent the night on a nice sandy beach mere yards from the water's edge.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 6 (Stillwater)

On Thurs., 1 Aug., we had a 17 miles paddle from Marine on St. Croix to Hudson. The paddling pace was accelerated significantly for the remainder of the trip as we headed toward Stillwater and Hudson, the two largest cities along the St. Croix. On reaching Stillwater, the river widens quite a bit, and they indeed call it Lake St. Croix.

In an ongoing effort to protect the pristine waters of the St. Croix,
rest stops are anchored at several locations along the lower river.
You simply pull your boat alongside the anchored barge and tie-off,
climb up to the deck of the barge, and visit one of several porta-potties
secured there, including one that's wheelchair-accessible.
Stillwater was another of the logging towns, but its local importance is seen by the sudden jump in population from the 700 of Marine to the 18,000 of Stillwater. It is often called Minnesota’s birthplace, as the convention held to commence the move toward Minnesota’s statehood was held in Stillwater. Three cities were selected as locations for the upcoming state’s important business: St. Paul as the state’s capital, Minneapolis for the University of Minnesota, and Stillwater as the location of the area’s first territorial prison, opened in 1853. With the sudden widening of the river a couple miles north of town, Stillwater became the site for a major log boom during the lumbering period. Steam-driven paddlewheelers were a common sight on the river, and a few still operate on the St. Croix in the tourist trade. It would be hard to get my day started without my morning coffee and toast with peanut butter, so I’m indebted to Charles Strite, of Stillwater, for his 1921 invention of the toaster.

Approaching the Soo Line Railroad bridge.
From the very beginning, Stillwater had all the ingredients for a rapidly developing community. It was on the stagecoach line, the large area of “still water” made it the natural site for log booming, and it became the supplying outlet for all the other sawmills along the river valley. Associated wood manufacturing followed to include roofing shingles, flooring, furniture, and windows and doors. Bayport, a suburb of Stillwater, is still the home of Anderson Windows and Doors.

Three of the five arches elevating the rails above the river valley.
The Minnesota Territorial Prison in Stillwater was built on the site of the last great battle between the Ojibwa and Dakota tribes, but is best remembered as the home of the Younger Brothers (Cole, Bob, and Jim), part of the Jesse James gang. They were captured by a posse of more than 150 men following a botched robbery attempt of the Northfield, MN, bank in 1876. Bob died in prison of tuberculosis in 1889, and Cole and Jim Younger were paroled in 1901. When Jim committed suicide in October, 1902, his body was found to still contain 14 bullets from his days as an outlaw.
The Stillwater lift bridge.
The Soo Line was a railroad created out of the combined assets of the Wisconsin Central Railroad and the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad. The name came from the phonetic spelling of Sault. Until this was done, Chicago and Milwaukee, with their direct railroad connections with Eastern markets, had control of the movement of the grain and flour coming out of the Great Plains. The Soo Line, with investments from the Pillsbury and Kellogg families, gave area farmers better prices and greater control over the marketing of the area’s grain crops. The orginal bridge across the St. Croix, built in 1884, was much lower and had substantial grades into and out of the valley, and required the use of helper-engines to conrol the speed of trains descending into the river valley, and to enable them to climb back out again, The high bridge was built in 1909 to eliminate this problem, and is a significant landmark along the river. It is 184 feet above the river, and 2,682 feet long, and rests on five steel arches that rise above the valley. 

Steamboats docked at Stillwater below the lift bridge.

Monday, October 21, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 5A

With a much larger area, we were able to spread out across a park of
lush grass beside the Millstream Pond in Burris Park.
When the Ojibwa and Dakota tribes signed away their claims to their native lands in 1837, it opened the way for those waiting to claim the area’s vast natural resources. Chief among those were the huge stands of mature white pines and hardwoods, many said to be tall trees when Christ was still in swaddling clothes. The settlers rushing west ran into a problem once they reached the Great Plains. There were few trees from which to build homes, so many settlers lived in dug outs below ground or sod houses. From the vast forests north of the plains, lumber could be easily milled and shipped to an anxious market that was much closer than from the Eastern States.

Created first as the mill's company store, the general store has operated
continuously since 1849.
In the fall of 1838, two lumbermen arrived in the St. Croix Valley from Marine, Illinois, representing a 13-member consortium. They made a claim on a six-acre plot overlooking the St. Croix River. Returning later with most of the rest of the group and all they would need to make a start, they built a lumber mill, which they named after their hometown. The main part of the mill was erected in a mere three months to become the first commercial sawmill in Minnesota. The first logs were milled on August 24, 1839. By 1855, there would be 17 sawmills along the shores of the lower St. Croix. The single mill in Marine produced 197million board feet of lumber. The forests were clear-cut, and the lands were striped bare so far inland, that logs could no longer be moved to the mill. In 1895, after only 56 years, the resources had been exhausted and the mill shut down. The buildings were torn down, and the equipment was sold to other sawmills. As other mills along the river exhausted the forests, they too would close, and by 1914, logging was over, and the last log raft would be seen floating down the river.

The Marine brass band assembled before the general store and town hall
on the 4th of July, 1905. Credit: Washington Co. Historial Society

From below our put-in the next morning, we could see the millstream
running gently into the St. Croix.  The mill would later convert to steam
power, but the massive power of water can be appreciated when you look
at this brook and remember it powered the cutting of millions of board
feet of lumber.
Founded in 1839 as Marine Mills, this oldest town in Minnesota, with a population of 700, today has a population of 689. From a rough milling town has evolved a quaint, picturesque village. The country store built by Orange Walker in 1849 as a company general store, still serves the town, and is a great place to find steaming coffee and a pastry before launching into the river of a morning. Next door is the village town hall that has also served as the town’s center since the town’s founding. The site of the sawmill is just behind the town hall, but little remains except the foundations and the still-flowing mill stream.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 5

The folks in Osceola wanted to make sure we didn’t forget their hospitality, and if hot showers and the Bending Branches tour weren’t enough, they sealed themselves in our memories with breakfast. This would be the breakfast of the entire trip: three pancakes and scrambled eggs, Danish, coffee, cranberry juice, orange juice, sausage, and a huge bowl of mixed fruit on each table, and more coffee. If we didn’t get our fill from one heaping plate, they walked among the tables throughout breakfast with trays of extra eggs, pancakes, and everything else. I mean those folks in Osceola knew what they were about!

Our put-in on the Minnesota side opposite Osceola, and
below the Osceola Road bridge.
Today was another short paddle, just 11 miles from Osceola to Marine on St. Croix, MN. This was the day I saw the seven bald eagles and the one golden eagle, and some of the huge second-generation white pines that made this area famous.

Looking at Buddy on the river bank and the view of the river
downstream of our put-in.
We had a mid-day break on a sandbar where we were met by the St. Croix River Association. They are a volunteer group that fosters appreciation of the beautiful St. Croix River, do river clean-up projects, monitor activities in the watershed that may impact the river, promote public awareness, support and work with the National Park Service and natural resources departments of both states, and more. They had brought a pontoon boat loaded with snacks of pastries and fruit, and beverages, hot and cold, all of which they served to us on the up-turned hull of a canoe. One of their events is the annual St. Croix photo competition. To see some great river pictures, you can go to the following link and view the 96 pictures entered in the 2013 competition.

Our sandbar meeting with the St. Croix River Association.
We had some passing sprinkles in the morning, but it cleared off as soon as we landed at the take-out. We went ashore at a landing at the foot of Maple Street in Marine. Our canoes and kayaks were set along the path that led up the hill to town. Right at the top of the footpath was an ice cream shop that many of us returned to after dinner. We turned south on Judd Street and walked to a large, beautiful park set around Lower Mill Pond, from which the stream provided water-power to the first commercial sawmill in Minnesota. The park seems to be called alternately either Millstream Park, or Burris Park. In either event, it was shaded by stately old trees and covered with a lush, loamy sod that nearly made an airmattress redundant.

The Anderson cabin of 1852.
Located in the park is the original home of settlers Sven and Stava Anderson. Built in 1852, the logs still show the marks of Sven’s axe as he trimmed and squared the logs. Between then and 1869, the couple raised three children in the cabin. Charles, their eldest, was born the day after Minnesota achieved statehood. Sven was one of the first wheat farmers in the area, and is also credited with bringing the first cattle to the area. In 1938, the cabin was moved from its original site on the Rosengren Prairie two miles northwest of town. With local contributions and volunteer support, the cabin has been maintained in its original condition.

The care and detail that went into the cabin's construction explains why it
has lasted 161 years, and could be moved without falling to pieces.  Instead
of half-lapping the corner joints, as was common with American cabins,
the logs are dovetailed at the corners, locking them in place.  Then the logs
that comprise the interior walls are cut into long tenons which extend into a
mortise that extends clear through the exterior wall.  You can see the line of
tenons coming through the wall just to the left of the window.  This is
stronger construction than is found in most homes built today.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wood Ducks

These were just too beautiful to pass by without sharing.  They are two Wood Duck 12's built by Larry Miller, of Madison, WI, from Chesapeake Lightcraft Kits.  He can take great pride in these for many years to come.  Borrowed from the Chesapeake Lightcraft site. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bending Branches - 2

The Series "A" paddle is sanded and ready for finishing.

Paddles hanging in preparation for a varnish dip.  In the middle
are wood blades for kayak paddles.

Another selection of wood paddles ready for finishing.

Greg holds a completed Sunburst paddle, one of four versions
of this design.

The beautifully finished Series "A" limited edition.  The only thing left
is to slide it into the embroidered sueded-cloth paddle bag it comes with.

Another line includes the laminated fiberglass kayak paddles.  This
is the start of the Angler Pro, which is done either in a sea green, shown
here, or a camo design.  The colors are created by including colored
silk into the laminate.  Once the laminate is hand-laid on half of a
polished metal mold, the two halfs of the mold, each part weighing 60 lbs.,
are pressed together until the laminate cures.
Linda is both inspector and shipper.  While she gets occasional help
from others, she is likely the last person at Bending Branches to handle your
paddle before it goes out the door.  She checks for quality of production
and finish, assembly, for balance, and since she handles between 500,000
and 600,000 paddles a year, she can pick a paddle up and tell within one
ounce if it meets its designed finish weight. 
Then, next to an overhead
door rests a selection of kayaks and canoes.  The staff not only design and
make paddles, but whenever they can, they run down to the St. Croix and
spend the day on the water using them.  Tough, no?  I guess that comes under
the heading of "on the job training."  The bottom line is that they are great
folks making great paddles that will add immensely to your pleasure on
the water.  At their site, you can view all the paddles, get information on paddle
maintenance and care, size and selection guide, a video library, and more.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bending Branches

The account of the Bending Branches tour begins on the last post for River Rumble '13 - Day 4.  If you haven't seen that, you may wish to start there.

The palm-shaped grips are added to the shaft stocks about to become
the numbered Series "A" special edition paddles.

Some of the laminated paddle blades will have as many as eleven
pieces.  Here you can see the angled stub being inserted for a
bent-shaft paddle.

Once the laminates are clamped, a micro-wave oven sets the glue
in about four minutes rather than the several hours it would normally take.

The glue will continue to cure for several hours, so once they come from
the oven, the paddles are stacked overnight before being worked on further.

The paddle blades are cut out by a computer-driven router following
a digital template that insures every blade of a particular design is
accurately reproduced.  They adapted a sanding machine designed for
making hockey sticks to sand both sides of the blades at once.  Additional
bevels and tapers are added by hands trained by having done the same
skilled task hundreds of thousands of times.  Some of the blades are
then fiberglass wrapped.

The dark Rockgard epoxy edge can be seen here on the Series "A" going
all the way around the blade.  On my BB Special, the Rockgard
encompasses the tip and a couple inches up either side.  It is ruggedly
strong and protects the blade from abrasion or splitting after repeated
encounters with rocks, gravel, coral, or sand on the bottom or shore.  In
spite of some labor-saving devices incorporated in the process, there is
serious craftsmanship that goes into these paddles.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 4

Having to load and unload Buddy from the trailer forced me to check out his bottom. I was pleasantly surprised to see that two things made me feel much relieved. The obvious one is that while there were indeed scrapes, the light yellow Kevlar color, plus the absence of a pigmented gelcoat, made the scrapes much less obvious than we had seen on the larger Wenonah. The second was that the number of scrapes were far fewer. Part of that may be that the lighter boat with a single paddler, even though smaller and with less displacement, perhaps drew less water than the heavier tandem with two paddlers, or it may be from laying back in the pack and having a chance to see those in front of me seek out the better runs. In any event, my anxiety over the damage to Buddy’s hull was to some extent unwarranted, and I was yet again a happy camper.

The put-in at Interstate Park (MN) was very nice, with a gradual,
sandy, sloping beach.
We had a short paddle today, (Tues., the 30th), and only had to go 10 miles to Osceola, WI. It rained a bit during the night, and again in the morning as we had breakfast and prepared to launch. It was just showers, however, and had no effect on our movements or spirits. We put in just below Folsom Island, on the south side of Taylor Falls. Our take-out was at a park on the Minnesota side, just south of the Osceola Rd. (Rt. 243) bridge.  With a two-carry portage, it was 1.2 miles to get Buddy and my gear to the trucks and boat staging area. The 25-pound Hornbeck 14 was certainly putting a smile on my face. I made another trip to help another paddler carry his heavier kayak up the hill, but the super-light Hornbeck certainly proved, and continues to prove, its value when portaging comes into play.

The entrance to the shop that creates Bending Branches and
Aqua-Bound paddles.  They put so much hands-on personal work
into their paddles, I hate the idea of calling it a manufacturing plant.
The bus carried us across the bridge to Osceola, WI. It was such a picturesque town that I think I would have enjoyed greatly with more time. We were taken to a park off Education Avenue. That was just a couple hundred yards from one of Osceola’s schools, I believe the middle school, where hot showers were arranged for us. This was the dining stop of the trip. Between dinner this night, and breakfast the next morning, the town went all out to stuff us with some great eats.


Racks of quality woods waiting to become quality paddles.
One of the activities here was a tour of the Bending Branches plant. Only a small group was able to make the tour, and I was fortunate enough to get included. I considered myself fortunate, because I’m a loyal Bending Branches devotee, and it was a great chance to see where my paddles came from. They run two companion lines of paddles, Bending Branches and Aqua-Bound. As they say, “No matter what floats your boat, we’ve got it covered.” They include paddle designs for premium and special edition paddles, touring, expedition, performance, solo, kids, kayak, stand-up, recreational, and fishing paddles. We actually did two tours of the plant. The first covered all the wood paddles, and the second tour covered the polypropylene and laminated fiberglass paddles. I have both a 54” bent shaft BB Special with the RockGuard edge, and a 280cm. Slice Glass Solo Touring Canoe Paddle. I love them both. I even loved the aroma while walking in among the racks of butternut, red alder, black willow, cherry, basswood, and maple woods that go into their wood paddles. All the paddles are beautiful, but the Sunburst and the “A” Series Special Edition steal the show. The “A” Series is the most hands-on labor-intensive wood paddle made, and is a limited 750 paddle run with each paddle numbered.

An interesting pattern is created by the laminated stock about
to become the double-bent shafts of the special edition
Series "A" paddles.
I had drooled over the graphite Black Pearl for several years while wishing that my wallet was thicker than reality showed. I was now committed to bite the bullet and come away with a Black Pearl in my hands, only to sadly learn that the line had been discontinued. The graphite sheets are only available now from China, and are of inferior quality. Bending Branches had to weigh giving up a corner of the market by discontinuing the line versus staying in the market with a less-than-optimum paddle. They decided their standards demanded they take the high road, which seems to hold true in all of their marketing and customer relations.


Friday, October 11, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day3A

We would spend the night at Interstate State Park, from which we would launch Tuesday morning. The park was broken up in a number of small campgrounds divided by paths and trees. There was wide variety in the campsite sizes and layouts, some on hills, or in small glens, or on the river bank. With no maps of the park, that was a bit confusing at first, but we all eventually found our way around.

The individual campsites were small enough that we were
broken up into several different areas.
There are many, many camping opportunities along the St. Croix. As for state parks, there are the St. Croix State Park, Wild River State Park, Interstate, William O’Brien, and Afton State Park, all on the Minnesota side. On the Wisconsin side are the Wisconsin Interstate Park, Willow River, and Kinnickinnic State Park. There are also many primitive campsites on both shores provided by the National Park Service.

This area right down along the river was really nice, but I
was already set-up elsewhere when I realized it was there.
In the evening, we had a presentation on the St. Croix’s ecosystem and its freshwater mussels. A lot of effort is put into protecting the river and its mussels, which are mostly responsible for the river’s clean, clear water. It would normally be hard to imagine that someone could speak for an hour on mussels, and still keep the audience awake and fascinated, but he did both. It was quite an education on how important mussels are to the health of our streams, and how little we know about them. There are 60 endangered species of mussels, and there are more healthy, reproducing mussel populations in the St. Croix River than almost anywhere in the world. There are 40 species of mussels maintaining themselves here in the St. Croix while there are only 12 in all of Europe, and only 15 in all of Africa. Having more species of mussels in the St. Croix than anywhere else doesn’t mean everyone can let their guard down, and they don’t. Obviously the efforts here by environmental groups, natural resources, and the National Park Service are paying dividends.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 3

Fear The Goat~!
On today’s date (10 Oct.) in 1845, the U. S. Naval Academy was created in Annapolis, Md. In our family, one of the biggest sporting events of the year is always the Army-Navy game in December. This year it is Saturday, 14 Dec. It will be aired on CBS at 3 p.m. ET.  Tune in early to see if you can catch a bit of the March On.  You have to usually plan a year ahead to get a seat at the Army-Navy game in person.  Anytime you’re traveling up the East Coast, if you don’t stop for a visit at the Naval Academy, and the town of Annapolis, you’re cheating yourself. Witness the noon formation in Tecumseh Court at Bancroft Hall, visit Memorial Hall in Bancroft, the Chapel and Crypt of John Paul Jones, the Naval Museum in Preble Hall, Dahlgren Hall, the Visitors’ Center, and much more. You can take a guided tour, or just grab a map at the Visitors’ Center and make a day of it. Go Navy! Beat Army!

On Monday morning (July 29), we were up at 5:15, and it was 42-degrees. July!? Meals are catered at the campground at most stops. Working with such a large group is also a learning experience for some of the caterers, and we’ve clearly seen some rare instances where a caterer has oversold his ability to provide for a large group. They may show up late, or arrive with food for forty when they have 200 people standing there anxious to eat quickly, get on a bus or get to the put-in, and get their day started. The thing they need to apparently be reminded of time and again, is that a large group that has been sleeping on the ground all night in 42-degree weather is looking first and foremost for coffee, and lots of it. Paddlers don’t seem to mind standing in line half as much if they have a cup of hot coffee in their hands.

A sandbar break.
When we got back to our boats, one paddler went through the tall grass to pull his boat out. When he turned the canoe over, he found not one, but two snakes inside. Not even coffee will wake you up as fast as that will.

Today we would do another 18-mile paddle that would take us to Taylor Falls. We took out at a small park on the Minnesota side just upstream of the falls. Once again we were greeted by buses and several large trailers that would accomplish our portage around the falls and large hydroelectric dam. We carried our gear up to the waiting trucks, and our boats to the trailers. As I approached one trailer with Buddy, I was told, “Oh no. We’re saving this trailer just for the expensive boats.“ Of course his homemade kayak was already on the trailer. Needless to say, that went over like a truck load of fresh manure dumped in front of the church doors during a wedding. Without a word, I turned to take Buddy some place where he could keep better company.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

River Rumble '13 -Day 2A

Bald Eagle
I was happy to see a bald eagle, and not a day would pass throughout the trip without seeing at least one. On one day I counted seven bald eagles and one golden eagle. The golden eagle can be distinguished by being larger than the bald eagle and clearly brown rather than dark brown to black. The beak of the bald eagle is a bright yellow, while that of the golden eagle is partly to mostly black, darkest at the end. The golden eagle can have a 60 square mile hunting area, and dive on its prey at 150 miles per hour.

Our take-out for the first night.
After a break at mid-day, we arrived at our take-out at 3 pm after an 18-mile paddle. We took our canoes and kayaks and placed them in a field of tall grass. At that point I didn’t have the heart to look at Buddy’s bottom and all the scrapes and gouges. I just sat him down in the grass and walked away. If I had known the river would have dished out such abuse at the start of the trip, I would have brought my Royalex canoe instead. I had some reservation about how the ultra-light Kevlar Hornbeck would stand up to such abuse, but it obviously did quite well. I was please in that regard.

This is a brand-new Wenonah canoe after just one day's use.  This
is no reflection on Wenonah, a beautiful canoe, but rather the
rigors of the first day's run.
Our craft would be left there while we camped miles away, but we had members of our group camping with the boats each night for security. We would need to be bused five miles to the Trade River Horse Campground in the Governor Knowles State Forest, near Sunrise, MN. We ran into a bit of a transportation snag with only one bus to move about 200 people, and a half-hour turn-around time for each run. There were also only two porta-potties for the whole crowd. On both counts, patience became the byword. I arrived at the campground after two hours, but there was still one more bus load of people waiting behind us at the take-out. Nevertheless, we all managed to make it work, and had an enjoyable night.

It has to be a nightmare trying to organize a trip for such a large group, and to wed the needs of the group with available facilities along shore. The Great River Rumble depends on a corps of faithful volunteers who handle the chores. Then a couple hosts assume responsibility for coordinating facilities and events at each stop. This usually involves months of meetings and negotiations with city or county councils, park managers, caterers and restaurants, transportation providers, and service providers like septic and solid waste disposal outfits. We’ve been greeted by mayors and park managers, had restaurant and bakery owners come in on days that their businesses were normally closed to accommodate our needs, received presentations from parks and natural resources personnel on local geology, history, natural resources, and wildlife. So, when we encountered a snag, like the bus transportation here, we tried to remember the spirit in which all this work was done on our behalf, and tried to just take a deep breath and remember that it’s all part of the adventure.


Monday, October 7, 2013

River Rumble '13 -Day 2

Sunday (28 July) was cloudy with a forecast high of 72, a perfect paddling day. Jean and I got to the put-in early, so we had everything set up before the trailers and crowds appeared. As usual, it took awhile to get everyone organized and launched, but we were still underway by 8:30.

The St. Croix River put-in off the Highway 70 bridge.
The river’s water level was very low. The whole day was a challenge of negotiating the day-long chain of rock gardens. One down side of paddling with a large group, or for that matter doing anything with a large group, is it takes awhile for a spirit of cooperation to develop, and for the first day or two, everyone is out for number one. Rex Klein, the group organizer, had even warned people to take their time and to expect places where we could only go through single-file. For the new paddlers, he even emphasized just keeping their canoe or kayak straight with the current, to not allow themselves to get crossways to the current.

As more paddlers arrive, the area around the ramp begins to
get overcrowded.
Naturally, a half-dozen boats would show up at nearly every tight opening. Almost immediately one boat got jammed broadside against a line of rocks, and since few had yet learned to space themselves out, a second rammed him amidships and swung crossways to become pinned against the first canoe, then a third rammed them, but was able to extricate himself by just sliding off the two pinned boats. Slowly, paddlers began to spread themselves out. Several people capsized from running up onto submerged rocks and boulders. We encountered two gravel bars where the water was shallow enough that we had to get out and walk our canoes. The first was only a couple hundred feet long, but the second was about 150 yards long with a very uneven bottom. I’d be standing in ankle deep water one second, and up to my crotch the next, and then step back up out of the hole to where the depth was hardly knee deep. The rocks on the bottom made walking the canoe very tenuous. The rocks were as round as cannonballs and slimy. I’d just have to put my foot down and let it slide about until it came up against something solid where I could then put my weight on that leg.

Buddy's set to go.  The shallows are full of rocks, so those of us
that arrived first had to launch to make room for those behind us.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 1

Saturday would be our day to relax before pushing off down the river Sunday morning. We took a ride back down to the St. Croix to check out the put-in where we would all meet the next morning. I was a bit concerned when I looked down river, and all I could see were row upon row of rocks crossing the river. They looked almost like teeth, and I wasn’t looking forward to having the bottom of my canoe chewed on.

We next located the fairgrounds where we would all gather for dinner that evening, and then took a ride four miles east of Grantsburg to the Burnett Dairy Co-op. It was founded in 1896, and is still a huge cheese producer. I found it fascinating to learn that Wisconsin became noted for its cheese because of the lack of refrigeration at that time. Since the milk coming from the many dairy farms could not be cooled to keep it from spoiling, what couldn’t be sold as milk would be made into cheese to keep it from going to waste. The Burnett Dairy is a must-see attraction. The shop is nearly the size of a basketball court, and two walls are made up of coolers containing hundreds of different cheeses. If it’s possible for something to be made into a cheese, it’s there. Of course, what’s cheese without a good bottle of wine? There are many to choose from. Needless to say, they also have a big ice-cream parlor, and also a deli.

It rained all day and evening, and some found shelter by pitching
their tents in the livestock pens at the fairgrounds.
Most of those participating in the Great River Rumble 2013 would gather at Red Wing, MN, which was our destination. By late this afternoon, they would all be transported by charter buses to Grantsburg after leaving their cars in Red Wing. All the canoes and kayaks would be shuttled primarily by Wenonah Canoe, the event's major sponsor, but a few outfitters also joined in to get all the boats moved in one pass. In all, there would be about a hundred boats participating. By last count, there were190 paddlers, some using their own boats, and some using boats rented from Wenonah and Current Designs. All of their paddling and camping gear was moved by two U-Haul trucks that would continue to perform that task all week.

Since the barn was a maze of activity with both trucks being unloaded
there, some preferred its greater protection for their tents.
After checking in, helping to get the trucks unloaded, and having dinner, the group was entertained by Jerry Vandiver and three other musicians he had arranged to have join him. Jerry would also be joining us for several days on the river. If you aren’t familiar with his music, he is a musician and song writer that has had many of his compositions performed by major recording artists. Besides his normal fare, he also does a number of works specifically for the paddler that will make you smile, laugh, and sing along.

Jerry Vandiver, center, in tan jacket and cap.
At this link you can hear pieces of a number of Jerry’s songs. Be sure to listen to Headwind. Truer words were never uttered, and it’s my #2 favorite.

If you enjoy paddling and have a doggy-friend, you have to watch and listen to Me and Molly, my most favorite.

We were captivated by the greens of Wisconsin. Of course, it’s green because it gets a lot of that stuff we almost never get in Oklahoma---rain. It would continue raining Saturday evening, and Sunday, but then the weather for the rest of the week would be dazzlingly beautiful. To get out of the rain Saturday night, however, many people pitched their tents in the fairground’s barn, others set up camp in the livestock pens, and still more, the hardcore purists, sat out in the rain. Perhaps the constant drum roll against the tent’s nylon shell helped to lull them to sleep.