Monday, November 4, 2013

River Rumble '13 - Day 8

Today we’d end our journey with the longest paddle of the trip---22 miles from Prescott, down the Mississippi to Red Wing, MN, the home of Red Wing shoes and boots. Anyone that has done more than work in an office knows Red Wing boots, from work boots, motorcycle boots, hunting and hiking boots, ski boots, and, yes, shoes, but they are best known for high-quality American-Made boots.

Chief Red Wing
Red Wing was established in the 1850’s, and named for the Dakota Sioux Chief Red Wing. His name, Hupahuduta, came from the practice of dyeing a swan’s wing red as a sign of his rank or office. Red Wing is the county seat of Goodhue County, the largest wheat producing county in America in 1873. In its days as a paddlewheel steamboat port, Red Wing could ship a million bushels of wheat a year. 

Buddy and I paddling down the Mississippi River.
Photo credit: Maryellen Self
The downtown area has been revitalized, and Red Wing remains a lively and viable area. When we paddled into town we passed along the riverfront where a festival was in full swing. The St. James Hotel, where the Great River Rumble would hold our farewell banquet, was built in 1874. It was a popular stopping place for steamboat passengers and businessmen. Now on the Registry of Historic Places, it continues to host the city’s visitors in a lavish style to this day. It’s survival is due in no small part to Red Wing Shoes, which purchased the hotel in 1977 and financed its renovation. They also added a shopping court and a new section for business offices. Sixty-one of the 62 rooms bear the name of a steamboat that worked the Mississippi. The last room is called the Red Wing Iron Works Suite, a lavish apartment with granite counter tops, jacuzzi, fireplace, and a view of the Mississippi River. An enjoyable time can be spent just roaming the halls to look at the framed pictures of the town and river during the gilded age.

After the 8-ft. drop in Lock #3 (see the wet area on the walls), the
lower gates opened to allow us to continue down the Mississippi.
Photo credit: Maryellen Self.  The time stamp is off.  The date was
Sat. 3 August. 13
Every effort was made to get as early a start as possible on this busy day. Robert Burns certainly knew what he was talking about when he said, “The best laid plans of Mice and Men oft go awry.” His words rang true at breakfast in the middle school. The caterer that accepted the challenge of breakfast for a couple hundred people had certainly over-stepped his skill level, and it was no more obvious than when they walked in with a 20-cup coffee pot. More followed, but neither the flow of food nor coffee was keeping pace with the long line of people that had rushed to get to breakfast as early as possible. As the old Army dictum goes: hurry up and wait. This is not sour grapes. It was just interesting how on the one day when haste was most needed, something came along to shift progress into a slowness competition.

The start down the Mississippi was like a picture out of Huckleberry Finn---quiet and peaceful, a mist rising off the water, and just a couple fishermen allowing their boats to drift with the gentle flow of the current. However, this was a Saturday, and powerboats began rolling into the river from this recreational-boating hub. As the day got warmer, the wakes became larger, but everyone seemed to take them in stride.

The most anticipated event of the day for most of our party would be locking through Lock and Dam #3 near the Prairie Island Indian Reservation. We had to wait for a large flotilla of powerboats to empty out of the lock, but when the signal turned green, we all paddled our way into the lock. The roughly 100 canoeists and kayakers divided and made their way down both sidewalls of the lock until they grabbed lines hanging from the top of the lock. Although the huge lock was made to accommodate large rafts of barges, we managed to cover its full length, rafted at least two-deep. After the gates closed, we slowly dropped eight feet before the lower gates opened to flush us back into the river.

Just for fun, see if you can detect a theme here. Prairie Island was chosen as a reservation for the Dakota Sioux in 1889. Then, “much of the reservation land was lost following the construction of Lock and Dam #3 along the river by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.” Then it was decided that some the remaining reservation lands would be a great place to build the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant. Then it was decided that reservation lands would be a great place to store radioactive nuclear waste in above-ground steel casks.

We paddled past the festival on the Red Wing waterfront, where hundreds of folks watched and waved. Then we passing under the Hwy. 63 bridge, which connects Red Wing with Wisconsin and a direct route to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Another mile further down the river brought us to Colvill Park, where we would take out and load our craft onto our vehicles. Then it was a race to find a place to take a shower and get ready for the farewell banquet to be held at the St. James Hotel.

Lobby of the St. James Hotel

While I was paddling down the river, Jean had been staying in our RV and enjoyed the hospitality of Grantsburg, WI. She drove down to meet me, and was waving from the bank when I pulled in. The staff at the park pool building were gracious enough to allow a few of us to shower and change there, and then it was off to the hotel. Since we had a two-hour drive back to our RV in Grantsburg, we left at 8:45, shortly after dinner concluded. As soon as we got back to the RV, we dropped into bed exhausted. In fact, we would remain there at the James McNully campground an extra day for rest and relaxation before making the 900-mile run back home.


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