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Summer Journal 2004 – Canoeing the Namekagon, St. Croix, and Mississippi Rivers.

By Bill Collett, Bettendorf, Iowa

August 3, 2004

Pre trip plans hardly exist. I intend to solo paddle the designated National Scenic River Way of the Namekagon River. It is uncertain if I will paddle beyond that or not. All I know is that my wife and daughter are visiting relatives and friends in Duluth for a week and they can drop me off on the Namekagon. The option exists for them to pick me up on the way home, or if I am feeling good, they are to go home and I will continue to paddle.

I’m operating under the axiom, when packing for a solo trip, weird and wonderful adventures can be achieved through haphazard planning and spur-of-the-moment preparation. When organizing for group travel, it is quite another matter.

As a precaution, I throw in my entire collection river maps. The food barrel is already half full of assorted leftovers from a dozen other trips. In addition to the usual cooking gear, I add a kayak paddle and five one-gallon containers for water.

8:15 pm Dam Trail Head – Looking for the “Dam Road” at Lake Namekagon – Our turn to Lake Namekagon is on the same highway as Telemark Ski Lodge, except further east and north of the highway.

At the dam, it is still daylight and there is a large parking area on the upper lakeside of the dam (must be for a boat ramp, although I don’t remember seeing one). On the lower side of the dam is a small picnic area with a separate little parking area. The few visitors here are actually checking out the dam, which is really just a spillway. It is a fancy one that has step-up walls with river boulders cemented in the surface. Although there are no cabins in sight, you get the feeling the road continues on to resorts or cabins on the far side of the lake.

The sign says “No Camping” it is just about dark and Ann and Amber have to head on to Duluth. We pile my gear onto a picnic table. We say goodbye, and I want to double check the van one more time to make sure I have not forgetting anything. As I move a blanket, I uncover Amber’s brand new kayak paddle! Why she is hiding it, I don’t know. I’m assuming she wants to show Peter.

I plan to hang out until dark and set up the tent. It is twilight and as I come out of the plastic outhouse, I notice a car by the dam. A young man is doing a ragged dance across the stones and singing at the top of his lungs. He thinks he is alone and to protect whatever dignity he has left, I detour out of site around the pines back to the picnic area.

Red raspberries are abundant. Just before leaving I ate a ton of black berries from our woods at home. Amber and I attempted to spread the seeds in our backyard woods by chewing on the berries and spewing the seeds from our mouths. It occurs to me that I may be reseeding the Namekagon the next few days.

9:30 pm Sitting at the edge of the dam. Several stars break out which is a good sign. We drove though some rain on the way up. Fifty or more bats are circling above my head.

The water gauge at the dam reads 1.27. According to the website that is not good news. The water levels are low and at this level it is rated difficult in maneuvering around rocks and boulders. I’m up for the challenge. To make it even more interesting I’m paddling my hand made wooden solo canoe.

August 4, 2004

6:43 am Floating in the pool below the dam. The moon is a waning C-shape at ¾ full. It will be getting smaller as the trip progresses, no moonlight paddles. With the solo canoe I actually sit on the bottom. I’m testing a padded seat called a Happy Bottom; so far I think they are right. I can also see the padded backrest and knee rests I made are going to pay bigger dividends. I’m a big fan of the traditional wooden beaver tail paddle. However, for this trip I also brought along a touring kayak paddle to experiment with my solo canoe.
GPS Reading for the starting location name”¦000 N46 13.468 W 91 08.866

8:10 Have been paddling in an isolated spruce/pine forest and have come up to the wooden walk bridge marked on the map. The cabin here looks like a ski hut. Sign that says ???? six miles. Paddling may be an exaggeration; much of my time is spent walking in the stream. It is not easy and it is slippery. I’m bent over holding on to the back of the canoe to for balance. I no sooner get into the canoe and have to get out. I’m bumping and scraping hidden rocks much more so than expected. My canoe was built in the old days of Polyester resin, and the rocks make it sound like a zipper undoing the fiber cloth. (I had already made plans to refurbish the canoe with epoxy resin this winter. Thus going into the trip, I was not overly concerned about wood meeting rock)

10:50 County M Highway, which means I heading into Birke country. Home of the American Birkiebeiner 55km North America’s largest cross-country ski race. I’ve finished this race 25 times. For the next 35 miles, I will get a new perspective on this countryside that I’ve known so well from the snowy hilltops.

The view opens up some at this location. Back in the dense woods and rocks I put a crack in the bottom of the canoe. Water slowly seeps in. It is sunny with just a few clouds. Cedar Waxlings (or very similar bird) dominate the area; from the branches they fly over the stream to catch insects.

11:09 Cap Creek Landing – Paddling note: once I tried using the kayak paddle I could not switch back to the beaver tail. The solo canoe with its tumblehome sides make it perfect for this faster style of paddling. Also, in shallow water, the blades stay near the surface with out loosing power.

See a family of otter.

Phillipi Bridge Landing At the picnic area having cheese and a long break. I’m debating weather to walk into Cable to get some duct tape.

1:47 Passing under the old railroad bridge.

2:26 Due to bridge construction on Highway 63 there are big signs to portage around the bridge. I look and cannot see any obstructions on the water. They just can’t risk concrete or tools dropping on the canoeists. It turns out not to be a simple carry over. Once on the highway you have to walk ¼ mile to the cable wayside rest area. It takes three trips mainly because I elected to carry five one-gallon containers of water.

4:04 Pacwawong Dam “¦”¦..Broke out into a wide-open marsh area and the stream snakes through the tall grasses. Cranes are in shallows (male red on the top of the head-sand hill crane). Upon reaching the western hillside, the stream comes to another spillway. The campsite is too good to pass up. Plenty of room to spread out, few bugs and a table. Explore a walking path that ends up on a county road a little more than a ¼ away. Supper is a great pizza. I needed a big meal. Since the outback oven is out, I start baking muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast. 7:15 Enjoying the scenery and a hot drink. At the last moment, I threw in a folding canvas chair and it is a luxury! So much so, I forget all about the muffins and burn them. (This campsite is so good, it should not be passed up!) GPS 001 N46 08.891 W91 20.799

August 5, 2004

7:16 am Sunny I’m leaving the campsite. Osprey diving into the water.

8:50 passing a marked campsite cut out of the bush on the right side of the river, not as scenic as the one I used.

9:00 Larsen Bridge Landing no bathrooms no camping”¦”¦sunny blue skies.

10:30 Phipps Landing — Loaded up with drinking water.

11:15 Phipps dam spillway. A healthy straight downward vee is flowing through the spillway. It appears to be an easy canoe run. As I’m checking it out, I see an unusual occurrence, a squirrel walks out on a small branch overhanging the fast water. It leaps into the white water! There is no question about it now, I’m running the shoot, it’s a rescue mission. A simple brace and I’m through. Eddy out to the left, but I cannot any squirrel dog paddling in the water. I hope he/she made it.

1:55 In a muddy lily field behind a large building on Lake Hayward. For a mile or so earlier, the banks of the river became a series of houses. It was easy to see I was getting near Hayward. The canoe still leaks, but the sponge easily keeps up every 15 to 20 minutes. The wood must be swelling, because the leak slows down in the afternoon. Hayward is a must stop for duct tape. I look for the all-familiar Birke ski trail. Under a bridge are two boys fishing. I paddle down the center of Lake Hayward. I’ve skied across this lake many times to finish the Birkebeiner ski races. The water tower has a bald eagle roosting on a support beam.

It appears another canoe group is taking a break on the south shore. I work west into a small shallow inlet. I can barely push the canoe close enough to firm ground. The canoe and gear is well hidden. After fighting some brush, I pop up into a cement drive way. I’m behind a huge new grocery store! I come out with two rolls of duct tape, two huge apples, and peach juice drink.

2:15 going under the Hwy 27 road. Stopped at the local park with beach on the lake. Good bathrooms did not need water. Passing the giant walleye fish monument.

Hayward Dam Portage”¦.the Hayward Dam is a larger 20 to 30 foot cement structure. I meet the other canoe group here that consists of six people from the Peoria, IL area. Greg is kind enough to help me carry my canoe over. 2:53 pm.

5:00 West River Landing”¦..couple of Black labs fetching sticks in the water.

6:40 pm campsite”¦.(marked just above Tranus Creek on the map) stair steps up the right bank to a nice small spot. Wanted to camp a few miles back but the sites were taken. Back into heavy woods and enjoyable rapids.

August 6, 2004

7:30 am Loaded and ready to go.

11:05 Earl Park and Campground do not stop because I have a lot of water. Was going to stop to stretch and walk, but there too many idiots around fireworks, loud music.

12:15 Passing the Namekagon Visitor Center. I do not stop, because I know it is closed for remodeling.

Trego Lake and Trego Dam: Passing under the Highway and by commercial campgrounds. Lake Trego is shallow and with water grass and the pontoon boats have pathways into the lake. The lake is lined with housing and a floatplane is parked in a backyard. Big snails are dead and floating on the surface. Is this a sign of a polluted lake? I make the mistake of picking one up and it leaves a horrendous smell on my fingers. The lake narrows and opens up again and turns to the right. I’m looking for the dam and a family swimming confirms I’m going in the right direction.

The dam is larger than expected. It is an easy carry around on the green lawn. On the shoreline wall I leave the Peoria group a note and e-mail address. I’m curious about Greg’s royalex canoe that works well for a solo and rocky river.

5:05 Whispering Pines – The campsite after that was occupied…paddle to 6:00pm to a campsite. (site just before Howell Landing)

August 7, 2004

11:30 am Was not feeling well early this morning, headache, tired. Because it was raining I almost elected to stay here today. But now it is overcast and I’m feeling better. Drinking a lot of water. Breakfast is on the river; plan to take it easy today. Actually want to take advantage of a sunless day. I had too much sun!

1:00 pm McDowell landing”¦.have filled up with water. Using two plastic kayaks and a canoe, three fishermen have set up a plywood platform with chairs. They are armed with bows and arrows with attached fishing line. They plan to float down a shoot rough fish.

River is wider and deeper and feels like I’m making good time. It is Saturday and I run into several large day paddling groups.

Confluence of the St. Croix small house on the SE corner. Heavy overcast, rain. The river opens up but a few rapids keep you alert because you do not feel close to shore.

Entering the St. Croix at 3:30 pm. I should say the Namekagon flings you out and on to the St. Croix. This river is broader and at the moment the campsites don’t seem to match up well with the map. More of them? Anyway, they are all occupied. On and off rain today and it is now constant and steady. I’m wet and cold and cannot pass up the group site at Riverside.

Van in the Parking lot:

4:30 Riverside Landing the main campground is under construction. They are allowing camping at the canoe landing. I am cold and wet. Don’t like being next to the road. There is a big tent up on the prime spot and no one is home. But the big hesitation is a group of 12 young girls who are also stopping to set up camp. I wait until they set up. I find a good spot under a pine between the youth group and the big tent. In the steady rain, the kids hold up a tarp and a tent is set under it. They move around until all tents are set up. Well organized and they are quiet. I cook by reaching out of my tent. The big tent neighbors return home by canoe. A father (with Jurgs like beard) is with an older son attempting to fish.

August 8, 2004

7:00 start overcast

*future note: just beyond Riverside landing is a primitive campsite marked on an island looks to be a good one and it is next to some rapids.

9:05 just passing under the Sioux Line Railroad bridge.

10:00 stopped at a marked campsite to stretch. The site was used last night and is trashy. A huge log still smoking over the fire grate. I try to clean up the place a little.

10:25 Thayers Landing

11:28 About 30 minutes ago I pass two young native teens thrashing about with their paddles. They are not very good, but they are working hard. Several fish are dragging behind on a stringer. They are talking native, and if I had to guess they are harangued because I’m gliding by with easy paddle strokes. I asked about the fish and they hold them up and I say good job!

As I round the next corner I see why the boys are vigorously paddling. They are trying to catch up with the rest of their group. There is a large group of Native Americans of all ages. They are having a lot of fun and just as I approach the 10 or more canoes, they jump in the water and pull up to a sandy beach. Obviously this is the group that trashed out the last campsite. Around a few bends and I’m back to the solitude of the river.

1:50 Sand Creek Landing

5:00 Camp site—(first camp site before Soderbeck Landing) mosquitoes are more of a factor at this location. I’m also motivated to set up because it is raining. All day it would be sunny and then rainy. As soon as I get the raincoat on, I have to take it off. This site is a big site with two tables and two fire rings. Small nats about my face. Thunder is now to the south, blue sky to the north.

8:30 pm Heavy Thunder moving into the area. A lot of rain last night and you can only go so long before all your gear just feels damp.

August 9, 2004

7:10 Pushing off from shore, sky is heavy overcast. It is cool, but I like the cloudy weather over sun. While packing up this morning I found a webbing strap with a plastic buckle. It’s a perfect belt and I’ve needed one.

8:30 Just now passing under the Interstate 70 bridge. To the west the sky is clear blue. The St. Croix is very large at this point. My trip started out with twist and turns every several minutes. Now my visual landmarks take hours to reach.

9:00 Raspberry landing nice beach area bathroom break and stretch. Steady breeze in the face is killing any assist I may get from the current. It’s a blue-collar workday.

9:17 in the islands beyond Raspberry is the unmistakable call of cranes.

10:30 Old Railroad crossing area- started raining- use the shelter of a silver maple to dig out my raingear.

1:00 Goose Creek landing – bathroom break, experiencing Boundary Waters like weather with sun, clouds, then rain and sun again.

1:17 Sunrise Ferry Landing

A huge fish sticks its head up out of the water in front of me. The irrational description is that it looks just like a small shark. I was looking at its mouth and its head about a foot wide and had the shark shape. Logically I convince myself it is a sturgeon or a paddlefish, surfacing to get a better look at me.

A lot of Bald eagles today. I’ve seen many eagles everyday. How long will this last?

4:00 Spanglers landing – wind now at my back, heavy cloud cover, some rain. When is does rain I can leave my coat unzipped and with my hood up I’m well protected and ventilated. I looking for a series of 4 campsites on the Minnesota side of the river above Taylor Falls. The plan is to get as close as possible for an early start for the portage around the falls and city. However, a Wisconsin campsite looks good and is out on a point and the clincher,,,,,it has a clothesline! I really need to dry out my gear. I sacrifice a few miles to take the breezy side of the river to dry out and keep mosquitoes away. It is working. The tent is upside down and the sleeping bag is hanging on a giant oak branch, and the clothesline is sagging with pants and shirts. I’m hungry, it is pizza night.

7:50 Overcast, the breeze has died. My gear must be 85 percent dry, which is a tremendous help. Meanwhile, I’m cutting up nylon rope and tying up canoe paddles and linking water jugs. All are preparations for the carry around Taylor Falls. My goal is to do this in two carries. I plan to dump my five gallons of water.

I relax in the chair and enjoy the break. Today the river really widened out. At one point the valley flattened out and I could see a farm house, cattle, and on the far hill side a ski resort. The nighthawks are swooping above the river. Geese are flying in vee formation. Two barred owls are behind my tent in an oak forest.

I can see, I’ve made a wise choice by camping on the Wisconsin side. The road on the Minnesota side is heavily traveled and is close to the campsites.

August 10, 2004

I’m up and out early. When approaching the falls, I expect to see signs clearly marking the portage trail. Thus far everything has been well marked for the paddlers. It is not to be at this critical juncture. I spend about 40 minutes checking about for a portage trail. I stay to the right side of the river as indicated on the map. That leads me into a bay surrounded by a cement retaining wall. I check out a tree-covered point to the left of the wall but can’t see any definite trail. To the right of the wall is what looks like a private landing. After going by it twice, I stop by the old shack and can see it easily leads up to the county highway. No one is around and it must be the way to go. I plan to leave the canoe and take the heavy pack first because it will be easier to scout. Plus, if I find a real portage trail further down, I can come back and paddle to it.

Upon starting, the left side of the highway is the same cement retaining wall on the river and the right side of the highway borders a wetland marsh. Of all things, I meet a deer walking the other way. With nowhere to go, I take the left side of the road and the deer takes the right. The county highway ends on the Main Street, which is the major highway. I take a left. Now I’m not sure at all this is the best way to go. I can’t imagine coming back and carrying a canoe down Main Street. There is a man on a porch reading a book. On the street is an RV with a canoe on top. I figure, what the heck, this must be the person to ask.

“Excuse me can you tell me if I’m on the portage trail around Taylor Falls?” He immediately invites me up to the porch and runs in to fetch coffee. The chair is comfortable and I notice the book is a big fat local history book. He knows nothing about the portage trail. He and his wife (a history teacher) are from Oshkosh and are visiting teacher friends here in town. All who would know seem to be gone. After some more coffee and adventure sharing, he offers to fire up his friend’s old truck and haul me around. It’s an offer too good to refuse. I throw my pack in the truck bed and we drive up to pick up my canoe. In no time we are in the lower park next to a canoe rental area. With a thanks, he is on his way back. I take advantage of the bathrooms.

9:20 on the river below the falls. I paddle upstream to check out the falls. Unfortunately the highway bridge is built above the falls. Hard quartzite like dark red/purple rock dominates the area. Vertical rock of 70 feet maybe, and bluffs 150 feet..? Below the bridge is a parking area with several parked riverboats. The sky is overcast but nice. The current among the rocky area is less than expected and it is easy to paddle about to check things out. Turkey vultures are above. A woodchuck scrambles away in the rock pile.

11:10 Osceola Bridge”¦in the distance is rain.

11:18 leaving the Osceola landing on the right side of the river. The bluffs here are familiar. This is the landing my daughter Amber and I went swimming with friends we helped to do a bird count several years ago. This is an important stop for water. I’m sure most groups will dump their water to portage around Taylor Falls. This is an opportunity to fill up with water.

1:05 Log House landing.

1:45 O’brien State Park area”¦they have a big dumpster and I unload trash. Fee area zone, so I move on.

2:00 Somerset landing.

3:00 Apparently I’m on a side channel in State Forest zone. A neat area to explore the islands and marshland. In the distance I see one phone tower. Sure enough my connect-challenged Nextel phone works! It a good thing too, its my anniversary. I’m able to call my wife to wish her a happy anniversary; well at least I get some credit for calling.

3:30 I’m passing under an impressive railroad bridge. It has huge spanning arches. Breeze is at my back!

4:45 As I approach Stillwater there is an island with a long camping beach. Several houseboats are parked. Only one seems to have anyone at home. I pick out a good spot with a table and set up camp. The older couple from the houseboat walk by and say hello. In one hand they carry a glass of wine. They confirm my map location. Overcast and cool, I put on any and all dry clothing I have. A hot chocolate tops my meal of scalloped potatoes with a pouch of diced ham.

August 11, 2004

7:00 am Leave camp “¦I go directly across the river to check out a bluff area that looks to have a cave. Above the bluff is a roadside rest stop. Beyond the walk bridge are good bathrooms and garbage cans. The cave was not natural, it seem to be carved into the soft rock.

7:20 Back on the river. Conditions still overcast.

Stillwater looks like an interesting old town. It has a lot of stone buildings, with six or seven church steeples. The bridge here has a section that lifts straight up. A walking and bike trail is along the river. It is a five-riverboat town. Sawmill building and smoke stack all refurbished. The town attempts to keep up its old town mode. Was temped to get out and explore the town but never did. It would be worth coming back to check this town out sometime. Interesting abandon old barn is south of town.

10:00 Passing under the interstate bridge. I have my raincoat on most of the time. It is a misty light wet day. Lake St. Croix is quite large. I have the place to myself! The wind is to my back and I may think about a sail!

Afton cruise boat is circling about with its loud speaker expounding about the natural area. I have to work around a sand point to catch good wind again.

1:45 the lake begins to narrow down. I rig up a sail with a stick and my tent rain fly and enjoy some sailing.

2:00 Kinnickinnic State Park Signs seem to say boats and camp here, but no tent camping is allowed.

The clouds are low and as I near Prescott, airliners drop from the clouds and sail to the west towards St. Paul/Minneapolis. Looking towards Prescott there is an odd looking metal structure ahead, which makes me think there may be a dam. There is also a gray cement tower with glass windows overhanging high above the water. Similar to what you may see in a prison. There is no dam and I slide through the Zebra Mussel watch zone.

The public dock makes for an easy stop. I am wet, cold, and hungry. As I walk downtown I look for a place that might allow a wet smelly old dog in. I walk into a Subway. I order a hot sub and ask for any hot drink. The young girls offer a thermos of coffee from breakfast. They cannot guarantee it is hot but give it to me for free. It is very warm and I drink it all. It is also the first time I can listen to some news. This area is experiencing record low temperatures.

Before this trip, I read a book by a young author from this town. I ask the staff if they know Byron Curtis. They say yes, his wife is a counselor at the high school and he seems to hang around there a lot.

4:43 An Osprey is here to greet me as I enter the Mississippi. It has stopped raining and the sky has lightened up. Warmed by food and wired by all the coffee I buzz right into the Mississippi River.

8:08 pm Since I had supper in Prescott, I paddled late. Planned and made it to an island at mile marker 802. Camped on the North Lake side (my notes say channel side, but that does not seem right) of the island. Stopped at the first interesting sand landing. Upon stepping up to the forest level, I could see a large fire ring, log seats and plywood tables. A can crusher was mounted on a tree above a five-gallon bucket.

I follow a wide trail headed downstream only to find a bigger campsite. Firewood is under plastic, and about are wheelbarrows, more tables, pink flamingos, and bamboo torches. I sneak around more trails thinking I am behind someone’s house on a private island. I’m not; someone is just exploiting public domain property.

I set up camp at the first spot and enjoy the use of a flat table to cook on. Dark sky to the south, and pink sunset to the north. Quiet river today, two boats and one barge. Minnesota is setting record Low “Highs” and expect the temps to be 47.

August 12, 2004

Started est. 5 miles above Lock and Dam #3. Despite the fact that I lived between Lock and Dam 14 and 15 most all my life, I have never been through a lock before. I parked the canoe in the large rock and walked up the long green lawn to the fence facilities. A man filling his gator truck with fuel stopped and walked over to the fence to answer my question about the best portage route. He assured me it was no problem to lock through, “We let canoes through all the time. Look for the cord on the wall and pull.” Part way down the tall lock wall is a cord with a speaker above. With a tug an alarm tone rings over the whole facility. A head appears from above and an arm waves. The gates open, the green light signals the go ahead. This lock drops six feet. That was easy!

Redwing”¦stopped for a snack at the large metal pole tee-pee. (Bathroom building in this area, and probably water. Unfortunately I did need either.) The town is named after a chief with red dyed feathers. At a landing further down there is a monument for the Grand Excursion. No water at this location. A very nice town, except for two large industrial businesses located in the down town area. Bluffs are above the south end of town.

I have the current and the wind! Before heading out onto lake Pepin I stop and tie up a maple mast about 6 feet tall. My rain fly is tied to the top and the plan is to roll up bottom part of the fly with my spare paddle making a nice triangle.

To get the best angle on the wind I paddle east along the north side of the lake. This allows me to glide with the wind and I can head straight down the center of the lake. I pop the sail and fly 100 feet and skid to a stop on a sand bar. What a blast! However, I need three arms with this setup. I finally maneuver the kayak paddle to act as a brace and rudder. Sailing is just outright fun. My feet are now holding the lower sail into the bottom of the boat and ruddering is easier.

Apparently I was having too much fun because the great steady sailing breeze lasts only 20 minutes. The water is immense and the barge I see to the far southwest is not parked but is moving slow but sure up the west bank.

The sail is still up, but 90 percent of the forward motion is from the kayak paddle. The wind will occasionally give me a burst of speed. I’m traveling along side a large sailboat to my right. I’m faster! The sailboat turns to Lake City and I turn to a point on the east shore at about mile marker 771.3. Some sun today, 70 percent clouds.

The first 8 feet of the shore is loaded with zebra mussels and I clear a path so I can walk barefoot. A flat sandy area is found among the down bark less dead trees and driftwood. A deer appears on the beach behind me. She can’t figure me out, and comes very close.

Cooking beans and rice. Lake City is across the way and I managed to get some distance from the train tracks. The gulls have taken over a sandy shallow near by. I walk out into the water and bathe and wash clothing. The dead tree branches become a handy clothesline. Relaxing in my canvas chair, I see my second barge at 6:50. I wonder how long it will take to clear out of sight? 7:29 it disappears. 7:30 there are now four deer on the beach grazing in the shallows.

Must have seen a thousand white pelicans today. I’m in river life mode now, today was fun and hard, and I’m content to be at home on this crusty beach.

August 13, 2004

7:30 Relaxed start, breakfast of muffins and a hot drink.

9:30 Mile mark 764.5 Note left point good for camping. Because of yesterday’s winds this end of the lake is soupy. ¼ inch green algae filaments and larva cover the water. A lot of fish surface about the boat. Many small boats are fishing here. I need to get the toilet paper out!

Just as I get back into what starts to look like river again, a voice from behind me says, “That cheating using a kayak paddle in a canoe.” Wes Kisting and Bryan Hansel zoom up in handmade kayaks. Three handmade crafts meeting on the river! Both men are originally from Dubuque, Iowa. However, they met at Scheel’s Sporting Goods in Iowa City. They stayed in Lake City last night. I am almost sure I purchased my kayak paddle from Bryan in Iowa City.

Water stop at campground”¦.Wabasha???? We stop in the town of Alma and find a small restaurant and have a big cheeseburger. This is only the second time I’ve actually stopped to eat in a town. I have not talked to anyone for so long it feels like I’m rattling on a little too much. Back on the water, the kayaks really take off. Wes has a paddling pace that is way too fast to copy. I find myself racing to catch up to the open locks at Dam #4. After the clearing the lock the kayaks take off down the channel markers. I break through the islands and down the Buffalo City side. I end up approaching the lock down the center of Spring Lake. Wes and Brian are held up waiting for the lock to open. Wes is chatting away on a cell phone. Brian and I float about looking at the rock bluffs above.
Note: Kayak Epoxy at

7:10 All three of us camp just below Lock and Dam #5 on the left shore. (Note: would not camp here again due to heavy train noise. Must have been close to a crossing, due to all the train whistle blowing last night.) The beach is sandy and comfortable. The kayak duo appears to cook independently. Wes is working on a stove malfunction and Brian is photographing the campsite and gear with a new camera.

August 14, 2004

We all sleep in, but manage to leave at 7:00 am. The boys take off. The morning fog grows heavy. This section of the river is full of islands and soughs. However, even in the heavy fog, I know if I stay in contact with land on the left I can’t go wrong. Pass many sandy beach campers sleeping in parked houseboats. Like ghosts, fishermen in flatboats would appear to be standing in the water. By Fountain City, a canoe and kayak are pushed into the brush. The kayak has Slovenia printed on the side. I wonder if they are traveling the river? The fog quickly burns off and it’s a nice day.

Rather than go through the lock above Winona (Lock 5a), I paddle Lake Polander to the Minnesota side. I do a short up and over portage, next to the cement spillway dam. A large campground is located here. This allows me to paddle along the backwaters above Winona City until I met the main channel downtown. I suppose in a way I was hoping the kayaks would have to wait an hour or more to go through the lock. It would have been a fun surprise to have them come up upon me again. Not to be, and I patently stick to the basic plan of avoiding the channel when feasible.

Winona”¦.I’m tempted to stop when I see the ice cream place. No easy place to stop. South of town a big Hucks rental houseboat with a dome tent on top pulls out of the marina as I pass. Later, I pass several mini barges being used as a home. A small station wagon is on one.

It’s a weekend and the speedboat traffic is picking up. I have only a 10-minute wait for Lock and Dam #6. Further, is a large sand mound with a plastic runway for sliding. The Huck boat is here. Also, the Corps of Engineers have a huge dredging operation going on. On a shady sandy shore I take a break and fall asleep for and hour.

5:30 Camp early, low ambition. On a good island spot, need to recharge and get out of the sun and away from the weekend recreation boats. Poison Ivy now prevalent on the shorelines.

August 15, 2004

5:15 Good sleep! On the water the white pelicans are putting on a show. I count 91 on just on side of their flying Vee formation. Passing the small town of Dakota. A bright red store, want to stop, but realize at 6:50 am Sunday, no one would be there. There is morning fog in the valleys, the peaks show above the mist on the river.

8:30 Lock and Dam 7 at the 1200 foot marker on the shore I can’t see the lock in the fog. I’m the only one in the lock and as I leave the wind hits me hard in the face. I would be setting up a sailing rig if this wind were at my back. 8:50 I-90 bridge.

10:00 the fog is gone.

10:30 ? La Crosse Downtown is not dock friendly. Four riverboats and a lot of people are on the park way near the tall wooden Indian. There is one small spot of sand to land. A young man with pierced ears is reading the newspaper on the park bench. By this time I am out of snicker bars and oatmeal. I ask if a grocery store is close by. He gives me directions, but the stores are too far away. I fill my water jug and paddle past an old man playing the fiddle on the parkway.

I take a maze of channels to get away from the Sunday traffic and wind. The wind finds me. It would have been faster to stick to the main channel, however, I cut over to the Wisconsin side to visit Stoddard. I figure in a small town it would be easy to find a store with out having to walk far from the canoe. The open water on the map is not so open! Push through a lot of lily fields and water grass. Fishermen recommend pulling into the second dock. The docks are marked private. I pull into a duckweed inlet to the right. I think I’m at a public landing. An older man comes down with fishing gear and talks excitedly about the redwood strip canoes he made at one time. He lost the heat in the garage after putting resin on the hull. It never cured and dripped off onto the floor.

I ask about a store and he gives me directions. He explains that the dock is his, and I’m welcome to tie up. He offers artesian water and takes off in his boat to catch supper. Never walk into a Quickmart to resupply after 12 days of paddling. I needed lunch and breakfast stuff. I walked out with 5 large candy bars, a dozen donuts, a dozen cookies, and a cheeseburger from under a warming light.

5:50 Lock and Dam 8 Beautiful Bluff above Genoa. Only four recreation boats in the lock together. While the water was dropping, a young girl stood up and did an outstanding rendition of the Star Spangle Banner. It was amazing, reverberations inside the cement walls. The lockmaster peered over the rail and said, “I’ve seen and heard a lot of things in the locks, but that’s never happen before.”

7:30 Camp on Gillette Island only a mile from the Iowa border (675 mile marker). Good spot and I’m glad I resisted the run for the state line. That would have put me back near the railroad tracks and noise. Quiet and peaceful on the folding chair a small barge lights up the area as it speeds by.

August 16, 2004

Good start in the morning at about mile marker 670.4 there is a nice park/landing that would most likely have water. Considered the crossover to Big Lake, but it is a quiet morning and I stick with the speed of the main channel. It is Monday and it is nice to have the river all to myself again.

9:15 Lansing, Iowa”¦.the channel sweeps from the east to the west almost directly into Lansing. Big Lake I’m fighting the wind.

1:15 to 1:45 Lock and Dam 9 About a mile before the lock I encounter wind and rain. I’m alone in the lock and the young lockmaster asks where I’m from. He looks at the canoe and says, “You’re going it that?” After the lock the sky is overcast with on and off rain. Rain at Marquette but not at McGregor. Marquette ties into the bridge across from Prairie Du Chien. As a result, the Isle Capri has taken over the river front with a big gambling boat. Along the shore a young boy with his father catches a fish just as I pass by!

McGregor seems to be a more reasonable place to stop. I tie up under the walk bridge to the docks. I walk part way into town and although it is interesting, it serves no purpose to visit any shops. (Perhaps with Jack and Cindy it would be worth exploring interesting river towns.)

From the Quickmart, I buy a bratwurst, chip, and coke and eat at the riverfront park.

7:45 (paddle late) Made the Wisconsin River my goal. Wanted to camp here due to historic reasons. Marquette and Joliet were the first Europeans to see Iowa as they entered from the Wisconsin River. Across the river on the Iowa side is Pikes Peak the highest point along the Mississippi River.

An island on the Wisconsin River splits the channel into two mouths feeding the Mississippi. I paddle up the north channel and around the island and camp on the sand in the south channel. There, my push around the island assures my path over laps the early explorers. It is a big sand bar and although I’m not a fan of sand camping, I am running out of daylight.

8:50 Lighting and hear rain coming. This may not be a great place for heavy rain. I go out and mark the shoreline with a stick to keep tabs on the water level. It is hard to describe the totally grubby feeling of being wet with damp gear inside and out and camping on sand. As my feet slide into the sleeping bag sand clings to the nylon sides.

August 17, 2004

6:00 Confluence campsite, breakfast consists of three sandy donuts. Earlier, the Great Horned Owls were having a convention.

Clayton, IA from the river looks like a small berg hidden in the hills. The river is big and open. From the water this looks like the perfect community to shoot Iowa’s version of Hitchcock’s film the Birds.

11:15 Guttenberg Dam”¦..Before the dam, I pass by an Island that is populated with houses. After being on the river for a while, I can see the attraction of living here. It is away from the railroad tracks and many homes have private docks.

As I pull up to the lock, a man from the levee is flagging me down. From a distance he resembles my Dad. As I close in, I can see he is looking for someone else, a retired teacher who likes to paddle the river. I mention that I’m a teacher but not retired. We discover we are both from the Quad City area and that he was my high school Guidance Counselor! Mr. Means is still a counselor at West High School. (Apparently, he has a vacation house on Guttenberg Island.)

After locking through, I stop to walk through downtown Guttenberg. Another interesting town to explore someday. I get an ice-cream cone, and use the clean public bathroom.

Cassville, Wisconsin”¦Has a public dock, bathroom, and SHOWER! A Free hot shower!! I go in with my clothes on and soap them up. Take a layer off and soap up again, I keep doing this until I down to just skin. It feels great! On future road trips, I will go out of my way to support the economy of Cassville.

200-mile marker“¦a DNR patrol boat stops and asks to see my life jacket. I hold it up and he says, “Have a nice day,” and takes off. I want to camp before map #43 because there are virtually no islands in the stretch beyond. It’s getting late and I pass up a marked campsite. I seemed a little weedy, a big mistake. The next two small islands are swamp and mud. Along the Iowa shore, I find a small spit and make a forced camp in the tall weeds. Not bad once the tent is up and I have a trail established to a cooking spot on the rocky shore. The canoe is parked three feet off the ground on dead tree branches. At least there are no bugs.

It is easy to see that I can make Dubuque tomorrow. In the past I have paddled the river from Dubuque to the Quad Cities. All I can think of is the poison ivy covered islands on that stretch of the river. Of all things, my phone can pick up a tower. I call home and arrange for a 2 pm pick up at Ice Harbor in Dubuque tomorrow.

August 18, 2004

Fight the wind to get across Mud Lake. Make a short stop at a DNR campsite.

10:30 Lock and Dam – short wait. Getting around Dubuque is a hard go into the wind. I go inland north of City Island. (If a person had too, a makeshift camp could be made near the first several sand beaches on the north side of City Island.) Have passed the Wisconsin border and have now paddled four states.

12:00 noon Arrive at the Dubuque Public Landing at the mouth of the Ice Harbor. It has a nice new round shelter over looking the river. I move my gear up to a bench behind the shelter next to the floodwall. I feel a little too grubby to enter any establishments to get anything to eat.

1:10 A large group of foreign students arrive at the shelter for a lunch catered by Hy-vee. They are students attending Northern Iowa and have been on the boat cruise to Julian Dubuque’s gravesite.

Dennis Hendrickson the coordinator of the program is kind enough to offer this derelict river bum several left over catered sack lunches. It is greatly appreciated.

2:00 Both Amber and Ann show up to pick me up. They apparently have been in town since noon killing time waiting until 2pm to come get me. In just a little over an hour we cover two days worth of paddling and arrive in Bettendorf. The sky is dark with menacing thunderstorms, I’m happy to be home.

  • Namekagon River 98 miles
  • St. Croix River 133 miles
  • Mississippi River 232 miles
  • Total 463
  • Campsite GPS Readings:
  • August 3 N 46 13.468 W 91 08.866 Start of trip Namekagon Lake Dam
  • August 4 N 46 08.891 W 91 20.799 Pacwawong Dam
  • August 5 *N 45 59.072 W 91 38.942 *(unsure if these readings are
  • August 6 *N 46 01.374 W 92 00.629 the correct dates”¦must be August 7 campsites?)
  • August 8 N 45 50.643 W 92 44.521
  • August 9 N 45 27.496 W 92 39.543
  • August 10 N 45 04.982 W 92 47.004
  • August 11 N 44 39.698 W 92 39.576
  • August 12 N 44 27.351 W 92 13.090
  • August 13 N 44 09.491 W 91 48.037
  • August 14 N 43 56.643 W 91 22.216
  • August 15 N 43 30.870 W 91 13.471
  • August 16 N 42 59.418 W 91 09.151
  • August 17 N 42 38.804 W 90 45.617
  • August 18 N 42 29.704 W 90 39.428 Dubuque

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