Sunday, I talked with Justin about the lower Mississippi. We pored over his maps and I got a bunch of great tips for the rest of the way, like the suggestion to take the Atchafalaya River rather than going through "Cancer Alley" (the industrial, dangerous stretch from Baton Rouge, past New Orleans, to the gulf). "You still have a long way to go!" he said. I know, I know! So, I got my earliest start yet--8:15am to try and get most of Lake Pepin under my belt before the wind picked up. Instead, there was no wind at all, and I was paddling with no current, and no wind to help me the whole day. It was hot and quite a slog. The recreational boats weren't quite as bad as it was Sunday. Half way through the day, I had to take off my full spray skirt because the heat building up under the neoprene was too much for me to handle. I felt like I couldn't drink enough water. I felt like I just wanted to fall sleep because I was so hot. Eventually, I made it to the end of the Lake, and was pleased to see the water clear up significantly. I made it to an island downstream of Wabasha, where I camped just in front of a large mansion. The contrast of my tiny tent with the mansion made me giggle. My favorite part of the day was setting up camp in a leisurely manner, enjoying the fact that mosquitos are no where near as prevalent. Many times, these days, the mosquitos are absent until dark. I love not having to rush setting up camp, not having to hold my breath and hop into my tent as fast as possible. It’s nice to arrive on a beach, set up camp, walk around and explore the waterline a bit before I make dinner. It’s nice to make dinner without having to stay zipped into my tent between stirring my food.
Lake Pepin is a naturally dammed lake. That is, the Chippewa River which joins the Mississippi River just below Lake Pepin has a lot of silt and sand that it deposits at the confluence. Historically, the sand and silt created a dam, causing the water behind it to pool, creating 4-mile-across, 23-mile-long Lake Pepin.
It being Saturday, and getting ready to cross Lake Pepin, I knew I'd be in for a lot of recreational boat traffic. I made myself some Kukicha twig tea as a calming element to combat the rising tension I felt even as I tried to re-pack my boat and had 13 motor boats zoom past, their wakes knocking huge waves into my boat, spilling water into my cockpit. There's a saying:
People who move with paddles are paddlers,
People who move with sails are sailors,
People who move with motors are maniacs.
I understand how fun it is to go fast on the water, but boating courtesy rules say that boats without motors have the right of way, and that motorists need to pass such boats with no wake. Less than 1% of all motorists actually know or follow this rule. In addition to wakes causing erosion damage, when I'm in my boat, wakes that swamp my boat endanger my very life! I wore my full spray skirt today for that reason. Every time a motor boat zooms past, leaving a tall wake behind it, I have to alter my course, in order to go perpendicularly over the waves until they pass, so it also slows me down quite a bit.
I was paddling against the wind, getting ready to enter Lake Pepin, silently cursing all the inconsiderate motor boats, drinking my tea to calm my nerves, when a pontoon boat headed right for me actually slowed down. "Finally!" I thought, "Someone who understands and follows the rules." Just then, I hear, "Alyssum!" from the pontoon. It's Justin Staker, one of the paddlers I met the weekend before in St. Paul. He's visiting his parents' house in Frontenac, a town on Lake Pepin, for the weekend. He pulled up, said hello, introduced me to his family, offered a place to refuel and rest if I needed it. I thanked him but said I was going to try and make it all the way across Lake Pepin. He gave me some pointers, and pulled away.
The wind was against me, and I felt myself pulling harder than I ever have to. If I stopped paddling, the wind pushed me backward, so I was making terrible time. After a couple hours of hard paddling, I decided I should probably take Justin up on his offer afterall, and began to look forward to a rest. I knew I just had to get around Point No Point, and then I'd be close to my day's destination. As I paddled and paddled and paddled, I realized why it was called Point No Point. It looks like you're coming up on a point, but as you round the bend, the land moves in a perfect curve so that it never looks like you're making any progress at all. It took an eternity. In actuality, it took me a full 6 hours to get just 8 miles, I was moving so slowly.
Once I got to Justin's parents' place (Lynne and Jim), I was greeted by a sweet couple dogs, the whole family, and a sign hanging that read, "SANDY FEET WELCOME." You could tell they had taken in paddlers in the past, and it definitely made me feel less self-conscious about my dirty/sandy state. A shower was my first stop, YAY.
After a visit with Jim and Lynne, I sat in the porch to do some interneting, and Justin's young niece, Flannery, came over and said, "Are you the same woman we saw earlier in the kayak?" I affirmed. "You look....different," she stated flatly. I laughed, and confirmed, "Yes, I'm clean!" She added, "also you don't have your life jacket and stuff on."
A great joy is that I plugged my non-working (for 2.5 days) phone, and after a couple hours, the battery charged enough for the charging LED light to come on--PHEW! It was just the battery! I couldn't be happier. It's little things like this that make River Angels so amazing--if I hadn't had a place to just relax and plug in my electronics, and let it sit for a while I would have gone without a phone for a lot longer and maybe would have tried to buy a new one. THANK YOU Jim and Lynne!
Later in the evening, their next door neighbors had a pot-luck, which was great fun. Delicious food, fun chatting to folks about my journey and learning about the local news. I slept on the couch out on the porch; it's always nice not to have to set up and take down my tent.
I’m not affiliated with any of these items, nor am I being paid to review them. I just like these things a bunch.
The Mississippi River does not follow a static path (or at least it didn't before it was engineered to follow the same path). With floods, the alluvial plain of the river, changes course, creating oxbows and loops, islands, and straightaways. Erosion is a natural phenomenon.
However, the wakes from speed boats can increase erosion by truly mindblowing amounts. For instance, boating for an hour at 20 mph erodes 50 square feet (Boatwakes.org). The waves caused by boats can be as large as storm-induced waves, but have a much greater effect due to the increased number of boats on the water, and their proximity to shore (WI DNR, 2000). This erosion causes the water to be more turbid, making shoreline habitat less desirable for many fish species. This turbidity also makes it more difficult for submerged plants to have enough light for photosynthesis. This decreases the dissolved oxygen in the water, making it less desirable for fish to breathe in. Controlling such erosion can be very costly for those who depend on the riverbanks for recreation (fishing, swimming, etc), or those who have buildings on this type of property.
I paddled 18 miles, from 8 miles below Prescott to another sandy bar a few miles below Red Wing. The thunderstorms wailed through camp last night, strobing almost continuously, making sleep fitful. I did get dripped on a few times from the apex of my tent, where a bunch of seams come together (I need to re-seam seal that), but the re-waterproofing job I did on the rain fly did a great job and kept things pretty dry. Sand, on the other hand…the rain drops down and sand flies up. Sand is everywhere. I wish I had a dust-buster to de-sand my tent. As things dried, I helped myself to some fresh wild grapes.
My phone wasn't working yesterday, and I hoped it was just my charging cord that was faulty. When I pulled into Redwing, I was looking forward to using the municipal dock, but when I got there, it was festooned with "don't dock here this weekend" posters. Since I had already passed the marina, and wasn't interested in paddling upstream, I made do by pulling over to the riprap, and precariously exiting my boat on the steep rock boulders, and locking it to a boulder that I could put my lock cable around. A man from Texas who was in Redwing for work greeted me as I unloaded. He was jovial and aghast at my journey. Super nice guy, who wished me well. I pulled my empty waterbottles, my backpack with all my technology, my trash, and a bag for groceries ashore. I found that the lobby of the St. James hotel had wifi, and was able to do some work, fill my water bottles, dispose of my teeny bag of trash. I shyly approached the woman at the desk, explaining my situation and wondering if she happened to have a micro-USB cable to try and charge my phone to see if the problem was just the cord. More than willing to oblige, she offered me a cord, and we sat and chatted as I waited to see if my phone would charge. She confirmed that Redwing was an artsy little town and told me about some of the art festivals they have there. My phone didn't seem to be charging, so I gave up my goal to replace the cord while in town, and went instead in search of fresh fruit and veggies. I'd deal with my phone some other way, some other day. I found some chilled grapes--much cooler, meaty and less seedy than their wild cousins this morning. But also less flavorful.
I had a tip to stop at the Harbor Bar across the channel in Redwing, as they're friendly to paddlers, but it seemed pretty rowdy and I was looking forward to another quiet evening. I found a little spit of sand, and set up camp just in time to snap some nice photos of the setting sun. Even on islands like this, where things look pristine, I still find bottle caps, single-use tooth floss things, gloves, etc.
I woke up with that same tickle in my throat, but was determined to make some distance since I had rested and only paddled 4 miles in the past 2 days. The going was slow because the wind was against me. The sky was overcast, and I couldn’t get my phone to charge. I listened to the radio, and severe thunderstorms and possible hail were forecast for my area. So when it started to sprinkle, I opted to pull over at the first reasonable beach to camp and wait out the weather. I was bleary headed and dizzy. I set up my tent, and fell asleep. It wasn’t until I woke up that I realized I actually was sick. The rest of the day and night, I just slept and woke up, made some miso soup, slept, woke up to crazy thunder storms, slept, bleh.
Kim Schneider and Jacob Hilsabek of the Winona Daily News came to Chris and Kathy Carroll's place to interview me the other morning. They asked great questions, and I thought they did such a great job of capturing my spirit and goals. It made front page news the next morning.
Winona Daily News, August 13, 2015
Rolling River Science Lab: Woman Kayaking Mississippi to Collect Pollution
Nick and I paddled to the levee where we met Brad and Jenny and Miles, their sheltie. We enjoyed a quick little chocolate snack (thanks Ben!) in celebration of Nick getting through the weekend with me. Brad said, “Well, are you going to keep going?” giving me the option to bail if I wanted to. I said yes, and he called me a river rat and Jenny said she’d be thinking of me every day. AGAIN. I love those two, and their quick wits.
I thanked Brad and Jenny for EVERYTHING and hugged Nick goodbye and headed back to paddling.
I took a ‘short cut’ behind an island, which turned out to be a peninsula. By the time I got to the dead end, I’d gone a half-mile out of my way. So, I took my own advice from yesterday, and took a little break, snapping pictures of the private air-strip where I had found myself. On the paddle out, my mom called, and I talked with her awhile. I mentioned a flock of seagulls ahead, and then started wailing like a bad ghost impression. She thought I was imitating seagulls, but what had actually happened was this: A fast-moving, winding snake swimming across the river happened upon my boat, and was very determined not to let my boat be an obstacle. She tried to slither onto my boat and as I wailed, I used my paddle to redirect her. She fell in the water, and continued to head over my boat, this time closer to me and all the things I have lashed to my deck. Still wailing, I used my paddle again, and she had one more go of it before I succeeded in prompting her to go around the front of my boat instead of onto it. It was thrilling! The snake continued like nothing had happened, but after it was about 20 feet from me, I saw it lift its head and look back at me like, “what was THAT all about!?” I identified it as a ribbon snake that night—non-poisonous, fast moving, long and comfortable in the water. After that excitement, I listened to the first couple chapters of A Little Princess before my ipod ran out of energy and I was set back to entertaining myself by watching the bald eagles and kingfishers.
Later in the day, I was paddling through more wild spots, which opened up into broad lakes. I wished Nick could have joined me for this part—it was more similar to what I’d experienced so far.
I locked through Lock #2, and camped near a channel marker just below Hastings. A father and son paddled by in their tandem hobie kayak and offered help in any way they could, and I fell asleep.
Alyssum Pohl is paddling the Mississippi River and documenting water quality and plastic waste along the way.