I woke up at Silver Maple camp after Chris and Phil had gone, and had to force myself to pack up all my tent stuff and burst forth from my tent into the mosquito foray. I packed my rain-damp kitchen stuff and packed up my tent as fast as possible, cursing the biting insects as I loaded my kayak. I noticed that I was stomping up the hill to grab the second load of camp equipment--angry because of the mosquitos! I think it was only the second time I've been angry due to nature (the first time was walking around DC in 110+ degree weather one day a few years back). As soon as I realized I was angry, I gave myself a little pep-talk, "Deep breath. There's nothing that can change this. Stay calm and rational, don't do anything rash. Pack quickly and efficiently, don't cut corners. Stay patient where patience helps to get the job done better." I kept my mosquito head net on as I paddled away from camp, still dealing with voracious mosquitos until the river exited the woods. Luckily, my foul mood was broken when I saw a little muskrat (beaver? I don't know, I didn't see its tail) with a mouth full of reeds swimming industriously toward my kayak. It was so focused it didn't see me until it nearly bumped into my boat! The little critter startled and dove, releasing its mouthful of reeds. It popped up, annoyed it had lost its reeds, but again startled that I was still there. Very cute close encounter.
When I arrived at Silver Maple camp last night, I tripped backward over a tree root when I was pulling my kayak ashore and caught myself with my hand, and my fingers bent back too far. So now my middle finger is sprained. First my elbows and now a finger. Sigh! I try to be careful! But accidents happen... Luckily, same as last time; I thought it would be hard to paddle, but I took some ibuprofen, and everything was better once I got on the water.
The paddle to Bemidji was a lovely, brief few miles, including paddles across a couple lakes, and as I approached the bridge, with cars and fishermen, I was reminded what civilization is like: bustling and human-centric. Often, car-centric. Suddenly I heard, "ALYSSUM! GREAT JOB!" Surprised to hear my name, I looked around and saw Chris and Phil, riding bikes across the bridge, just after I had passed under it, cheering me on! Whoo hoo! Feels super good to have cheerleaders, especially in a new town.
In Bemidji, home of Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, I found a relatively hidden spot to tie up my kayak, and spent a few hours walking around looking for new shoes (nope), a new stove (nope, though I did find sterno cans), some fresh groceries (yay), and a bike cable and lock (my buddy Dave Roberts, a few weeks ahead of me had his entire kayak and gear stolen recently when he went into town at Brainerd MN to re-supply. He has since re-geared up in Minneapolis and is still paddling South. With a lock and cable). I spent a few more hours at the Tourist Information office, using their wifi to upload the 1st set of blog posts and catch up on things. Before I left, the woman working there said I was only the 2nd solo female to paddle through in her 20 yrs there! She gave me a Bemidji pin as a memento, which I will cherish!
The paddle to my next campsite started with a beautiful sunset paddle across Lake Bemidji, followed by an intriguing paddle to Stump Lake campground. This stretch was full of houses and docks, and I felt privileged to see all the different gorgeous houses along the waterway--essentially a clear look into peoples' backyards. Some of the houses were tiny and modest--not much more than a garden shed. Others were palatial, with multiple decks and docks and boats. Some were very natural, others manicured impeccably. Every time I saw one with a For Sale real-estate sign posted, I was tempted to remember to look it up online later, even though I don't really think I'd want to live up here. Along the way, I passed this house, The Northernmost Point Along the Mississippi River. That's right, I've been going NORTH this whole time. So I'm officially going South now, which feels like an important milestone.
At Stump Lake Camp, I was greeted with a young man who warned me that he and his friends were planning on camping there and that they might keep me up. Knowing I had a long paddle (17 miles) the next day, and that there was no other nearby camp option, and that the sun was going down, I assured him it would be fine... ... ... ...