Driving Up and Paddling Down: Birds, Bears, and Bad Water.

Reporting in from a coffee shop in Bemidji, MN, and all is very, very well. After the past week, all of the fantastic hospitality we have been shown in this town has been very necessary. To any of you checking in here, you've been far too kind to us and we can't fully express just how much we appreciate it. To our supporters: Thank you all SO much. We are so grateful for your support and will do you proud as we travel down the river. Also, a big thank you to the wonderful people we have encountered along the way! (Hi Tammy!)

But first things first -- the boat (and we) made it to Lake Itasca in one piece. Mostly.

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We left Monday, the 18th. The drive up took a little longer than anticipated, admittedly, but Wednesday evening found is ready and in the headwaters at Itasca. The delay was primarily due to attempts to cut equipment weight and balancing the food pyramid. It seems to have worked in our favor though -- we missed some snow and launched on what seemed to be a perfect day by all accounts. We also made some friends while traveling upriver, like the nice engineers pictured below. We ran into an Army Corps of Engineers barge at Lock No. 5 as they headed upstream to continue combating the invasive Asian carp. 

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There was an incident with a bear the night before launched. A black bear wandered into our camp and started getting into Shea's sleeping bag. Fortunately, Shea responded appropriately and intelligently, which is to say that he exploded out of his bag bellowing, "aaaaaAAAAAAABEAR! BEAR! GET OUT OF HERE, BEAR! GIT! GIT! GIT!" while scrambling to his feet and extending his arms out high to appear as a monster. So, there was that to balance out all the nice things.

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Our first day on the water was only a few hours, mostly spent handling rapids and learning a lot about the pitfalls of poor weight distribution. We also started our water sampling, which has been going very well. Excited (I think?) to see what the samples yield. It is intensely beautiful and idyllic up here. You can drink the water straight from the river, and even walk across it at points. We'll miss that later, I'm sure. 

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The end of day one found us making camp with an eccentric new friend, Caleb, and his rescued gosling companion, dubbed "Chicken" (or "Duck", depending on preference). We continued to run into him every evening and only just now parted ways. A very sweet man. He usually had a fire going at the end of the day. And beer. Look forward to seeing him again around the bend.

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Day two was a rough one. Rapids at the beginning of the river are tricky, to say the least -- this thing is like a runaway freighter, and there are downed trees all over the place. Portage was often necessary (Note: portage is the worst. The. Worst.). We had some dire moments in there. Forrest had a near miss with a death-stake protruding from a log we were being driven into, and we narrowly avoided wrecking into a felled tree that had already claimed another canoe in front of us that was pinned under it. Camp was a sight for sore eyes after that one. 

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Wednesday was a marsh with occasional rapids. If you've never navigated a marsh before, you're in for a real treat when you do. It's a mess of twists and turns that all look the same, endless turning left, right, left, right... beautiful wildlife, though. Loons, eagles, osprey, beavers, chipmunks, timberwolves. All sorts of wonderful critters.

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Yesterday saw us making excellent time out of the final bog and on our way here, to Bemidji. It wasn't an easy day toward the end, but we moved quickly. Civilization is so nice. And if you're ever in Bemidji, stop in at Toddy's. The fine folks there mean business when it comes to being hospitable (thanks again, guys!)

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Anyhow, that's it for now. Time to write some postcards and do some painting. To all of you, yet again, again and again -- Thanks!

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