Hey, folks! The days are blending together into a blur of pristine water, back-pain, insects, and staple grains.
Reporting in from Grand Rapids, MN with some notes from the travel log and some of Forrest's photos. We have traveled over 200 miles now & made some solid forward progress over the last week -- despite a little too much time in Bemidji (Hi Tammy! Hey Jana!), bad weather, and still water. Minnesota is beautiful, the people are just about too kind, and everything is going considerably well; but it would REALLY help out if they'd just open the dams up a little. Still water does not make for quick progress.
Still, since setting out from Bemidji we've had ever-improving mileage from day to day. We even finally managed to catch up with our pals Caleb and Duck by week's end at Gambler's Point, just before a storm hit. Caleb saved our tails by having some dry wood prepared for morning, when we rediscovered coffee and pulled a personal best in river miles getting into Grand Rapids to celebrate Forrest's birthday. An added plus -- Grand Rapids has a portage assistance service for picking up your canoe and taking it to the next put-in. There aren't words for how relieved three damp, exhausted, mentally fatigued men are when they discover that sign as the sun sets on the dam.
Anyhow, our first stop was idyllic Stump Lake camp not too far from Bemidji, with dry wood Caleb had saved for us (this guy really is a gem). We had spent most of the paddling hours navigating our first bad-weather lake situation, which, while anxiety-ridden to begin with, went fairly smoothly after we started singing sea shanties and pulling strong through it. We eventually got back on the river and made it to camp, surrounded by loons calling in the rain.
The next day we dug deep and made up some mileage. A few days of rest apparently makes an enormous difference, as we crossed Wolf Lake, Andrusia Lake, and Cass Lake, did two portages (we have way too much stuff), and then paddled into the night. This leg has been riddled with lakes, marshland, and portages -- an aesthetically pleasing, yet frustrating combination where critters abound. Fantastically interesting and beautiful, but infuriating. Navigating some of this has been painstaking and difficult, to say the least -- especially at night. There are literally hundreds of forks and misleading oxbows around every bend of the river, but so far Forrest has kept us on track for the most part and even found a few shortcuts.
We pitched our tents after midnight after successfully locating Meadows Camp which was tucked away behind a massive marsh. Morning wasn't too kind to us after that, but we still managed to get on the river a little late and paddle the five miles to Lake Winnibigoshish, then cross the WHOLE GOD-FORSAKEN THING. It is one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen, but paddling just under twenty miles on a lake with 1,000+ lbs in your boat is truly a wretched endeavor. In the middle, we could just barely see shorelines around us; and there were massive water-nymphs running across the water. (Probably dragon-fly nymphs) Especially just after finding leeches in your shoes. However, we made it to the rec campsite, a nicely curated place.
To the intoxicated young hooligan who appeared in the middle of the night looking to mess with our stuff: it's way more fun to effect your environment by being kind to people than not. To the young ladies who prevented him from doing so: You're great. Thanks! You did wake us up, but it was fairly entertaining.
Day four was grueling, but we made good progress from the rec campsite to Gambler's Point where Caleb greeted us with a fantastic holler. It was a windy day. Not too much of interest to report, but I can say seeing a fire going at the end of the day was certainly a welcome sight.
And finally, yesterday -- Gambler's Point to Grand Rapids. It was a big day, seeing us in bad wind and black water. The signs of human development (and beavers too, funny enough) are ever increasing. Just before the end of the day we passed a massive power plant, intimidating and looming over us. The water quality took a fairly quick nose dive. Our equipment needs to be calibrated again, but we saved a sample (to be tested within the 48 hr limit). Curious to see what that holds. The photos from the end of that day are beautiful, though. The sky was on fire. Also to note, there appears to have been an interesting change in the type of blackbirds around here, as well, changing from predominately red winged to yellow headed.
[Water Update from Forrest: The water quality has declined over the past couple days as we have begun to enter developed areas and pass under railroads and highways from time to time. Water quality data is being recorded on the YSI multiparameter instrument and will be uploaded, compiled, and formatted in a computer lab before being discussed here after the expedition's end. In the beginning, we drank from the headwaters of the Mississippi without reservation. The quality remained very high and tested well up until we hit the waters leading into Grand Rapids. The coal-burning power plant which draws cooling water from the river and pumps it back out is likely the reason behind the name Blackwater Lake which has formed out of the Mississippi River, just outside of town. The water on this stretch sits rather still unless there are heavy rains because of the two dams at Grand Rapids - one Army Corps of Engineers & one built by a paper mill/second power plant. Dissolved oxygen levels are low in the stretches of river between dams and the spread of hardy, invasive aquatic species is a concern. (Such as curly pondweed, an Old World specie, which can quickly displace native plants and eventually decay further depleting oxygen levels) It is distressing to see these first signs of declining water quality during week two, right as we are beginning to truly appreciate Water as the sustainer of life. For nearly 200 miles we have observed the flourishing ecosystems, abundant wildlife, and functioning circles of life which are unique to pristine Nature. After approaching the first coal power plant and seeing a mother loon with chicks in tow dive into the black water to hide, I think back to the crystal clear waters not even 20 miles upstream and dread what we might behold on the waters ahead. It's never been easy for me to transition from being immersed in the beautiful purity of wilderness back to a world dominated by industrial landscapes and human constructions; but this time - it's a real slap in the face. For hundreds of miles now, I have drank deeply these waters. Now, I know better than to drink the water. I know better than to bathe in it, for I am man and reason. Did the critters know? Where did they go? To satisfy the wants of the masses, beyond simple needs, humankind continues to sacrifice the natural conditions which allowed us to grow and rise as a species in the beginning. The light left on, the charged battery left charging : that's why our waters grow blacker. Okay, I'll stop & I'm sorry... Anyone read the Heart of Darkness?]
Thanks for reading, everybody! So far, Grand Rapids has been as kind to us as we anticipated and more. Forrest's 25th time 'round the sun was celebrated in just about the best way possible. We figured we would celebrate and had earned a hotel room. Beds are just about the best thing ever. Take care, be great, and we'll see you next week.