From Le Seuer to Shakopee
A trip nearly ending tragically.
A trip nearly ending tragically.
As I prepare to launch onto the Minnesota River from the small park just north of Highway 93 in Le Sueur, I visit with another family about to launch their flat-bottom fishing boat. We swap tales about past adventures and discuss the challenges of the river today.
Looking at the bridge behind us, we talk about how high the water is. The father warns me about the Henderson bridge about ten miles ahead. He thinks the gap between the bridge and water may be even less than here a Le Sueur and possibly impassable. He promises to tell me about the river conditions at the Henderson bridge when our paths cross again on the river.
As I pack my kayak with food, water, extra clothing, and other gear, I can’t help but keep a watchful eye on the swift turbulent waters beneath and on this side of the bridge.
I remember not too long ago telling Michon about how nervous I get when I pass under narrow river spans, especially on major rivers just like this. I particularly dislike passing through St. Paul where the mighty Mississippi passes under several bridges near Raspberry Island, just before it makes its sharp turn south toward Hastings. Ugh!
It is 11AM and time to launch when I overhear the conversation of the other family. Per the urging of their daughter, they agree it’s just too risky today and decide not to fish this area of the river. They leave and so goes my pre-warning of possible dangers ahead at the Henderson bridge.
Before pushing off, I thank my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, for the ride. Optimistic about today’s adventure I tell her I will see her later tonight.
With my full concentration on the swift and turbulent river I am unable to look back and wave good bye.
A short distance down the river where the floodwaters breach the riverbank, the river’s speed remains surprisingly fast. I think to myself, "This is all good as it will help me with my speed and I will have plenty of time to make it back home, unpack, then go out and play tonight."
This time of the year it is always a bit of a challenge to decide what to wear because you have to prepare for the unlikely event you spill, while at the same time be careful not to overdress and suffer under the hot searing sun. On this trip I am wearing neoprene pants and shoes, moisture wicking long sleeve shirt, lightweight hat with a sun shield to protect the back of my neck, and gloves to keep my hands dry and avoid their blistering from this season’s first all day long paddle.
I lost my kayak’s 3.0 ml winter spray skirt earlier this season so I am wearing my lightweight backup. It’s not my my favorite, but I like how fast it will come off during the unlikely event of a spill.
Two seasons ago while paddling during high floodwater warnings on the St. Croix River in October, I took a nighttime spill shortly after passing underthe Soo Line High Bridge six miles north of Stillwater. Because of the tight hold of my winter spray skirt, it took several attempts and about 30 seconds to escape. I wish to never repeat that.
I take advantage of the flooded river and paddle off course to take in views of distant farm fields and barns, and areas I would otherwise not see. I am enjoying this early season and off course adventure.
It isn’t long before I find myself so far off course I have to pull up a GPS reading to discover where the main river is. To get back I paddle through woods, jump floating logs, tree limbs, and other natural debris. Along the way I pause to take a pictures of several carefully placed tree stands within arms reach above.
On this beautiful, cloudless, and warmest day of the year, I regret having left my suntan lotion back home on my kitchen table. I am certain to have an amazing sunburn.
The views of the Minnesota River floodplain is making for a great start of a season full of grand adventure. During the off season I have been hitting the gym, cross training, and conditioning for my late summer goal of solo paddling across Lake Michigan again. Unlike 2016, my first crossing of Lake Michigan, it is my plan this year to be the first to complete a round trip. With over 2,700 miles under my belt, enough to paddle in any one direction well into either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, 50 miles a day and 100-mile weekends are now routine. I am confident of my chances — weather permitting.
I decide to head east to make my way back to the main river, wherever it may be. As I make my way I enter another set of woods. As I progress the woods gets noticeably thicker and I am now regularly jumping floating logs and often getting stuck on top of small debris fields. I think to myself; "This area is much better suited for a four wheeler than a kayak designed for trekking long distances across great lakes, wide rivers, and on oceans."
This is no doubt is a popular for hunting area. I pass under several deer stands which I am sure have been the vantage point for the harvest of many generously sized corn fed bucks.
I hear the sound of a road in the distance ahead. Indeed, I am making my way back to the Minnesota River and returning to yet another bridge. So confident that the Henderson bridge was the only risky underpass, I don’t give the recent near disaster another thought, nor do I learn from it.
Beneath my kayak I feel the speed of the river picking up. It pushes me slightly sideways and downstream; my planned path to the river has disappeared. With every stroke I find myself gently bouncing off yet another tree. I can’t help but notice the pace of the river rapidly collecting speed and strength.
Then I realize what's happening. The floodplain, over a half mile wide in this area, is converging here and racing through the narrow 100 yard passage under the bridge just ahead.
They shout out, “Are you OK?”
I respond, “I”m fine.”
But, I’m thinking, not really.
They shout out again, “Do you need any help?”
I respond. “No, I’m OK!?
But, I’m really thinking, a little help would be nice.
They don’t seem too sure and ask again.
I respond with my arm high in the air and a thumbs up.
I look inside the dimly lit ambulance with its two rear doors wide open and see what appears to be a hard plastic bench. It looks cold. I’m guessing the two paramedics are in their late 50s or 60s. They're eager to help and very pleasant.
While they’re busy preparing their equipment and me for diagnostics, the one near me is working to remove the adhesive strips from the back of the 3M red dot monitoring electrodes.
The next day is Easter Sunday.
I meet up with my oldest daughter Olivia, and her four year old daughter, at their home Easter morning. I drive up and see them searching for Easter eggs at their neighborhood park. Lola sees me. She looks and turns toward me and from a distance and shouts, “Grampa.”
God, how I love how she lights up when she sees me and how she calls me Grampa. And to think, I came so very close to never experiencing that again.
After playing in the park and pridefully piecing a kite together and having it catch flight on a mild windy day, we head to Bonfire for our annual visit for photos with the Easter bunny. Elizabeth, my youngest daughter, arrives just as we do.
There was a moment where I watched them altogether with the Easter bunny near the fireplace, when I had my Jimmy Stewart, “It’s A Wonderful Life” moment. As I watched them together, I began to wonder about ‘what if’ and ‘what nearly was.’
Even now as I write, I struggle and have now failed to hold back my tears.
I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. I most certainly did.
Paddling our Major Tributaries
• Rum River 2017
• Rum River 2019
• Cannon River
• Superior Bay
• Upper St. Croix
• Headwaters of the Mississippi
• Namekagon River
• Kalamazoo River
Top Stops and Events
• Lower St. Croix - Taylors Falls, MN
• Lake Pepin and Lake City, MN
• Lake Hamlin, MI
• St. Paul, MN and Raspberry Island
• Stillwater, MN
• Tall Ships Duluth Festival
Subjects of Interest
• The Joy of the Journey
• Overhanging Branches
• Best of All It's Fall
• Get Off the River!
• Crossing Lake Huron
• Straits of Mackinac
• Crossing Lake Michigan #1 - 2016
• Crossing Lake Michigan #2 - 7.24.20
• Crossing Lake Michigan #3 - 6.11.21
• Crossing Lake Michigan #4 - 6.27.21
• Crossing Lake Michigan #5 - 7.13.21
• Crossing Lake Superior - 2017
• Campus to Coast - A 150 Mile Race
• Paddling the Pere Marquette
• ABC NEWS: Avid Kayaker Brushes Death
• The Whole Story
• A Narrow Escape
• A Wonderful Journey
• More about Mike Stout
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