It’s hard to figure out where this trip began…
First, a few weeks ago we paddled down the St. Croix with a floatilla of three canoes and swore we’d be back.
Then, Saturday afternoon, while Rosie and I are cavorting in the fallen leaves and the golden trees at a state park, Canoeman leaves me a message. Usual non-sequitir, surreally comedic stuff. Establishing contact. Rosie and I have a “thing” in downtown St. Paul that night so it’s about 11:00 when I call Canoeman to see if he’s around the Twin Cities. He is, at a bar in Minneapolis with a couple other people. He also asks me what I would think of paddling the river tomorrow.
Rosie and I meet him over there, find him and a couple other guys trying to hold the pool table, drinking Summit EPA, a fine beer if there ever was one. We drink, check out the hip-hop and the hipsters, talk. We talk about checking out the river the next day. Canoeman has to work at 6:30 in the evening and I have an obligation at 4:00. We do some math, and do it again, and then ask someone to confirm our math, and figure out we would have to meet at 8:30 in the morning to complete the float in time. By this time it’s after midnight. The other guys think it sounds like fun but their pillows hold greater draw than the river at that hour. Wrench shows up and he’d love to also but he has to work. Rosie would also love to but she has work to catch up on before Monday. So it’s just me and him.
It’s after 1:00 when we part ways with plans to rendezvous in seven hours. When I get home I drink water with Rosie and try to throw my gear together by the door and then we hit the hay.
In the morning I grab breakfast on the way. When I get off the freeway I enjoy some great vistas over the fields of foggy ponds, golden mowed fields, even two hot air balloons. I get to Canoeman’s right one time. He’s in the driveway packing his car.
To the river. A shuttle is always easy with two people and one canoe. We drop my car at the landing, drive upriver about 10 miles and put in.
So, finally, this is where the trip, the actual trip, begins.
The entrance to the backwaters is only a couple hundred yards downstream from this landing. It’s stunning how much higher the water is. Where we ate lunch on an island last time, a few feet above the water, is now under at least 12 inches of water. We thread our way through some sunken shorelines, not paddling as much as we are pushing our way through the trees.
A little further down we nose the canoe into the soggy shoreline and get out. It’s only a little after 9:00, but we figure people drink wine at church on Sunday mornings all the time. We break out the box, yes, the box, of wine that Canoeman’s parents generously provided the expedition, a necessity on a dry Minnesota Sunday morning. It’s this Three Thieves wine which comes in a liter box but which is surprisingly good. We split it up and enjoy it all day as we paddle.
Where the river widens out we poke into another submerged island and emerge on the other side to the backwater’s backwater, a swampy channel I’d never seen before. Weaving through the grasses, we reach a ridge that looks like a good spot for lunch. It’s steep up to the top and we discover quite wet. I don’t know if it was leaking groundwater or still wet from the flooding, but it’s a messy scramble to the top. But worth it.
After lunch of crackers, cheese and salami, Canoeman dozed and I explored a little bit of the ridgetop.
Knowing that we were paddling with time constraints, I decide to check the time before we leave. It’s 20 minutes earlier than our earliest guess and we’re perfectly on schedule. The rapid current of the flooded river is making this easy. We head back out, me in the stern now.
The railroad bridge the other guys jumped off on our last trip down.
We stop at the sweet campsite where I always feel obliged to stop and say “I gotta camp here sometime” but where I never actually have (ask me about how Anne Bancroft, Arctic explorer, screwed us over the one time we tried). It’s secluded from the river by a high berm (from the top of which there’s a great view over the broad river), a tiny cold little creek trickles right by the fire ring and the picnic table, and there’s great tent pads.
We have some cookies and after one last little rest, hit the water for the last time. Now we paddle pretty steadily, not out of any rush but just enjoying the strokes after drifting along in awe of the scenery for a lot of the day.
When we get to the landing we bring the gear and the canoe up, then hop in my car, drive up to our put-in, get Canoeman’s car and come back to the landing to load the canoe. I change into some fresh clothes, put on deodorant, and head to my in-laws for a delicious Sunday evening meal, Canoeman heads home and then to work. I think how incredibly good it is to be able to squeeze in a paddle like this once-in-a-while.