“The river is magnificent. It’s a spiritual experience.”
The river of all my years. The river I have paddled and swam and fished and waded and skinny-dipped and pondered from beside a campfire. Rocky and muddy and sandy.
Where my hometown sits on its banks the rivers flows by quietly, the town taking the name Stillwater. It is here where it begins to be called “Lake St. Croix” for how it becomes broad and slow in the couple dozen miles before it joins the Mississippi.
Above Stillwater it is a braided stream of many channels weaving through islands that are sunken as often as they are dry. Up there, where boats are prohibited from traveling to from Stillwater, it is usually quiet of the roar and ruckus of horsepower, but often a din of birds and frogs.
And further up, where I know it best, it can be a little raucous on nice summer days with revelers in rented canoes. Yet backwaters and bluffs are hidden behind stands of ash and beech and cottonwoods. Smallies, walleye and northerns lurk under snags and leap before our bow. Spring-fed falls tumble over sandstone and chill the channels where they enter.
And above that, above the Dalles with its tourist paddlewheelers and hordes and fireworks stands on the Wisconsin side, above the reservoir that stands stagnant behind the dam, above all that… I don’t know. We’ve explored it little, though there are nearly 100 miles of river up there. I know it not at all, though it is from there where the waters of all my years begin their journey.
So, the genesis of the idea: canoe the whole thing in a summer. Four weekends or something like that. Get to know the river from its tip to its toes (or at least to its ankles, I for one have little interest in paddling Lake St. Croix).
Step one: Enlist a crew, pick a weekend and stick to it (amazing summer’s obligations).
Done: June 8 – 10.
Step two: be flexible.
Low water levels mean that first 30 miles before the Namekagon and its waters join it are nearly unfloatable, according to a source at the National Park Service?
Lament the loss of the symbolism and change the plans. Start at Riverside, just below the confluence of the two streams.
Step three: meet over breakfast the weekend before and come up with a list or two. Groceries and gear and the such. Get French toast. With blueberries.
Step four: spend the following workweek daydreaming about solitude. Swimming. Smallies on the fly rod. Campfires. Dogs in canoes.
Step five: drive up Friday afternoon leave our cars at the take-out get a shuttle to the put-in camp there and paddle Saturday and Sunday more than 20 miles less than 25 camp on the river Saturday night come home sunny and smelly Sunday night and… go back to work on Monday.
Step six: pick the next weekend.
Step seven: post words and pictures here.