I’m in trouble! The Mississippi River has grown to the point that it is now a paddle-straight-ahead-all-day river, which is not good for a rookie paddler like me trying to keep pace with a bunch of seasoned veterans. My skills have improved in four weeks, but am having a hard time keeping up with Dale, Richard and John.
My saving grace has been Brad and Austin. They too are slow, but in their case it is because they are in a heavy canoe laden with hefty photography equipment. Their boat is a barge and it has been my ace in the hole, but now they are gone for a week. Yikes!
At this point we’ve paddled 27 of the last 28 days and I’ve lost 20-lbs. I’m weary, plus we keep passing by interesting looking towns calling out to be explored – so I opt to take a day off in Pepin. I tell Dale and the guys to carry on, that I will catch up later – my strategy is that the group will again slow when Brad and Austin rejoin in a few days. It probably will take a week to catch them all, but traveling solo is pleasant. In fact, am looking forward finding my own rhythm.
The campground is a 15-min hike from the marina, but walking to and fro is a pleasure after a month of nonstop boat. Plus, a nice family gave me a ride which was a huge help given all my gear and the fact it was starting to rain. They own a vineyard near Pepin, wish I could remember the name. The little museum was closed, but next to it were several billboards giving the history of the area – including touting it as being the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie books.
Gazebos are handy for cooking, shade and protection from rain, but also for their electric plugs – which are vital now that Dale’s solar charger is not available. I have four items that need a plug: laptop, phone, marine radio and camera. The phone is all that needs a daily jolt, but I try to keep them all topped off when possible. Fortunately the laptop can charge the phone several times over, via the USB, which is handy when camping on the riverbank.
At the campsite I see a fellow poring over a map, he’s under the gazebo and a touring bike with front and rear panniers is leaning against a nearby post. He’s a Brit from Gloucester, which is another way of saying he is up for grabbing a beer.
The Brit and I are the only tent campers; all the others are in RVs. Most of them rarely use the bathroom/shower so it was like we owned the place. Many RV campgrounds along the river -including this one- are geared toward fishing. Most campers rent for the entire summer and many keep a boat there (note the fences, plants and landscaping). Typically, the RVs are generic looking fifth-wheels or campers, but there are exceptions.
I chatted with them for a while. Their sons and nephew are big kayak fans. One is a guide/instructor and another is the editor of a local kayak magazine. They offered to let me pitch my tent on their waterfront, but I was already set up at the campsite. Nice people. As it turned out, I left town with a few hours of daylight remaining on my rest day -I wanted to get a jumpstart on catching up with the guys- swung by their place and visited with their boys who were pumped to hear about the trip. One (the instructor) paddled alongside me for part of the way that evening and offered a couple of paddling tips which helped a lot. They also gave me a fat wad of heavy-duty foil containing something they’d baked on the grill – it was a delicious concoction of baked potato, butter, onions, cheese and noodles. It was my dinner that night and it was a life-saver as my primitive campsite was full of mosquitos. My tent got set up faster that night than ever before or since, then I quickly crawled inside to feast on the delicious meal.
The Mosquito Coast campsite, next morning. That boat was there when I arrived at dusk the prior evening, they camped too. The mosquitos were still thick as thieves the next morning, so I skipped breakfast.
Made a quick stop in Wabash early the next morning. I’d like to say it was interest in this National Eagle Center that lured me ashore, but it was actually a neon sign on a building nearby that read: Espresso. The Eagle Center DID look interesting, and no doubt is worth a visit, but there was no time that day – there were miles to cover.
After leaving Wabasha, the rains came. My setup is good for keeping me dry, mostly, but after 90 mins of deluge there’s no way not to get somewhat wet. The temp was in the 50s and I needed more calories to burn, so stopped in Alma to find a bite. Alma is an interesting town. Not as charmingly scenic as most of the others, it had more of a blue-collar feel to it – like a coastal fishing town. I liked it, and found a hearty, working-man’s meal to fuel the afternoon’s labor.
Pork, home-made mashed potatoes, gravy, toast, and a Spotted Cow draft. The Wisconsin people are proud of their Spotted Cow beer. Clever marketing twist number two: the beer is sold only in Wisconsin. It reminded me of how Coors beer once was not widely available, and the added allure it had due solely to that.
The old section of Trempealeau. I got stuck at the lock here, there was an upstream barge causing a 90-min delay. Fortunately I was able to paddle to shore, tie-up, and clamber over rocks and railroad tracks to access the old downtown. Typically, the towns are well downstream of the locks and there is no river access or egress above the locks – which means when you’re stuck there, you’re stuck. Very pretty old town, with numerous old buildings and quaint hotels. It was getting late and I was tempted to stay, but needed to get through the lock while the opportunity was there. Trying to make time!
These bikes belonged to two females. I recognized the bikes the next morning when leaving my breakfast spot a few miles downstream and visited briefly with the owners. They were cycling the River Road.
That yellow paint marks the end of the wall that extends from/leads to a lock. The lock is around the corner and about 800-ft to the left. This barge is leaving it, heading upstream. If you look at the water level around the yellow paint you may notice that it’s a bit lower against the wall – that’s a strong current being pulled around the corner by the barge’s screws. That current wasn’t there a minute ago, and it could be dicey if someone were lurking too close to the wall. Tugboats move a lot of water, especially when heading upstream.
I made it through the lock two hours after arriving. It’s frustrating to paddle hard all day only to get held up in a traffic jam, but so it goes. And sometimes when one door closes, another opens. After exiting the lock I veered over to a restaurant/tavern with outside tables that were doing a brisk business and tied up at their dock. People asked about my boat and my trip. That’s my cue to pass out Source to Sea cards and deliver my Juvenile Diabetes spiel, so I did, and I also enjoyed chatting with a several tables of patrons. It was getting late, wasn’t sure where to camp, but then learned of a campsite a few hundred yards down the road and a great breakfast place just past it. Couldn’t have asked for a better day.