Where is the Crew?



We’re just leaving Hastings, Mn, about 35 miles South of St. Paul. We had a beautiful, sun-filled day yesterday, with the current helping us by running about twice as fast as it had been, due to all the upstream rain. In about three miles we’ll be hitting the confluence of the St. Croix River and the Mississippi, which should make it even faster. We’ve got our lifejackets at the ready and Lock and Dam #2 (our fourth) is about 12 miles downstream. When we called ahead to alert the folks at the dam of our pending arrival, we were told that 2 kayakers had come through the day before, so it can’t be too hairy. We’re told to expect rising, faster water through Friday. We’re also frequently told we’re nuts to make this trip, which of course only serves to make us more determined to see it through. Last night’s delicious bratwurst dinner was donated by Bev and Jack Gutschenritter, and we dined listening to some great music, downloaded by Chris Dixon from Mac Ranch in Steamboat Springs.

We expect to make 30 to 40 miles today. We are looking forward to our stop in Trempeleau, Wi where we will have our own cabin courtesy of the Hueffner family (aunts and uncles to Lou and Michael). A kind couch surfer in LaCrosse, Alex, who owns a health food store, has volunteered to help us out when we get there.


Full Moon Reflections

We are putting the miles behind us. Tailwind or headwind, downpour or warm shoulders, we paddle. Well, we at least float. We've taken up the habit of procrastinating on sunny days. Instead of paddling, we lean back and catch some floating shut-eye. We wake with pink faces and unaware of the time. Other days, when it rains, we put our heads down, enter a state of zen, and paddle until we get to camp.
Our first event was a huge success. Yesterday, we hosted eight hours of eclectic music, 20 gallons of soup, and several barrels of delicious beer, compliments of Summit Brewery. By 10:30 a.m., youngsters were running around with face paint and sidewalk chalk. By noon, their parents stood, watching the kids climb all over the St. Paul Fire Department truck and the St. Paul police car. Fortunately, anyone who went in the backseat didn't have cuffs on. The public servicemen donated their time and resources to entertain the kids and adults alike. Later in the day, the party got cranking, people got to dancing, and before we knew it, we were getting more barrels. The raffle was a huge hit, too. The Bending Branches paddles and Joe Mauer's signed baseball were huge money-makers. We raised just under $2,400. That puts our running total over $10,000. That's a lot of dough that's going to help out a lot of people in Haiti. So many people pitched into the event and made it happen smoothly and flawlessly. Everyone had a ball and was eager to hear about the trip and the cause. We thank Adam Johnson most of all. A true networker and a motivated individual, AJ worked for months, sleeping little, stressing much, and pulling all the strings, to make this event what it was.
Tomorrow, we hit the River again, get back into our stride, and migrate with the geese. Sometimes the crew ends up in a V-pattern and I wonder if it's instinct. The full moon has been wonderful, reflecting off the River at each bend. We may try to use the still large waning light to do a night paddle. Weather looks to be cooperative for the coming week. Temperatures are undeniably lowering. Leaves are turning summer into autumn. We will chase these colors to the Gulf. We've determined we'll begin the journey of borders tomorrow as we leave Minnesota's body and, instead, have it on our right, while Wisconsin will be on our left. This is all quite exciting. We're getting a bit rough around the edges- real River Rats.


Minneapolis/St. Paul!

After much rain(18 hours straight), we made it to the Twin Cities. We we happily greeted by AJ, the man responsible for the huge festival that will be taking place tomorrow, saturday the 25th, at Highland Park in St. Paul. We have been running around with him trying to help out and are always amazed at just how much time and effort he has put in, and, as a result, how great of an event it will be. Hope to see you all there tomorrow!


Here comes the rain

After an excellent stay in St. Cloud with a couchsurfer named Holly and her friends, life on the river has been easy. Yesterday we got off to a late start after enjoying the luxuries of indoor life  The sun shone brightly, the current was fast.  We pulled out the guitar, the mandolin, the fishing poles and some snacks as we leisurely floated down to our chosen campsite, 20 miles downstream. Dinner was bratwurst and sauteed onions and peppers, thanks to a friend named Pete, who is kayaking with us from St. Cloud to the twin cities. We happily drifted into sleep under a nearly full moon.

Oscar and Brett play their way down the river.
An easy day on the river can only be appreciated once you have something to compare it to, and it sounds like yet another reminder of that is headed our way. This afternoon, a passing fisherman asked us what we we were planning on doing about all the rain. What rain? It is supposed to rain? A call to Brett's sister confirmed that the remnants of a massive hurricane is headed our way. Five inches of rain is expected, lightning, flood warnings are in effect. We have set up our camp and plan to wait and see what the river and the weather look like in the morning. Hopefully the added water will only quicken our travels. Sounds like is will be a wet tomorrow.


Current, Dams, and Mandolin Dreams

We finished a long day today. And we are now in the great hospitality of Holly Santiago and her friends. Fortunately, among those friends in a massage therapist who I am trying to convince to offer service. So far, not so good. We woke this morning with strong current. It was hopeful, promising for an easy day. It lasted only a few miles. We always seem to be paddling across an endless lake. Current is weak, sometimes nonexistent, and the wind is always at our face. Hair gets pushed toward the stern. Faces get flush from wind instead of sun. The reeds dancing at the surface of the River let us know there is indeed a current. Again, it's hopeful.
The dams are to blame. They create huge reservoirs, several miles long. The portages, therefore, have also become abundant. We're getting better and more efficient, hauling gear, then canoes. Oscar brought a skateboard. We teased him at first until we began setting the canoes atop it and skating our canoes around the dam. These dams are mighty structures. But it's sad to see so many obstacles interfering with the natural course of the River. Hard to believe this is only the beginning of them. we wonder each time what the River used to be like.
Brett bought a mandolin to complement the community guitar and harmonicas. Everyone fiddles around on the instruments. The twang rings throughout the campsite and around the fire. Those who are early to bed fall asleep to the stringy beats and harmonica toots. For some reason, it all sounds better in a tent after a tough day. The aching backs and weary triceps soon give in to the gentle cadence of the tunes and we fall smoothly into mandolin dreams. 


Day 13 - Aitken Park, Bring on the Rain

I write this from under the "mega-tarp." Brett managed to bring a football field-sized tarp that has saved us from wet tents and miserable nights time and time again. Every night, we raise the population of a new town by eight people. We were all sad to see Matt Bailey hitch-hike in the opposite direction from us due to some unforeseen circumstances. But the same day we saw Matt stick his lone thumb out, we got news from our Colombian friend, Oscar, with whom we played Ultimate Frisbee in Steamboat. He couldn't find work to support a surfing lifestyle out in San Diego, so he joined us, after using all methods of transportation, in Sandy Lake recreation area, just up stream of Palisade, Minn. We are again eight, which has proven to allow faster, more efficient paddling. His enthusiasm and lack of expectations are welcome in this crew. The full day of rain today didn't stop the bald eagles from sweeping down by our canoes and soaring south. They may be faster than we are, but we share a common direction and appreciation for the bountiful beauty of northern Minnesota. We arrived at the state park this evening, expecting showers, shelter, and space to make a warm meal. Our resources were not as reliable as we hoped, but the night ended up great. We met a man traveling for work who offered to head to town for a resupply. Though we all had a luxury, such as hot chocolate and marshmallows on our minds, we refused. His nephew and his nephew's wife showed up later with dry firewood and pleasant conversation. We cooked rolls and hot dogs in the fire. Now, the crew is munching on cinnamon rolls- a treat we picked up in Grand Rapids. Collectively, we end each day feeling that "roughing it" is not as bad as people have made it out to be- not with cinnamon rolls at least.
Brett made up an itinerary that we can follow in order to make it to St. Paul in time for the event. It involves many 30-mile days, which, considering the quickening pace of the River, is quite feasible. But we have decided not to rush anything. We are getting a taste of the towns and the people along the shores. Many have offered hospitality, food, and a beverage over a conversation. And we've taken them all up on their offers. A few people send a holler from shore. We heed and yak it up for a few minutes, then hit the aqua highway. Everyone has been overwhelmingly generous. Is it because of the cause we work for or is it out of the hospitable spirit of Minnesota? I don't know, but it has begun to affect us deeply. Although the crew has Haiti on the forefront of thought, it is impossible to live outside the moment. It is impossible to bypass these people and to ignore the intrigue we've ignited in the towns. tomorrow morning, before we head out of camp, we have another interview with a local newspaper. We plan to have everything packed up and ready to go by 7:45 am, when we meet the reporter. We'll have to get some beauty sleep before our picture hits the press, I suppose. Then, after we get out our quotes out to the public and grab a quick breakfast, we'll paddle 41 miles, giving us an easy day into Brainerd on Friday.
Wildlife abounds, spirits remain heightened, paddles continue to stroke, people prove the American spirit, and we head south for Haiti.
The original 8. From left to right- Amanda Stenman, Matt Bailey, Brett Poche, Dave Lathrop, Karrie Kressler, Michael Gutschenritter, Zach Wehr, Louis Gutschenritter


Big Lakes, Wind and Rain

We are rushing out the door right now from an excellent stay at the Northard's home in Grand Rapids, Mn. A lot has happened recently, hence the lack of updates. Lots of rain, Lots of wind. We are 167 mile into the trip and feeling good. Unfortunately, Matt Bailey has had some issues with his visa to study in London, and has had to fly back to atlanta 2 weeks early to get it settled. We have since realized just how difficult it is to paddle a tandem canoe with one person in 20-25mph head winds. Luckily, the same day that Matt gave us the bad news, our Columbian friend oscar gave us word that he wanted to join us. He flies into Minneapolis today and with any luck, should be onboard mid-day tuesday. I hope to upload some pics later tonight, but until now, check out this great image of the Mississippi and how it has changed course over the ages


Day 5 - Stump Lake

At last, after a long day and very few miles, we are staying warm around a fire. Last night, our new best friend Brett Cease met us on the northern shore of Bemidji Lake. "Yah, we'll get you a good hot meal. Oh, boy, what an adventure you all have ahead of you." A true northern Minnesotan. We'd made plans to meet him and spend the evening at a site he'd rented out. Within the hour, the eight paddlers and Brett were feasting on chicken, rice, locally grown produce, and a few beers. The rain picked up outside of our monster-sized tarp. Brett put on his flannel and never let the conversation come to a lull. The night led into s'mores and hilarious stories. Hilarious because of the content but more so because of the awesome "yah-der-hey" accent.
It was tough waking up to the drizzly morning. Louis woke faster than anyone, though. The nine-foot oar we had used to prop up the tarp came swinging down like a hatchet to Louis' face at about 5 a.m. This all after the other oar fell to Zach's noggen earlier in the night. Both drew blood. We'll learn. On the water by 1 in the afternoon, we added a canoe to our fleet. Brett Cease joined us in a solo Grumman canoe making occasional striking comments such as "This is what life is all about, I'd say." But within a quarter mile on the lake, we took a turn for the closest shore. Swells became whitecaps and the vessels were taking on more water than we could handle. "One big wave," Louis said, "and we're swimming." We stayed silent for a moment then Louis declared the assumed, "I don't want to swim." Time to put on the thinking caps.
After sitting around and eating some jalapeno cheetos, Brett made a few phone calls and in no time, another great Bemidjian,Tom Kusler,  up with a truck and trailer to drive our three mile portage to the outlet of the lake. The River was calm. The breeze was warm. Mist floated around us until the sun made its promised appearance to warm our exposed feet. Still with us, Brett had an ear-to-ear grin paddling gracefully with a straight back and smooth stride. If he were an animal, he'd be a bald eagle.
We made it to Lake Stump campsite to finish off a very short four-mile day. There, Brett gave a heartwarming farewell and went another two miles to meet with his sister, Allison. We're all hoping he's waiting for us tomorrow at the next road crossing. For now, we feel happy to have had Brett as Bemidji's representative and will rise early tomorrow for a long day of paddling. In Bemiji, Harmony Natural Foods, the local Co-op, gave us a big box of fresh locally grown produce. Perfect fuel for a canoe trip! Big thanks to them! www.harmonycoop.com


Day 4 - Beminji

Today we traveled 25 or so miles from Iron Bridge Campsite, a beautiful gladed campsite situated in an oak forest with three sided shelter, a picnic table and lush green grass. Because the site is river access only, the only real visitors are canoeists, typically a respectful and tidy bunch. The eight of us enjoyed a wonderful meal of mashed potatoes, green beans, cabbage and sloppy joes as we watched the receding sun set over the expansive marsh that we had paddled just hours before. Bellies full, muscles aching, it only took a few songs on the junior sized guitar by Brett and a couple of nips of whiskey before we crawled into our tents at 9:30, content.

The next morning, we had agreed to get up and on the river by 8, a process which could take less than an hour, but never does. Planning for this, the coffee percolated just after 6:30 and the flurry of activity that is our morning routine was begun. Last boat left the beach at 7:58. Pretty good for 8 humans. We headed to Beminji, the first town that we will hit along the way. There, we had arranged to meet a couchsurfer named Brett. Because of our large group and his home's distance from the river, he instead offered to rent us a campsite at the Beminji Lake State Park. The paddle across the lake was long and arduous, with headwind gusts of 25mph and whitecapped waves always threatening to dump our boat. But spirits were high, a delicious meal was also promised on the other side. Shortly after arriving, the rain came. It is forcasted to rain 2 inches tonight, and, from what i can see, this seems to be true. Luckily we have along with us an enormous tarp (probably 40 feet x 70 feet) that we have rigged up with our as-of-yet unused oars to make quite a circus tent.Brett has made an excellent meal of chicken and rice, green beans, potatoes, and green peppers, all in an incredible thai sauce. That, along with s'mores that he brought and boxed wine that we picked up in bemidji, it is a good night.

Here are some pictures from day 2. The first one really gives a perspective on how small the river is in the first 50 miles. Now that we have cell service and some access to electricity, we hope to be able to post more often. Again, thanks for all of the donations that keep coming in!

Day 3 on the river

It is our third day on the river, 40 miles in, and although we had some cold drizzle the first morning, we have since had beautiful skies with highs in the 70's and nights in the 40's.  We are on a very narrow section of river with lush marshland to each side. We have spotted bald eagles and otters, enjoyed delicious meals, and are looking forward to reaching Lake Bemidji on Labor Day.  It's been smooth sailing (er, paddling) and we are settling into a pleasant rhythm.


Heading to the Put-In

After an incredibly busy week of pre-adventure organization at the Gutschenritter family farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, we are finally on our way to the headwaters of the great Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Jack and John Gutschenritter have kindly offered to drive us as well as the four canoes, two oar frames, oars, paddles and all of our gear. We are currently cruising west on I-90 and expect to be at camp at the headwaters slightly before nightfall.

We have already had a bit of drama on the road. A little more than an hour in to our trip, a poorly strapped oar frame (my fault) slid off of the top of Jack's SUV onto the highway where it was promptly destroyed. Thankfully, noone was hurt. This means that we will now have one oar frame and three tandem paddle canoes. And with change being the only constant on trips like these, I highly doubt that this will be the configuration with which we will finish.

Here is a picture of our rigs: