First, we gotta start with home base: The Gutschenritter Farm in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. During the last week of August, seven of us descended upon the beautiful farm to join Michael and his family for great food, lots of laughs and the last minute details associated with an extended adventure. Bev and Jack offered full hospitality, giving us free reign of their house, use of their cars and access to all of Jack's tools. Bev made delicious meals night after night. When the takeoff day finally arrived. Jack and Michael's brother, John, drove us nine hours up to Lake Itasca State Park, where they endured eighteen hours of cold rain to see us off. Bev continues to help us by collecting the checks that keep rolling in and will be meeting us along the way at our three events. Without them, this would not be possible.
Thanks to the Aqua Bound/Bending Branches Paddle company in Osceola, Wisconsin for donating two bent shaft canoe paddles for the auction in Minneapolis and selling us five more at a ridiculous discount. They also gave us some hats, stickers, chocolate and a tour of their awesome facility. Seeing just how much time goes into the whole paddle-making process really gives us an appreciation the trade as a true artisan craft. Special thanks to Sonya Swanson and Josh Eckles.
Thanks to the Atlanta Gutschenritter Family for donating a large solar panel, battery and all of the necessary cords/plugs. This has helped us keep our phones/computers charged and stay in touch with all of our friends and family.
Along the Way...Bemidji, MN
In Bemidji, we stopped in town to stretch our legs and have a look around town, our first on the trip. Brett, Dave and Louis wandered into the Headwaters Science Center, where we were happily greeted by the head volunteer. She eagerly chatted with us about our adventure, let us hold a tarantula, and donated to our cause. Really a great representative of a great town.
From there, we paddled across the lake to meet our first couchsurfer of the trip. Brett Cease, a 24 year-old Bemidji native, greeted us with a smile as we pulled up to the beach at the state park where he had reserved a campsite for our group of the night. Despite the rain, we had an excellent time, wonderful food and pleasant conversation, all of which were provided by Brett. The next day, Brett paddled with us until the weather and waves became too uncooperative to continue. Cold and stranded on the lakeside, our prospects seemed grim. Brett, ever positive, made a few phone calls and within minutes we had another nice local, Tom Kussler, help us move our gear and boats back to the river put-in so that we could continue our voyage. Brett Cease is an unforgettable personality who will surely positively affect all who have the pleasure of meeting him. I feel confident that I will see Brett again.
Another great Bemidjian and teacher at Trek North High School, Mark, saw us passing by his house the morning we arrived in Bemidji. He invited us in for coffee, but because of an already late start, we had to decline. He later caught up with us and exchanged good conversation about the river and life and life on the river. Mark also bought a Tshirt.
Monty and Molly from the Bemidji Pioneer came by our camp on Lake Bemidji and interviewed us about our trip. Both were very nice and wrote an excellent article in the paper about us as well as gave us advice about the river.
The first dam that we hit on our trip was another positive experience. The Ottertail Dam is staffed by great employees who dropped what they were doing and eagerly offered to help us portage, bringing our gear around the dam on a bobcat.
Grand Rapids, MN
Several miles past, we ran into the another dam just outside of Grand Rapids, MN. The Blandin Paper Company owns the dam and offers a shuttle service to pay for the mile-long portage. The service is provided by Northwoods Taxi company and is operated by Minnesota's finest. The driver let us store our canoes at his liquor store and picked us up in the morning. This enabled us to have the second couchsurfing experience of our trip.
We spent our night in Grand Rapids with couchsurfers Eric and Nancy Northard. Eric is teacher in Grand Rapids and Nancy is an itinerant instructor for the Lighthouse for The Blind in Duluth. They welcomed us into their large, beautiful home and had a multi-course pizza dinner whipped up with a few hand waves. To top it off, we had ice cream and cake for dessert. There was some leftover cake, but their youngest, and most rambunctious dog helped himself. We were well-fed. Of course, the best part of the evening was the conversation around the table. Eric was always ready to fill the lull. They gave us sleeping space on beds and couches, access to showers and laundry.
They also housed, fed and washed our dearly departed team member, Matt Bailey when he was on his way back to Georgia. He needed a stop over on his journey back home, and the Northards provided. Thank you for taking care of all of us.
Dave from a dock just north of Palisade was working on his sauna house when we floated on by. His interest in our group led to quite the interesting chat and he brought out drinks for all of us.
That night we stopped in Palisade, and after a scrumptious dinner on a Taco Tuesday, we wondered over to Palisade Liquors, where the bartender gave us beef sticks. :)
We stopped in the Aitkin's State Park on the River. It was a cold and rainy day on the River and while we needed a fire, dry wood was scarce, but not for long. After we arrived, Amanda came running in from a neighbor's house with a wheel barrow full of dry birch. "Burns real good," the neighbor said. Then, our campsite neighbor David Eberhardt, along with his local kin brought even MORE firewood and joined us for the night. In the morning David and his wife, Christine Eberhardt, left early and returned with 9 breakfast sandwiches--still warm. They also paid for our campsite. Thank you for your all of your enthusiasm and help. We really appreciate it. Hope to see you down south!
That same morning, Jeanne Schram, a reporter from the Aitkin Independent Age stopped by to interview us and take some photos. Thank you for the press!
Where do I start? In Brainerd we arranged to stay with a couchsurfer named, Jessica Bye. Her family owns "The Chap" a restaurant and hotel, where they fed us lunch, dinner and breakfast and set us up with two hotel rooms, including one suite with a whirlpool. She, along with her best friend Chelsey Smith, her brother Dylan and her parents Randy and Pam were absolutely the best hosts that we could have asked for, constantly surprising us with treats.
Crow Wing State Park, MN
Big Thanks to Chelsey's Mom--a woman who never knew us personally, but at her daughter's encouragement, met up with us 12 miles down the river at Crow Wing State Park and gave us bags upon bags of chocolate chip cookies, They were still warm.
To Boyscout Troop 111 Fargo, ND: thank you! We shared a campsite area with these gents at Crow Wing. That night we mentioned our mission to them in passing and the next morning as we were packing up to leave, three of them ventured over to our side of the camp. One of them had taken an early morning dive into the oreos, as evident by his glowing smile speckled with cookie goodness. With them, they brought over bananas, apples the rest of the oreos, and chatted excitedly about our cause. Thank you scouts!
St. Cloud, MN
After another long paddle, and a few interesting finds (including a large floating traffic cone, which we added to one of our vessels for a short time), we arrived in St. Cloud. We pulled our boats ashore and hid them just before the dam with the permission of the St. Cloud State University's Rowing Team and admired their paddles. We then loaded the rest of our belongings into the back of couchsurfer Holly Santiago's Subaru and her friend's truck. Though not properly dressed or scented (or is it unscented?) we joined Holly at house for a potluck of scrumptious vegetarian lasagna and cake.
It was a happening house. That night one of us got a massage from a professional masseuse, two were interviewed for the St. Cloud State University student paper and two more became members of Holly's band for the night. (See video on the blog for the performance -- to be posted soon!). We graciously thank Holly, her roommates: Andrew and Amy and the band members for all the merriment, for getting us to and from the River and for the spectacular stay. St. Cloud is a vortex centered on the Santiago House.
After leaving St. Cloud we pulled off another 100 meters downstream to meet up with another Pointer, Pete Duerkop. Pete brought his kayak, brats, a box of hefty bags and joined our crew all the way to St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN. Pete was a breath of fresh air, a good team member, and a good sport. While he was out with us he got a good dose of life on the river, from sunny-barely-paddling days to downpour-kayak-filling-push days. When we got to the Twin Cities, Pete contributed as much as any other member of Paddle to Haiti to help us with our event. We love ya, Pete. THANK YOU, and COME BACK ON THE RIVER FOR SOME MORE!
Thank you to the Wayside in Anoka for letting us camp at the park and use your facilities.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Our first fundraiser was an amazing success, and many thanks are in order. Though, the first MUST go to...
Only AJ can tell you everything that he did. What we know: this was his baby--he created and produced the ENTIRE Minneapolis operation. The already busy man made our event his top priority for the 3+ months he spent working on it. The finished product included a 10+ gallon pot of soup with donated organic veggies, a hefty handful of local band performing, a raffle complete with a baseball signed by Joe Mauer, face painting and sidewalk chalk for the kids (and bigger kids), local brews, lots of good people...etc! We also know this: NO ONE COULD HAVE DONE IT BETTER.
Adam is a delightful, kind, organized, fun and enthusiastic man. If you don't know him, you'll feel comfortable with him in less than an hour. He made sure that we had everything we needed. No one went without. He shuttled us around town, found us comfy places to stay, hung out with us, and fed us, all the while pulling together a festival for us. He gave us a lot of himself, for a very long time.
Thank you to The Johnson Family, AJ's Mum and Dad, and AJ's brother, who housed and showered us the first night and have been supporting AJ in his efforts to pull this all together... AJ's dad was there for the whole event, running errands and helping in anyway he could.
BIG THANKS to Ellen Brown. Ellen just moved into her house a few months ago, she's been painting and ripping up carpet, and spent the whole morning cleaning before we arrived--only for us to come in and mess it up! She didn't know one of us, and she let us stay in her home for 2 nights, AND she and her friends cooked us a spectacular dinner. OH MY. She really spoiled us. Her house was our home for a few days, and she was a wonderful host.
Thank you also to the Paddle to Haiti Families:
Pam and Jerry Wehr, Wendy, Ben and Joel Stenman, Danny Nielson, the Wisconsin Gutschenritters, and the Georgia Gutschenritters. All of these people drove us to and fro--where ever we needed to go, provided sleeping accomadations, took us out to dinner, helped with the festival set up, manned the festival stations, and helped us clean up. Where would be be without our family? The Mamas also made us many delicious treats to take on The River.
Enticed by the National Eagle Center along The River, we pulled into Wabasha, the town where Grumpy old men (and its sequels) was based and took a walk a around. On out way out a delightful woman pulled up alongside us in a mini-van and we struck up a conversation. Her name was Alice Aho, and she became comepletely enthralled with us and our cause. For 30 minutes, she advertised us--telling everyone that walked by what we were up to. To each person she talked to she tried to send us home with them so that we might have a cozy spot to sleep for the night,. She even drove down the riverfront to a friend's house to ask him in person. Unsuccessful, though not dissuaded, she gave us a crumbly and buttery apple pie--freshly baked that morning. What a sweet woman. We left Wabasha happy and excited for pie.
A few paddle strokes later, and we met a boat builder, David Wojcik, who would paddle alongside us for the week after.
David built his own wooden canoe and set out on the Mississippi a few days before we did up at Lake Itasca--ready to paddle the whole thing. A canoe repair, sent him ashore for about a week, and we, unknowingly caught up to him.
5 canoes, 4 locks and 45 miles--our longest day yet.