Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Livin' the Dream: Downstream

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Hudson Bay Bound
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Hello HBB Followers!

We're in the Fargo/Moorhead area waiting for Natalie's flight to Philadelphia tomorrow where she'll be the Maid of Honor for her sister's wedding on July 2nd. She flies back on July 5th and we'll be departing at around 2pm from Lindenwood Park in downtown Fargo.

Downstream has been like floating on a cloud compared to upstream! We think we can average about 45 miles a day and travel at around 5 mph. That's 300% better than upstream on the Minnesota River. We had some big winds on the lakes we paddled to get to the downstream section. The lakes we passed through were Lac Qui Parle, Marsh Lake, Big Stone Lake, Traverse Lake and Mud Lake. We paddled the 41 mile Bois de Souix and have come 92 miles on the Red River of the North -- All in 11 days since we left Montevideo!

A panorama of Lac Qui Parle. We had a 12 hour 30 mile day on Lac Qui Parle and Marsh Lake because of a huge tail wind. What a day!
We portaged the last four miles of the Minnesota into Ortonville because of dead fall but look at that nice bike trail!

An aerial photo of us battling the winds on Big Stone Lake taken by Heidi Pilot of Graceville, MN. The headwind was so big that day we had to put 9 big rocks in our canoe. We'll gain some weight before we get to Lake Winnipeg.
The headwaters of the Minnesota. We did it! 335 miles upstream in 20 some days.
A night paddle on Big Stone Lake
The White Rock Dam at the beginning of the Bois de Sioux
The headwaters of the Red River of the North in Breckenridge/Wapheton
People along the border have been very hospitable and a lot of fun to meet.
Before we paddled Lac Qui Parle we stayed in the coolest retrofitted grain elevator that was refurnished by Dennis Larsen in to a hunting shack. Just think, if every abandoned grain elevator was a place to stay then paddling these rivers would be way more accessible!

Dennis Larsen the creator of the refurbished 4-season hunting shack
Natalie on top of the grain elevator refurbished to be a hunting shack that we stayed in just south of Lac Qui Parle
This is Mike and his boulders that he ships around the United States. He let us stay in his fish house when a big storm hit in Appleton, MN.
 We also got to spend a few days in Ortonville, Clinton and Graceville Minnesota meeting and potlucking with participants of Big Stone County Farmer's Market's.

We had a potluck with some people who are involved with the Big Stone County Farmer's Markets

Heidi and Elaine are farmer's of Graceville, MN. They met us at our height of land in Browns Valley with their dogs Sasha and Sam, a newfoundland and a great pyrenees.

Oles helping Oles! Johanna '09 on the left let us crash in her apartment for the night. She is new to Clinton working as a community organizer for the Land Stewardship Project. Duane '74? is a CURE member who also lives in Clinton and told us great stories about St. Olaf in the 70s.
Um ya ya!
Previous groups that paddled this route also experienced hospitality to the extreme. We have loved talking to folks along the river, hearing their stories, and learning about small town life in the Midwest. We have learned that small towns are disappearing. Their populations are steadily decreasing as people move to the cities or the suburbs for their occupations. Along with this exodus, family farms are being abandoned. We always talked about this phenomena in environmental studies classes at St. Olaf, but I always thought it was a bunch of hippie hooie until this trip. Every night, we pullover to ask the owners of the river banks if we can camp on their land and several times we've come upon completely empty houses and barns. It's spooky! We usually move way down river away from the farm land and camp in the wilderness instead. When we were in Montevideo and in Clinton we spent a lot of time discussing farming issues about corn production, pollution, and the missing farm generation. Groups like CURE and the Land Stewardship Project are trying to work with communities to make farmer's markets more popular and to get young people into small towns. It was really great to meet people doing these things, but we can't help but feel there is a void to be filled. What's going to happen to our food system when all of the farmers are gone and the small towns are empty? Will there be a new era of agricultural revival? or a takeover by big business?

Family Farm Portrait. This statue we came across on a portage symbolizes the disappearing family farm.
One of the many purposes of our trip is to encourage young people to get out into nature. We think it's important for everyone to get out there, especially our generation in this age of technology; we can't forget that we are a part of nature and should experience it. At Menogyn, Natalie and I were able to connect with nature through wilderness adventures. I remember on my 14-day with Menogyn, sleeping outside without a tent for the first time, hearing wolves howl and watching the moon move across the sky. Menogyn not only sparked our interest in the natural world, but our experience there taught us how to work with other young people while moving daily and living happily in the wilderness. As we progressed through Menogyn trips we built life-long friendships and everlasting bonds with the Canadian arctic. Even if we never go back, we both agree that we will always have a special place for the arctic in our hearts because of the seven week canoe trip that Menogyn facilitated. We are raising money for Menogyn because we believe in its mission to help adolescents grow fully in a wilderness setting connecting teenagers to themselves, others and nature. We are so thankful to everyone who has donated because they made this trip possible for us, but if you have not donated please consider doing so because your contribution will help other young people experience the wilderness like we have. It is camps like these that help build communities and mindful people. See our "How to Help" page for more information about how to donate

A family we met in Montevideo who take lots of trips in the BWCA and have been regularly following our trip!

As always, thanks for following our trip and supporting us along the way. If you are getting stir crazy or stressed out over the summer just remember the river is there waiting for you -- go paddle it!

Here is the second installment of our music video blog: Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain by Willie Nelson. Enjoy!

Also, here are a few clips of things we've recorded on the GoPro...

We had to paddle over a few dams that didn't seem to serve much of a purpose, but maybe that is just because the river is so flooded right now. There is a lot of 'confused water' over these dams that pose a threat to paddlers like ourselves. The camera is kind of tilted but check it out. If you know of a dam like this near you, start a conversation within your community about whether or not it is necessary and if there is a way you can work to get it removed so that more people can safely use the river for recreation.

The water level has been exceptionally high this summer. Here is a quick montage of the down fall and flooding (we got lost a few times...) due to high waters.

But hey! We've had our fair share of great days too...

That's it for now. We'll blog again in about three weeks when we get to Winnipeg. Enjoy the summer!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Layover day in Montevideo!

Hey everyone!

We arrived in Montevideo yesterday, finishing up our 16th day on trail. This past week has been  interesting on the river with some fierce weather and fickle water levels.
Cooking in the tent vestibule...we had three nights of rain in a row!

The Minnesota River from New Ulm to Montevideo is even more beautiful than the first stretch from Fort Snelling to New Ulm (which is gorgeous). We feel like we are in the middle of the wilderness; the ecosystem is thriving and sometimes we go days without seeing other people! Large granite rock outcroppings and more pine trees have started popping up along the river and spicing things up as far as aesthetics go. It's been really cool to paddle on the Minnesota and to learn about the waterways that helped shape Minnesota's history. See it for yourself if you haven't already.

settling into camp

Random sand bar = awesome camping spot.

Our environmental backgrounds have come in handy. We have spent some time talking about the flooding and pollution issues concerning the river and documenting things like crops growing straight up to the river bank, small or no buffer zones, and cows standing right in the river. Thanks to non-profit and community groups along the river, the Minnesota has improved in the last few years but there is still so much work to be done. We need to realize that healthy water-ways and healthy communities are directly correlated and that towns along the river have the potential to spark big change in environmental and public health issues in Minnesota and beyond.

Corn field with no buffer on the Minnesota

After 16 days on the river Ann and I have learned how to read the water and travel where the current is weakest. We love seeing bridges because they are great land marks on the map, but we never realized how much they change the hydrology of the river. Bridges funnel the river and create stronger currents and patches of what we call "confused water" around the support pillars. This water is difficult to attain in the canoe and changes the ebb and flow of the river. Over thousands of years the river has cut its own route, using land elevation as a guide, that will continue to change for thousands of years. Sometimes it seems like we construct things on the river without truly understanding the impacts they have on the natural direction of the water. At the same time, bridges create a different flow, a flow of people, from one community to the next and allow people to see the river if they don't have time to get out on it. We have open-ended conversations like this often attempting to further our education by exploring our own ideologies and thinking about the opposing viewpoints. We have been taught that one of the most important things we can do is to keep conversation alive to bridge the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Portaging around the Minnesota Falls Dam on the way to Granite Falls. It may be taken out in the next few years!

Both from fairly big cities, we have never truly experienced small-town Minnesota. City people often disregard small towns as boring or lacking culture, etc. What a misconception! The small towns we have stopped in have truly proved the opposite. Two nights ago we were going to camp near a boat launch right out of Granite Falls, MN, population 3,000. Tom Cherveny, who just wrote a story on our adventure for the West Central Trib., called us up and offered to feed and house us in Granite Falls that night. We have come to realize that the beginning of this trip is not about roughing it or trying to find solitude; it is about truly getting to know this place we call home and the people that shape its culture. We stayed with Tom and his vibrant family and experienced first-hand how hospitable, knowledgeable, and loving small town communities are. Like I said before, I truly believe in the power of the small town community. Their close-knit networks can fuel social movements even in times of top-down, political dead-lock.
Terri, Scott, and Tom. They are some of many helpful people we've met along the way.

We're continuing our Minnesota State Park tour! We've learned so much about the Minnesota history and the history of the Minnesota River. Did you know there were German P.O.W. camps by Flandrau? Did you know about the great Sioux uprising along the Minnesota? We learn something new with every tour!
Terri showed us around Upper Sioux Agency State Park

Today we were lucky enough to participate in Fiesta Days in Montevideo. We went on a canoe race and got to talk to several different people in town while bands played and delicious Uruguian food cooked on the grill. We swapped stories with an Ole alum, Duane, who we will meet up with again when we get to Big Stone Lake and met some wonderful people who work at the Easy Bean organic farm just out of town. We are getting breakfast with Patrick Moore from CURE Minnesota who is a great advocate for cleaning up our waterways! To learn more about CURE Minnesota you can visit their website at These people know what's up!

Yes, we are still getting along and we are enjoying every mile of our trip! The rain has been a doozy this past week but we knew this trip wasn't going to be all sunshine and daisies. We are pumped to get back out on the river tomorrow -- 21 more miles of upstream until we hit the lakes! Um Ya Ya. Downstream on the Red River here we come. We'll update the blog again when we get to Fargo, around June 29th. Thank you so much for your support. As Ann Bancroft said, "when the going gets tough, just think about all the people who really care about what you're doing." You keep us warm on those cold wet nights!

We'll leave you with the beginnings of our traveling canoe folk band, dedicated to Richard Warren and Ray Raiho. Happy Father's day! We love you!

P.S. keep following our GPS map on the website!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Upstream on the Minnesota!

Hey everyone!

We got to New Ulm today after paddling around 150 miles upstream on the Minnesota since our departure from Fort Snelling on June 2nd. Things are going great, and we are on schedule!
We've had a couple different challenges so far. The river is still really flooded. Everyone we've met has commented on the level of the Minnesota compared to where it usually is this time of year. We've been working really hard to get through the flooded waters. Once we tried to take a shortcut through a lagoon to cut off a bend in the river. We were in there for about 45 minutes and lost every sense of direction! When we found our way back out we were only about 10 ft upstream of where we had entered the lagoon. We haven't tried any shortcuts since. However, Ann and I have witnessed the water level dropping -- the river is easier to paddle upsteam every day!

Another challenge is heat. Apparently it reached a record high in the 100s a few days ago and we had no idea it was that hot. There was no wind the first hot day and Ann and I were sweating so much we had to drink 4 liters of water each. We decided it was in the upper 80s...wishful thinking. Later that night in Le Sueur we stopped in a bar for some food and air conditioning and the bartender there gave us a whole pizza for free! The people we've met and shared our story with have been extremely supportive. People are really taking care of us along the Minnesota.

The next day, on the way to St.Peter, we had a rough headwind. We found out later that the winds were against us at 35 mph and we can only paddle 2 mph upstream in the first place. Someone please make that into a physics question because I'm not sure how we were moving forward at all! It was a rough day but we finally made it to St.Peter to meet with Ed Lee of the St. Peter Herald. He took a video of us around our campsite and told us about the beginning of Sean and Colton's trip in 2008. Both that trip and Scott and Todd's trip in 2005 faced a lot of cold weather and rain. We were glad it was hot when we heard that.

From St. Peter we made our way to Mankato. The wind changed direction, so we cruised with a heavy tail wind. Once in Mankato, we camped in Land of Memories Campground.  In the morning, we were picked up by Angie Delory of the Mankato P
Two members of the Mankato Paddling Club
addling Club. She brought us to Minneopa State Park where we met with Dean Peterson President of the Paddling Club and Steve Rose the Director of Minneopa State Park. We had a pleasant time seeing Minneopa State Park. There is a great waterfall and a cool old mill and several walking trails that we didn't get the chance to check out.

Now, we're writing to you from New Ulm where we are having our first homestay with Anne-lise and Kurt Johnson. They are too kind! We did laundry, took showers and slept in real beds. This morning we went to Flandrau State Park interviewed with Channel 12 of Mankato and got a tour with Gary the Director of the Park.  Flandrau has a lot of cool history and a sand bottom pool!  Next, we're off to a 
Director of Flandrau State Park and HBB by the pool!
part of the Minnesota River that has fewer cities, so sorry if we are hard to reach for the next week. We will hopefully be in Montevideo by next weekend thus ending most of the upstream portion of our trip. Hooray!

We want everyone to know that the Minnesota River is a hidden gem. Even with the flooding and heat and wind, we have really enjoyed the Minnesota. We've seen otters and eagles and jumping fish and felt like we were totally in the wilderness at times. I think we've only seen about 10 boats on the 150 miles of the river we've traveled. Get out there and paddle!

Continuing on our Tour de Minnesota!
Ann and Natalie

PS We have a bunch more pictures we'll make sure to put up later!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Time to Launch!

Hey everyone!

Ann and I found another nice launch site at Fort Snelling since Pike Island is all flooded. If you would like to come to our launch, we are leaving from the site behind the welcome building right when you get into Fort Snelling State Park. If you ask the person at the front desk they will tell you exactly where to go. Parking permits are $5. Please arrive by 7:30 for pictures and goodbyes!

The Launch Party was a HUGE success. Thank you so much for coming! Ann and I are looking forward to reading all of the trail notes you left us =)

We finished packing out our food last night (Thank you Rachel Hedlund for your help!) and now we are getting last minute things together. It has been a crazy month and we are really excited to get on trail and slow down!

While we are gone we will not check our email or phones often. We will continue to raise money for Menogyn during and after our trip.  If you need to contact us we will check our email around the first drop in early July.If the opportunity arises we will update our blog...maybe once a week? Who knows! Keep an eye out.

Thank you for all of your support over these past few months of trip planning. In some ways it feels like the hardest part of the trip is over! It is finally time to hit the river and experience the joys and challenges of trail life -- We are ready!