Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Livin' the Dream: Downstream

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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!


  1. Ann and Natalie, thanks for the update! Sounds like you're on schedule, even with all the water. Thanks also for your comments about family farms and getting kids outside. Hope your brief respite is reenergizing!

  2. Great blog and pictures. Today we will ship out your food supplies to meet up with you at Norway House, Manitoba. Perry

  3. I really admire you ladies! Keep paddling!