Our first week on the water was a long, slow introduction punctuated with storms and fleeting bliss. Our starting point in the St. Croix river was great for scenery and swimming, but we wanted to meet the Mississippi ASAP. Unfortunately, I was new to rowing and there was no current in the St. Croix to help. After a wimpy, ten-mile day one, the thrill of claiming our very own island was washed away by a wicked thunderstorm and the fear of a tree falling on the tent. Luckily the tent held up through the storm because we were both too exhausted to do anything about it. As I slept, I couldn’t possibly conjure a nightmare worse than the next night when the sky opened up just as we reached the far shore of Lake St. Croix. We set up the tent, pretending the freezing rain was a victory cooler being dumped on our heads and the thunder was a roaring crowd cheering for our great day of rowing. When we ducked inside the soaking shelter, reality set in and I changed into my dry wool clothes to ward of any chance of hypothermia.
By the third day, I felt the call of the river rat. I learned that light beer is an acquired taste. I learned that it is acquired by rowing. We finally made it to the Mississippi and I wrote a ballad verse about the evening.
Well we met a man who had a dark blue anchor on his arm
And he towed us to his yacht so that we would be safe from harm
He let us drink his moonshine till the bottle was all spent
And in the dark we had to find the way back to our tent
Our next challenge was Lake Pepin. The experience was best summed up by a former barge crewmember we met in Bagley, WI. “Pepin?!” He exclaimed, “I once spent seven days on Lake Pepin for one-and-a-half days!” Indeed, the fabric of space-time above Pepin seemed to be as choppy as the water. We found a nice beach above Lake City and examined the new blisters that marked our stubborn battle against the headwind.
After recharging at the Rabbit Bakery in Lake City, we started our third day on Lake Pepin. It sent us crying to shore one last time and after the lighting let up, the headwind turned into a tailwind! We did a toast and we were back to the river in no time. We decided to stop and investigate a giant sand dune left at a dredging site. As we approached, a man yelled to us from the beach. “I’ve got a real mean dog over here!” A gigantic black beast appeared on the sand from behind his pontoon boat. “And he hasn’t eaten yet!” The man jested with a giant grin on his face. The dog turned out to be a friendly soul named “Fish.” Mr. Adams told us we had to try something for dinner. I wrapped my callus-covered joints around a tortilla wrapped around a hotdog and had to agree that Mr. Adams’ drunken idea was delicious. While I helped their daughters build a sand castle, the Adams family invited us to stay the night in their home. I drew one of the seven giant bucks that were mounted in the playroom and gave it to Mr. Adams. We had made it through the storms and all was well, but the next morning things would get fishy…