May 28, 29, 30, 31
Mississippi Trek

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Mississippi River Quest - Page 4
5.28.06
Last night after I finished writing a pontoon boat pulled onto my island.  I knew they saw
me camping because they waved as they drove by.  They were quiet until I was almost
asleep.  Then they set off some sort of obnoxious aerial cannon firework thing.  They set
one of these off about every ten minutes until midnight when they decided to crank up
the tunes.

I don't like confronting drunks as they are too unpredictable, but I need my sleep.  I
grabbed my flashlight and walked down to them.  It was a group of about ten people
sitting around a fire.  I was greeted by a man of about 50 who was so drunk he could
hardly stand, and looked as though he could vomit any moment.

I kindly explained that I was already camping when they showed up and needed my rest
and asked them if they could keep the volume down a bit.  To which the drunk slurred,
"Dude, just calm down.  You're gonna have to calm down.

I said, "I am calm.  I just need my sleep."

Again he slurred, "Just calm down.  We're leaving in like an hour or half an hour.  Just
calm down."

I left it at that and returned to camp.  They turned off the music and shot off all their
fireworks and left.

I awoke from my brief slumber to a strong south wind and heavy boat traffic.  The waves
were big, the wind brutal, and it was hot.  I was passed by at least 200 boats an hour in
30 to 35 mph head winds.  The heat index was 100 degrees.  The two high points of my
day were #1 - a guy gave me a beer at one of the locks.  It was very tasty and I enjoyed it
while I was setting up camp.  #2 - I stopped at the Red Wing Marina in Red Wing, MN
and the people there were wonderful.  Best of all, they gave me free chicken.  I loaded
up on chicken and chatted with the folks on the docks for a while, then pushed off into
the wind for a few more miles to find a campsite.

Tomorrow I have to cross Lake Pepin, and it's big!  The forecast calls for the winds to
calm down and switch to the North overnight.  I hope that's what happens, and I get a
nice push across the lake.  It could get rough out there.  I was told Pepin is the Indian
word for tears, and the lake was given that name because it sank so many canoes
laden with furs.  I don't know if this is true or not, but it sounds good.

5.29.06    Eight Dollar Walkman: the saga continues
I am certainly glad the holiday weekend ends today.  My sleep was cut short again last
night by another group of drunken voyagers.  This time five boats showed up at the
island across from mine at about 9:00.  By this time they were already loud and stupid.  
As the night wore on the volume increased.  The worst part of the whole situation was
the fact that they brought along a woman with a terribly shrill voice - much like fingers on
a chalkboard - and worse yet, when she laughed she sounded like a porpoise.  I kept
hoping someone would give her a fish so she would shut up.

The revelry lasted through the night and my friend flipper, and her friends were still
chattering away when I shoved off at 6:00 am.

The weather forecast was wrong, as usual, and I was greeted with a brutal south wind
and four foot rollers on Lake Pepin.  Half way through my uphill paddle across Pepin, I
reached the town of Lake City, where I decided to stop for lunch.

On my way to Subway, I spied a family dollar store where I was able to replace my eight
dollar Walkman.  Experience has taught me well, and I kept this one in a dry bag the
rest of the way down the lake.

As I reached the far end of the lake, I could see thunderstorms building on the horizon
and thought it best to set up camp.

And here I sit at 4:30 in the afternoon.  The temperature has dropped from 90 to 70
degrees in the last ten minutes and the thunder is sounds very near.  I only slept for
about an hour last night and I believe this will make a fine stopping point for the day.
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5.30.06
The storms that followed me across Pepin blew over without so much as a drop of rain.  
Still I was grateful for the rest.  I was hit by a brief storm about 4:00 am.  I was warm and
cozy in the tent and the storm was of no concern to me.

My day started off with light rain and a gentle north breeze pushing me.  I love paddling
in light rain.  The dance of the raindrops and concentric circles on the water is beautiful.
Just before noon the rain stopped and I decided to fire up the eight dollar Walkman.  It
doesn't work.  The damned thing won't stay tuned to a station and doesn't even work on
AM.  I am boycotting Family Dollar!

I came upon an area where they were dredging the river to maintain a 9 foot channel
depth.  It was neat operation with giant pumps, pipes and cranes.  I was marveling at
this whole operation when
ping!  I hit a buoy at full cruising speed.  Not a little plastic
one, but a big metal navigational buoy.  Perhaps in the future I'll look where I'm going
from time to time to avoid such tooth-jarring experiences.

The sunset tonight was beautiful!  Here the river is lined with 600 foot tall bluffs, and the
rain left steam rising from the valleys.  There are rock outcroppings atop these hills that
resemble the ruins of ancient castles.  The water was smooth like antique glass and
the sky was ablaze with reds, pinks, and purples.

I wanted to find a campsite that would afford me a view of this celestial wonder, but was
unpleasantly surprised to find that all of the islands in these parts are sporting a
bumper crop of poison ivy.  I paddled another ten miles and well into the twilight hours
before finding a place that wouldn't leave me scratching in the morning.

It is well past dark now and my dinner has finished cooking.  I can see a café in the town
across the river.  I will go there for breakfast in the morning.

5.31.06
A funny thing happened on the way through the lock today...  The weather today was
beautiful, although a bit warm, and I was well on my way to making it into Iowa today and
leaving my old friend, Minnesota.  That all changed when I pulled up to the gate of lock
#8, just a few short miles from the Iowa border.  It was about 5:30 in the evening and I
was looking forward to 10 to 15 more miles.

I pulled the signal cord for lockage and was waiting patiently for the gates to open when
I heard a voice from the dam.  I assumed that someone was working there and that's
why it was taking so long to be locked through.

The dam at the locks have a series of semicircle shaped steel gates that control the
amount of flow over the dam by raising and lowering.  The water flows under these
gates rather than over them so that any wayward boats will hit the gate rather than go
over the dam.  There are also grab ropes hanging from above the dam for unlucky
travelers to grab.

I kept hearing noise over there and thought it would be best to go check it out.  It's not
like I had anything better to do.  As I paddled away from the lock wall, I spied a small
inflatable craft up against the gate with someone inside holding the safety rope.  I
grabbed my radio and called "
Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, There's a boat stuck on the
dam!"

The lock master called back, "Are you stuck on the dam?"

I said no, and explained the situation.  I was sure it was a little kid who had drifted away
from whatever swimming hole he had been playing in.

The lock master ran out and began closing the gates and threw the guy another lifeline.  
I will describe the scene as the lock master later described it.  There was a skinny
middle aged man laying in his Coleman raft with the grab rope in one hand and a beer
in the other.

Soon the fire department arrived and set out in a motorboat to rescue him.  I sat in my
boat upstream taking pictures.  I followed them in as they brought the weary traveler and
his not so seaworthy craft to shore.  He was so drunk he could hardly walk.

Soon the sheriff showed up and started asking him questions.  I eavesdropped on the
conversation, as did most of the fire department.

He said he had left Lake Onalaska yesterday which means he covered some fifteen
miles in two days.  He was on a week long journey to wherever the river took him.  
Unfortunately, he wasn't aware there would be locks and dams along the way, and didn't
have a clue what to do when he got to one.  That's how he got in his predicament.

I checked out his gear as the sheriff inventoried it.  A sleeping bag, a wooden paddle, a
lawn chair, and empty eighteen pack, and half a pack of cigarettes.  What more could a
guy need?

The cops arrested him for not having a life jacket.  I was thanked by the firemen, the
police, and the lock master for saving this man's life.  He never thanked me.

I sat down in the office and talked with the lock master and drank taxpayer funded Pepsi
while I filled out witness forms.  Everyone I met was extremely nice and it certainly made
for an interesting day, even though it cut my miles short.  I believe in reciprocity and
hopefully this good deed, although unappreciated, will help to repay the kindness I have
been shown on my journey.

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