Sunday, June 28, 2009
Twin Cities Paddle
Last weekend Kim, I, two of my nephews, and three more friends rented (gasp) rec kayaks from REI and paddled 15 miles of the Mississippi River. We put in at Boom Island, just North of Minneapolis at 9am. By complete coincidence, this was also the time that they blew up the Lowry Bridge just upstream from us. As we were getting in the boats we were greeted with a huge double "BOOM!" If that weren't enough, we also put in at a boat slip right next to a makeshift houseboat that wound up in the newspaper that same day. We thought it was a bit strange that two people were sleeping in a partially-enclosed boat with chickens... Check out the link at: http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=102807801439&h=H5aNJ&u=u0IR6&ref=mf.
Anyway, after the put-in oddities, we started downstream towards Downtown Minneapolis. It wasn't far to our first lock/dam near the Guthrie and Stone Arch Bridge. This was the first time that any of us had been through a lock before, so we weren't really sure what to expect. We found the "Pull" rope near the entrance and got to talk via speaker with the operators, then were allowed into the lock. Once inside, one person holds onto a rope (do NOT tie it to yourself or your boat), then the others hold onto their boat. We're still not exactly sure why this is necessary, but I guess it keeps everyone in place and easy to keep track of.
To our surprise, we didn't even notice when they began lowering us down. We just suddenly noticed that there was a water line on the wall that wasn't there before. The descent is completely smooth and without any sensation at all, even in a kayak. That lock wound up being the tallest of the 3 we did that day at about 50'. It was a really cool experience and may just qualify as the slowest waterfall I've ever run...
After the lock we paddled past the Guthrie, the Gold Metal Flour sign, and other cool landmarks, then hit the second lock. This one was shorter (about 1/2 as high) and we breezed right through.
After the second lock you come up right under the 35W bridge, which was neat to see from beneath. It's very cool to see how smooth and elegant the bridge is. With no visible platforms, railings, or other structures, it almost doesn't look real. Pretty cool.
After the second lock and a few more bridges, we passed the U of M, with a great view of the Weisman art museum. A short stretch later and we were down to the Ford plant and our third lock of the day. We made it through smoothly and were put into a busier, but more wooded part of the river. We stopped for lunch at Hidden Falls Park, which was about 1/2 way through.
After Hidden Falls you move into a stretch of water that you would barely realize is in an urban area. Tree-lined shores, people fishing, and a lack of bridges or structures make it feel much more secluded than it is. The only thing that keeps you aware of your location is the amount of traffic on this stretch of the river - barges, day-cruise ships, pleasure boats, and even other kayakers.
By the time we could start to see the St. Paul skyline, we were all starting to feel the miles in our shoulders and arms. We were also trying to beat the storm that was closing in on us, so it was comforting when we could start to see familiar landmarks. As we closed on our destination, we past the Science Museum, the paddleboats anchored along shore, and all of downtown. Our last landmark was the Wabasha St. Bridge before we took out at Harriet Island.
We got the boats out, ran shuttle, and loaded up just as the rain started to come down. On the whole, we timed it pretty well. We ended up paddling about 15 miles with a strong headwind that nullified any benefit we might have had from the current. It really felt like an accomplishment when we finally made it. Definitely a good time, but next time it might be better broken into two sections, with the break at Hidden Falls.
Either way, it was fun and probably good for me to spend some time in a non-whitewater boat. Now to think of the next adventure...