On June 19, the Wild River Academy staff (Nick, Anna, and myself) took 4 River's Edge Academy students out to paddle the Minnesota River from Montevideo to Mack Lake Park in Renville County. We truly lived adventure by adventure for this trip and learned how vulnerable human beings are when the weather dictates their day!
We picked up the group at River's Edge Academy in the morning and shuttled over to Moonstone Farm in Montevideo, MN where Audrey and Richard graciously welcomed us with a tour of their farm. They are amazing people and knowledgeable mentors to all who strive to be stewards of the land. After a delicious dinner on the farm, we spent time together around the campfire.
The next morning we departed from Prien's Landing. We paddled to Granite Falls where the group portaged around the dam and continued on to Memorial Park to set up camp. That night, around 2 am, the wind picked up and our tent started caving in. We could see the flashes of lightening from inside the tent and hear the oncoming storm. Anna check the weather on her phone and it read, "Gusts up to 90 mph. Large hail. Deadly debris. You are in danger". Well then! We didn't need any more convincing than that. We carefully tore down our tents in the strong wind so that none of our gear flew away and carried our things to a nearby shelter. We called Scott Tedrick, a reporter and supporter of WRA who lives in Granite Falls, to pick us up and take us to safety. By 3 am, the students were asleep, bundled into their sleeping bags on Scott's living room floor. I stayed up for a while watching the lightening through a small window in the basement before drifting off to sleep. Safety first.
In the morning we made breakfast and headed back to Memorial Park to meet the DNR Minnaqua intern, Devon, who was waiting to give our group a fishing lesson. Spirits were high! Everyone caught at least one fish, several people caught two, and we got to examine four different species in the river. Before fishing, Devon taught us all about fish species and migration in the Minnesota and we played a game to see who could match the fish species in their proper groups. We are all co-learners on these trips!
We continued on the river after lunch and paddled to the old Minnesota Falls Dam, now the Minnesota Falls rapid set! I am personally thankful that the dam was removed in February. Now recreating on the river is more enjoyable and I feel at peace knowing that the river is free to meander and the native species are free to migrate once again. Hopefully someday the dam in Granite Falls will get demolished. Then the Minnesota River would provide paddlers with over 300 miles of free flowing water all the way to Fort Snelling State Park! Not to mention all the awesome rapid sets.
We portaged over the rapid set and were in awe of the natural beauty around us. It was a gorgeous, hot day on the water and we were enjoying the scenery and each other's company. We stopped at Kinney Landing to eat lunch where we met a woman who told us that we were under a tornado watch until 10 pm that night. But it was so beautiful out! How could that be? Well, we decided to proceed with caution so we called Scott Tedrick (again) to see if he could take us to Upper Sioux Agency State Park. We didn't want to encounter any severe weather on the water.
Scott picked us up and we started on our way to the park. Then we saw it. The death cloud. It was 5 PM on the longest day of the year, but behind us there was nothing but encroaching darkness. Anna and I were sitting in the back of Tom Cherveny's truck debating whether or not it was even safe to be outside during the tornado watch. Once again, we made the cautious decision. Anna called to the front of the car, "Hey Scott?", and Scott immediately replied, "Yep, yep that's fine!", and turned the car around. Now we were driving straight into the black clouds.
The wind picked up as the rain pelted down. The bungees holding the boat on top of the car snapped off and Anna and I held onto the boat through the back window until Scott pulled over. Nick and I threw the boat into the bushes along the road, knowing that we didn't have time to re-fasten it to the car. The weather worsened to the point where we felt uncomfortable driving. We only had about 10 more miles to go until we reached the safety of Scott's house, but the weather wasn't going to let up. We pulled into the Upper Sioux Community and ran into their Community Center to find a church group from Maryland playing ping pong and eating dinner. They gave us tea and towels to dry off and stay warm.
The storm passed through around 7 PM and Scott said, "You guys want to go to the Granite Falls Rodeo?". Sure, why not?! We had already given up the hope of a rustic canoe trip. It was time to get to know the community, and what better way then going to a small town rodeo? We drove through town and Scott bought us all popcorn from the famous Granite Falls Popcorn Stand. Then we went to the rodeo. Which was stormed out after about 45 minutes, go figure! Once again, we stayed the night at Scott's house in Granite Falls. The kids fell asleep watching the Avengers in 3D. Outdoor skills for the win.
The next morning we had a wonderful paddle from Vicksburg County Park to a campsite by North Redwood Falls. It felt so great to get back out on the river and to camp and cook in the woods! The river was fast and has risen quite a bit since we started our trip. Anna, Nick, and I sterned due to the high waters. That night in camp we had awesome discussions about life and living minimally, like our ancestors did, and really got to know one another better.
The next morning the river had risen at least a foot since the day before, and was still rising. Trees were crashing from the bank into the current and floating down the river. Flash flood conditions were upon us. We cautiously paddled to a boat launch in Franklin to set up camp and re-evaluate.
That night as I was scoping out the campground, the Renville County Sheriff pulled up to chat. After a little chitchat he asked, "Have you guys seen a group of kayakers paddling the river?". I thought for a second and said, "no, no kayakers out. Only ran into the occasional fisherman." The sheriff responded, "Well, their cars are flooded in at the county park just south of here and we have no idea what to do."
County park...south of here...cars...HMMMMMM. "Yep, you are looking for us."
He told me that the river was rising an inch an hour and if we wanted to salvage things from our car we would have to do it immediately. I walked back over to Nick and Anna with a smirk on my face to relay the news. We all had a good laugh.
Anna and I grabbed two bags to put our 'valuables' into and hopped into the SUV police car. I sat in the front and Anna took the back, a heavy-duty cage fence in between us. We were so excited to experience riding in a cop car that we almost forgot that our cars might be submerged in the Minnesota River Valley. The sheriff was amused.
It was around 12 am when we turned down the dark street to Mack Lake Park, just north of Fort Ridgely State Park. The dry, gravel road that we had driven down just 5 days before was now host to three feet of water with a current. Doug, the sheriff, drove as far as he could until the water reached the tires and we got out to examine the situation.
Doug strapped me into a life jacket with more straps than a straight jacket. Once I was undeniably buoyant, he hooked one side of a rope onto the back of my new favorite PFD and the other side onto the front of the SUV and told me to walk forward into the dark water. Awesome.
12:30 am. I walked slowly through the current, my legs sturdy against the pull of the water. My muck boots (should have bought the full body Muck Suit?) filled up with water as I crossed over to where the road re-emerged. I heard something rumbling in the tall grass beside me and anxiously waited for Anna to follow suit. Once we were both across, Anna freed me of my industrial leash and we walked to our cars. Luckily, the water hadn't reached our tires yet. I had to break into my car with a wedge and wire because, of course, I left my keys with Ted Suss, the Official WRA Chauffeur, at the beginning of our trip. When I unlocked my car I looked over at Anna to see her carefully going through her trunk and putting things into the duffel bag. I looked into my car for 'valuables' to take back and didn't see much that needed saving. I popped the trunk to find my full body dog costume sitting there. I knew I had something worth salvaging in my car! I stuffed the costume into my bag and walked over to help Anna. We walked back to the sheriff's car with a bit more ease and journeyed back to the campground. Nick and the sheriff shuttled our canoes to a pump station nearby to store them until we could return. We decided to end our trip early due to the water level.
The next morning two wonderful WRA supporters picked us up and drove us back to the city. We had an amazing, adventurous week with four wonderful teenagers and I wouldn't change any of the decisions made throughout the trip. The WRA staff made safe decisions and the high school team worked hard to overcome challenges and obstacles. We may not have had the outdoor wilderness experience everyone expected, but we came off the river with stories to tell for the rest of our lives. Visit the WRA Facebook for more pictures!
Stay tuned for our Women's Weekend blog! We had great weather, amazing women, and LOTS of bugs.
See you on the river,