As the ink stains my waterproof journal pages I see endless fog rolling over the river water. Almost as though it is trapped between the land on both sides. The fog creates a tranquil feeling on this Sunday morning. Kyle and I both are a bit slow moving and contemplative. Yesterday we awoke on an island across from Winona. It was a gloomy morning and we ate leftover pizza for breakfast. Not even getting out of the tent, we sat in our duo sleeping bag while it cocooned our lower body to keep in the warmth. It wasn’t exactly raining, more so a drizzle. I sat still listening to the raindrops land on our rain fly. The drops were so light and few I was able to follow the drops as they landed in different areas on the tent. We got going around 9am and made it to Lock and Dam 7 a couple hours later. The wind coming from the south caused us to have to row into the wind, therefore we hugged the shore line for protection.
Rowing along the shore is always enjoyable as I love observing the land as it passes by, catching just a glimpse of the beauty of each individual island. There is a railroad on a thin piece of land separating the river. We rowed along it until we found a small opening to tie Solvi to a tree. We carefully climbed up some trap rock to the tracks. Being on the tracks and surrounded by water on both sides was quite the experience. Neither of us had shoes on, my clothes didn’t match, and we haven’t showered in a few days; I imagined we were living along the railroad, vagabonding along the tracks, like I’ve read in books and seen in movies. It was fun to imagine for a little- I like the idea of the grunginess of it. But in reality I am too much of a rule follower to hop trains and camp in empty train cars 🙂 Daydreaming doesn’t hurt though!
We arrived at Lock and Dam 7 and were fortunate enough to literally row right through. We only paused in the lock for a second to wait for the gates and to hear the horn giving us the okay to leave. We know it won’t always be so quick and simple, so we are grateful and enjoy it fully while we can. Before stopping for the day we pulled off at a sandy camping island to stretch our legs. I must say, we were both saddened and disappointed in what we saw. And unfortunately this isn’t a new encounter. I see this in Florida on camping islands, on the Appalachian Trail at campsites near the road, and now along the Mississippi. As you can see in the photos below, some people seem to think fire pits, bushes, and the ground are garbage cans. They’re not. If someone can bring water bottles, beer cans, soda, food wrappers, etc. into a campsite, the ability to bring it out also exists. It always surprises me to see this, regardless of how often. I think what confuses me the most is that the people who leave this garbage, obviously enjoy the outdoors, because they’re at a campsite. But how do we enjoy the outdoors without also appreciating it? Respecting it, loving it? It’s just something I can’t wrap my head around. Not only is unsightly, but it is harmful to animals who attempt to eat it. Anyway, I could continue on forever, but the point is, pack it out. And if you don’t have the ability to do that, then don’t bring it in. We need to take care of our environment together or else we aren’t going to have any beauty left to explore.
Anyway, due to the need for a small boat repair, we stopped early yesterday to find a nice spot to set the boat up in a way that she could be worked on. The repair wasn’t too serious and something we have been planning on doing for a few days. One area of the floor, the flattest part on the boat, was showing some stress marks. They were nothing significant but a fairly simple fix, so we decided to go ahead and do it for a precautionary measure. Kyle spent the afternoon sanding, and then applying fiberglass tabs in order to add strength to the area. Other than some slight discoloration due to the type of materials we had, the repair was a complete success. The discoloration is completely cosmetic so we are just happy that the repair is done and now we don’t have to worry about the floor. I spent the afternoon helping a bit with Solvi but mostly setting up camp, collecting firewood, and making meals. Kyle and I really liked the campsite, it was a large sandy island and near our tent there was a large tree which provided lots of shade and was really quite beautiful. I am so incredibly thankful for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge. Hundreds of miles of land and islands along the river completely uninhabited and protected for wildlife. Fortunately we get the benefit of being able to camp along all these islands. Many of them even have little campsites set up with fire pits and lots of good tent spots. Because of the refuge camping has been pretty simple for us ever since Red Wing. I am grateful for that. I am sure it won’t be like this farther south, but for now we are enjoying it fully. Another perk is that we have seen lots of wildlife. My favorite are the eagles. There are so many eagles and I find them majestic with their white heads and tails and large wing span.
Yesterday was quite the day. I have coined it the day of being “tested”. My limits were definitely tried a bit and I was very grateful to be laying in my sleeping bag last night, relaxing and reflecting on the day as a whole. There were definitely parts of the day that were marvelous, but it was as though my emotions were following the changing directions of the flowing river. They would change at different moments and created a bit of an overwhelming day. It started with a comment Kyle made about my rowing while he was eating lunch. We take turns eating lunch while the other one rows in order to not lose headway or to make sure we stay safe within a busy channel. But yesterday when he was eating lunch I sort of dilly dallied and didn’t make any headway. His comment was pretty harmless, almost just an observation that I was the one concerned about making miles but yet wasn’t really trying on the oars. For some reason the comment sent me into a sensitive mess and I found myself all upset for what now seems like a silly reason. I laugh now because I kept telling Kyle, “I’m fine!” And he’d respond under his breath, “So you’re Freaked Out Insecure Neurotic and Emotional?” “No! I’m fine!” I’d reply all huffy. Haha, now that I write about it later, it is pretty funny. Anyway, that passed rather quickly and we continued on our way through the town of La Crosse. We laughed with each other as we jokingly cursed power boaters who kept waking us out. I am always amazed at some of the wakes these power boats can create. And yesterday the Mississippi River near La Crosse was the place to be if you were a power boater. We are feeling thankful that today is Monday and there won’t be nearly as many boats out. After completing 24 miles yesterday we decided it was time to stop for the day. Only 2 miles were under sail, so that means we rowed 22. I didn’t feel it at the time, but I think I pushed it a little too hard- the sun and water can really take it out of me, and I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until it was too late. Again, we were trying to find a camping spot and my emotions were all over the place so it made it difficult. Thankfully Kyle is the most patient person and after figuring out I was incapable of making a decision and sticking with it, he made the decision and took us to a beautiful sandy spot with flowers and trees surrounding.
As I write this I am sitting cross legged on my cotton sheet looking out over the foggy river. The sun is rising behind me and I watch as it lifts the fog from the trees. The sand is soft under my sheet and I am about to make a pot of coffee. I am thankful we found such a nice place to stop for the evening and that I had some time to reflect on yesterday. Today we are going to try stopping for lunch. We didn’t get out of the boat at all yesterday during our 24 miles, and even though it doesn’t feel like it during the time, I am wondering if maybe stretching our legs and eating lunch together sprawled out on the sand would provide a nice break in the day. I also am reminding myself not to take things so seriously. Life is fun and there is no need to be so worried about all the “rules” and fine details all the time. Today is a new day and as I watch the fog dissipate from the trees in front of me, I also feel the emotions of yesterday dissipate from within. Today will be a good day and I am looking forward to all it will entail.
Afternoon of 8/29/2016:
It is a slow, gloomy, quiet Monday afternoon. I am sitting in the bilge with the main sheet loosely held in my left hand in case of a gust or a task from Kyle. We are slowly beating our way south against the wind. Because Solvi points so well to weather we are able to make decent headway in this mild southerly breeze. Neither of us seem to care that we are going rather slow, as we were both feeling the need for a break from the oars after our 22 miles yesterday and 8 miles this AM. This morning though was rather unique and special. We took a side channel through the marsh and low lands known as the Raft Channel. It runs pretty parallel with the main channel, but it provided a nice break from the channel markers and other boaters. The water was very clear and shallow; we could see the river grass swaying back and forth under the surface of the water as though it had a breeze below the surface. The water was so calm that it looked glassy. I could see the reflection of my oars perfectly in the water. I’d observe them up until the moment they cut through the surface and disturbed the mirrored water below. The wildlife we saw provided endless entertainment. Canadian Geese hollering at us as we slowly floated past. Seagulls resting in a row on a piece of driftwood that had perched itself in the middle of the channel. Turtles basking in the sun would watch us just until we got close and we’d hear “Plop!” as they sought safety under the surface. We arrived at Lock and Dam 8 around lunch time and only had to wait about half an hour before locking through. A pontoon joined us in the lock so we had to hold onto the ropes rather than float in the middle. After the lock we pulled off on an island to eat lunch. We sat in the sand and talked about the power plant and tug boats in front of us. It was nice to get out of the boat and walk around- definitely helped break up the day a bit. My yawning stopped and my motivation to continue on for the day increased. Plus ever since we left our lunch spot we have been sailing! There is no one else on the river. I see no houses, roads, or power lines. In front I see large bluffs with cliff rock faces. On both sides I see trees of different shades of green, almost as though they are indicating the soon to be changing seasons. Below the green leaves are the brown trunks with roots connecting deep into the earth below. It makes me think of the Aspen trees from my home in Utah; hundreds of trees all connected under the surface as one organism- communicating through their roots in ways my human brain doesn’t quite understand.
I hear Kyle mumbling behind me, bummed about the patch of weeds we just sailed through. The weeds are now stuck on our rudder and daggerboard, slowing us down. “When you get a minute would you clear the dagger board? I’ll clear the rudder,” he asks patiently. We take turns lifting the boards out of their place and observe the trail of weeds behind Solvi’s stern that were slowing us down just moments before. I see the water becoming glassy and reflective. As serene and majestic it is to be sailing down this mighty river of calm mirrored water, I know it means the wind is fading and soon the blue oar handles will be in my blistered hands. Oh well, I sigh, the complete calmness and isolation this day has provided is well worth it.
After completing 20 miles it was time to find somewhere to camp. As we rowed along and started looking for spots I saw a neon “Open” sign along the road and railroad to our left. Kyle checked through the binoculars and sure enough it was a restaurant. We b-lined it to the shore in anticipation of a cold beer. We felt like celebrating since it was our 2 week mark, we hit a new state, and yesterday hit our first 100 miles on the Mississippi. Plus it has been a long hot day and beer is rare for us during this journey. We found a cool little spot hidden in some trees to tie up to. It just happened that the spot we tied to along the railroad had a tunnel to walk under. We were happy to not have to walk across the busy freeway and walked hunched over under the roads. Flowers and plants surrounded sections of the tunnel and at the end we saw a stair case. We climbed up and how convenient it was- at the top was the parking lot to the restaurant we had seen from the water! I was pleased with the spot we found because it was off the main channel and I could still check on Solvi from the restaurant. We walked up to the bar and ordered a pitcher of Spotted Cow. After cheersing to many a things, we both took a sip of the well earned cold beer. I sat there holding the glass with the freezing condensation dripping down, smiling so big at how good it tasted. I don’t know if I just really like Spotted Cow or if it was just the situation, but the coolness of the liquid running down my throat was so incredibly refreshing and rewarding. Kyle and I were in the town of De Soto Wisconsin at The Road House. Not only was it a cute little restaurant, but the people were so incredibly kind. Our bartender asked questions about where we were coming from and what we were doing. Others heard us explain and soon we had nice folks asking to see pictures of Solvi and wanting to hear about the adventure. I am dedicating an entire post to this, but again I will say- people, strangers, are simply amazing. The support, smiles, and encouragement we received leaves me wordless. I was feeling so blessed to have encountered such nice people as we finished our last beer. Kyle asked for the tab and she smiled and said it had already been taken care of. If you are reading this, thank you Phil- the man who sat next to us and snuck away before we even knew. Your generosity will never be forgotten and we will continue to pay it forward 🙂
After the beers we headed back under the tunnel leading to Solvi. It was still light out and we needed to row about 100 yards to where we decided to sleep for the night. But this night was different, we decided to tie up within all these trees that were standing in 2-3 feet of water. We had explored the area prior to going to the bar so had already figured out how to maneuver in. Kyle used the oar as a punting stick and guided us in through the flooded forest. I was so thrilled. It felt so special, so rare. Guiding this Viking style boat through a flooded forest at sunset. Nothing and no one around except us, grabbing trees and pulling Solvi through the narrow openings. I was also very excited to sleep aboard the boat for the first time, especially in a flooded forest! Kyle and I had never set the boom tent, bug net, and sleep boards up from within the boat without the ability to get off. It proved to be a bit ridiculous, rather entertaining, and in the end successful. Kyle even managed to cook a really yummy noodle dinner with eggs, peas, cabbage, and onion. I could try to explain the ridiculousness of setting up our sleeping area for the first time, but I’ll keep it short and conclude that Kyle and I are interesting people. I really have to giggle about what we intentionally and fully willingly put ourselves through on a daily basis. We were climbing on top of each other, trying not to drop stuff off the side of the boat, attempting to maneuver big sleep boards out of a small opening, needing stuff in the lockers under our sleeping pads, at one point a barge and tug came by creating a wake and the stove almost fell off the boat in the water. It was difficult, somewhat tedious, and at times frustrating, but through it all we laughed and made fun of ourselves, remembering it just isn’t that serious.
As I write this I am sitting on Solvi’s foredeck while Kyle sleeps within the comfort of our floating home. Around me are endless trees, all of which are under water due to the flooding. I observe the damage the beaver that kept me up all night made on the surrounding trees. Birds are singing their joyous songs all around and I feel a slight breeze. It is days like yesterday that really make me question life’s path. Days like yesterday that really make me step back and consider what is truly important in life. Food, shelter, water, and joy. For the last few weeks the most important part of life for Kyle and I has been finding water, a place to sleep, and making sure we have enough food between resupply points. Oh, and the weather, that has also become rather important. And I must say, we are just feeling so blessed. We laugh and sing for no reason at all. We hug and hold each other over sunshine on a cloudy day or a slight gust of wind that might mean we get to sail. So much of our day is spent quiet. Still. Observing our surroundings, appreciating the sheer magnificence of our earth. If you really think about it, we are quite literally floating in space right now. And we are so small. The universe is huge and we are just a little planet, floating. When I really contemplate that thought process it makes me feel small, unimportant- but in a good way. In a way that this life we are experiencing all around us is playful. It’s supposed to fun, enjoyed, appreciated! So today as we make our 22 miles to our next camp spot before heading into town tomorrow, I will go about the day with a feeling of simplicity. Of remembering that life doesn’t have to be complicated- it is what we make it, and today I choose to make it simple.
Just like yesterday, this morning is rather still and calm. I see the trees across the river reflecting in the water’s surface. Ever so often the glass surface breaks open and a fish comes flying out on the water before landing with a splash. It doesn’t take long before the ripple the fish made on the surface fades away. I have awoken to a dew covered camp and I am sitting with my feet in the wet sand waiting for the sun to rise above the trees and dry everything out. Yesterday was laundry day but I finished the clothes too late so they didn’t dry completely. Now, they are even more wet because of the dew. Oh well, we only have 10 miles today and will just have to wait on the sun. Once the sunshine dries everything out we will head south to the town of Prairie Du Chien. There we have a package from my parents at the post office and will find Internet and grocery store. I have mixed feelings about town days. It is nice to walk around random towns and meet all the nice folks, but I also find them a bit overwhelming compared to the life we’ve created on the river.
Anyway, last night we witnessed the most spectacular sunset. It was though the sky was on fire. The colors grew deeper, brighter as the sun dropped below the trees in front of us. The reflection on the river’s surface was so striking I couldn’t help but think it is all interconnected. The sunset in the sky and the reflection in the water- connected as though they are the same. Words can’t seem to explain it so I will leave you with this: