The Chippewa River
It was a late start for the long drive to Dave’s getaway on the Chippewa River. On arrival, it was hard not to notice the custom door handle as part of a paddle that will see no more paddling. The “cabin”, complete with electricity, heat, hot water and flush toilets, was not hard to like. After starting a fire and a brief tour, we headed out for a late night supper at East Bay, a large restaurant and bar near by.
Back again at the cabin, now warmed on the inside by our supper and on the outside by the wood burning stove, we relaxed a bit, telling stories over beer and Old Crow, and listening to an American Indian public radio station, WOJB. Volunteers often bring in their music to share and that night we enjoyed Cowboy Dan’s collection.
We awoke to a bright, still, and cold morning of about 37 degrees. Mist was rising from the lake. The sun glinted from the wet birch trunks. A Blue Jay and some Nuthatches worked the trees nearby.
Dave whipped up his one pan special, Duck Camp Eggs, in one of his well-seasoned cast iron pans. First came the sizzling diced potatoes and spices. Chopped sausage was added, followed shortly by whipped eggs. Toast with homemade jam, tea and coffee were part of our morning repast too.
Without hurrying, our lunch was packed, the dishes were cleaned, dried and put away. We headed out to scout our trip and to drop our shuttle vehicle, thoughtfully left for our use by Dave's Dad.
Paddlers use the rule of 100 to guide them. If the sum of the air and water temperatures is less than 100, as it was that day, you are dealing with challenging conditions. Under those circumstances, extra attention to gear, skill levels, and the proposed route are warranted. With this in mind, we dressed, packed, and carried the boats past the totem of the Deer, Bear, Fish and Hawk to the water’s edge behind the cabin.
The Hawk on the top of the totem pole was the maiden name of Dave's mom; the fish and deer were depicted because they are a part of this place. The bear is about a honeymoon a long time ago. Apparently it was a slower time, when romantic people went to the dump to watch the bears.
The water was calm enough in the bay behind the cabin where we began our trip, but picked up as we left it's shelter. Ostensibly, we were paddling downstream all day. But, with the two dams that were part of our route, minimal water flows, and the back-waters that we sought out, it was pretty much flat water paddling.
After about a mile or two, we came to our first hydroelectric dam run by Excel Energy, formerly Northern States Power. Pretty much we paddled up to the dam on river right. That was the easy part. The put in on the downstream side of the dam was tough, even by Boundary Waters standards. We had to pick our way over a rock and boulder laden area. In retrospect, maybe the longer portage on river left would be better next time.
We saw a deer just as we were about to head downstream again. We also saw Golden-eyed Ducks, Canadian Geese, and a Bald Eagle that watched us from a comfortable looking perch. About the only sounds I heard while we were paddling were crows or Black-capped Chickadees. But, mostly this time of year, it was pretty quiet. Part of our paddle was so quiet that you could not even hear the sound of traffic.
After heading downstream for while, we stopped for lunch in a sunny spot by the water. Our sandwiches of hearty bread, turkey, and olive lunch meat with horseradish and butter sustained us. Sodas and cookies hit the spot too.
Fortified again, we paddled in the backwaters of Brunet State Park. As we paddled around looking for a way around the island, I practiced speaking "Wisconsin". With some guidance from a fisherman, we soon found our way around the backside of the park and returned to the main channel, where we were again exposed to the wind.
By now, the sun was already starting to feel cooler. Soon after we entered the main channel, we saw our landing, near the dam at Cornell where we ended our 8-mile paddle. Our appetite whetted, we checked out portages around the next dam, and a couple of potential whitewater play spots further downstream.
But we still had a bit more left to this adventure, including ice cream at Albert’s, a treat we couldn't resist. We then enjoyed a Leinenkugel at the cabin as we packed and shut down the cabin until the next adventure.
Before we hit the road back to Ames, Rick took a particularly good picture with his digital camera of the family outhouse in the land of many outhouses. With that business behind us, we were on our way.