Meeting Friends I Didn't Know I Had
Heading into Lake Pepin, I was ready to take on the lake in one fell swoop and end in Wabasha for the night. About 10 miles into the lake, waves started building a bit and splashing over the deck. I knew I'd have water in the back storage area so I pulled off to a boat launch. Two ladies were sunbathing in the water and inquired about my trip. They were highly interested and asking a bunch of questions, so I chatted with them for a bit. They work at Treasure Island Resort and Casino and said that veterans actually get a great discount when staying there, so to all vets reading this in the area, head on over and get a discounted room. One of the ladies had fresh strawberries from her farm and offered them to me and then gave me a cash donation. They were super nice and after bailing out water, I said goodbye and headed downstream.
The sun was beating down, there was no wind, and it felt like the paddle weighed about 10 pounds, so I looked at my watch and the map and saw that it took me an hour and a half to go just under 5 miles! Not good. I paddled another mile to Hok-Sil-A campground and decided to stop for the night to rehydrate and again, bail more water out of the rear hatch. As I was charging my phone near the bathhouse, a couple on bicycles weighted down with saddle bags rode by and I asked where they were headed. Turns out they were riding across the country to Bar Harbor, Maine and had started in Washington state. That sounds like an incredible trip. We talked for a bit trading stories of our travels and when they left to their campsite, I decided that will be my next adventure trip. Might be a few years, but I'm going to do it. The sunset at Hok-Sil-A was amazing. There's bluffs surrounding the lake on both sides and the clouds rolling in overhead created some gorgeous colors. sleeping that night was intermittent due to the trains on either side of the lake passing by at all hours. I woke up the next morning and headed down on the river.
The glassiness of the water and lower temps of the morning made for some good paddling. I went about 12 miles and started feeling some major drag from behind and could feel water dripping down my back. When I turned to look behind me, I saw that the entire rear deck from cockpit to rudder was completely submerged. Freaking out a bit, I paddled hard for the shoreline which happened to be a rock wall leading up to train tracks. I carefully made my way over and up on to the rocks. I used about every ounce of strength and balance to leave my kayak up onto the rocks. I opened up the rear hatch and sure enough it was completely full of water. After bailing it all out, I decided this just wasn't safe anymore, especially with the river only getting wider, deeper, and faster. I contemplated options, looked at the map and saw a boat launch about a mile downstream. Making it, I called Current Designs and told what was going on and the woman on the phone informed me that the guys in the shop had left for the day, but that there was a kayakingozutfitters store in Wabasha about 5 miles away called Broken Paddle. I called them and a guy named Alex answered the phone who sounded like he was a surfer from the California shore. Explaining my situation, he told me to hang tight and he'd send someone to pick me up.
About half an hour later, Finn from Broken Paddle pulled up in a van with a trailer and an assortment of kayaks strapped to it. We loaded up my boat and drove back to the shop. When we got there, Alex came out and we chatted it up for a bit. They couldn't do repairs, but they could give me a spot to crash for the night and a ride the next morning to Current Designs to tend to my boat. Turns out I picked a great day to almost drown and call up Broken Paddle because the owners host a community dinner on their side yard where everyone is welcome. On top of that, there was a filmmaker/photographer there interviewing the shop for a documentary she was putting together about the Mississippi River and the communities it touches and ecosystems the river. After hearing ym story and trip, she asked to interview me. She set up the camera and filmed the interview. I just hope I didn't come off as a babbling idiot as I was explaining what Mission 22 does and who they are and why I chose to paddle the river in support of them. Who knows, maybe I'll make it into the film. That night's meal was superb. Finn led the charge in meal prep and made an Indian themed dinner. We had a chicken curry with rice, pakoura, and a couple other dishes I won't even to try to spell. All the guides from the shop were there as well as the town dentist and his family. It was a great night of socializing and hanging out.
The next morning, one of the guides, Mike, took me to Winona to Current Designs and I explained in person my issues with the boat. The owner, Mike C. and logistics manager, Geoff S. actually took time to came out and show me around the warehouse. They showed me different boats that they felt would be better suited for the trip and I decided on a Soltice GTS. They made a deal to upgrade to the boat and honestly, I feel like the deal was heavily sided in my favor. They seemed almost as excited to help me out as I was to get in a much better boat. They wouldn't be open for the rest of the weekend, so I'd have to stay in Wabasha a couple days, and then paddle down on Monday. Mike Geoff were so incredibly nice and accommodating. If you ever need a kayak or canoe, be sure to choose a Current Designs kayak or Wenonah canoe. They truly stand behind their product and stand beside and in support of their customers, whom they actually consider part of their family. We headed back to Wabasha with the new boat and I felt on top of the moon. Its 17 1/2' long, white with blue accents, and a true beauty.
The next morning was slow around the shop, so the guides went out to practice self/tandem rescues and entering/exiting eddies. I tagged along to be able to get some extra water time in my new boat. We practiced wet exits for a while, both with and without skirts, then headed upstream to get in and out of eddies. These really know their stuff and thoroughly enjoy any time out on the water. Afterwards, we all piled up in the van and went to J+J's BBQ in Nelson, WI and had some great ribs and even better ice cream.Upon returning tot he shop, everyone kind of went off to perform "fix it" projects and Mike and I drove to Lake City to pick up driftwood for different uses around the shop. When we got done, Mike was pretty adamant about walking the shoreline to pick up trash. That's his thing, he takes what he needs from the river, enjoys what the river offers him, and as a thank you or a pay it back, he cleans up the river. At first, I agreed to help just being nice, but as we walked the beach I realized how much this part of the journey meant to Mike and it just made sense. Why wouldn't we clean up the beach and do our part?
The next couple of days were spent helping out around the shop and playing the Tetris game of fitting gear into my new kayak. I really felt like I was a part of the group here. they were all so nice and just all about helping each other and doing their part to make those around them, the community, and the river better. Michael, the owner is a real go getter. He has a farm just across the river with his partner, Lauren and he has the paddling shop, and I believe he had or has a B&B, I wasn't clear about that. Either way, the guy is incredibly nice and he's always thinking, you can practically see the gears turning 24/7. He's more of the business side of the shop. Alex, I believe, is the unofficial #2 guy and more of the day to day/operations side of the shop. They met in college and since then, came up with the concept for Broken Paddle Guiding. Alex is a teacher out in California and spends his summers at the shop in Wabasha. Finn, Alex's nephew is spending his second season at Broken Paddle who actually did the source to sea trip last year. He had some mishaps that kept him from reaching the Gulf, but he made it to Natchez or Vicksburg, MS before having to end his trip. He loves the river and lifestyle and even named his dog, a beautiful husky/shepherd/other mix, River! He's the kind of guy that just radiates respect for the river, and has a very adventurous/ enjoy every last possible ounce out of life that you can sort of spirit. Joe, Brad, Jake, and Taylor were other guides at the shop as well and all incredibly nice, I just didn't get to spend as much time with them as the others. To the guys at Broken Paddle, thanks for the memories and great times. I truly feel a part of the shop and can't wait to see what life has in store for all of you and Broken Paddle Guiding.
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