Meeting Some Incredible People
Leaving Winnie Dam Campground, I had a short 20 mile paddle to Deer River that was pretty uneventful. Saw some deer drinking from the river, some giant turtles popping their heads up to see what this weird contraption was floating down stream, and some ducks swimming around. Reaching Deer River, I was greeted by Sheena, Sean, and their three children. They came down waving, cheering, and taking pictures. We loaded up my kayak and gear and headed to their house. First thing I did was take a shower, cause I smelled RIPE. They put me up in their ice castle, which is a nice RV of sorts that is prepped for ice fishing. It's got little holes in the ground with covers so you can just fish from your bed if you wanted to. After setting out gear to dry and air out by the ice castle, I headed into the house and hung out for a bit. It took all of 0 minutes for the younger two to warm up to me. As soon as I sat down, the youngest came up with a copy of 'Goodnight Moon', saying "will you read this to me?", as she climbed up on my knee and waiting for me to start. I read the book to her and then her older sister came up and showed me her entire sticker book, which is a book full of stickers she gets for doing good things around the house, or behaving while out running errands or at the doctor's office. Sean and their son took me out to Walmart for some supplies and we came back for dinner.
The next day, Sean brought out breakfast- eggs, bacon, and sausage, and it was gooooood. I spent most of the day relaxing, playing with the kids outside, and organizing gear. We went back to the store, stopped by Army corps of engineers HQ, and came back for dinner. We had grilled steak, corn, and potatoes and listened to Green Cheese Trivia on 91.7. It's a pretty cool station with good music and they have a trivia call-in segment every Saturday from 7-9 pm. We said out goodnights and I headed back to the ice castle to write a blog update and hit the sack. After breakfast the next morning, the family all piled into the truck and drove me to my drop in site. The younger two kept saying they wanted to go with me and they sent me off, again waving, cheering, and taking pictures. I don't believe I can adequately portray how much this weekend with the Boatmans meant. From the start, they treated me with so much kindness and hospitality and made me feel as if I was always a part of their family. Thank you so much to Sheena, Sean and your three children. You have such a sweet and loving family, and I'm honored to have met y'all and become an honorary member of your clan.
Leaving the Boatmans was bittersweet, but the paddling that day couldn't have been better. It was 65 degrees, mostly sunny, and a slight breeze. I made it to a boat launch where I set up camp for the night. The next day, I had another good day of paddling, but it was rather uneventful. Just a lot of paddling. The following day I was at a campsite where I met a fellow paddler, ben. He started in Grand Rapids and is planning on paddling the whole river as well. After talking with him for a bit, I found he is using a 7' inflatable kayak and doesn't seem to have a lot of experience with backpacking or outdoor/pff-grid camping. Not a necessity, but a HUGE benefit when on a trip such as this. I just don't have a great feeling regarding his research and preparation for this trip, but I truly hope I'm wrong and he becomes one of the incredibly few people to take on this river in an inflatable kayak.
I left the campground and paddled to a riverside campsite called Ms. Keto... didn't catch the cleverness of that name? Go ahead, say the name out loud again, maybe a little faster this time... yup, there it is, mosquito. I was not amused by this camp name. It definitely lived up to its name, though. About 30 seconds after landing and pulling the kayak up a little, I heard this buzzing sound, and before I knew it, I was covered in mosquitos. I sprayed all over with repellent and started up the Thermacell. I set up camp and spent the last 4 hours of daylight in the tent to get away from the swarm. The next morning when I woke up, the tent was covered in mosquitos just waiting for me to exit. I could practically see them in their starting positions waiting for the sound of the gyn to start the race, as if on a track. I was out of there pretty quick and back on the river paddling to Palisade.
It was a bruising 35 miles to palisade. I met a guy soon after landing at the campground, who was stopping by to do some fishing. He offered me a Coors Light and we chatted for a while. The next morning, I woke up sore and dehydrated. Downed about 1 1/2 liters of water and headed to Gabs in town for breakfast. It's a quaint little diner with great food and unbeatable prices. I talked to the server for a little while about the makeup and history of the town. It's got a nice little feel to it and walking back to the campground, I passed a sign that read Palisade, Pop 167. 167?!?! Holy cow! That's a small town. Palisade is home to a diner, a cafe, 2 bars, a town hall, a one stop shop, a mechanic shop, a fire department/community center, and a couple of other little shops. And that's it. That's Palisade. But the character and charm of the town is unmatched.
I took the day off as a rest day and tend to my gear and wounds. About 2 pm, a DNR truck pulled up and in the back was Ben, the paddler I had met a couple days ago. He hopped out and headed straight to a camp spot to set up his tent. I talked with DNR guys and we traded stories and info after telling them about my trip and mission. They said they spotted Ben hitchhiking on the roadside so they gave him a ride into Palisade. I chatted with Ben for a little bit and found that he too had stayed at Ms. Keto campsite, but he did not have repellent an got bit from head to toe. His legs looked like he had chicken pox, there were so many bites. He was cold, he was miserable, he was beaten and defeated, the river had won. Ben was bowing out. I tried to talk him into staying with it at least to Brainerd and then make the decision, but he had none of it. He was done. I can't blame the guy, the river is tough on you and if you aren't committed to the finish, it will win. Sometimes even if you are committed to the finish, it will still win. I hate that Ben had such a hard time on the river, but it sounded like he was missing his wife and home way too much and just needed to get back to them, understandable. Good luck to you Ben, wish you the best, man.
Headed back to Gabbys for lunch/dinner and the cook, Mike, came out to chat as I was the only customer in the place. Turns out he's the owner as well. He's a veteran himself and this was always his and his wife's dream to run a small, affordable diner where people would congregate and old locals would tell stories of their fishing escapades and tall tales of yesteryear. You hit it out of the park, Mike. Gabby's is a fine establishment, and I thank you for the good food, good chat, and good wishes on my journey, as I wish the same for you and yours.
I got some good pics of the town, before a massive storm rolled in. Spent the duration of the storm under a pavilion at the park. Wrote a blog, and dried out gear afterward before calling it a night.