More River Shenanigans
Leaving Palisade was pretty uneventful, just the normal morning pack up camp routine and getting the boat in the water. Randy, a guy who was staying at the campground with his wife in their RV, loves taking pictures and has a nice camera. He wanted to take a few shots of me leaving and I'm glad he did, cause they turned out rather good. With the boat ready to go, off I went. I reached Aitkin that afternoon, got a spot at the campsite, set up tent and gear, and headed off to town to grab some supplies. Aitkin is a quaint little town with a nice Main Street lined with "Ma and Pa" stores. Definitely bigger than Palisade, but not by much it doesn't seem.
That night was one of the best light shows I'd ever seen. Too bad the lights were caused by massive amounts of lightning and I was chilling out in the tent, in a field, right next to the river. The storm lasted a few hours and I finally got some sleep. I woke up the next morning and headed out down river. It started raining again about 2 hours after I left and continued for another 3 hours. I made a boat launch right as I heard thunder clap loudly overhead. Great timing. I was going to wait it out, but decided to just set up camp since brained was another 20-23 miles and it was already late afternoon. Soon after I landed and set up camp, the rain and lightning stopped and all was clear again. I slept great all night long.
The sound of rain gently hitting the tent woke me up. I checked the weather app and it showed rain for the next 6 hours. Awesome. Made breakfast and packed up camp in the rain and headed out. I averaged 6mph in the rain. Not sure if that was because the rain helped the current flow faster for some reason, or because I was headed for a hotel that night and I was pushing a little harder. Either way, I made good time getting to the dam. I met up with Jeanette, a River Angel I had linked up with online, and who agreed to drive me to the hotel in Brainerd. Jeanette was so nice and full of information and local knowledge. She showed me around town and pointed out where everything was and when the hotel said I couldn't store my kayak there, she took it with her to her house for the weekend.
After showering and changing out of river rat attire and into normal person clothes, I felt amazing. I ate dinner, watched a little TV, and racked out. It felt SO good sleeping in a bed again. The next day was pretty easy going, just gear drying, supply runs, and resting. Storms rolled in while I was in Brainerd the next couple of days and they hit hard at just the right times where I was unable to get back out on the water. Ended up celebrating Independence Day in Brainers which was cool cause I got to rock my American flag onesie for the day, and yes, I wore it around town ALL day!
Finally got back on the river after Jeanette picked me up and dropped me back off at the boat launch. I paddled 30 miles to just below Camp Ripley Military Reservation. I set up camp and just as the sun started setting, I heard "Colors" being played over a speaker system somewhere on the reservation. It brought back a ton of memories of when I was a young PFC and Lance Corporal running into doors, jumping through windows, hopping into cars as colors was being played just to avoid having to stand there for the duration of colors. Sometimes I made it, most of the time I didn't and I'd have to stand right in front of a door or window at an awkward state or attending, saluting the flag for colors, while everyone who did make it, tried to get me to laugh and lose my bearing the whole time. Yeah, that stuff only happens daily for those of you who never donned the uniformed. That night I went to sleep after listening to taps and woke up the next morning to the sound of reveille. It was kind of cool waking up like that after so many years. More memories of the Marine life flooded back to the surface and after reminiscing for a bit, I ate breakfast, packed up, and headed out.
I made Little Falls rather quickly and decided to stop in at Shirley Mae Outfitters to check it out. John, the owner, and chatted for a good couple of hours, I signed his granddaughters book of river travelers, and he offered to portage me around the dams; I gladly accepted. When I was putting back in on the other side of Blanchard Dam, there was a group of about 20 or so people getting in with river tubes of different varieties and setting off to tube down river a couple miles. I let them go ahead of me while I finished getting my gear in order. Catching up to them about a quarter mile downstream, they motioned for me to join them. As I floated with them, they asked about the trip and I told them why I was doing it and shared a couple stories. One of the guys tossed me a beer and him and a girl next to him asked me to join their tubing escapades as the were going to float another couple of times down river. When we got to their campground, I showed the guy who was transporting them my campsite and he agreed to pick me up and bring me back after I set up camp. I ended up floating on tubes with them for a couple of hours and they invited me back for burgers, beer, and a campfire. I had a blast swapping stories and tales of the river.
The next morning I woke up a little drowsy, possible a tad hungover, but we don't need to label it. I got a late start and made Clear Waters Outfitting early evening. I stopped in and met Dan, who I had actually spoken with back in Deer River when I called about my rear hatch. He checked it out and had one of the guys, Mike, take some time to fix it right there for me! It was completely last minute, and I didn't expect them to do it, but they acted as though I was their only customer, when I knew I wasn't, and made me feel incredibly welcome. While Mike was fixing my kayak, we chatted about various things and I found out that he was a retired science teacher who has loved the river and outdoors his whole life. Now he spends his time working at CW Outfitting, going on canoe trips up north, and tapping his own maple syrup. He even gave me a bottle of his homemade syrup, which was delicious. I spoke with Dan and his wife a little more before leaving. They are an incredible family and run a very successful Outfitting company right there in Clearwater. If you ever find yourself in the area and want to kayak or canoe a little portion of the river, make sure to stop in at Clear Waters Outfitting. You won't be disappointed.