Strangers Coming Through with Aid and Support
Leaving Wabasha, I was excited to test out the new boat on the trip down to Winona. I also wanted to see how easy unloading and reloading would be in a camp situation, so after locking through Lock 4 and paddling about 14 miles, I set up camp on a little cove on an island. After getting my tent set up and a fire going, a boat pulled up to the cove with two couples on it. They offered me a beer and we chatted for a good bit. I finished my dinner when they left, and got ready to rack out. Around 2:30am, I woke up to a thunderous rumble and lights flashing over the tent at odd intervals. Kind of sketched out, I rubbed my eyes clear and looked out on the water. It was a barge coming downstream. The lights were the huge, bright spot lights searching the surface of the water for the next buoy marker to keep the boat in the channel. Those suckers are loud at night.
I paddled through locks 5 and 5A and the rest of the way to Winona fairly easy. I decided to stay a night in a hotel so I could make a Walmart and Target run for supplies. Turned out the closest hotel was about 2 miles from the boat landing, so portaging the kayak, off I went. Checking in at the hotel, I met a guy who was staying there for work and who was an army veteran. We chatted for a bit and I went to my room to clean up before heading out. After making a supply run, I made my way down to the hotel bar and the guy I met earlier was there so we chatted a bit more about the trip and Mission 22 and his family. An older couple came and sat on the other side of me and were incredibly interested in the trip and my time in the Marines so I talked to them for a bit. At some point the other guy got up to leave and said goodbye and good luck. When I went to pay for my dinner later the bartender said everything had already been taken care of. Thank you kind sir, I am sorry I forgot your name, but thank you for the kind gesture.
Heading to LaCrosse was a bit of a struggle. I was either paddling through lightning storms to get to the nearest beach area to wait it out, or I was arriving to locks just as they were sending a tow barge through. Finally, I made it and spotted a good campsite on an island about a half mile upstream of LaCrosse where the black river flows into the Mississippi. I built a small fire and ate dinner, watching the sun slowly set. It was a Friday night so as soon as the city lights started sparkling against the night sky, music could be heard coming from downtown. There must have been a piano bar or party or something near the water cause a few times I heard the classic bar party songs being belted by a mass of out of tune vocalists floating up stream to my campsite. Sweet Caroline and Living On a Prayer were the most distinguishable. As I sat there and listened to people belt out these songs, it occurred to me that I am so close to civilization and people, yet so far away and out of touch. As if I could scream across the waters and not a soul would hear me or be the least bit phased. It was the first time I truly felt alone even though there were people all around.
The next morning was eerily quiet and cold and a little damp. I looked out across the waters and couldn't see the other shore line. Fog had set in and a chill was in the air. I went to take a step out of the tent and a pain shot up from my right ankle so quick and so forceful, it took my breath away and I about fell down. I looked down and saw that it was definitely swollen and red. A scrape I had gotten about a week ago on my ankle was bright red with a nice pale green center. Infection had set in pretty quickly. After conferring with my dad, I decided to have it looked at while I was right here in town. So I packed everything up and paddled to a harbor on the south side of town. I stopped a couple heading out for the day and asked if there was somewhere I could tie up that would be out of the way but still not attractive to the likes of sticky fingered individuals. They let me tie up in their slip while they were gone and I walked the half mile to Gunderson Hospital. By the time I got there, my ankle had swelled up even more and it was really painful to put weight on it.
Checking in, they asked what brought me in and I said stupidity and infection. They came around to see my ankle and both nurses made a face and said, yup, that's definitely infected. I was called back about the time my butt hit the waiting room chair and a nurse took my vitals. She didn't say whether they were high or low, but she made a face and asked me a bunch of questions about my current state of health. After I told her I was kayaking the Mississippi River and had walked here from the harbor, she lightened up a bit and accepted my vitals. The doctor came in almost immediately and they were so interested in my trip and about Mission 22. The doc wrote a prescription for antibiotics and off I went to Walgreens to get it filled. My dad was able to get a hotel room for me for a couple nights as the doctor said not to expose the infected wound to water or dirt for the next couple days and to not be in direct sunlight while taking the meds...that's pretty hard to do when you're paddling the Might Miss. I went back to the harbor to get my kayak and asked a couple near by if they knew of a shuttle service that could take me and my boat to the hotel. After making some calls and coming up short, Lori, the lady helping me, said it wasn't looking good. That's when her son came back from fishing, and after hearing my story said he'd drive me in his pickup. We loaded the kayak up in the bed and Lori came up with her phone saying the LaCrosse Tribune was on the line and wanted to do a story on me. So I gave my information to the editor over the phone and off we went to the hotel.
The next couple days were spent relaxing and checking and rechecking gear and letting my wound heal up. I don't know how strong those meds were but within two days, any scratch or nic I had was scabbing up and healing quickly. That Monday morning a reporter from the Tribune showed up and interviewed me. We probably chatted for about an hour and after he left, I went back to the room. The next morning, I checked the paper for the article and right there on the front page was my picture. The article made front page news, pretty cool. Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Mike. It turned out great.