— Story and photos by Victoria Dahlin —
My husband Michael and I like to canoe. So when he saw the ad for the Mightyssippi River Adventure on Facebook he couldn’t resist signing us up, as well as convincing his two daughters to join for the 14-mile trip from Minneapolis to St. Paul — an adventure through three locks and dams.
We have spent a lot of time canoeing on the Snake River. I knew we could handle the miles, but the size of the Mississippi and the idea of going through locks made me somewhat fearful.
But I trusted Mike’s judgment, so we got up bright and early on June 16 and loaded up our two canoes for the drive from our home south of Mora to about a mile northwest of the Minneapolis Warehouse District where our journey began.
After checking in and receiving our free Mightyssippi hats, as well as free baked goodies for the trip, I stayed with the canoes while Mike drove our truck to the end site on Harriet Island to take the shuttle back.
I had checked the weather radar before we left home and it looked like thunderstorms might hit, but so far the morning was beautiful with the hazy sun shining on the river.
Mike’s daughters Amber and Toni arrived, the Star Spangled Banner was played and instructions were given as to how we were to put our canoes into the waters of the Mississippi River.
We waited and watched a few other paddlers get their canoes and kayaks in position, and then we took a deep breath and carried our canoe down to the carpet covered rocks.
Into the water went the canoe’s front end, where I crawled in to take my seat. Mike pushed off, settled in the back, and we were on the big river!
About 300 people had registered to participate in the adventure, and the sight of so many brightly colored canoes and kayaks floating on the river was truly beautiful — that is, until the rain came.
Thankfully there was no lightning, and the rain was so warm and gentle most paddlers didn’t bother to put on any rain gear. But it was funny to see all our Mightyssippi hats turn color and wilt, saturated with the raindrops.
We hit the first lock and dam about a mile down river. I was nervous since I didn’t know what to expect.
It was a slow process getting all the canoes and kayaks into the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock. Workers dropped ropes down the top of the wall for paddlers along the sides of the lock to hang onto, while everyone else hung onto a canoe or kayak next to them, keeping us all safely connected.
Finally the back gate closed, and at first I didn’t realize we were dropping because there was no sensation of movement at all. But I saw the ropes were getting longer as the walls kept getting much, much higher.
When the front gates opened, we were greeted by people on a bridge overhead waving and taking photos as we left the first lock.
We passed the Stone Arch Bridge, the Guthrie Theatre and stopped at a rest site on our way to the Lower St. Anthony Falls lock and dam.
I no longer felt any fear in the lock and watched paddlers hit a beach ball around as I waited for the water level to drop.
Then the gates opened to set us free, and while looking through my camera’s zoom lens, I saw what was happening ahead of us. And panic set in.
A canoe and several kayaks had gone just a little too far to the left and overturned in the rough waters outside the lock.
When we hit the water I was afraid we would overturn as well, since I had never experienced such high waves in a canoe. Instead, we became part of a rescue.
Another well experienced paddler had up-righted the overturned canoe and had hold of it, while the mother and daughter that had been inside, clung to his canoe.
He yelled at us to help since we were…, I guess in the right place at the right time? He had the pair grab our canoe and instructed us to go to the big cement wall. I was told to grab one of the bars that went up the side of the wall, which I somehow was able to do without overturning our canoe.
I had to hang onto that bar for dear-life, keeping my arm straight so the woman in the water would not be crushed between the wall and our canoe. Once she got to the bars I moved away, while she had a worse feat to preform. She had to climb up those bars and hang on until her canoe was put under her, so she could drop herself down into it.
When she did, she collapsed backwards out of sheer exhaustion from the swim and climb. Mike and I waited until her daughter also was in the canoe and we were sure they were safe. Then we got out of the way and out of the rough waters as fast as we could.
I wasn’t sure if the pair would be able to continue the journey, as they’d lost everything they had in their canoe. Yet Mike saw them later in the last lock with an empty canoe, except for the paddles provided by the adventure’s organizers.
Once we were in smoother waters the trip became fun again, as a tugboat passed by and we paddled past the Weisman Art Museum on the cliff above.
Approaching our last lock to go through, Mike and I were near the wall where we were given ropes to hang onto in lock and dam Mississippi Number One. Meanwhile, other paddlers siphoned rainwater out of their canoe or kayak. It was strange to have the rope get longer and higher above my head, though I had no feeling of dropping lower in the water.
I was fearful of rough water when the lock opened, but there was no need to be. Here the river was kind and everyone stayed safe.
The rain stopped during the last 7 miles, as we paddled past Fort Snelling State Park where we saw eagles, Canadian geese, blue herons, white egrets and other waterfowl before hitting a rest stop.
After that the Anson Northrup and Jonathan Padelford river boats passed by, and we went under an old railroad swing bridge that opened for the big paddle boats. The very hot sun baked us to a point that we found ourselves longing for the cool rain.
We ended our trip on Harriet Island where we picked up our free mugs for being one of the first 50 to register for the first-ever Mightyssippi Adventure. Mike, Amber and Toni got free paddle boarding lessons, while I stayed on solid ground taking photos.
The Mightyssippi River Adventure was fun and definitely an adventure for Mike and me, while Amber and Toni loved it so much they plan on doing it again next year with not only us, but some friends as well.
The Mightyssippi River Adventure is a green event, and the 2012 adventure raised 98,325 gallons of clean water for people in need in Haiti.
So if you are looking for a canoe or kayak adventure that is also a charity event, mark your calendars for June 15, 2013 for the Second Annual Mightyssippi River Adventure from Minneapolis to St. Paul.
Registration opens Feb. 1 at www.mightyssippi.com for this fully-supported (14-mile through three locks, or 6-mile with no locks) paddle adventure, which includes rest stops and a finisher party on Harriet Island.