Lock Country

Home. This is the place where many of us feel comfortable and supported, a familiar environment so well known we can predict what might happen next. The last week has been a whirlwind of familiar and unfamiliar feelings, places, and people

Last Thursday we began our homecoming with an all-too-brief paddle with friends Carla and Derek, two Elk River natives. They spoke briefly about their experiences paddling the Mississippi River all year round and Carla mentioned that it is her goal to paddle through January and February. Though many rivers freeze during winter months, the Mississippi River stays a fairly consistent temperature near where they live and does not freeze over. When asked more about this, they concluded that the temperature difference was due to the nuclear power plant just upstream. Why would a nuclear power plant change the temperature of river water? How does a drastic increase in temperature affect river ecosystems?

Through cold rains we paddled until twilight to the Coon Rapids Dam, our last portage before Lock Country! Hoping to portage around the dam, our plans were slowed by reconstructive efforts to raise the dam in an effort to ward off invasive Asian Carp. Construction added about a third of a mile to our portage and slowed us down considerably. Recognizing that we would not make our campsite destination in time we asked a park official if we could set up camp near the dam and he okayed us with enthusiasm, supplying us with dry wood and a call to the Sheriff to let him know we were there. What are Asian Carp and where is their natural habitat? Why are they considered invasive and a threat to the Mississippi River ecosystem? Who and what do they threaten? Why would raising the dam make it harder for carp to pass through?

As we settled into our homes for the night, many of us already fast asleep, we were awoken by the whooping of sirens. A police officer spoke to Anna, Eric, and Nick, informing them that though the park had accommodated us, he would not allow us to stay. We were a liability for the dam and he recommended that we paddle downstream, in nighttime rain, for the extra three miles to the campsite or face arrest. Luckily, Eric had been speaking to a local fisherman shortly before this and Keith offered to let us stay at his house across the street. He believed it was a bigger liability to make us leave in the night.* We were incredibly thankful for Keith's hospitality. Keith and his son created a drum studio only a few years ago and they now create the drums for Imagine Dragons. Check out Infinity Drumworks! What populations might be affected by public camping laws more than others? Have you or do you know anyone who has been evicted? What words come to mind when you think about homelessness? What might have happened if Keith hadn't been in the park that night?

The next day we paddled into the cities, accompanied by our friend and drummer of The Step Rockets, Johnny. We noticed the current increasing steadily and it only took us two hours before landing on Boom Island. We were excited to be home- Lee for Papaya Salad, Sami to see her cat Peter, and many of us for a shower at last. We restocked gear, met up with friends, and got to sleep in until 8! Shortly before leaving that following Monday morning, we took a group Segway tour with the Magical History Tour Company- we saw the city with fresh eyes. It was so much fun!

Later thar day we met with the Upper Mississippi Watershed Academy's 6th grade classroom near Fort Snelling- they asked some excellent questions that we would like to ask you as well. Our longest portage so far has been 3/4 of a mile. Portages are often measured in "rods," or the length of a canoe. If our canoes are 17 feet long, how many rods was our longest portage?

Paddling onward, we were greeted by Rivers Edge Academy on Harriet Island. Thank you for cheering us on and for the beautiful t-shirts!

Not much further and we were our of the Twin Cities, the place that had been out home for the weekend. Barges and crane operations took the places of trees, and highway and train noises took the places of bird calls. Sarah spoke to her new feelings of something like homesickness. The whole group felt their departure from the familiar.

Yesterday, we awoke early and began our first true paddle through Barge Territory. John explained where we should be paddling in the river to avoid larger traffic. When boats travel upstream, they must keep red buoys to their right and green to their left. When traveling downstream, they keep red buoys to their left and green to their right. The stream has been marked by buoys to show where barges should and should not travel. The Army Corps of Engineers keeps the river in those places at a constant depth by a process called "dredging." What is dredging? Why do we dredge? How do we dredge? What is the minimum depth at which the Mississippi River must be kept for barges? What affect does dredging have on river ecosystems?

Just before leaving for lunch, we stumbled into Tom and Gary, two Mississippi River natives. Gary, also known as "The Hammer" owned the property we stopped for lunch on, and he informed us that he had just been inducted into the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame. Not only had we met a celebrity, but Gary's log cabin was built in 1900 and was a site of historical significance. The house had originally been the official Ninineger landing and was the proposed state capital before St. Paul. A nearby limestone cave, constructed in 1855 by the Army Corps of Engineers was used to store gunpowder for Fort Snelling and ultimately used in the Dakota War. Later, the cave was used by John Dillinger to make and store bootlegged liquor during prohibition. What was the original use for Fort Snelling? What is the Dakota War? What is Prohibition?

Just before our day ended, we arrived at our first lock. We pulled the cord on the walled outcropping and a lock operator told us to paddle into the lock when we saw a green "go" light. With ropes in hand, we filed one-by-one into the lock and waited for the gates to shut behind us. After a quick horn blast, and a recommendation from the lock operator that we keep the water below and not over us, we watched the water slowly recede from 17 feet to 6. The gates in front of us opened and we paddled off. What is a lock and how does it operate? When was the first lock created and why? What is the biggest lock in the world? Where would we have to be to paddle through it?

We are excited to announce that we will now be blogging daily. Stay tuned for many more stories and questions just like this!

*Since this night, Nick filed an official complaint with Anoka County. Anoka County responded positively and stated that they would research this matter more fully. We encourage everyone to become actively involved with their government, especially the Judicial system.


Support our mission!

Donations provide funding for the Paddle Forward documentary.