Bemidji to Winnibigoshish: 2 big first days

By: Martha Brummitt 

First day: 6 bridges, 26 miles, another Mississippi River canoeist, and some delicious Camp Chow dinner. 

After some photographs with the local Bemidji journalist, we took off across Lake Bemidji to begin our journey. A few miles in we canoed from the lake into some tall grasses and spotted our drivers and support crew cheering us on from a bridge. Our group felt relieved to be on the water: our planning phase of this expedition came to a close and our muscles began pumping.

When we arrived at our first dam, we met Kevin from England who began in Lake Itasca a few days prior and is paddling to NOLA. For two days we've been piggy-backing him and are all impressed with his fast pace for having only canoed 2.5 days before embarking down the entire Mississippi River. It's amazing how accessible the Mississippi River is to small-boat, novice paddlers.

Our first night, we slumbered on Star Island in Cass Lake. Our team of 11 divided into groups to efficiently set up camp, start dinner and a fire, and begin uploading the day's footage. We are already a working machine of 11 busy bees buzzing around the wooded campsite. Thanks to Sarah Hamilton at Camp Chow for generously supplying us with gourmet dried meals for supper, we are eating very well. We are grateful for the simplicity of preparing these meals: simply boil water, add contents, stir, and serve! Tastes like homemade cookin'. We chowed down on tasty Cheddar Wild Rice soup, and Kevin showed up in the dark to share company and sustenance. 


Day 2: 2 bridges, 25 miles, big white caps from the stern (back of boat!), and an incredible landing to our home for the night.

The morning was misty and visibility was low. We stayed close together as we traveled 5 miles across Cass Lake to a dam. With our compasses out, we headed just north of east until we could see land ahead. After a short portage, we wound through tall grasses, often standing up in the canoes to sight where the channel flows. We passed some fishermen who said that there are two 4-foot wide channels we can't miss. One man on his dock said he's lived in his house for 18 years and has a summer home just south of here. We've passed many homes and wonder how many of them house permanent residents versus perennial. Many of the homes we pass have for-sale signs in the yard or on the dock.

In the afternoon, we reached Lake Winnibigoshish, and the misty calm weather was still lingering. On this big lake (a large, melted glacier about 12 by 15 miles in size) the waves were minimal. With wind at our backs our spirits were high, so we decided to paddle nine miles straight across to a campsite. About two-thirds of the way across, the wind picked up.

We had large swells and some white caps to surf and ride towards our destination. While looking at the map, Martha and Eric's boat turned parallel to the waves. Their boat had Camp Manito-wish's Wanigan pack and nice Duluth pack carrying our kitchen and group gear, two heavy packs. The boat took on some water, and the sides of the canoe lowered closer to the surface of the crashing waves. With careful paddling for the home stretch, Martha and Eric, along with the rest of the group pushed on to the docks in sight. The group strategized by yelling over the high winds and loud waves on how to land so that they could efficiently and safely empty the boats. With excellent communication and quick decision-making, the 5 boats, at least 15 large packs, several loose small items, and 11 paddlers reached shore and celebrated the great crossing.


Our first challenge for you is to answer the following through comments:

1. Why do you think British Kevin is canoeing the Mississippi River? What is the appeal to traveling 2300+ miles on the Mississippi River, especially for someone from outside of the United States? Would you do it, why or why not?

2. On flat water with no wind, we travel 12 miles in 4 hours. On flat water with huge waves from strong winds at our back, we travel 9 miles in 2 hours. Assuming we paddled at the same speed, how fast (in mph) do we paddle without wind on flat water, and how fast (in mph) do we travel with wind at our backs? Is it possible to figure out how fast the wind is blowing based on the information provided? Bonus: convert the rates from mph to kilometers/hour and in to knots. We need to know! Help us figure it out!

Liz and Erika paddling through the fog

Liz and Erika paddling through the fog

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