A number of months ago I wrote about a lovely wooden paddle that Bill Bremer (owner/craftsman of Lumpy Paddles) had created for me (post 1, post 2). Yesterday I got to take it for a paddle outdoors for the first time. I was with 5 other paddlers from the Inland Sea Kayakers and we paddled a section of the Mississippi, sandwiched between two dams and locks, right in the heart of Minneapolis.
I don’t know the area well, and I found myself in amongst the University campus buildings and light rail tracks. I eventually found the U of M rowing club where we had agreed to meet to put in. There was still six inches of snow covering the fields at the river’s edge so we slid the kayaks over it like sledges. Loaded up with all the appropriate cold water rescue gear and food we all edged out into the rivers flow and headed upstream to the dam. The lean of the channel buoys showed just how swift the flow was. We spent some time ferry gliding across the current under the 34W Bridge (The rebuilt one following the disastrous bridge collapse of 2007). We then practiced crossing the eddy lines from behind one of the bridge buttresses. On one of my final practice runs I made a rookie mistake and forget to edge the kayak sufficiently. The hydraulics did their job and before you could say shamallamadingdong I was upside down. While inverted I paused for a moment and thought about which side you are supposed to roll up on. Realizing I was already set up for a perfect off side Standard Greenland Roll, I just chose to roll up. By the time I came up I was in the conveyor belt of current flow so it really didn’t matter what side I rolled up on. There was no relative motion of water as the kayak was flowing down stream with the water. The video camera (I will get the video edited soon) on the bow captured my big grin as I came back up, hat-less (note to self: put the chin strap on next time), and then promptly back paddled to recover my hat. Fortunately I was dressed for immersion:Reed tuilik, Kokatat Dry suit, Immersion Research fleece onesie. I wrung the water out of my Gil hat and popped it back on wet. Within minutes I was toasty again. The river water was reported at 37F.
As we approached the dam we could see the rough water boiling away. Occasionally the wind would blow foam from the upper river, creating a spectacle of a flying foam cloud. The water was very turbulent, and the slab sides and chines of the Tahe Greenland kept me on my toes.
I was shooting video so was able to capture some cool shots of the waves and foam that flew by me as we held position in the river just below the dam’s undertow. After we had thoroughly exhausted ourselves battling the river flow we turned downstream and rode the current for a few miles until we came to another rowing club where we stopped for lunch.
The journey back against the current allowed me to give the paddle a good workout, and I found it performed very well. Its dimensions suited me, allowing my natural rhythm to power the kayak swiftly upstream. As I had mentioned in an earlier post the paddle has very slight shoulders but they didn’t impede my paddling. The blades’ rounded edges were very forgiving, and I can see why so many people have become fans of Lumpy Paddles. As always, I found a comfortable angle to cant the blade to remove any fluttering. The wood and oil finish held up well despite the numerous impacts on rocks at the river’s edge. We were sticking very close to the river banks to avoid the current. After the paddle was over I had none of the aches or pains which can occur when imperceptibly adjusting one’s stroke to compensate for a paddle’s anomalies.
This weekend was the funeral for a paddling friend who perished in a kayaking accident. Peggy bought along daffodils which we carried on our decks (mine survived the roll!). After our day’s paddling we placed the flowers mid-stream in the river and paused for a moment to remember Liza as the flowers drifted down stream.
Liza was a well liked past member of our club who had made a positive impact on many of our lives and paddling abilities.
She was the first person who introduced me to the delights of winter paddling in the Mississippi, one of the few ways to get afloat in the Twin Cities during the harsh Minnesota winters.
It is sobering to think of a paddling friend perishing. The human body is fragile when compared to the immense power of water hydraulics.