Editors note: The 22nd annual Great River Rumble canoe and kayak trip July 30-Aug. 5 explored Rush Creek and the Root River in southeast Minnesota, then the Mississippi River for a trip of 92 miles. Flip Putthoff, outdoors reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was among the 200 paddlers. Here are excerpts from a journal he kept during the week.
Great River Rumble trips usually start on a tributary of the Mississippi and end at a river town along the Mississippi. We’ll end this trip at Prairie Du Chien, Wis.
Paddlers hail from all corners of the United States, but most come from the upper Midwest. Most rumble trips take place in this scenic part of the country where the weather is usually cool in August and the Mississippi runs clear.
The Arkansas armada is four strong this year. Nancy Bullock from Rogers and Nancy Moore from the War Eagle arm of Beaver Lake are on the trip. There’s Tony Pavelka from Clinton and yours truly.
So where do 200 paddlers spend the night on a river trip? Most nights we stay in a town’s riverfront park, like we’re doing here in Rushford. Sometimes we’re in a state park or public boat landing.
We sleep in our tents, but it’s not really camping. We don’t make fires or cook. In towns, we eat at restaurants and taverns. If we’re out in the boons at a park, breakfast and dinner are catered.
Dedicated volunteers haul our tents and gear in rental trucks downstream to the next town while paddlers enjoy the day on the water. We only carry in our boats what’s needed for the day, like lunch and a magnum-sized water gun for cooling water fights on hot afternoons.
The route and our overnight stays are arranged months in advance by volunteers.
We’ve had a great dinner. The mayor stopped by to welcome our group. We’re eager to get started in the morning.
July 30: It’s a rocky start on Rush Creek. There’s a gnarly shoal a little ways downstream that we have to portage. That’s a tall order on a trip with more than 100 boats. We flow into the Root River in half a mile.
The Root twists and turns with timber in the water to dodge. The banks are mostly woods in this rural part of Minnesota.
This 16-mile day ends at our take out in Houston, Minn., where the annual Houston Hoedown is going on. Yeehah! There’s music, a horse show and small town fun going on right by our camp.
For dinner, the Boy Scouts serve us pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and chips as a fundraiser. The party in Houston goes long into the night, but most rumblers are in bed by 10.
July 31: It’s an easy 12 mile run today down the Root to Hokah, Minn. The hospitality of these little towns truly amazes. At the boat ramp, more scouts and the girl’s high school basketball team help take our boats out.
They don’t want a penny for their help, but we take up a collection later and give the scouts and girls and nice little donation.
A cool oasis awaits at the Hokah city pool. It’s actually a spring-fed pond with sand banks, but there are diving boards and a building with showers, like you’d see at a regular “cement pond.” Tours of a nearby winery are offered. Dinner will be a sumptuous spaghetti dinner served by the Hokah Volunteer Fire Department.
A group of rumblers relaxes in the cool water. One woman floats and muses on the joys of the day. “So we’ve been on a beautiful river, and I just got back from a winery. Now I’m in a nice pool and pretty soon the firemen are going to feed us.”
Aug. 1: Today we joined the mighty Mississippi River. The Great River, a mile wide here, was smooth as tile. A gentle current was slower than the Root.
A towboat pushing 15 barges chugged upriver toward us. A myth is that these gargantuan rigs put up a horrendous wake, but they don’t. Cabin cruisers on the Mississippi make bigger waves.
Tows and barges are part of a Mississippi River adventure. You just give them lots of room.
We take out at a spacious Army Corps of Engineers park where we pitch our tent city for the night.
Aug. 2: We are flying down the Mississippi pushed by a nice tailwind. It’s hurry up and wait when we come to our first lock and dam, one of two on the trip. There’s a tow and barges locking through, so we sit in our boats and wait almost two hours to get in the lock.
Locking through is a huge deal for first-timers on the Mississippi. The lock’s big steel gates open and we rumblers paddle into the lock. The lockmaster has us hang on to ropes along the lock’s concrete walls. Slowly the water goes down, an 8-foot drop at this lock.
Then the big doors open and we paddle out the other side.
We rumblers are a diverse group. Most paddlers are middle age to senior citizens. Dave from San Antonio is our senior paddler at age 87. His daughter, Kim, came from Hawaii to paddle with him this year.
A few have brought their children or grandchildren along. Minimum age to attend is 14. It’s great to see these young people outdoors with their families. They’re the future of trips like the rumble.
Aug. 3-5: Our short 8 mile day to Lansing, Iowa ends in a deluge. It’s raining cats, dogs and puppies when we hit the take out at a big bend of the Mississippi. Locals tell us this is the sharpest bend on the Mississippi that the towboats and barges have to navigate.
An hour later, it’s sunny. Our tents go up at the city baseball park. There’s plenty of room. I have left field all to myself.
The smaller the town, the bigger the welcome. I stroll into city hall wearing river rat attire and ask the clerk if I can charge my camera. “Sure,” she says, “and tell your friends we have plenty of outlets if they want to charge theirs.”
The deluge ushers in a cold front. By morning it’s 48 degrees and drizzly with a north wind. A sweatshirt is barely warm enough.
It’s tough on the river today, Aug. 4. A gale whipped up 2-foot waves on the Mississippi for some of the roughest water many of us had paddled. A couple of boats capsized, but help was near from the trio of safety power boats that accompany us down the big river. These volunteer skippers carry extra water and help paddlers as needed. They’re in radio contact with the lead boat and sweep boat.
Safety is No. 1 on the rumble. Paddlers stay between the lead and the sweep, but the sweep is sometimes a half mile or more behind so the group is spread out. Everyone wears their life jacket, buckled and zipped.
We’re glad to land at Harpers Ferry, Iowa (pop. 328) after a trying 18-mile day. Everyone in town who owns a golf cart or ATV turned out to shuttle us to a bountiful fish fry the town held for us that night. The dinner raised money for a new playground.
The 11-mile paddle to Prairie Du Chien to end the trip was a breeze. Time to say farewell to the Mississippi and all the friends made and rekindled on this well run river adventure.
Fun as it is, the rumble isn’t for everyone. You’re outside for a solid week in whatever weather comes along. The distances can be challenging. The Mississippi can be a calm, reflecting pool or an angry, wind whipped river.
The evening farewell banquet at trip’s end is a nice tradition. Then it’s hit the highway for the long drive home, with fond memories of another Great River Rumble.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 08/22/2017