Record-breaking heat makes travel on the Mississippi River difficult for paddlers


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SAUK RAPIDS – Next to the undulating bank of the Mississippi, paddler Dan Faust’s gear is lined up on the grass. Pointing to a tanned finger, the 63-year-old from Illinois identifies his sleek kayak and points to the bespoke porterage cart he built for his 2,350-mile trip from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

He is not alone on this hike. Each year, more than 50 people like Faust put their canoes and kayaks away, put on sunscreen and splash out in the water for days, if not months.

This year’s record heat made their journeys a bit more difficult, and the scorching sun dried up much of the Mississippi’s springs, prompting paddlers to set off further down the river or haul their gear on kilometers.

No matter what the hardship, paddlers seek a sense of adventure, beauty and community along the second longest river in the United States.

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Do the trek despite the heat

Steven Vogel, 24, a law student at the University of Minnesota, always wanted to kayak on the Mississippi. Last year his goal was to paddle from the springs to Boom Island Park in Minneapolis with friends, but they only made it to Palisade.

This year he took 10 days off to finish the trip where they left off.

Mississippi River paddlers Dan Faust, left, and Steven Vogel relax as they talk about their trips Wednesday, June 9, 2021, along the Mississippi River near Sauk Rapids.

“There was definitely a learning curve,” said Vogel, sipping a beer as he relaxed earlier this month at Sauk Rapids. Since he left, there has only been one day on the river where the temperature was below 90 degrees.

Vogel said the trip, especially for those traveling alone, is both a mental and physical challenge.

No matter what happens, he said you need to have a problem-solving attitude, whether it’s washing and grooming a cut, carrying a kayak up a steep incline, or planning where to camp for 20 miles. downstream.

“It’s an endless puzzle that you have to solve every day,” Faust said.

He compares the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Trail, with towns and resupply sites littering its shores. Faust said he first planted the river paddle seed in his head at a conference he attended nearly two decades ago, and “it has been growing ever since.”

He plans to travel the length of the Mississippi in two months and began planning this trip three years ago.

“It’s time to take care of some of the things I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

You can follow his blog online to learn more about Faust’s journey.

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Find online help

Vogel and Faust are both members of the Mississippi River Paddlers Facebook page, a site that has become an invaluable resource for those interested in paddling the river and curious about what the trip entails.

John Sullivan, 69, has managed the site from La Crosse, Wisconsin for years and has more than 10,000 river miles to his name. With over 3,300 members, paddlers flood the Facebook page with almost daily updates on the river’s water levels, asking questions, offering advice and sharing stories.

A river guide is carried by paddler Dan Faust as he travels down the Mississippi River.

Sullivan said he paddled the river years ago, he had to learn on his own where to wear, what to bring and when to go. Now people can share details about the best campsites and if the water levels are too low in some places.

Sometimes questions posed by paddlers on the page can be answered by other members within minutes, which can be crucial in an emergency on the river, Sullivan said.

A few years ago, he remembers a paddler passing by Brainerd and going into town to stock up. Upon his return, he discovered that all his equipment and his kayak had been stolen. After posting his experience on the page and considering stopping the trip together, the river paddlers supported him and provided him with the funds he needed to continue his journey.

“And in a few days he was paddling the river again,” Sullivan said. “Not everyone gets this help, but people are ready to help when the need arises.”

Community of ‘Angels’

A related Facebook group, the Mississippi River Angels, has sprung up to allow paddlers to connect with locals living near or along the water’s edge. Many of these people provide shelter, lunch, portage assistance, or whatever paddlers need along the way.

Lee and Patty Bergstrom are pictured with Mississippi paddlers Dan Faust and Steven Vogel on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, along the Mississippi River near Sauk Rapids.

Lee and Patty Bergstrom, who live along the river in Sauk Rapids, have welcomed their own share of paddlers over the years. The couple are known as a must-see destination for many people interested in a steak dinner and a chance to sample their extensive collection of craft beers.

After hosting the family of a neighbor who went down the river a few years ago, Lee said the couple discovered the community of angels online.

“Mississippi River Angels is not an organization. It is not a club. There is no membership, there is no membership fee, there is no obligation. can for people going down the river, ”he said.

Over the years, both have welcomed paddlers from all over the world. A Belgian paddler started in the Arctic Circle on a pair of skis with a sail. When he arrived in Canada, he cycled to Lake Itasca, kayaked along the Mississippi River, and then cycled through Texas, Mexico and Central America. He then bought a boat and sailed through the Caribbean. Lee said he was now just off the coast of South America and planning to kayak the Amazon River.

“The great thing about being an angel is that you don’t have to move, the world is coming to you,” he said.

Lee Bergstrom chats with Mississippi paddlers Dan Faust and Steven Vogel on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, along the Mississippi River near Sauk Rapids.

Sandy and Jeff Bromenshenkel are also well-known River Angels who live south of Deer River near Grand Rapids. About 30 to 40 people stay with them each year and they have met people from Canada, Russia, Sweden, Australia, Great Britain and Germany. The youngest person they helped was 12 and the oldest 81.

“We’ve seen it all, from a young kid in a canoe with a backpack and a transistor radio, no smartphones or nothing. To a party of 12 in Victorian rowboats,” Sandy said.

Although paddlers vary in age, gender, and mission, Jeff said one similarity they all share is their sense of adventure. Now that they’re retired, the couple said they can’t wait to visit the paddlers they’ve bonded with who live across the country.

After their daughter graduated, Sandy said her friends joked that hosting people was a way to fight empty nest syndrome. This is something she admits to be true.

“You know, I always try to take care of them, and I follow them downstream and make sure they’re okay,” she said with a laugh. “They will call or text and update me.”

Back to nature

Iowan Hank Kohler first left 42 years ago to travel over 1,300 miles from Ottertail to Hudson Bay. On June 3, he embarked on a 70-day trip south from the same starting point at Ottertail to the Gulf of Mexico.

With a plan of 30 miles a day on average – which equates to about 10 hours of paddling in a row – the 68-year-old said he was “not in very good shape for this” and even mentioned that he was still waiting for the results of a cancer biopsy before he left.

However, no illness has stopped him, and Kohler passed through St. Cloud earlier this month on June 7.

Hank Kohler carries his canoe around the Blanchard Dam, about 15 miles south of Little Falls.

Fundraising for conservation programs at the National River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, Kohler said he learned to appreciate the importance of clean water from an early age and wanted to take advantage of it. this trip to make a difference. So far, the campaign has raised $ 15,000.

“In the end, the water took me to some wonderful and beautiful places and gave me some fabulous memories, but I hardly gave anything back,” Kohler said. “I’ll pick up any trash if I see it somewhere, but I don’t have the knowledge or the resources to make a positive long-term impact.… It’s a chance for people to pay it forward.”

Kohler plans to keep a daily diary of what he sees along the way – as he has done every day since 1985 – and has said he’s happy to buy fishing licenses in states where he doesn’t. had never fished before. His journey is not about a race or milestones, but rather a way to give back to nature and cherish the memories he creates along the way.

Hank Kohler poses with his equipment at the Blanchard Dam, about 15 miles south of Little Falls.

“What I want to be able to do before I’m done with this planet, before I look at the fireflies for the last time, or cross that last set of rapids, or listen to loons and chickadees – I want to try to do something so that the people who come after me do the same things, ”he said.

Kohler said he’s spoken to people who tell him that they’ve lived along the Mississippi all their lives and always wanted to paddle the river, but never did.

“Don’t have those regrets. What is three months or two months in your life? Take two months off and create a memory, create a story, write a book,” he said. “Now that we get older we have to look [wonder]. We have to look for things that make us leave, ‘Wow.’ “

Becca Most is an urban reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Contact her at 320-241-8213 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most.

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