Reflections of 26 day canoe journey on the Minnesota River and removal of 5000 pounds of trash

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Contrast to the cooler wetter June on the rock strewn Namekagon and St. Croix river system, the Minnesota River in July brought heavy fire and mud. The river beckoned – be hardy. And then laughed when we announced, “we are here to remove trash and other hazards to the riverway!”

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But slowly, she who has been called by many names, let us in and showed us a waterway clouded in mystery and heavy history. It didn’t surprise me when our daily trash totals began averaging 500lbs as we passed through places where warring peoples have fought, killed, and wronged one another. Paddling out from Mankato (the location where in 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hung…in public…the day after Christmas..) we pushed our canoes and bodies to the limits removing 652.9 lbs in 17 miles. This included adding 11 tires to our now cumulative total of 50 for the season.

Later that evening as we eddied out for camp in St. Peter, we were offered a double feast from locals fishing and camping out. We gladly accepted and satiated our bellies with burgers, brats, potato salad, pork stew, and tortillas while also meeting our social needs conversing with new friends. (It’s important to talk with more than just the same person all day right? Right??)

I would like to share an experienced truth here. We felt and saw it on the St. Croix too. The River Provides. In the water, life is carried at every level. Nutrients, animals, plants. Meaning, history, Life. What goes into the system is carried. This is what is then provided down stream. So, because indeed the river does carry and provide, isn’t it pertinent that we have full awareness of what goes into the Minnesota river system? A fractal of this can be seen when applied to the human body which is composed of somewhere between 62-80% water. Does this same truth then apply to you?

What you put in, is what you get out.

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Yes indeed the 302 miles on the Minnesota was heavy. One evening setting up camp, I was sweating so much I seriously questioned if in that moment there was more water in the air than in the sediment rich muddy river. Heavy humidity. We went through a narrower stretch now dubbed “carp alley” near Odessa, MN and if I blinked fast enough I flashed back and forth between the jungles of Costa Rica and this vine woven, fish jumping, species rich, secret gem of a place.

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When on a 26 day river trip in July, soft rains are not a real thing. Heavy thunderstorms are. Storms that had us up praying. Thankfully we were consistently fine and our boats even got washed in the process. When setting up your tent, always look up and commit that you trust whatever branches are above.

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It is hard to illustrate the full spectrum of what the Minnesota River is today. Impossible in a single blog post. Heavy, mysterious, industrial barges, languid, agriculture runoff, meandering, turbid, historic trash sites, healing. A strong fishing community is present from source to the Mississippi confluence and is a major way in which people are connecting with the river today.

Which brings us to the confluence. The Bdote. A place where two powerful entities merge to become something different. A place where in Dakota traditions, the heaven and earth meet and life begins. Also a place where we graciously found our last piece of ‘trash’ when completing the last 1/2 mile at sunset. World meet Paige the Bear. Paige likes her new life as first mate of the Rugged Pearl.

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Well, Paige, Paul, and myself are in agreement- the Minnesota is an overlooked gem of a river with equal parts sacredness and mud. We thank all of you who have been following along and supporting us as we have now completed phase 2 of the Three Rivers Expedition. To date: 41 days, 539 miles paddled, and 5,719 pounds of trash removed from the upper Mississippi watershed!

What’s coming next: It should take about a month and a half to clean our gear and then we will launch and carry on the mission on the Mississippi where we will be joined by our #leaveitbetter allies at Packing it Out. Many deep lessons have been graciously (and sometimes forcefully) delivered during these last two river trips. Expect our attempts to articulate what has been offered in more blog posts, audio recordings, and social media happeningz (ASA Facebook , ASA Instagram, ASA YouTube).

Much love,

Michael and Paul

 

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