Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Packed, Unpacked, Repacked... I've had this packrafting trip on my brain all winter. The river doesn't freeze easily so many days during the winter large tracks of water open up through downtown Saint Paul. I have this idea that I can ride the 12 miles to the put in just up stream from Saint Paul and then raft all the way to my house, some 11 miles. The speed of the river and a small tail wind make the water trek about 4 hours maybe 5 (so I pack a stove and lunch) with an hour for the 12 miles that's an easy 6 hour adventure. As you may know more then 6 hours and it starts getting boring. <he he he> I can't keep a straight face, it doesn't get ugly until a day trip goes into night.

I pack the gear and try to get out 3 weeks ago but it's too windy. I ride about 7 miles and when I get a good look at the river its a wash with foam and spray. The wind had to be over 20 as it's funneled down the river valley. The wife is with the dog at a park that's not very far away. Hoping I can catch her I swing by and throw my backpack with all the gear into her car and then ride home. Without the ~20 pound pack the ride is a lot of fun. Attempt #1, Failed.

Next week I go ice diving with some buddies and then plan to go packraft the next day but as luck would have it the weather was nasty and I pace around the house trying to figure out if I should try and ultimately give up and chop ice in my driveway. Attempt #2, Quit.

Sunday was the day I would get to unPack the gear I loaded 3 weeks ago. The weather sucked but I was going to try. I rode 60 miles the day before so I know the studded tires would get me to the start and I'd just do what I could from there. I refuse to fail for a third straight time.

I leave the house about noon and ride into the wind so I expect it to be at my back and help me make good time but the temps are about 17 degrees so it's far from nice out. An hour later and I'm standing on rotten shelf ice starring into an unpleasant head wind and I need to get exited to play on the water. 

Packrafts don't go into the wind well. Actually they don't like wind at all so I know this is going to suck for at least part of the time until I can get out of the wind and spray.

I inflate the raft, suit up in my dry gear and strap the bike on the bow. The launch is fast but I crash through the rotten ice and before I know whats going on I'm knee deep in ice water so I dive into the boat, back flip style. The boat is tough but it's still inflated with a soft floor and 25 pounds of bike on the bow so I need to load myself softly and in a panic, I flop onto it like a little kid diving onto a hotel bed.

A few minutes of thrashing around getting my feet under the skirt and my, mostly empty, backpack and drybag (polartech top, hat, and jacket) under and into the boat. I seal most of it but leave a small opening on my left side because I don't want to be tied in.

My paddle ices up withing a few minutes; it's like trying to paddle a wet bar of soap and the waves break over the bow from time to time so it's a mix of ice and water on the boats deck. It's about now the dry suit pays for itself. If it wasn't for the security of the dry suit and pfd, this would be very dumb. As it is, I'm warm, dry and in little danger even if I have to swim to shore I'd still take the time to take photos for the blog. 

The real reason I go kayaking is to see what lies along the shore. The stone arch bridge isn't as obvious from land. I know this because I've ridden over it many times and didn't realize it's this cool.

I'm just getting into the good stuff so padding into the wind is paying off and I'm out of the larger waves.

I paddle into a modest wind that if I don't paddle is countered by the current or slightly overpowered and I go upstream. With firm paddling I make solid progress and can still take pictures but I don't have any time to relax and take it in. I'm running the numbers, Do I bail, How can I get out of the wind, will I get into currents, what do I do if an ice flow hits me, will I see a barge.... Sure, I'm safe in my suit but lets not get stupid.

Below right: This is a storm water drain and the steel flaps keep flood waters from lifting man hole covers and flooding streets.

The tugboat is from "www.PortableBarge.com". Seriously there is a dot com for everything.

Below Left: I was surprised to see the tour boats. This was one of three tied up to the port of Saint Paul.
Below Right: Approaching Raspberry Island and the Boat Club.

The core of my trip is the next 1000 yards. I take a lot of pictures and figure I should start naming my routes, SPAM for Special Packraft Adventurer Map. This will be, SPAM #1 - Saint Paul.

The Union Pacific Vertical-lift Rail Bridge is so rotten the footings (built in 1913) are all broken and cables are used to hold parts together and I think they still use it. I want to get up close and see it before they replace it or remove it. This whole trip was so I could see this one artifact.

The crest you see on the Robert Street Bridge says,"ANNO DOMINI 1925" for the year it was built.

The way the sticks get strained out of the river is so cool. It makes me think of cleaning pasta out of a colander.

I pass under the bridges I wanted to and as the Robert street bridge comes and goes the wind picks up and it's blowing straight at me. The next 3 miles, should be, featureless and private land so if I have to take out I may have to explain to security that I am requesting passage as a distressed mariner or something like that. In reality they have to allow me to land if the water is unsafe but beyond that I don't know.

So I turn around and allow the strong wind to blow me about 300 yards back to Raspberry Island for a take out on the sand spit. Earlier this year I found that the East end of the island has a long shallow beach so I know the landing will be easy and it is.

I break down and pack up everything on a nice flat sheet of hard snow and ice. That's a good thing along a river full of trash, rocks, and glass. The gap I left in the skirt because I didn't want to be tied in allowed a lot of water in and soaked my backpack so it's a little frozen on the way home. Next time everything goes in a drybag.

Back on the bike (see the ice?) and I have to ride much farther home then planned but I got to raft under most of the Saint Paul bridges including the old train bridge so I'll come back when its warm and do the entire 11 miles of river and maybe camp out on one of the wildly overground islands. 

That is the end of the story and the last thing I want to say is you've just been SPAMed.

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