Day 16, June 14th
Measurements: turbidity at Fletcher Creek campsite: 52cm (this is substantially clearer than the past few days). River miles traveled: 31 (but not all on the river).
Today was pretty physically demanding. I got a pretty good start, maybe 9am. The river was moving at a nice clip at Fletcher Creek, but soon slowed to a crawl above the Little Falls Dam. I had maybe two miles of moving water before I hit the dam-lake. Worse, the wind was against me, and blowing pretty hard. I had to paddle across a largish lake in Little Falls, which took over an hour just to go one mile.
I put out at the 4th Ave landing, converted to road mode, and biked a few blocks into downtown Little Falls. It's a cute downtown, with lots of intact old river-town buildings. I had a black bean burger and fries at A.T. restaurant, which was perfectly nice (except for the tick I brought in with me, and found on my ear).
Next, I had a choice to make. Between the Little Falls dam and the next one on the river, called Blanchard, there were only nine river miles. So the whole river experience would have been that linear lake I have come to dislike so much. That stretch is even a named lake, they call it Zebulon Pike Lake. So I could convert the boat back to boat mode, paddle nine miles of wide, flat water, with the wind in my face, and then go through another portage at the end of it. Or I could just bike the nine miles down to Blanchard. That's what I did, and I think it was the right choice. I got some glimpses of the river throught the trees up on the bluff, and it did not look fun at all. To be fair, the bike ride was also not much fun. It was maybe 2:30pm, on the hottest day of the year so far. When I got to Blanchard I was pretty drained and very hot.
The Blanchard portage is hands down the worst I've seen so far. I acually biked back to the main road from the area where the portage is, to take another dirt road down to the fishing pier area below the dam, rather than trying to navigate the ridiculously, dangerously steep "portage" path. I can't imagine what other through paddlers do here.
Below Blanchard the Mississippi was moving again, nice and fast. I am retaining a healthy level of intimidation when it's moving like that. It has gottne frankly pretty huge. I was marveling, in one of the stretches where the river splits into multiple channels to go around a profusion of little islands, that every one of these channels is bigger than the entire Mississippi was even a week ago, upstream. Much less two weeks ago, when I remember literally having my 14' canoe get stuck sideways between the banks.
I considered staying at a campsite called Royalton Sportsman's Club, which was big and up a bit and mowed (and therefore relatively bug-free), but pushed on for Stearns County Park. The water stopped moving as quickly just upstream, so I pulled into the campsite after 8pm. Like so many of the sites set aside for canoe/kayak camping, it feels like an afterthought, and is basically in a swamp. I put up the tent with a cloud of mosquitoes around me, killed the rest, and got into bed with no dinner (but with a beer).
Tomorrow I'm headed through St. Cloud.