Mississippi River north of Little Falls, MN – September 19, 2012
Grey clouds covered the sky, their edges black and cold. Wind raced up the river, twisting and turning through the channel and ripping away any warmth in the air.
My hands felt stiff and half there, my fingertips numb. I tried not to shiver every time the wind hit me, but it cut through my clothes. I needed to keep paddling, to keep moving and generating heat.
The kayak scraped against rocks as the water widened and thinned. First one, then another, then the entire hull ground to a stop in the middle of the Mississippi River.
I never expected this. I know the water is low, but a kayak only drafts a few inches and this is one of the biggest rivers in the world. I sat in the boat staring at the thin water in disbelief, like if I stared long enough it would fill out and lift me off the rocks.
“This isn’t happening,” I thought.
But it was and there was no other way out. Cold and miserable, caught in the middle of the river, I needed to walk the boat. I popped open the skirt and stepped into the water. The wind bit into my legs and I began splashing down the river. After a few steps, I was soaking wet.
The Savanna Portage, the Grand Portage, the Boundary Waters, they would all laugh at this small inconvenience. It would have been nothing there next to long, back-breaking portages, alongside rapids, after crawling over deadfalls, but they had been honest about it. They never sold me any lies. I was ready for them.
The Mississippi was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be the end of all that. It felt like the world hadn’t kept a promise. I think that is what frustrated me the most, that I never expected this.
In and out of the boat, again and again as it scraped and dragged. Every new turn brought me out of the boat and into the cold. Shivering and wet, I wore down until I shrunk into a bitter knot and started screaming at the river, kicking the water and yelling about what a miserable place it was.
I kicked and I kicked and every time the water just fell back into itself like nothing had changed, like it just was what it was and there was nothing I could do about it.
I stopped kicking and glared at it for a moment then grabbed the boat and kept walking down the cold, miserable, beautiful river.