Kayaking between the storms

Dark skies, heavy rain, thunder and 19 mph gusting winds. My shoulders sagged in disappointment as I looked out the window upon waking this dreary day in Minnesota. My friends Troy and Carol, who reside part-time on a house boat on the Mississippi River in Saint Paul, had booked our kayak tour with Minnesota Adventure Company earlier in the year, and for months, we had looked forward to exploring the local waters of the Twin Cities on this late June day. Now we faced a bleak weather forecast.

As rain continued to pelt the boat, we dismally watched the radar from our iPhones. A call shortly after 8 a.m. to the tour organizers informed us to meet at Harriet Island Regional Park at our designated 9 a.m. departure time and a decision whether to go would be made on the spot. Radar showed the possibility that the strong winds would carry the storm out of the area by then.

Our moods improved as we left the house boat and made our way out of the marina up to the meeting place in the adjoining park. Puddles covered the parking lot and trees dripped with rainwater, but the rain had stopped. Other hopefuls were waiting at the bus as well.

Game-time decision: go! Our guides thought this would be our only chance to get out today. More storms were predicted after lunch.

We piled into the bus and made a short drive upriver to Hidden Falls Regional Park. Our guides prepared the kayaks and handed out life vests, and provided paddling tips to the first-timers in the group.

As we pushed off into the Mississippi River, our guides, Crystal and Greg, instructed us to paddle hard away from the shore and go left. From the riverbank, it looked like the water was moving in both directions.

“Getting through these eddies will be the hardest part of the trip,” said Greg, as circular currents of water surrounded us.

It really wasn’t too bad, and we took off downstream with Crystal leading the way. Troy and my husband, Greg, were right behind her and Carol and I paddled swiftly to catch up. The other Greg, the second guide, took up the back of our 13-person group.

The winds remained strong and paddling altered from easy to hard depending on our location on the river. Despite the winds trying to blow us back at times, the river current carried us downstream.

We traveled down the Mississippi River and past the historic Fort Snelling, a United States military fort located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Here, where the two flowing bodies of water joined together, Crystal moved slightly ahead of the pack to check for oncoming boats and then gave us the signal that it was safe to cross from one shore to the other. You could actually see the water color difference between the two rivers, the Mississippi water brown compared to the black hue of the Minnesota, as they converged.

As we paddled through the wilderness, it was hard to believe we were kayaking so near the city. We had already seen two blue herons along the shore and two bald eagles soaring above us in the sky.

We enjoyed chatting with Crystal and learning about her kayaking adventures. She said the group offers a Minnehaha Creek Tour as well and that many new kayakers sign up for that tour thinking it will be easier paddling a small river than the mighty Mississippi. Oh, how wrong they are! The Mississippi River carries you downstream with little paddling effort, whereas the Minnehaha Creek is winding with mini rapids, fluctuating water levels and obstacles to overcome. Greg and I shook our heads in understanding—we knew from our local Yahara River that smaller streams can be quite challenging.

As we continued downriver, we passed beneath the Minnesota capital city’s many bridges. The area was quiet this sodden Sunday morning, adding a peacefulness to our adventure.

“Look up, Shari!” Carol called out at one point. Looking up, I saw an eagle sitting on a branch above my head. Spotting an eagle never ceases to fill me with awe. A short while later, I was able to call out our fourth eagle spotting. As I started to say, “There’s an eagle hidden in that tree,” it took flight, displaying its incredible beauty as it flew across the river.

As we approached the downtown Saint Paul skyline, we knew our Mississippi Tour was wrapping up. The two and half hours had gone by much too quickly and we had reached our destination at Harriett Island Park. While we wished we could keep paddling, it was a good time to get off the water and head for shelter as the skies above the city began to blacken again. The next round of storms was quickly approaching.

Minnesota Adventure Company’s Mississippi Tour was a lot of fun! We all agreed it deserves a five-star review. As we walked back to the house boat, we excitedly committed to doing another tour as soon as Greg and I can return to Saint Paul. And while the Mississippi Tour was fantastic, I’m pretty sure I can talk Troy and Carol into trying Minnehaha Creek next!

Carol, Greg and Troy paddle toward downtown Saint Paul.
The next round of thunderstorms was getting closer as we pulled our kayaks out of the water.
We’d definitely take another kayak tour with Crystal (left) and the Minnesota Adventure Company.

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