River Day 2: Song of the Namekagon

We flew down the river today, accompanied by birds, lots of water, and new friends.




4 minute read

Up and going up.
Up and going up.

It’s possible some new speed records were set on the Namekagon River today. The first paddlers actually beat our gear truck to Hayward, covering the 13.5 miles in just a few hours. It’s all because of the rain last night, which has raised the water about a foot over normal.

That torrent caused some excitement for a few paddlers not long after we got underway this morning. A sharp corner with strong current shooting across it pushed a lot of folks into the opposite bank. Everybody was fine, though, and we all kept a close eye on the river for the rest of the way.

We live by the weather forecast out here. I don’t think I’m alone in thanking my lucky stars that it’s been wrong for two days in a row. We have had spots of sun when we were supposed to have thunderstorms. While it rained last night, we remain fortunate to have paddled under dry skies.

Time travel

Dave Thoreson, Down to Earth Tours
Our knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide, Dave Thoreson of Down to Earth Tours

The morning started at 7 a.m. when several folks joined Dave Thoreson of Down to Earth Tours for a short hike through Uhrenholdt Memorial Forest, a neat piece of woods managed by the Department of Natural Resource as a demonstration of forest management. One side of the road is managed, with culling of underbrush and other activities. But across the road is unmanaged, and that’s where we walked. The forest was owned by a Danish immigrant who believed strongly in the importance of forests, and bought up this piece of red and white pine woods in about 1900. Now the pines are a couple hundred years old and the forest feels ancient in this heavily-logged region.

On a side note, Soren Urehenholdt was beloved author and conservationist Sigurd Olson’s father-in-law, and Olson had a strong connection to this land, and considered it his true home, even though he wrote extensively about canoeing in the wilderness of northern Minnesota and Canada, lived in Ely his whole life, and worked tirelessly for the protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Obviously, we learned a lot on this short, pre-breakfast (and pre-coffee) hike. Dave is a great tour guide and if you’re ever in northern Wisconsin, contact him for a day tour of fascinating cultural and natural sites.

We had breakfast of wild rice pancakes at Sawmill Saloon, who were terrific hosts, and then slowly got on the water.

Water highway

IMG_0143The river was a choir today, the constant birdsong singing the soprano parts, the insistent sound of water rushing through timber and over rocks the tenor, and the wind in the pines and against my face the resonating baritone.

I didn’t do any fishing, but the osprey and eagles were out. At one point, an osprey flew overhead with a flopping fish in its talons. The banks are every shade of green, with a fair bit of red and orange to offset it.

It’s funny, after a couple days you think you’ve met everyone, but then you’re paddling along and say hi to someone and realize they are a completely new face. Today I met up with Jim and Nancy Nelson as they pushed off from shore after lunch on a beautiful little island canopied by white cedars. They posed for a photo under a railroad trestle, and then we got to chatting. I learned that they are from Stillwater, also my hometown, just another week or two downstream, and we knew lots of people in common.

As we paddled across the Hayward Flowage, nearing the end of the day, I met Phil See (also of Stillwater!) and he told me he has done genealogical research and learned that his grandfathers six generations back were voyageurs, who had paddled this very country in the fur trade. One of them was the clerk at Forts Folle Avoine, now a historic park on the Yellow River near its confluence with the St. Croix, not far from where we will finish this trip. Paddling this river is a way of connecting with those ancestors and his own roots.

Home in Hayward

Phil, grandson of voyageurs.
Phil, grandson of voyageurs.

It was a short 13 miles and we spotted the bright-colored signs on shore before I expected it. The Comfort Suites is letting many of us camp on their soft grassy lawn, and opening up the showers in the pool area for our use. I ran into town with Deb and Kevin, where we had a drink at the quirky Moccasin Bar and stopped by Hayward Outfitters, which rent and sell all kinds of paddling gear.

Dinner was provided by the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, and then fly casting lessons on the dock from Hayward Fly Fishing Company. The weather has cooled off quickly, and now everyone is enjoying the comfortable lobby and the sun is dipping toward the horizon on Hayward Lake.

Tomorrow is another 13.5 mile day, heading down to Springbrook. We have had it pretty comfortable so far, with lots of creature comforts, as well as Internet connections and power outlets. The river actually gets more remote the farther we head downstream, so these updates might get more sporadic. I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated at home — several folks have mentioned that their family and friends are reading along. Glad to have you, and I can confidently report everyone is having a great old time. You should hear the laughter in this room right now.



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