Our adventure has come to an end now, concluding this afternoon as 75 weary, smiling paddlers pulled up to Riverside Landing. As usual, our arrivals were scattered over a couple hours, and many were already on the road home before my usual partners in the back of the pack got there.
We had said our goodbyes this morning at Howell Landing, where we camped in glorious fashion on the final night of the trip. The crew stood in a semi-circle as our esteemed leader Deb gave her last briefing of the trip: telling of the weather forecast, river conditions, landmarks, special educational stops, and our destination. We applauded our ground crew, Russ and Steve, and applauded Deb for taking us on a journey.
The sun was just coming over the trees behind our tents and hitting the camp as we got ready to go. The night before, it had set across the river, washing us in intense, warm light. Paddlers had sat in small groups around picnic tables or at the water’s edge and talked and laughed. If you stood in the middle of the camp and listened, you could seventy-five people who had not a care in the world for that moment.
Now it was off for our longest paddle, 21 miles to Riverside Landing, a few miles down the St. Croix from where the Namekagon joins it. To me, the miles flowed by quickly. I paddled for a while with Gary Noren and Marty Harding, who were joining us for the day, and Jim Fitzpatrick. Gary is the chair of the St. Croix River Association’s board of directors, and Marty is the chair of the St. Croix Valley Foundation board of directors. Gary was also an early supporter of St. Croix 360, and occasionally contributes great photos he’s taken around St. Croix Falls. I’ve known him and Marty for a while now, and it was good to finally paddle together. Jim is the recently retired director of Carpenter Nature Center and an expert birder and as we paddled he named the songs he heard, including his favorite birdsong, the 20-note symphony of the winter wren.
When we rode the last bouncy rapids and coasted to the landing, it was good to see the sign-in sheet fully checked off one last time, everyone safely into the final destination. The drive home is probably more dangerous than a week on the river, but still, we knew the healthy respect one should feel for a wild river. I was grateful everyone had made it in.
I got home to my wife Katie and my one-year-old Annika and rocked the wee one a while and then started telling Katie about my fellow paddlers. I told her about people who made each other laugh, looked out for each other, shared their food and gear, and paddled together in awe of the Namekagon.
As I was saying goodbye to Deb in the Riverside Landing parking lot, she had mentioned how it would be strange to wake up tomorrow and not go paddling. As I told Katie about the trip tonight, I also realized it will be strange to wake up tomorrow and not see the people I’d spent the past six days with on the banks of a magical American river.
More is yet to come. I don’t quite know what yet, but I still have words to write. Please sign up for email updates for all your St. Croix River watershed news using the form at top-right.