This week, we’ve encountered the most kind and amazing folks one could possibly imagine. It took us three days to cross Lake Pepin, a twelve mile long and incredibly shallow lake known for its wicked tall whitecaps and nasty headwinds. We went from making thirty miles a day to three miles a day across that damn lake. There was a point when we were actually moving upstream. On the third day, the winds changed – we made it out without a tow. To celebrate, we stopped at a dredging site across from Read’s Landing, (dredging site is synonymous with “awesome sand dune beach where middle-aged men in fast boats offer us beer”). Here, we met the Adams family: Tim, Emily, Jessalyn, Briel, and Fish.
Tim and Emily Adams, along with their two daughters Jessalyn and Briel, treated us to the best hot dog tacos of our lives. They even took us home with them, after knowing us for only an hour or so – Minnesota people are some of the kindest people in the world. After a much needed shower, a desperately needed load of laundry, and a good night’s sleep, we went to work with Tim to learn about the fish of the region. Tim manages a commercial wild-caught fishery and stars in the show “Bottom Feeders” on the outdoors channel. The fishery was absolutely amazing. Thousands of pounds of Invasive Asian Carp, hundreds of pounds of fish eggs, and even a truck load of snapping turtles: we got to witness a whole lot of guts.
After watching the process for about an hour and meeting the folks who fillet and package the fish, it was time to get my hands dirty. Carla and Rick encouraged me to try my hand at filleting. Sans gloves and with a smile, I attempted to slice open a 30 lbs Asian Carp from tail to chin. It took a couple of tries, but I managed. With blood up to my elbows, I reached inside, squeezed its throat between my thumb and forefinger, and ripped out all of its guts. I felt like I had just leveled up in my evolutionary value a bit. It was empowering.
After saying goodbye to Tim, we passed through Lock and Damn #4. Afterwards, we found ourselves in the little town of Alma. Here, we stopped and ate cold beans with Tony’s creole seasoning on the municipal dock (out of the can, of course) and wandered around looking for ice cream. We found more than we bargained for. In a little white storefront in the tiny town of Alma Wisconsin, we found a little slice of France. The Hotel de Ville was built about eight years ago by two men named Jeff and Dan. They were passing through Alma to build a garden, and ended up creating a masterpiece, buying up many of the abandoned buildings, restoring all the buildings in the most artful ways imaginable, reviving the town, and creating Hotel de Ville – “the romance of the South of France, without the attitude.”
After eating the best root bear float of my existence, sitting in the shade of the garden, and shooting the shit with Dan for an hour, we were set at staying at the inn for the evening. Dan gave us a river rat discount, a three bedroom fountain sweet, and the keys to his truck – Wisconsin folks are some of the nicest people in the world. Feather Duvets. Real Pillows. Crystal glasses. China plates. Sun rooms. Chandeliers. Candelabras. Courtyard. There was even an original Salvador Dali print in my bedroom. When I set out on this trip two weeks ago, I would have never dreamed of staying in a real bed with a Dali print on the wall. Thank you Dan, for the much needed rest. I slept in until ten.
From Alma, we took off towards Lock and Damn # 5 and #5A. After two hellacious storms (one of which claimed a glove, a bag of potato chips, and our dignity), and two major locks, we were blown into shore to meet Bill Rowekamp – a third generation dairy farmer. In 1914, his grandfather bought seven cows and started a farm. Now Bill has over three hundred. He treated us to a cold beer and some amazing stories. (photos to follow in a later post).
Downriver the next day, we encountered a community of boat-houses in Winona, MN. In my first photography class, my professor showed us the work of a man named Alec Soth. Alec drove up and down the Mississippi River taking photographs and became famous for his gallery exhibit Sleeping Beside the Mississippi (check it out – it’s brilliant). I remember being incredibly inspired by one of the photographs: a two story boat-house frozen into the river, with laundry out on the line and the number 706 written on plywood out front, labeled simply “Peter’s Houseboat, Winona.” With the sudden urge to find “Peter” and his boathouse, we stopped on the island and searched. We never really “found” Peter – we saw him from a distance – but we did end up making the best of friends. On Wolf-Spider Island, the second island of boathouses, we were shown the community by an amazing fellow named Gerty. Gerty has floated the entire Mississippi, Ohio, and Mekong rivers and now lives in a floating dome that he’s restoring. There are only 99 permits allowed for boathouses and only one of the islands has electricity. There are everything from two-story cottage style houses to rag-tag rustic cabins, all floating on hundreds of 50-gallon barrels in the Mississippi. We had dinner with Polly and the Wacker, awesome hippie-folk with open hearts and wild music. We danced until midnight and joined the Dew World Order – finishing off a fifth of Tulamore Dew Irish Whisky. Thank you, Polly and the Wacker, for giving us our first party on the Miss. (Wolf Spider Island pictures will come with their own blog post the next time we have stable internet).
The next day – we set out for La Crosse, an awesome little college town. Here, we got fresh organic food at the People’s Co-op and met Mr. John Sullivan, a local conservationist and river rat. After fueling up, we were on our way.