Canoeing Minnehaha Creek

I had ambitious adventure goals for 2013 and didn’t complete any of them. I had a pretty valid reason since my second son was born that year, and, well, that dwarfs every other adventure I could have had. One of those goals was to canoe down Minnehaha Creek, something I’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to. Last weekend I finally decided to get my act together and canoe a section of the creek with my oldest son and a friend. Goals for the day were pretty straightforward: 1) expose my son to the joys of canoeing (he’s never been on a canoe, he’s 4), 2) hang out with a good friend, 3) have a local adventure in my backyard, 4) enjoy gorgeous weather.

Check, check, check, and check.

One of the things that endears me to wear I live in the Twin Cities (and the Twin Cities as a whole for that matter) is the accessibility of trails, waterways, and outdoor recreation you can get to easily within a 30 minute or less drive. It takes me about 5 minutes to get to a canoe landing along the creek from my house, but there are many places you can put in so long as you do it between Gray’s Bay and Minnehaha Falls. That’s a pretty good stretch and affords a lot of opportunities.  The forest green Lincoln canoe that sits on the side of my house doesn’t get the usage it deserves, so this was a terrific opportunity to give it a run.

Since my son has never been on a canoe and he has an uneasy relationship with bodies of water that he can’t walk into from shore and are not in our bathtub, I spent days hyping up the trip by extolling the virtues of a day paddling a watercraft. He was into it, at least he was into the idea of it. My friend, Erik, had done it once before so I relied on his knowledge of the winding Minnehaha Creek and what stretches were more nuanced than others. Initially I had envisioned putting in at Gray’s Bay and going as far down the creek as possible, but Erik wisely suggested we might want to shorten the trip since we had a 4 year old in tow, and 4 year olds aren’t known to want to do much of anything for more than an hour at a time. The truncated version we settled on was to put in behind the Minnetonka Civic Center and pull out around the Knollwood Target off highway 7. Since I have kids and he does not, we had to take out my son’s car seat and load it into the canoe, which works just fine as long as you don’t mind a damp car seat, which no one did.

The trip started off great. My son was excited, we waved to a friendly kayaker, and saw a flock of geese take off and land on the water right in front of us. It’s the type of thing that I take for granted as an adult but watching my son enjoy these simplicities puts a new frame around most experiences, this one included.

We passed under many roads, paddled through “caves” – as my son puts it – and enjoyed the surrounding marsh land. Generally, things went really well, although we did have two tricky spots.

The first was around the Minnetonka Mills area, where the creek is shallower, the current is faster, and there are more rocks to run into. We bumped a few rocks along the way and some scraped the bottom. It really wasn’t a big deal (pretty fun in fact for a grownup kid) but my son was frightened by it and he thought we were going to sink and wanted to stop, which of course we did not. This however was the beginning of a long stretch that caused a bit of anxiety for the little guy, but we soldiered on. We began the trip with me steering and Erik in the front. As we learned halfway through the trip after switching positions, he’s far better at steering a canoe than I am, and I’m better an mindlessly paddling and being told what to do.

The Linc got a little banged up on the underside, but nothing we couldn't handle.
The Linc got a little banged up, nothing we couldn’t handle.

The second tricky section was around St. Alban’s road, just east of Hopkins Crossroad. See, the creek bends a lot and when the current picks up, there are more hazards in the water, the creek narrows, and you have to deal with low hanging branches that reach out over the water, there’s a lot more you have to consider. Not the least of which is a 4 year old who’s crying right behind you that he doesn’t want to hit anymore rocks. We did graze a sizable rock alongside the canoe that made us pretty unstable. I – being of sound mind and body – threw my leg out and plunged it into the creek to stabilize the boat so we wouldn’t capsize (it’s not that deep). Thinking I had just saved the day, I turned around just in time to see Erik falling off the back end. He – also of sound mind and body – realized in the moment of turbulence as his weight shifted and he was halfway out of the canoe, that he could either try to ride it out and fight to keep us all up, or, he could bail off the back. He chose door number two and bailed, getting soaked and cracking his elbow on a rock. We both laughed it off as a great time (his laughter came much later than mine, understandably so), but my son did not.

Got a little wet during this portion.
The spill.

After these two minor instances of distress, the rest of the trip was quite peaceful and calm. The little man eventually took a greater interest in the his surroundings as we counted the cranes and turtles along the way of which there were many.

Even though I’m sure there were times he thought it was curtains for him my son had a great time. How do I know? Because he’s still telling stories about it days after the fact. So even though there are times when the water is rough and you feel like you’re going down, sometimes the best thing to do is to keep paddling so you can get to the end, and upon reaching the end, you’ll look back and realize that the payoff was worth it. The payoff being the trip itself and not the final destination. I pray he doesn’t forget that, but if he does, we’ll just have to go on another adventure.

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