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.









Adventure Goals for 2013

As 2012 is left behind and a new year begins, I have some goals (lofty in some respects, realistic in others) to have a more adventure filled year than 2012.  The biggest adventure I’ll be having, is that my wife and I are expecting our second son in March.  Nothing on this list will give me more joy than the joy I’ll be experiencing on March 19th (assuming baby #2 is punctual).  With all of these things I aim to accomplish in the new year, they will only happen if I can successfully balance adventure and family.  It’s very important for me to spend quality time with the fam, and adventuring out in the wild while my wife is at home with two kids both under the age of 4 would put me in the running for worst husband of 2013.  So, there needs to be a balance.  As part of that balance, I’m looking to try to have more local adventures.  Things I can do close to the Twin Cities or the rare northern Minnesota trip.  Obviously I’d love to take my wife and sons on all of these excursions, but the boys aren’t old enough for most of them yet.
With that in mind, here are the things I hope to try to do in 2013.

Run a 50 mile Trail Ultramarathon
Last summer I ran my first ultra, the Afton Trail Ultramarathon.  It was a great experience, albeit a very tough and challenging one.  This biggest commitment of this isn’t the race itself, but the time investment the training necessitates.  By my estimation, if I can run 30 miles, what’s another 20?  Right?  Right?  I’ve got my eye on you Superior Trail Race.

Climb at Barn Bluff in Red Wing and Blue Mounds State Park
Taylor’s Falls is great for a Twin Citian such as myself, and there’s still a lot of routes I haven’t done there, but a trip to either Barn Bluff in Red Wing or Blue Mounds our in Luverne would be a lot of fun  I believe Barn Bluff is mostly lead climbing, so…
***Bonus Goal ***
Learn how to lead climb..

Mountain bike Cuyuna Trails
Two falls ago I biked Cuyuna and loved it.  I hope to be able to take another crack at it.
***Bonus Goal ***
Mountain bike way more often than I did in 2012.  After getting a new bike towards the end of 2011, I found it tough find time to hit the trails.  Shame on me.

Paddle the Minnehaha Creek Watershed point to point
This is basically in my backyard so I have no reason not to do it, other than low waters because of a drought and the need for an aluminum canoe.  But other than that I don’t have a good excuse.  It’s pretty meandering and easy from what I understand.  Bonus points if I take my (then) 3-year-old son on his first canoe ride.

Hike section of the Superior Hiking Trail
I love hiking in northern Minnesota, but haven’t been able to hike the SHT for a few years.  Even if I can only get up there for one or two days, it’d be worth it.  I’ve never been up there for the fall foliage….

Run a marathon; either Grandma’s or Twin Cities
I’ve ran a lot of half-marathons and an ultra-marathon  but I haven’t run a regular road marathon since I ran Twin Cities in 2008.  I’d like to run Grandma’s since I’ve never done it – new experience – but Twin Cities is a lot more convenient.

Sleep outside in the backyard with my son
On the eve of his 2nd birthday I set up the tent and we camped outside in our backyard.  Awesome and memorable.  

Birthday camping is the best!
Birthday camping is the best!

Rock climb Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin with my uncle
My uncle who lives in the Northern suburbs of Chicago takes a trip north with a group of guys to climb at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin.  He has invited my brothers and I on the trip numerous times but the timing has never worked out.  Crossing my fingers for 2013.

Participate in the Hoigaard’s challenge
This is a prime candidate to be the first thing on my list I don’t accomplish.  A friend of mine recently asked me if I was interested in trying to accomplish the Hoigaard’s Challenge.  This includes participating in all three of the following events: The City of Lakes Loppet (XC skiing, Feb. 2-3), The Tri-Loppet (paddle, MTB, trail run, June 23), and the Surly Trail Loppet (trail half-marathon, Sept. 21).  Complete all three and you get a pin.  Neato.  I’ve done the Surly Trail Loppet before and really enjoyed it.  The Tri-Loppet is particularly appealing to me because I’ve thought of doing tris before but I don’t swim a lot (not those distances anyway) and I don’t have a road bike.  I do however enjoy mountain biking quite a bit, so this is right up my alley.  The City of Lakes Loppet however…although it’s something I want  to get into more, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve XC skied in my life.  That’s why if we ever get around to actually signing up, we’d just be participating.  Not competing.  But hey, gotta start somewhere right?

What are your goals for more adventure in 2013?  Leave a comment below.