We launched Mike from Sandy Lake Rec Area early Friday morning and let him get in a few hard miles that morning before breakfast. Traci and I kept camp up at Sandy Lake so we could clean out the van, get things organized, and shower. It is funny to think that 20 miles on the river can be the same as 5 miles on the road for us. I’ve mentioned that we do have some down time during the day and this time we decided that instead of running around all over, we would enjoy our nice campsite with electric, running water, and laundry. It also gave us time to do some meal prep for the next few days. We knew that chilly weather was headed our way which means Mike needs and wants more warm meals versus wraps and raw veggies.
I can finally say that it only took Traci and I five days to get the swing of things! We know who sets up what at camp, what meals to have ready at each stop, and how long we have in between stops. Some of this will change as we head down the river and the current gets faster but for now, we were happy to be in sync and not running around constantly. Expect a time lapse video in the future!
Two other amazing things happened on Day 5. The first was that the Aitkin Flood Channel was open. The channel is about 7 miles straight ahead versus the 26 miles of curvy river on the main river channel. Taking this route is allowed when going for a speed record. Every record holder has taken it and the water flows directly from the Mississippi River and nowhere else. We were hoping for a small drop in, but the two drops created massive rapids and bad current. We knew Mike would have a hard time getting through it and it was extremely unsafe. We pulled up as close as we could to the drop in to scope it out. Luckily there was a house and a very kind dad and son, Derek and Josh, who allowed us on their land and gave us some tips about the channel and the river. They were located right in the middle of both banks. The channel was rocky and slippery from the rains earlier that day. Our best option was to pull Mike out on the Mississippi side, portage him across land, and drop him back in to the Flood Channel after the rapids. Derek and Josh were such a great help and all three of us wanted to stay and fish with them and enjoy the beautiful day!
The other amazing thing is that we hit our first 70-mile day!!!! We have been working for that from the beginning and have been falling just a little short. The headwaters were shallow and that caused Mike to walk a lot. Also going through the lakes and having the headwinds fight us all the way have made it hard to get there. We were so proud of Mike that Traci rewarded him with some Louisiana red beans and rice and a honey bun for dessert. She wanted to give him a taste of Louisiana to remind him what he is fighting so hard for!
Day 6 started out cold and windy. Traci and I had a hard time feeling our fingers as we broke down camp after launching Michael from the landing. If we were cold, we couldn’t imagine what he was feeling. He jumps out of his warm bed and has to put on his cold, damp clothes and get into a boat for 17 hours. His first words that morning were, “All I know is that my body is telling me to not get into this boat right now.” Attempting a world record is not easy and it is not glamorous. Even when I paddled the river it took me a while to feel open to tell people how much I hated it in the beginning and how much my body just wanted to say no more. What matters is that he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and got in to the boat and paddled his heart out all day!
10 miles from camp, Mike portaged around the Brainard Dam by himself since the gates were locked and Traci and I had no way to get to him. We handed him his hot breakfast through the fence and met him down the river for some first aid. His shoulder was bothering him and he couldn’t get warm. We sat in the sun and Traci taped him up. The rest of the day Mike fought high winds and scattered rain storms. Traci and I stopped at an earlier landing than the planned stopping point to check on him since the storms were getting stronger. She pulled out the wet suit and had it ready for him. He saw us, pulled over to our side of the bank and told us that he just wanted to keep going. That was his warmth. Paddle, paddle, paddle.
We completed three portages around dams and ended the day South of Blanchard Dam after portaging .25 miles. The winds were rough and it was going to storm again so we decided to stop for the night and get an early start to the morning!