Paddle It. Protect It. And Appreciate It.

Some things in life reap such a big reward that the struggle before the high becomes an instant, distant memory. (Childbirth? Marathons?)

And that’s how I’d ultimately summarize Minnesota’s annual Mississippi River Challenge.

The views! The camaraderie! The sore arms! (Caveat: I heard 24 miles and current, so didn’t prep. At. All. Turns out it was 24 miles per day, and very little current.)

While it’s perfectly true that will power and pride got me to that finish line, I still don’t regret it—of course, not until after I survived without calling uncle (though there is that option, if you need it).

But I guess that’s why they call it a challenge, and a gorgeous one at that.

river challengeThis year, the route is somewhat new: Paddlers will start on the Minnesota River, go through the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge, and then join the Mississippi River at Pike Island, continuing on through St. Paul and further downstream to Grey Cloud Island on day two.

Though there are hundreds of paddlers, everyone gets pretty spread out at times, so there’s a definite quiet and peacefulness throughout. Then everyone meets up at the very convenient, well organized, and very welcome stopping points along the way, for snacks, rest, and often a little education.

Any paddlecraft (ie. no motor) is allowed, with lots of easy rentals you pick up on the day, so the river is full of single-person kayaks, groups in canoes, and even a paddleboard or two—though I can’t imagine taking that the whole way. I found the single kayak pretty easy to maneuver, and didn’t feel tippy or unsafe. Everyone wears a life jacket, the current isn’t strong, and safety captains are all out paddling, ready to help if you need it (though I didn’t see them needed that often).

A definite highlight was camping overnight at Historic Fort Snelling. Our tents and gear were right there when we arrived, and a big meal and live entertainment kept us busy until our weary heads were no longer upright. This year, paddlers can enjoy live music by the Roe Family Singers.

And the food was stellar. Lots of cold drinks, snacks, and hearty meals easily sustained us along the way.

This isn’t all fun and games, though. It’s for the river: Each paddler over 18 is required to raise a minimum of $200 (half-day paddlers) or $250 (one- and two-day paddlers) in pledges to participate. Paddlers ages 16-18 are asked to raise a minimum of $50 in pledges, but there is no minimum for those 15 and under. And all that goes directly to the Friends of the Mississippi River, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that works to “protect and conserve land along the river, its water quality, and its value as a recreational, ecological, cultural and historic asset for everyone in the community.”

You can learn lots more about the fund-raising and half-day (11 miles), one-day (17 miles) and two-day (39 miles) options on the event site. This year, I’m considering a three-person canoe, so I can enjoy the views even more during my “off” shifts.

The actual Challenge is next month, July 28 & 29, but this advance notice is three-fold:

  1. Register by July 1 and you get a reduced sign-up rate.
  2. You’ll need time to start raising those funds.
  3. And lift some weights. Your arms will thank you.

It’s truly one of the greatest outdoor experiences I’ve ever had in this great state, and well worth it.