White water kayaking in Minnesota was something I had been looking forward to for a couple of months. When I signed up for the trip, I thought it would be warm enough by June 1st, but I was wrong. The water was still cold, and possibly the cause of my current case of almost bronchitis (in combination with a lot of other factors), but if I could do it all over again, I would.
The group of us met at Robinson Park in Sandstone, Minnesota. We each picked out our wetsuits, dry tops, water shoes, life jackets, and helmets, then piled into the “Fun Bus.” It was a short ride to the drop off point where we would launch our kayaks.
One by one, the kayaks were pulled off the trailer and we took turns inflating them. I took a solo kayak in an effort to be brave. When it was finally time to put them into the water, I felt the knots begin to form in my stomach. I was anxious about what might happen.
What if I fell out? I might land on a rock and that would hurt. Memories of almost drowning in a pool during kindergarten swimming lessons surfaced, but I pushed them down. I had been on rapids before, and I never fell out. I would be okay this time too. I could do this!
We paddled our way up stream for a little bit just to get the hang of being in a kayak. Once everyone was in the river, we turned and started going with the water. We were given explicit instructions to follow Tony, our guide. Since I learn by watching, I took up the rear of the group.
When you hit the rapids, you have to keep paddling. You cannot let the water take you where it wants to. By paddling, you have some control. However, once you turn sideways in the rapids, it’s all over.
I was scared and did stop paddling for a moment on the first rapids. That brief moment was just enough for me to loose control. The kayak turned sideways and I crashed into a rock.
That was that.
I fell out of the boat. The current was so strong, but I managed to hang onto the rocks. At that point, I was terrified and didn’t really want to continue anymore. As the saying goes, you have to get back up on the horse once you fall off, so I got back in the kayak and tried again on the next rapids.
No luck. I almost made it, but at the last little bit something happened and I tumbled out.
Now I really wanted to bail, but I couldn’t. I had to keep going or I would be stranded on the bank of a river in what looked like the middle of nowhere. So I got back in the kayak and tried again.
The third time I was so very, very close, but I got sucked backwards. Water falling over the tiny waterfall of the rapids began to fill my boat and eventually it was too much force in every direction and the boat dumped me.
This time, I went under water. My first thought was my glasses, I couldn’t lose them so I plastered my hand against my face and finally I was able to come up. I coughed the water out and sucked some air in before it took me under again. I still didn’t loose my glasses!
When I came up the second time I coughed more water out and floated with the boat down the river to the group. I was borderline in tears I was so scared, but still I got back in the boat. At our next stop, Tony and I switched with two of the other people in the group. They took the solo kayaks so he and I were in a tandem kayak.
I stopped wiping out after that. I’d like to think it was my awesome skills I developed the hard way of wiping out in rapids, but I know it was because Tony was in the back controlling the kayak.
We stopped along the way to see the geology that made the river. We stopped to jump off a cliff (I had used up all my bravery for the day, so I took pictures of the others). We stopped for a water break and photo op. We stopped to swim under a freezing spring fed waterfall.
The tour was more than white water kayaking. We were able to see the area and the wild river. As soon as we launched the kayaks and went over the first set of rapids, there were no more signs of people. No power lines or bridges crossing the river. It was truly a wild and beautiful place.
Tony was a wonderful guide and saved me more than a couple times. If you are looking for something fun to do within an easy drive of the Twin Cites, I would highly recommend booking a trip with Tony and Hard Water Sports. He knows the river and the history of the area incredibly well and will save you every time you fall out of the kayak.
Many thanks to Tony from Hard Water Sports, Explore Minnesota, and TBEX for providing me with memories that will last a lifetime. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.