Skip to main content.
Bikes. Parts. Chaos.
Marlin gave me ample notice announcing a 2-day visit to the Cities from his home near Bayfield, Wisconsin. So I had the opportunity to plan and execute one last mission in his Alpacka Denali Llama packraft before it returned home with him to the shores of Lake Superior and the waterways that surround the Great Lake. I'd already used a Travelers Check for my first 3 sessions with the raft: 1) July 31st…Minnesota River…my first packraft experience 2) August 7th…Mississippi River...rode from home to where the Minnehaha Creek joins the mighty Mississippi (3km), paddled to, and partway around, Pike Island (6.5km), and rode home (5km). 3) August 21st…Minnehaha Creek…rode to work (25km) for a 6:30am video conference with our agent in Taiwan after staying up all night readying my gear, worked ‘til 10:30am, rode to the creek at HWY 100 (12km), paddled for 6 hours to the last portage point upstream of the lowhead dam and the 10-meter-high Minnehaha Falls (16km), rode home (3km), slept for 15 hours. It was time to enroll another vehicle, preferably something simple and light (in the Surly scheme of things), into the last paddle plan. What to ride...hmmm…a conundrum. Yes, the Conundrum! I wasn't planning on camping, so I knew I could carry everything in a backpack. My GoLite Jam 2 was perfect. The extended roll-top closure allowed me to fit the PFD, the raft, and the blade portions of the paddle completely inside the pack, while the paddle shafts stuck out the top. Water bottles went in their designated side pockets. Tools and a tube were strapped onto the uni. And the remaining stuff…stove and cook kit, dinner, snacks, Junk Straps, a couple beers, and misc small items…went into the large rear pocket of the pack. Last Friday, I set out to ride/paddle the same course I'd covered on my August 7th outing. I rolled down to the Mississippi at the Minnehaha Creek outlet…just below Lock and Dam No. 1, inflated the raft, strapped the Conundrum and pack onto the Llama, and set out toward St. Paul, avoiding, as much as possible, the floating brown mystery foam eminating from the dam spillway. A tailwind blessed me that least, for the first portion of the float. What took me 2 hours on the 7th, took 45 minutes this time. So, instead of simply paddling the relatively calm backwater on the south and southwest shores of Pike Island and returning along the same sheltered route, I decided to paddle completely around the island (counterclockwise), despite the certainty of strong headwinds and opposing currents on the much larger Mississippi River channel that forms the northern shore of the island. Pike Island, located below the sandstone cliffs of Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, lies in the fork created by the Mississippi River and the Minnesota River. It is the codpiece in the crotch of this two-river junction. The majority of water surrounding the island, including that of the Minnesota River is relatively slow-moving. Two thirds of the journey around the elongated land mass was pretty mellow…essentially like flatwater paddling. But then I rounded the eastern tip of the island. The wind and current, that had previously pushed me down the Mississippi at a respectable clip, was working against me. At times, when the winds strongly gusted, I made no forward progress upstream, despite my best paddling efforts. I thought about moving towards shore and pulling the boat along as I waded in the shallow water, but that felt like cheating. So I continued on with the arduous task of getting back upstream to the western point of the island, using only my paddle. I dug the blades of the paddle in deep and used power strokes to make headway. Occasionally, the wind would die down and I would gain some forward momentum. Most of the time, however, I made slow forward progress…moving inches at a time. Finally, after an exhausting push upstream, I reached my destination…a nice pebble beach on the western tip of Pike Island. There, I set up a windblock with a sizable log, my pack, and the raft, so I could cook dinner (Mountain House Chile Mac) and make coffee with my little Esbit stove. It was necessary to weigh down the raft with a large branch, so the wind wouldn't flip it or carry it off. My well-deserved, slightly cool Miller High Life (it's the champagne of beers, ya know) tasted fantastic, and my dinner-in-a-bag tasted even better. I spent an hour and twenty minutes there…relaxing, eating, sipping coffee, and enjoying the day on the edge of the mostly-deserted island that is part of the Minnesota State Park system. After packing up my stove and cook kit, I paddled the short distance across the channel to the Mississippi shoreline, deflated the raft, and packed everything up (11 minutes) for the 5km ride home on the Condundrum. The roll home was a nice change from the combined 5 hours of paddling and sitting I'd just done. The 170mm cranks on my uni are long for distance riding. I was barely able to keep ahead of a two runners who plodded along behind me. But riding the Conundrum is still faster than walking or running when one factors in the amount of gear being carried. I doubt if a runner could carry what I had on my back and still keep my pace for any length of time. The unicycle/packraft combo certainly has some merits compared to the bike/raft set-up: lower weight, lower volume/area taken up on the raft, less profile in the wind, and easier to push/pull/carry through dense vegetation. The downsides include lower speeds on land and less storage capacity. That was a really fun, challenging, low-cost way to spend the day without getting too far from home. Of course, I live for the journey. Those who only look forward to the destination would have hated it. Different (paddle) strokes for different folks. -----