Monday, June 21, 2021

Goodbye Lake Sakakawea…

With Thomas & Amber from
Dakota Waters
Arduous, now there’s a good word and one that describes my final day traversing reservoir #2 on this trip.  I had a relaxing, although short, time at Dakota Waters (DW).  When you’re on a trip like this the routine patterns of society get left behind.  When I was paddling towards DW it was apparent the weekend had arrived on the lake.  Saturday was fairly calm with perfect temperatures (in the mid 80s) and the lake shore was lined with row after row of fishing boats all vying for that perfect catch.  At times it felt like I was running a maze as I paddled across a bay, encountered up to 20 boats on the opposite shore, and had to weave my way amongst them to again follow the coastline.  At lunchtime I ran my canoe up on a sandy beach with good protection from the waves and wind and within 15 minutes was joined by half a dozen pontoon and party boats.  I’m sure I made quite a sight to the bikini clad revelers, me clad in dirty paddle clothing. 😏😆

Entering the protective cove of Dakota Waters I observed a queue of a dozen boats waiting to exit at the boat ramp.  It turns out that not only was this a weekend day but it was Father’s Day weekend (I had totally forgotten!) and two fishing tournaments were taking place in the area.  Summer entering the high season while I’ve been in the seat of a canoe 10 hours a day for the last month.  It’s good to know that life is moving on in the “outside world.”

Camping in ND is tough work!
The cabin I nabbed by luck (a late cancellation) was perfect recharging in the form of a hot shower and getting my battery packs ready to go.  I had a great burger at the resort grill, did some blogging (my post from two days ago), and then got a good night’s sleep, occasionally waking up to the sound of rain falling hard on the cabin roof.  I woke up at my usual 5:30 a.m. and took a little time to check work emails (nothing important sent my way in the last two weeks) and pack my bags for that day’s paddle.  Amber would have the breakfast buffet ready at 7(-ish) so I decided to head over for a hot meal.  When I stepped onto the cabin porch it was soaked from previous night’s rain.  Curious, did the wind blow the rain onto the porch? It was then that I noticed my once dried paddling boots where soaked and that my canoe that I had put on the porch to protect was nearly filled with water.  The cabin roof had been torn up in a previous windstorm and has yet to be replaced. The junction of the porch roof and cabin roof met right above my canoe and all that water came directly down on it.  So much for protecting my baby from the storm!

I sat and chatted with Amber and Thomas, my Dakota Waters hosts, for a bit after breakfast and signed that season’s tribute canoe paddle for through paddlers.  In between passes to haul gear to the landing I stopped to chat with two college students working the Game and Parks department for the summer checking fishing tags.  It was fun to hear about their life plans and where they are in college and the courses they’ve taken so far.  Nothing better to an old biology professor than hearing from upcoming biologists about their enthusiasm for the life sciences.

It was after 9:00 a.m. by the time I shoved off and started my paddle day.  The weather prediction was for 15 mph north-northwest winds for the day gusting into the 30 mph range.  After rounding the Dakota Waters headland I deployed the sail and started down the coast.  The winds were fairly mild and I made good progress, especially crossing the bays between headlands.  I began to notice that while crossing each bay the wind would push or “skate” me sideways so that by the time I reached opposite shore I was down from the tip of the headland.  That resulted in having to paddle around the breaker zone to get back in position to follow the shore.  I kept this up all morning as the winds increased in strength.  I was getting tired and it was time to stop for lunch but it took a bit to find a protective bay where I could rest.

While eating lunch I looked over my maps and determined that I had made it to Hazen Bay, still another 16 miles to Riverdale, my goal for the day.  Lake Sakakawea State Park is on the other side of the Garrison Dam and about 9 miles from my current destination.  The state park was a doable goal in the current water conditions but there was no way I would make Riverdale.  I sent a text to Nate, my contact at Sakakawea Sunset Lodge, that I was heading to the state park boat ramp.  “No problem” was the reply, I can pick you up there.

I took a short nap, finished my lunch of smoked pork loin that Thomas from Dakota Waters had sent with me, and started onward.  Within 20 minutes it was clear that the wind just wasn’t blowing in my favor that day so I dropped the sail, tied it to the deck, and continued onward.  There’s not much to tell about the rest of the day, just an arduous paddle.  I crept along the coastline and began to notice where the waves would build to large swells and where they would settle down to easy paddling.  It appeared the biggest waves were offshore of the sharp bluffs in shallow waters formed by the sediment.  I’d ride over the big 5-6 foot waves and then move into deeper water where the waves were 2-3 feet in size, the usual limit for an open deck canoe.  My Superior Expedition nicely handles larger water but that doesn’t mean the paddler doesn’t get tired from keeping the boat moving. 😆

I finally rounded the last headland, and off course, just as I thought the long day of trials was over I was hit by waves coming from both directions across the lake and bay.  My canoe was forced into the rock strewn shallow waters and I was forced to get out and line it down the beach; the most challenging event all day and nearly at the end, ugh!

Turning south into the State Park bay I was now heading south and could deploy the sail to catch the now northerly tailwind.  I crossed quickly to the shelter of the marina and landed at the boat ramp about 15 minutes past the 7:00 p.m. time of arrival I had given Nate.  I gave Nate a call and he said he was swamped in the restaurant and it would be about 45 minutes before he could pick me up.  Not a problem, I had to pull all the bags out of the canoe and remove the outriggers.  Plus, my son, Austin, called me for a good Father’s Day chat.  A good end to a demanding paddling day.

Nate grew up in Pickstown and Riverdale, the two communities that flank the Garrison Dam.  Of Sioux heritage, he travelled widely to job sites with his dad, a former pipe fitter.  Nate went to college in Moorehead, MN, then taught third grade in southern Utah for several years before returning to North Dakota to build the restaurant and run the motel.  His dream is to paddle the Missouri River with his girlfriend, Amy, and is trying to sell the business so he can have the time.  Now I understand why he helps all the paddlers coming through that he can, part of  what he called his “selfish dream.”  My only advice is that you both look to be fit and are hard workers, do it while you have the chance.

My next challenge is Lake Oahe, the longest reservoir, 220 miles, on the Missouri River.  Reports say that it can be more grueling than Sakakawea but I’m learning it’s all in timing.  My time on Lake Ft. Peck was fairly easy, other paddlers coming down shortly after had really hard conditions.  So I’ll take half a day off here in Riverdale (that name still sounds like a Tolkien place name to me!) to chill and repack the laundry I was up late doing (again, thanks to Nate for being so helpful).  I plan to paddle a few miles down from the dam towards Washburn, ND, where I have a mail pickup waiting that I need to time my arrival to the Post Office.

Looking back on my time on Lake Sakakawea I have good memories.  I worked hard to get through this challenge, I always want to paddle when I have the chance as conditions can force paddlers on shore for days, but I enjoyed my time here.  The scenery is spectacular in places and I met some really nice people.  I’m looking forward to the next phase and seeing what new encounters it brings me.


Garrison Dam in the distance
I’m done with lake #2!

Father’s Day ribs feast!