Bike-rafting on the Mississippi

Bike-rafting on the Mississippi

Not high adventure, not straining myself or the equipment to the limit, but a very fun afternoon, as well as good practice for later possibilities.

This is the Mississippi way up north, in Minnesota. Not Huck Finn’s river yet, but it will get there. A good stretch of river for fishing, folks tell me, and for wildlife, which I saw. And for me to get to know my Alpacka better, and see how it does playing tag-team with a mountain-bike.

First, I drove the car down-stream to leave it at the take-out point, parked it, and saddled up for a bike ride.
smaller saddled up.jpg
Yeah, the pack’s a bit bulky—it’s got a dory, two oars and a kayak paddle, a pfd, a bike repair kit and spare tire, a good range of snacks, two liters of water, and a liter of coffee. Even at that it’s pretty light, and rides well. Then I biked upstream a ways on some old Forest Service roads to the put-in point, a public access ramp more often used by motor-boats on trailers than pack-rafts on bikes.

There’s a sign there that says “Muskellunge: All smaller than 48 inches must be immediately returned to the water.” That reassures me—given all the anglers around here, there are probably not too many five or six-foot muskies swimming under me. Just a lot of three-and-a-half-footers, seriously corked off at being caught-and-released so many times.

The bike is first bungeed to an old rubberized canvas air mattress—did I mention that was in the pack, too?—which keeps all of the bike’s pokey parts away from the dory. (Also, I unthreaded the pedal on the underside and then threaded it back into the crank-arm, from the other side, so it sticks up into the air instead of down into the mattress. Don’t try to ride this way!) Then two more bungees wrap over the bike-and-mattress from the bow loops to the sides loops. I figure if anything gets hairy—though it’s not going to on this stretch of calm—I can reach forward, cut loose those two bungee cords without a moment’s hesitation, and shove the whole shebang over the end, knowing that the mattress will keep the bike afloat, bright yellow side up.

Twenty-five minutes after I rolled up to the ramp, I have changed my bike shoes for water shoes (they were in the pack, too), and I’m afloat.
young man river, smallest.jpg
Hard to believe this placid little creek is going to become Old Man River, Mile-Wide and Muddy. I wish my photos of the herons and pelicans had come out better. Pelicans floating on the river look just like swans from a distance—and just like little white dots in my photos, taken with a very cheap digital. Bald eagle flying way overhead. Beautiful leopard frog, down at my level. Plus some stick-built lodges along the shore—probably not beavers, maybe muskrats?

I alternated between rowing when I wanted to go fast, kayak-paddling when I wanted to poke around, and just floating. The current is very, very slow—pretty much all of Northern Minnesota is one flat bog, with some marsh thrown in for variety, so there’s not a lot of elevation change. Still, there’s a lot to be said for floating on a slow current on a slow afternoon, esp. since the bugs didn’t seem to be on to me.

All in all, a very satisfying afternoon. The bike-and-boat combo works dandy, though I still want to try a folding bike one of these days.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
smaller take-out.jpg

That is nice, no boulders, drops or whitewater, but a relaxing, dry and enjoyable way to familiarize yourself with your Dory, and develop and enhance techniques which make you more confident. And happy! (o:

I really like your idea of the air mattress to protect the hull, and which floats the bike, high visability side up. Clever!

Hearty crew rations make for a happy vovage.

This is the type of paddling I look forward to doing as a fledgling Packrafter when the new Denali Llama makes its debut voyage, my Jetboil will ensure Earl Grey afloat.

Your photo’s really show the space and cargo capacity of the Dory and with kayak paddles and oars, you’ve covered all the bases.

Look forward to reading more of your Dory and bike journeys.