Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Reliable: The Lower St. Louis

The spring had been disappointing. The temperatures remained a historic highs and the snow melt dwindled to non-existence. It was still March and yet the humidity in the air easily made me think it was already May. Though sunshine was plentiful the rivers flows receded with an unprecedented rapidity. The season had come to a close only 3 weeks after it had begun and treasured rivers where left unrun. The paddling community held hope for flooding rains, but none came. To make matter's worse the Dam controlling the Lower St. Louis River was releasing suboptimal flows. We could only wait.

The winds March brought our community of paddlers a consolation. The Thompson Dam began releasing flows that filled the Lower St. Louis river to levels that would satisfy a hunger amongst us. We all converged on the river who was a familiar and reliable friend. The St. Louis River has a special place in my remembrances, as I have grown from my youth along it's banks. At age 5, after half day kindergarten, my mother would bring me across the "swinging" bridge in Jay Cooke State Park. There I would find entertainment scrambling on the polished basalt. As a adolescent I remember scaling the barb wired topped fences onto one of the numerous dams on the St. Louis to attain the hallowed fishing grounds. In retrospect the fishing was rather terrible, but the adventure of being someplace few had been to was satisfying.

An now in my young adulthood (or however my age-class should be appropriately labeled), I had become familiar with the St. Louis from the vantage of a kayak. My development as a paddler had been shaped by St. Louis. My first swims and triumphs had been within its currents.

And so it came to pass that multiple weekends with the usual suspects were spent running the Lower St. Louis with high and lows. At one point I had the skill to piton and sprain my ankle on Finn Falls and swim shortly there after on an less than consequential pour over. On other occasions I felt one with the river and raced down from Thompson dam to Oldenburg Point hitting all my lines without hesitation. Typically between laps we would all gather round beers in hand bantering and erupting in laughter. The camaraderie between laps was as much a part of the paddling experience as the whitewater.

The fellowship of the paddling community that inhabits the Midwest creeking scene is second to none. I owe much of development as a paddle to this unique gathering of paddlers. Despite the dismal creeking season, I found the St Louis River a blessing and a uniting force amongst the paddling community. I look forward to weekends of whitewater to come.