Myself running the "Beak" of the "Octopus" on the St. Louis River
It was a season of transition and as the spring turned to summer, so I reluctantly left my quaint cabin in Ely and readied myself for 6 weeks of the urbanite life that awaited me in the twin cities. But as my last gasp of soul nourishment I spent my final weekend at Paddlemania at the St. Louis river. Each year the paddling community takes the opportunity to celebrate whitewater of the St. Louis river, and revels in camaraderie amongst paddling friends.
Have last paddled in Colorado I felt strong and confident in my paddling skills and was happy to come back to the St. Louis. After 2 laps through Finn Falls and enjoying summer Class V paddling, I dropped into the "Beak" of "The octopus" and battled for my second successful run of the drop for the year.
Myself on Finn Falls of the Lower St. Louis River (a rare picture)
As sun rose high into the sky and the day began to wain the whole of paddlers converged to spectate the "Slot Machine" Showcase. The Showcase was an informal friendly challenged in which all brave souls would run the drop "Slot Machine". The drop received it's name, because as the river flows through a tight canyon slot it drops over a 15 ft sliding cascade into a gnarly and hungry hole bounded by tight rock walls on both sides. The nature of the hole is such that anyone who runs the drop is as good as rolling dice or putting nickles into a "Slot Machine" as to whether they will emerge without a beat down.
Surprising, I had avoided the drop for a number of years, but decided today that I would test it. Along the rim and amongst the rock outcroppings spectators choked the vantages of the spectacle ahead. And so one by one each brave paddler test his/her will. With varying results they charged into Slot Machine as I looked on the last paddler in line to go.
Myself on "Slot Machine" of the Lower St. Louis
When my time came, I slide into the water and strongly paddled to the lip. Then I began to plunged deep powering strokes as I came to the lip. I fought for the tricky line and attempted a stroke as I plunged down the drop to bring my nose up. Colliding with the wall of white, I sought to keep myself from plugging into the depth and being held in the grasp of the hole. And with a last stroke I emerged triumphantly throwing a triumphant fist pump into the air.
Running "Slot Machine"!The day turned to night and the evening festivities ensued. Worn by the day filled joyful exertion, I left the night fire surround by new and old friends and snuck into the back of my station wagon to sleep for the night. I fell asleep to the stars and happily let my mind fall to dream.
However my waking life would soon transition. Medical school demanded that I be educated in the Twin Cities. I packed my belongings and said my goodbyes to the people and places that had become my friends. A day later I found myself amongst suburban sprawl struggling to make peace and adapt to the foreign landscape before me. The river felt far away and so did my life in Ely (or Duluth for that matter) and the memory remained alive.