Memorial Day Weekend Paddling in Minneapolis

Only on Wednesday did  I realize that the upcoming weekend was Memorial Day weekend.  My Indianapolis roots could not believe the holiday snuck up on me so stealthily.  Beyond the somber meaning of this national holiday, Memorial Day tends to introduce the country to the delights of summer.  Pools open, grills get their first big workout, and most schools are wrapping things up.

The Minneapolis weekend weather continued to be stellar, so I was excited to get in as much paddling as I could.  We were heading to Rochester, MN on Saturday afternoon for a rare visit with extended family, so on Friday night I had to choose to either (1) sleep in and sacrifice a paddling day or (2) wake up early and paddle the early morning.  There must be something to this paddling, as I chose to sacrifice sleep (!).

View from Lake of the Isles launch dock on Sunday

I have no photos of my early Saturday morning paddle around Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, and (almost) Brownie Lake.  Despite early morning clouds accompanying the Friday night rain, I headed off to the lakes about 8 a.m.  By the time I arrived at my now-familiar dock on Lake of the Isles, the clouds had pushed southeast and gave way to beautiful blue skies and light to moderate winds.  I immediately headed to my goal for the morning – Brownie Lake.  This tiny lake on the northwest corner of Cedar Lake is connected by a narrow (10 feet?), long (30 feet?) tunnel.  As I approached the tunnel, I saw a gigantic (and fearsome looking) turtle just inches below the surface of the shallow water.  Shortly after entering the tunnel, I bottomed out and must have hit a rock or tree stump about 10 feet into the tunnel.  Thinking I shouldn’t get stuck in the tunnel with large snapping turtle heading my way, I called off my Brownie Lake excursion for a day with higher water levels.

This was the first time I scraped the bottom of the inflatable kayak and I was slightly concerned about damage.  Shortly thereafter, the wind picked up and I started noticing water in the boat.  Thinking I may have punctured the bottom, I started fighting the wind and paddling as fast I could to return to the dock.  I’m happy to report no damage, but the rising water in the boat is becoming a bit annoying (more on that later).

Sunday’s weather was predicted to be perfect, and perfection was delivered.  Hitting the road by 7:30 a.m., I knew today was going to be fabulous – essentially no clouds in the sky, almost no wind, and 68 degrees heading to 72 degrees.  This town appears to enjoy sleeping in, so no one was around except for the occasional fisherman.  The lack of wind gave the water an almost glass-like appearance.

Still-as-glass water by the dock on Lake of the Isles

Lake of the Isles Launch Point with Still Water

I’ve now got inflation, set-up and launch down to 15-20 minutes.  I’m sure if I was in a hurry, I could speed that up (although I can’t imagine why I would be in a hurry).  I chose to launch again from a dock, mainly because I don’t exactly like wet feet and it is so conveinent.

Launching from Dock at Lake of Isles

The water was quite still and clear.  I spent a good 5 minutes watching the fish twitter about underneath the boat.  A large brown animal kept swimming around the cove I was floating in, but I never managed to identify it.  Later, I did get somewhat close, but I discovered it can dive and stay down for quite a long time before resurfacing far from me.

Boat Perspective of the Dock

Waterline photo of the launch

After launch, I meandered around the “Isles” of Lake of the Isles.  None of them are very large, but there are signs posted prohibiting landing and exploration.  It is a protected wildlife sanctuary, but I oddly keep thinking of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010 “Attempt no landings there” message.

Heading around the islands of Lake of the Isles

The islands and shoreline were still and quiet.  The reflection of the sky in the water was quite nice.  The birds and other wildlife did not seem to notice the early hour.

Flat water on Lake of the Isles

Trees on one island in Lake of the Isles

Speaking of the sky, it was cloudless with a blazing sun.  My Saturday excursion reminded me to bring sunblock for today.  Miraculously, I have not yet been sunburned from a kayaking trip.  I do have some curious patterns on my legs resulting from the shape of the cockpit.  Sigh.

Sunlight above the trees

Almost cloudless skies

Today I had no specific plans, other than to paddle until lunchtime.  My wife was planning to stop by with sandwiches for a somewhat impromptu picnic.  We planned to enjoy lunch while the boat dried in the sun.  Afterward, we would spend some time enjoying the weather together.

Shore of the Lake of the Isles

Lake of the Isles water

Having wasted enough time drifting around the Lake of the Isles, I headed towards Lake Calhoun.  Given the still wind and lack of people, I figured I could get in a lap before needing to head back.

Heading off to Lake Calhoun from Lake of the Isles

Having mentioned that my inflatable kayak has started “taking on water”, I finally figured out where it was coming from.  During paddling, water drips down onto the fabric covering my legs.  The water-resistant fabric isn’t terribly water-proof.  If evaporation is slower than my paddle “sweat”, it builds up and begins dripping through.  I was paddling barefoot today, so I immediately felt the first few drips.  It seems that the water builds up around the zipper and makes it through there.  Periodically, it will channel down towards me and drip from the front of the cockpit.  I need to figure out how to prop the fabric up so that the water runs quickly down the sides instead of pooling.  It should be quite straightforward, so I hope to have MacGuyver‘ed something by my next paddling session.

Water build-up on the deck of the kayak

Ignoring the few drips and the quickly moistening kayak seat (inflatable kayaking always results in a wet seat), I paddled across Lake Calhoun and traveled around most of its shoreline.  There were about 4-5 small sailboats taking advantage of the beautiful morning.  Although moving barely faster than I, their single occupants were enjoying themselves.  They seemed to be clustered on the northwestern shore, near some (probably) high-demand apartments and condos.

Sailboats along the shore of Lake Calhoun

Lake Calhoun apartments and condos

Given the amount of work it takes to store, maintain, run and manuever these small sailboats on a (relatively) small body of water, it must be an extremely pleasant experience to explore the lakes that way.  They certainly do give some picturesque sights and grab attention.

Sailboats in front of Minneapolis skyline

Sailboats launching from harbor

The southwest corner of Lake Calhoun had quite a few different birds enjoying some breakfast.  I don’t know what they were, but there were some black-headed birds floating on the water and diving underwater for 15-30 seconds at a time.  They never really let me get close enough to get a good look at them, but there were a number of swallows (?) snacking on insects just inches above the water.  I did spend some time watching a large white bird make repeated dive-bomb attacks on the water.  He didn’t appear to have much luck, but it was definitely a sight to see.

Wide shot of sailboats on Lake Calhoun with Minneapolis in background

Having spent a good hour paddling around Lake Calhoun, I decided to head back to Lake of the Isles – my stomach said it must be lunch time soon.  The lakes were starting to fill with rental kayaks, personal kayaks and loads of families traveling in canoes.  My cell phone rang and announced the happy news that my wife was on her way, so I needed to head back to the dock in Lake of the Isles.

Traffic picking up from Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles

Traffic as the lakes come alive

I did manage to run out to Cedar Lake via the connecting waterway from Lake of the Isles before heading back.  No photos, but it definitely was enjoyable as always.  It was filling up with loads of paddlers, so we had some stop-and-go traffic on the water for a bit of the narrower passages underneath bridges.

Paddle over the water near the end of the day

With perfect timing, I pulled up to the dock as my wife arrived.  We enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch on a blanket next to the water.  Having deflated and packed up the inflatable kayak, we decided to explore the large lake to the south – Lake Harriet.  We enjoyed walking around the (crowded) lake and sampling some of the ice cream.  I believe my next kayaking trip will be to Lake Harriet.  I know my paddling hasn’t been very diverse yet, but I am happy to get as much practice in before taking on more challenging waters.  You cannot beat the convenience of having such lakes not more then 20-30 minutes from our home.

Memorial day itself will be (probably) paddle-free.  The forecast was for rain and clouds, but recently that has switched to warm, sunny and windy (who knows what it will actually be).  Perhaps 8 hours on the water is good enough for one weekend…nah!

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