No one wanted to leave Stockholm. We were all tired, and we still had half of Lake Pepin left. The campground felt like an oasis, so the next morning, we lingered. I walked down to the beach and looked out over the lake. It felt like three weeks since we’d left home, not three days. The time between then and now had been full and rich, not thin and fast—the way most days felt. A sense of urgency had fallen away, as if we’d stumbled on an older rhythm that had been there all the time.
But we still had 50 miles to go, and there were thunderstorms expected in a few days, so we shoved off once again. By midmorning, we’d reached the point where Lake Pepin narrowed back into the river. A few miles later, we came to Wabasha, the town where the film Grumpy Old Men had been set more than two decades earlier.
On shore, we could see an ice cream shop and debated whether to stop. To me, the dock looked treacherous, and I argued that we should land on the sandy beach next to it. Bridgit said it was private, and we had a brief, heated, pointless argument. By the time it was over, we’d drifted past.
Ice cream receded behind us, growing more delicious with each mile. The wind died. The heat rose. Now we had grumpy old canoers and grumpy young canoers. We continued without a word, all trying to turn our mood against the current. We stopped on an island for lunch, but there was too much poison ivy to do any exploring. We were beginning to know the river, and it was wearing us down.
By the late afternoon, we started looking for an island to camp on. There were lovely open spaces. There were idyllic campsites. But it was too early; we moved on. Within a few miles, the islands we saw were overgrown and impossible to land on. Ahead was a lock and dam.
“Let’s just get through the lock,” I said. “We’ll have less to do tomorrow. It’ll be our last day.”
Without enthusiasm, everyone agreed. The gates swung open. We drifted in.
Below the lock, we passed a defunct power plant with massive smokestacks that climbed high into the sky. The islands around it were choked with underbrush. We kept going, mile after mile, looking for a small spot to pitch our tent.
“Nothing,” Bridgit said, despair creeping in.
She was tired. We all were. We’d gone almost as far as any day yet—more than 25 miles—and there was no end in sight. It was nearly 7 p.m., and we should have been making our dinner. We came to a grassy spot under some utility poles.
“We could camp under those power lines,” I said.
“Why would we camp under power lines?” Bridgit snapped. Then, in a smaller voice she added, “What are we going to do?”
“We keep paddling,” I said.
Muscles tensed in her shoulders. Suddenly, she started paddling with a force I didn’t know she could muster, powered by sheer rage. Water splashed over the rest of us. The girls looked back at me without a word, eyebrows raised. I put my finger to my lips, like we were in the presence of a wild animal. Then, just as suddenly, she slumped forward in the canoe.
“It’s OK, Mama,” Josie said. “We’ll paddle. You rest.”
After a short while, Bridgit came back to life, and we paddled another handful of miles. Eventually, we came to a gorgeous, flat, sandy island. It was covered in white, paper-thin turtle egg shells. There was a small lake in the middle. The day was over. The river had given us a perfect home for the night.