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Challenge Accepted: All of the Rum

The Plan:

Solo paddle 153 miles down the Rum River in Minnesota. Primitive hammock camp along the way. Meaning setting up camp anywhere I see two trees on public land, which I always like to find islands to camp on. Pretty simple plan, but should I do it over a week, a few weeks, or a couple of days? Packed and planned for a 9 day trip, thinking I would average 15-20 miles a day. Seemed easily doable, knowing I might finish sooner. Thankfully, I had a ride up to the start and my buddies were a phone call a way to pick me up and/or bring me any supplies if needed.

Well 9 hours later and 43 miles. Time to find camp

About the Rum River:

The Rum River headwaters is located 1.5 to 2 hours north of the Twin Cities in the south west corner of Mille Lacs Lake. Mille Lacs Lake is a very well known Minnesota lake for Walleye fishing. Huge fishing competitions take place year round on the lake. It’s the second largest inland lake in Minnesota covering 132,516 acres, which you can not see across some parts of it. So you have this massive lake formed from the last glacier retreat (10,000+ years ago) draining into an outwash plain. Carving out the landscape as it flows all the way down to the Mississippi River through Anoka. At the headwaters, it passes through tribal land and a Minnesota State Park. After that, it rips through countless farms, people backyards, marshes, plaines, under major roads, and wilderness areas. Ranging from 20 to 100 feet across with a mixed rocky and sandy bottom. A great river for fishing, bird sightings, and spotting White-Tail Deer along with many other water loving animals. Few minor class l and ll rapids that are easy to paddle through or around. So it is a very easy going flatwater river, doable for all paddling abilities. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources classified the river as a State Water Trail and dubbed it as a wild and scenic river.

The Plan

What Actually Happened:

 Remember, I was planning a 9 day trip. Packed all my food and supplies for 9 days into a 90L Sea to Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack. Bummed a ride from a friend up to my buddies cabin, after work on Friday. Wanted to get on the water right away on Saturday morning to get the most time on the water. On the way up, we passed over the Rum River a number of times, including the headwaters. Each time I saw the Rum, it looked like it was moving but not crazy fast. Heck, Mille Lacs Lake was still frozen over. So I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Given, I’ve paddled the lower 40 miles a bunch of times. Few weeks prior, I was actually averaging 3.8 MPH on the Rum paddling up and back down this 5 mile section. So maybe my timeline is going to shorten up a bit. Started thinking 4 to 5 days on the water is doable now.

Woke up Saturday to a beautiful sunrise over Bay Lake, at my buddy's cabin. We talked a bit about my game plan. I was not going to be able to start at the headwaters, since it was covered in massive ice chunks. Decided it would be best to start 3 miles south of the ice and tribal land, at the Mille Lacs Kathio State Park boat launch. We got to the launch and I blew up Nala, my 4 year old Hala Nass board, as we chatted some more. Walked to the end of the dock and noticed the water was glass. I’m talking no movement at all and it was ice cold. Gave my buddy Jay a high five and started paddling. First six or so miles was like paddling two smaller lakes divided by a bridge and wetland. Pushing onward, I padded under another road and now the paddle turned more into a river paddle. But it was not the Rum River I know, because I was able to see non stop fish swimming around a rocky bottom in crystal clear water. Damn it! I don’t have my fishing gear. That’s right this paddle is a challenge paddle not a fishing paddle. But still it was pretty exciting because I’ve only known the Rum as murky brown water.

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I was having a blast and felt I was covering some ground, since I was passing under highway 169 a number of times. People waving and a few horn honks as they were heading north. Pulled out my map and noticed Milaca is only 20 miles away. Hold up! I just covered 20 miles in 4 hours?! What is going on here? Yeah there was a current and some rapids here and there, but nothing super crazy, maybe giving me a 1 to 1.5 MPH gain overall. Well, might as well push to Milaca and call it a night. What else am I going to do, it is only noon?! Found a little island, tossed up my hammock, cooked dinner, and stripped down to take an ice bath. Boy oh boy did that feel goooood after paddling 43.57 miles in 9 hours. Passed out and woke up to the sun rising. Quickly packed up and was on the water for another early start.

  • Heading under 169 for the first of many times.
  • Oh heck yeah! Some rapids. Think I will go around the hole lol
  • Got to love Hammock setup
  • but first a cool skinny dip on a sand bar

Instantly started thinking, if I keep this pace up I’d be done in 2 more days.. Didn’t bring my camera or fishing gear to get distracted doing that stuff. All I had was my lovely Nala and a bunch of food and gear. Screw it! Let the challenge begin! Kept on paddling as the river twisted and turned more and more. Started noticing more and more trees ripped out of the ground, river banks (small bluffs) eroding away, and just flood carnage everywhere. Oh that is right, the map called out this area before Prinscton of having a bunch of tree dams. A massive flood must have happened and just destroyed this area. It was like a damn labyrinth trying to navigate a path to get my 12’ 6” board through the mess. Moving logs, portaging over tree dams, and mucky brown water became the new norm. Took me 2 to 3 hours to cover 7 miles, this is not helping my pace at all. Finally got out of the tree mess, but found myself in the most twisty turny section of the river, as it cuts east to Camboridge. I am talking the river was almost making 360 degree horseshoe turns. Slowing the flow down to almost nothing. I just kept paddling, paddling, and paddling some more as the sun was setting fast. Well, there goes the sun, as my clock ticks to almost 14 hours on the water. Time to find a camp, since I am now out of daylight and have 54.35 miles completed. I’d say that is a solid day. Setup camp, cooked dinner, and fell asleep with it in my hand. Woke up, finished eating, and tucked myself into bed.

The final push is here. Time to wake up and finish what I started. Knew it was going to be a long ass day, since the river now cuts south with plenty of turns. Plus, every time there was not a turn there was a headwind. That is just what the Rum River does to you. After the first half of the day, I started seeing familiar terrain and knew I was going to make it. I just needed to keep paddling. 49.4 miles later and just shy of 11 hours, I’m now floating on the Mississippi River. I made it! Did I really just turn a 9 day trip into a 3 day trip?! Hold up, only 31 hours actually on the water too. Wow! Guess it’s time to call for my ride, grill up some food, crack a beer(sssss), and think about the next challenge paddle.

Looking Back:

That was such a crazy awesome experience. Still can’t believe I knocked it out that fast and came off kind of wanting more. Heck, I almost started paddling down the Mississippi River. So now I know what I can do when I just focus on just paddling. Time to step it up or do a longer one and/or incorporate more of my other passions too. The gears start turning and I am looking forward to what I can find to knock out this year. The paddle season is just getting started!

Lets go!

The Gear:

Figured, yall might want to know what I actually used on the trip. Given, what I used compared to what I bought is like comparing a little hill to a mountain. I always over pack.. So let’s just talk about what I actually used.

Board: 2016 Hala Gear Nass inflatable SUP, 4.5” yellow center fin, 4” green side fins, and leash

Paddle: Hala Gear Grafik Carbon - adjustable Pack: 90L Sea to Summit Hydraulic Pack

PFD: Astra Design GreenJacket with a whistle and NRS Co-Pilot River Knife

Sleep System: Eno Hammock, Blaze UnderQuilt, and Tarp with Sea to Summit 15 degree Ascent Down sleeping bag with Thermolite Reactor Extreme Liner and Aeros pillow

Kitchen: Jetboil, Hydroflask hot cup, Sea to Summit X-Coffee Dripper and Spork, and Platypus Gravity Water System

Paddle Clothing: Outdoor Research Pants, Nike Pro Dry Long Sleeve shirt with hood, Smartwool socks, LaCrosse AreoHead Sport knee high hunting boots, hat, and sunglasses

Camp Clothing: Patagonia Long Sleeve with hood, Coaltree TrailheadPants, Smartwool socks, and flip flops

Food: 5 Epic Bars, 6 Oatmega bars, 3 Phat Fudge, 2 Maryjane Farms Dried Food meals, trail mix, salt, coffee, and tea

Other: Goalzero Nomad 7 solar panel, GoPro Hero 7, 2 12’ NRS straps, Crazy Creek 2.0 Chair, first aid kit, repair kit, hatchet, travel towel, extra gas, rain jacket, Blackdiamon Storm headlamp, and a pile of food and other clothing I never touched.