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Locked Up! A Suspended Trip!

Last summer I was on an extended paddling trip in the upper Midwest on the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. It was our fifth consecutive day of paddling and we were getting tired and worn out when we came to the U S Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam #2, a couple of miles upstream from Hastings, MN.

If you have never gone through a lock in a kayak, it is a major experience. The locks are huge, over 1000 feet long and several hundred feet wide, designed so they can handle large rafts of giant barges. Needless to say, a kayak doesn't get much respect. The barges and power boats come first and canoes and kayaks come last. Sometime you have to wait what seems like forever before they will allow you in the lock.

We were heading down stream which means that when you come into the lock, the water will be lowered and you then paddle out at a lower elevation than where you went in, sometimes as much as 16 feet lower. When the boats are allowed into a lock, there is a lot of confusion and commotion as smaller power boats jockey around for position. Also, when the water is let out, there are internal currents that could cause your boat to drift into another boat. Because of this, the canoes and kayaks are let in first and then told to hold tight against the wall of the lock. The lock master than drops ropes over the edge, one for each kayak, and tells each paddler to hold fast to the rope until the water lowering is complete.

Since we were let in first, and there were many powerboats to go into the lock, and it was hot, and we were tired, it was hard to keep from dozing off during the long process. One of our party thought he had a better idea than just hanging on tight to the rope: he tied it to the thwart of his canoe. This worked pretty good and he was able to take a catnap. There was nothing to wake him, when the water level is lowered, it is smoother than any elevator.

The problem was, that as the water was let out of the lock, all 11 feet vertical feet of it, the rope was of a fixed length. It wasn't until the sleeping paddler had his canoe at about a 30 degree angle, did he wake up and was able to untie his boat. Another few minutes and he would have been hanging like a fish on a line from the side of the lock high above the water.

Submitted by: Jim Sernovitz, Mequon, WI


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