Friends share Zumbro-to-Mississippi adventure

October 4, 2018

After growing up in Minnesota, Zach Gostout has paddled in waters around the world from the Prince William Sound in Alaska to whitewater kayaking the headwaters of the Nile River.

However, until this summer, he hadn’t seen all of the river that was practically in the backyard of where he grew up. The Zumbro River flows about a half of a mile south of Gostout’s Southeast Minnesota childhood home.

This summer, he joined his longtime friend Karl Friedrich to paddle more than 90 river miles of the Zumbro River to the Mississippi River this summer in Gostout’s 17-foot canoe. For Gostout, it was a tour long overdue.

For Friedrich, it was a welcome adventure and distraction from day-to-day worries.

“He’s an adventurer, and I am as well,” said Friedrich. “We just find a lot of peace on the river.”

The pair paddled segments of the river oftentimes taking most of the day to paddle about 17 miles of the route at a time. Other times, daytime commitments meant they got started at about sunset.

“People would think we were crazy because we were getting off the river at 11 p.m.,” Gostout said.

On one trip, the two set off from Silver Lake to near Gostout’s home at 8 p.m. Fortunately, they said, they know that portion of the river well.

“You have to kind of go by the bridges,” Friedrich said.

The two paddled that leg during good weather and brought a 2,000-lumen light to help them navigate. Downstream from the Rochester water treatment plant, the river clears, Gostout said. They recalled seeing the blue glow of river otters’ eyes and fish in the clear water.

“It was a pretty impressive sight,” Gostout said.

At other points, the river was rough. They canoed the portion from Oxbow Park to Oronoco after heavy rains hit the area. Uprooted trees caused log jams and the fast flowing swollen river made that leg treacherous.

“The river was just howling,” Gostout said. “That day, we really had to be on our ‘A’ game.”

“It was whitewater canoeing,” Friedrich said.

The pair, along with Friedrich’s wife, ended up capsizing Gostout’s canoe that day. They lost a couple pieces of equipment and Gostout’s iPhone, but no one was seriously hurt.

“I’m really glad we got to experience that,” Gostout said.

From Zumbro Falls to Hammond, the river was again clear and teeming with carp, Friedrich said. The two considered trying to spear some fish between Hammond and Millville where again the river was full of the fish.

West of Kellogg, the river twists and turns with switchback and relatively deep channels. East of Kellogg, it straightens, the water slows and the channel is shallow. The two had to race against the setting sun to get to the Mississippi before it was dark as the canoe scraped along the sandy river bottom.

“It was a full aerobic activity,” Gostout said.

Getting to the Mississippi at sunset was a memorable moment, the two said.

Though Friedrich cedes credit to his sister and her husband for having canoed the length of the mighty Mississippi.

“I’m trying to live up to her ideas of excitement,” he said.

After the segmented journey, the two said taking the journey together in one go another year would be a welcome experience.

“There are so many facets to the Zumbro River,” Gostout said. “To see it all linearly would be something special.”

Exploring another regional river is another option they’re entertaining.

“We are in the driftless area,” Friedrich said. “Some people don’t realize what amazing things are around us.”

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