Kayaking the Minnesota

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Setting out on the Minnesota River, just south of downtown Mankato

It is the last day of summer in the northern hemisphere, autumn officially begins tomorrow. A lovely late summer day, temperatures are hovering around 72 degrees under a cloudless blue sky; a perfect day for a bike ride or some other nice exercise outdoors, which I am planning to do shortly, as it is noticeable how short the days have been getting.

In the meantime, I’ll write about one of the last summertime adventures I had a few weeks ago, a kayaking trip down the Minnesota River between Mankato and St. Peter. My sister and I have been trying out a lot more kayaking this summer, paddling around Lake Minnetonka on some cheap boats we picked up at Menards (according to the short training session we took, a big no-no). The first weekend in September, we signed up for a kayak rental at the Bent River Outfitters, a group based in Mankato, a hilly college town an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities. It was a day very much like today, sunny, warm, with a hint of a breeze, perfect for a kayak trip down a lazy river.

Several weeks before, we had taken a training course offered by the same group to brush up on our rowing maneuvers and felt ready to take on the river. We launched from Riverfront Park in Old Town Mankato, not too far from the Bent River Outfitters office, and were soon afloat on the gentle current of the Minnesota. It was not too much of a challenge, though, at least at this time of year- a wide channel with no rapids to worry about, not too many huge rocks, the cold, muddy brown waters of the Minnesota flow at a leisurely pace and only a few fallen trees provide obstacles. Paddling down river turned out to be quite easy and we soon outpaced the rest of the group except for two others. While the expedition was intended to end and a certain park on the bank of the river under some bluffs, we were so engrossed in taking in the verdant bluffs, bald eagles, great blue herons, splashing catfish, that we totally missed this landmark and paddled all the way up to St. Peter, another college town up the Minnesota. As we found we had left the rest of the group, and that we weren’t too sure where this stop we were going was, exactly, I just joked that if we got to St. Peter, we would know we’d gone too far. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when we passed the majestic, old columns that were the remains of an old railroad bridge that marked we were close to the other town. Oops! We did not end up absconding with the boats all the way to New Orleans after all, and it all worked out alright, though we felt a deep Minnesotan guilt about accidentally inconveniencing everyone while still having an awesome time.

The equipment was returned to the old brick warehouse near the trains and the river in Old Town Mankato and we apologized for our malfeasance and will probably be back again, with more care in future now that we know what to expect on the water! Now that the Minnesota winter is mere months away, Bent River also does snowshoeing, so I might check that out!

Afterwards, we were famished and grabbed a burrito at a local burrito place, Las Brazas, that offers a chipotle-esque burrito/burrito bowl for less than $5 on Sundays. Not too bad a deal!

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Preparing to launch, Riverfront Park

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September- Fall Stuff to Do

Unfortunately, I was not able to see any of the unusual aurora borealis displays in the night sky Friday or Saturday night, clouds and trees were in the way. Did anyone in the Twin Cities area get a good look at them? Standing outside, late at night, in the unseasonably chilly temps, with the scent of leaves heavy in the breeze off of the lake, reminded me why autumn is my favorite season in Minnesota. Yes, it may be brief but, to me, it highlights many of the best aspects of Minnesota life- since it is such a fleeting, short period between the oppressive humidity and the flying snow, it is nice to take the most advantage of these weeks as is possible.

Jay Gabler, at the Tangential, shares a list that resonates with me as well, the 20 Best Things About September. I definitely appreciate most of the things listed, and it inspired me to set down a few of my own favorite things to look forward to over the next few autumn months; expect reports to come.

  • Minnesota Renaissance Festival– always like going later in the season, only a couple of weekends left to go and hopefully less hot and dusty than late August. I find damp, cool conditions a little more reminiscent of the 16th century English countryside. This weekend is Octoberfest, while the next weekend’s theme is Irish.
  • Speaking of Octoberfest, drinking some well crafted local beers is always a good sign of the season and with Minnesota’s prominent German background, there are many local celebrations of German beer to choose from; a few ideas can be found here. I definitely recall some good times with Das Boot and hammershclagen
  • The Autumn Harvest- A great time of year for local farmers markets, many of my favorite ingredients are coming into season- notably, apples and pumpkins. Nothing better than a scratch made pumpkin pie and I think this year I’m going to try my hand at home brewing some hard cider. We’ll see how that works out by the holidays, perhaps!
  • Book Sales- Aside from food, another of my major interests is books and, like spring, the Hennepin County Library puts on many fall book sales, where books, CDs, and other materials can be bought for a major bargain. Can’t wait to see what discoveries and deals await in these treasure troves of stuff.
  • Literary Events- speaking of books, with the coming of the cold, the local Twin Cities literary scene offers a lot of opportunities to get some literature to curl up with when the temperatures begin their inexorable fall. The Twin Cities Book Festival will be held on October 11 and novelist Cory Doctorow will be making an appearance at the St. Paul Public Library Rondo Branch  Both are sponsored by the free local literary journal Rain Taxi.
  • A Ghost Tour- As Halloween approaches, the Twin Cities offer a good amount of opportunities to be creeped out.  Several local organizations and groups offer tours into the mysterious and spooky backgrounds of our metro, both historical and supernatural. While I’m not a believer in ghosts, I love a good ghost story, especially one with a local twist. Even if I don’t believe, I can still cop to being creeped out late at night, when, alone in my apartment, something creaks. A few years ago I went on the ghost bus tour hosted by the gangster tours at the Wabasha Street Caves. Pretty fun, though I think this walking tour of the St. Anthony area looks interesting too.
  • Victorian Ghost Stories, James J. Hill House- Minnesota’s largest and most imposing Victorian mansion, built by the railroad magnate who linked Chicago to Seattle, east and west, the James J. Hill House is always an atmospheric and great place to listen to vintage Victorian ghost literature read by local thespians dressed in period clothes. I’ve attended the ghost story event several times, and it always makes a cool spectacle, particularly for children, in particular with the complimentary hot cider.
  • Soap Factory Haunted Basement- Over the last few years, I’ve watched this event increase in the attention and accolades from local media. Bringing “art” to the idea of the haunted house event, the Haunted Basement is, by all accounts, absolutely terrifying. Like, vomit inducing terrifying. In spite of being, in general, a wimp when it comes to this sort of thing, I’ve had an unaccountable desire to check it out for myself. Like, you know, it’d be an adventure, right? Just sign your waiver and take on the most disturbing spectacle ever divised in Minneapolis. Will this year be the year?

 

Huge Theater: Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, Dungeons and Dragons: The Improvised Campaign

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Poster!

Over the last week or so, fall is definitely in the air. While autumn does not officially hit until next week, chilly temperatures (or “crisp,” if you prefer) has settled over Minnesota and the smell of dry leaves and the coming winter frost has crept into the evening breezes. While a few cicadas are still buzzing in the trees, a tinge of color has appeared in the leaves of few of them. I can leave my windows open without my papers curling on the table from humidity, which is nice.

The fall season is definitely already here at Huge Theater, among the premier practitioners of improv comedy in the Twin Cities, as beginning the first Friday in September, they have started their spooky autumn Friday line up of Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, and the Bearded Men’s Dungeons and Dragons: The Improvised Campaign. It was a great opening for the season and I will be buying tickets again this fall; after all, every show is new, and no two are ever the same!

After seeing the rotating cast performing at venues from the Bryant Lake Bowl and the Brave New Workshop, Huge opened it’s new venue at 3037 Lyndale South in 2010 and have been rocking the improv there since. Specialists in long form improvisation, unscripted theater, in which anything can happen, the various shows offer comedy and action from a variety of genres. It is among my favorite forms of theater, and it is always great to see hilarious, gripping, and thought-provoking stories evolve from a few audience suggestions and the imagination of the actors. While Huge shows are great all year, I have always particularly enjoyed their spooky styled fall shows. They will be running the rest of September and October.

The three Friday shows are great ways to celebrate the coming of Halloween, with their focus on horror, fantasy, and silly costumes. Creature Feature has been on the Twin Cities improv scene for more than a decade, and has found a good home in Huge. An improvised monster movie and sequel, with a random, bizarre monster, this time the actors had to deal with the horror of an invisible dinosaur, “Dino See, Dino Kill!” After introducing each of their characters, along with suitably absurdest motivations. Another favorite, Survivors of the Undead Plague riffs on zombie movies, complete with plenty of gun play and desperate survivors attempting to survive waves of the walking dead- the trio of Buffalo Wild Wings employees and their quest to survive in the BWW bunker in Austin was among the funniest of the night. Finally, the Dungeons and Dragons Improvised Campaign, performed by the Bearded Men group, brought back some great nostalgic memories of gaming in the basement. Complete with die rolling to accomplish actions (to allow for dramatic criticals and critical fumbles) and capes, our half elven and half orcish ranger and druid rode a shape changing horse to try to save a floating island, The live musical accompaniment and sound effects throughout the three shows were great, too, and I particularly loved the bucket splash effect for blood effects. All of the actors

The shows start at 8:00 and go until midnight. $18 will get you into all three. The Huge offers shows every day except Tuesday. The Saturday show this fall, Twin Cities Secrets, also looks right up my alley; maybe I’ll see you there!

Huge Theater, 3037 Lyndale Avenue South

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Opening night at Huge Theater, September 2014, Creature Feature, Survivors of the Undead Plague, Bearded Men’s Dungeons and Dragons: The Improvised Campaign