Midwest Mountaineering's 13th annual Paddlemania was enormous this year. The Midwest paddling community has been rapidly growing. Many new paddlers young and old have found out that the Midwest has some world class whitewater! Who knew!
I came up early Saturday morning to a drizzly gray kind of day. The parking lot was filling fast with boaters. By noon there were vehicles left in the lot but everyone had hit the St Louis River! Paddlemania coincides with the dam release at Thompson. A health 650cfs release on the Lower section both Saturday and Sunday. The upper was a great low level for new boaters or anyone that wanted a pleasant fun float. The lower a good run for those wanting to step it up. There were experienced boaters guiding people down each section. Both sections had their thrills and spills.
By far the highlight of the day was the Slot Machine Show Down. Below the dam the water spills down massive slabs of rock. Through a deep cut slot that ends with a tight right turn down a falls with a nasty hole at the bottom. You climb down a crack in the cliff with your boat. Balance it between a rock and the cliff. Drop in and you're on your way...to fame or $#*! Roll the dice. Running this drop is gambling. You either make it through or not. If not there's a pool below and excellent safety waiting.
This year 20 paddlers including me, gambled. The most ever! The top prize was an oh so sweet yellow Jackson Star generously donated by Jackson Kayaks! One by one we all tried our luck. Beatdowns and swims galore! A few good lines and some great escapes. All in all the house won this year but I think the spectators were the ones who really won. People were stopping on the road and there was standing room only on the shoulder to watch a hoard of crazy kayakers having fun.
Really! What could be funner than Slot Machine?
Then came the big drawing for swag! Jade Zachman won the Jackson Star! Congratulations to Jade! The table was filled with much more though and everyone was able to get something.
The sun never did come out and a feeble attempt was made by the clouds to get us wet but it didn't stop the festivities. Brats were grilled, beer was drank. Stories were told about the days carnage or victories. Several newer boaters were able to run sections of the Lower St Louis for the first time thanks to expert guiding An awesome bonfire overlooking the reservoir completed the evening.
Then the rain came with intent. An all night torrential downpour! I stepped out of my tent in the middle of the night to find my tent was in an inch of water. I moved it to higher ground and went back to sleep. In the morning it was like waking up to Christmas. Levels on the creeks and rivers were climbing! A rare occurrence in June! Plans were made and everyone headed to their own piece of heaven.