From Minnesota Monthly:
Early one morning last summer, JD Fratzke and I met on the banks of the Mississippi River. The light was dim. The water was calm. Fish were making rings on the surface. JD and I had grown up together on this river, further south in Winona. We’d both spent much of our young lives swimming in it, boating on it, and hanging out at parties in its backwaters. Now it was time to follow it.
I had biked down it. I had driven down it. But I had never floated down on its surface. I had the idea of kayaking from Minneapolis to Hastings, a 33-mile trip, which I thought I could make in a day if the river was fast. When I mentioned this to JD, his reaction was instant: He’d always wanted to do the same. He came from a family of hunters and fishermen and spent nearly every weekend growing up on the river. He remembers one morning out fishing with his dad when he turned and asked why they never went to church. His dad looked at him and said, “Don’t you feel like you are in church?”
For those of us who grew up on the river, it flows through our minds and our lives, even though we can’t spend aimless days on rope swings any more. For his part, JD spends most of his time running his restaurant, the Strip Club Meat & Fish in St. Paul, where he turns dead things into delicacies. For my part, I spend too much time in my office staring at a screen. To both of us, the river feels like a kind of refuge.