Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — Fairfield resident Rich Sims will be among the more than 200 people who will spend a week kayaking down the Mississippi River starting this weekend.
The event is known as the Great River Rumble, and it’s been taking kayakers and canoers on weeklong river journeys since 1995. It’s like a RAGBRAI on water, where participants paddle during the morning and afternoon before getting to relax with evening activities at a new town every night.
This year’s River Rumble starts Saturday and goes from Mud Lake Park just north of Dubuque down to Le Claire, 92 miles south along the Mississippi River.
Some years the trip is even farther than that. Sims said the 2012 trip retraced a portion of the Lewis and Clark expedition from Jefferson City, Missouri, to the Lewis and Clark Visitor’s Center in St. Louis, 146 miles away. The River Rumble has also traveled down rivers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Sims has done the River Rumble every year since 2002, except last year because the event was canceled due to COVID. Sims got involved because he was looking for water recreation. He used to body surf in his native California and considers himself a “water dog.”
When he moved to Fairfield, he saw there were opportunities to rent kayaks in Keosauqua and Burlington. He saw a pamphlet for the Great River Rumble along the Mississippi River. Though Sims said he “knew nothing about paddling” at the time, he was intrigued. He contacted the event’s organizer and learned that year’s event had just finished but that gave Sims time to train for the following summer.
Sims said it’s easy for a beginner to paddle a kayak, provided they have good form.
“Paddlers having good technique look and feel effortless on the water,” he said. “You don’t have to be a big ball of muscle to enjoy kayaking.”
That said, paddling almost 100 miles in a week certainly requires endurance. Sims said paddlers use lots of muscles such as their arms, shoulders, back, abdominal core, chest and even heart.
During the week of the River Rumble, participants sleep in tents at a campground near the river and are awakened every morning at 5:30 a.m. by one of the organizers who walks around with a speaker playing music. The paddlers have 2.5 hours to tear down their tents, eat breakfast and report to the water where they receive a daily briefing.
Rick “Rex” Klein, the president of the organization that runs the event called Midwest River Expeditions, is always the lead canoe. Another member of the organization is in the back of the line and makes sure nobody has been left behind.
The group of paddlers take breaks during the day to rest and eat sack lunches. When they finish that day’s journey by arriving at the next campsite, the road crew is waiting for them with all of their gear and camping equipment.
“Then it’s relaxation time,” Sims said. “If we’re in a town, we’ll go to a restaurant to get a meal. If there are no restaurants, the person in charge of that stop will have arranged for a Lions Club or some other group to cater a meal for us.”
One year, Sims was the landing chair for the stop in Columbus Junction. He made arrangements with local restaurants to have a buffet ready for the paddlers when they arrived and provided them entertainment with a presentation on a small road built in the town by convicts in the late 1800s.
Sims said there’s usually an after-dinner program for the paddlers, who spend the rest of the evening visiting and relaxing before retiring to their campsite and doing it all over the next day.
“We’re like a family,” Sims said of his fellow paddlers. “I’ve met some great people on this trip, and it’s one of the most fun things I do all year.”