WABASHA, Minnesota — When Michael Anderson co-owned a bed and breakfast, one of his favorite parts of the job was taking guests kayaking down the Mississippi River.
He got rid of the constant stream of laundry and housework he disliked when he founded Broken Paddle Guiding Co. in Wabasha in 2012.
Broken Paddle offers planned tours around the backwaters of the Mississippi River or the option to rent a boat to go your own way. And the only laundry he has to do is his own.
When the COVID-19 pandemic limited recreational opportunities, Broken Paddle thrived. The company had its busiest seasons in 2020 and 2021, Anderson said.
“From afar,” he added.
The extra business enabled the company to purchase another van and a trailer. This helps manage the logistics of launching and picking up tour groups, meaning they can guide paddlers on tours more often.
Part of the fun of building the business was finding routes for tours.
Anderson was one of two guides who took half a dozen paddlers through a flooded forest through the Mississippi backwaters in Wisconsin.
At the end of August, the water is low and a section near the placement area is muddy.
“The first 100 feet are ugly,” said Taylor Treinen, a guide from Broken Paddle. “The rest, well it can’t be worse.”
Treinen also gives private kayak lessons.
Becky and Glen Pattee, from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, joined the tour as part of an anniversary trip to the Driftless area. Becky said she got the idea from a colleague who toured Broken Paddle as a retirement gift.
“It’s like floating down the lazy river in the water park,” Glen said. “But for adults.”
The rest of the tour is calm. Despite small storms coming close enough to give a few rumbles of thunder, the group remained mostly dry.
The backwaters offered plenty of sightings of raptors, turtles, mussels and other wildlife. The tour ended with a trip south on the Mississippi River to Wabasha. The wind battered the surface of the river, but the guides kept the group close and the paddlers were able to navigate through the brief period of waves.
Anderson said part of the fun of growing the business was finding routes for the tours. The visit of the flooded forest lasts approximately 4 hours. Another backwater trip, the sunset trip takes about 1 hour.
People can also choose their own adventure. Spring brings higher waters and opportunities to paddle, well, anywhere.
“You can go any direction through the trees, which is fun,” Anderson said.
Anderson enjoyed canoe trips in boundary waters growing up. He worked at Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters in Grand Marais, Minnesota. After a stint with the Conservation Corps in northern Minnesota, a longtime friend invited him to co-manage a bed and breakfast his friend had purchased as an investment property.
“None of us had stayed in a B&B or worked in a kitchen,” Anderson said.
Anderson said it was a fun job and he enjoyed the guests, but wanted to find a way to earn a living by spending more time outdoors. He bought a building on Main Street in Wabasha and founded Broken Paddle.
Most of his customers come from the nearby area, he says.
“We get quite a few people from Rochester,” he said. “More than I expected when we started.”
Summer brings a greater share of tourists from further afield, he added.
“People are amazed by this neighborhood,” he said. “It might not be the first place that comes to mind, but this part of Minnesota is truly unique and fun to paddle.”