From pedalers to paddlers, Guttenberg attracts all kinds

An estimated 150 to 200 canoers and kayakers will land in Guttenberg on Saturday, Aug. 2, for a banquet and night out to celebrate their week-long river journey. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Just one week after RAGBRAI comes to a close in Guttenberg, another group of athletes is expected to paddle their way through Lock and Dam 10 to land in our city. The Great River Rumble, active since 1995 and headquartered in Dubuque, will finish a week-long canoe and kayak trip on the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. 

“We’ve paddled every mile of the Mississippi from St. Cloud all the way down to the arch in St. Louis. We’ve really covered a lot of ground over all these years,” says Rex Klein, Rumble Chairman. He lists the majority of participants in the event as Midwesterners, but says the event gets advertised nationally – drawing canoers and kayakers from Kansas, New York, Florida, Texas, and California. “The last couple of years we’ve been averaging between 150 and 180 people for the full week on the trip. Last year we had 198 people.”

The event will include teenagers to septuagenarians, and experience is necessary for the routes the Rumble takes. The trip is strenuous, averaging about 20 miles per day, and strong winds as well as rough water are a possibility. This year’s event begins in Sauk City, Wis., with a 25-mile paddle to Spring Green. Six days later, paddlers will leave Wyalusing State Park and travel a short seven miles before landing in Guttenberg, where they will have parked their cars on July 26.

“Ironically, RAGBRAI ends the day we meet in Guttenberg to get on the buses and start our trip,” Klein says. “It’s not going to effect us, because they’ll be coming in by bike and we’ll be meeting at a place in town and parking our cars to board a charter bus. We’ll barely be crossing paths.” Klein expects participants to be loading buses by 9:00 a.m. that Saturday morning.

This year marks the Rumble's fifth stop in Guttenberg. The group's first overnight stay was in 1996, when Iowa was celebrating its Sesquicentennial. Jane Regan, Rumble organizer, remembers that year well. "There was a thunderstorm that night in Guttenberg, and canoes were literally flying around in the air. Campers along the riverfront were soaked. They still talk about that stormy night every year on the trip," she says. "It was that event that got my interest in the group, and I started paddling myself."

At the organization’s annual meeting in November, a core group of roughly 40 paddlers selected this year’s route. “I know Guttenberg well. It’s a nice, smaller historical town,” said Klein. “The only thing we were a little concerned about was facilities for a banquet on Saturday, as well as hotel accommodations.” Rumble representatives are working with officials in Guttenberg to fine-tune the details. Participants camp throughout the trip, and are responsible for booking their own accommodations on the last day.

“Other than when we finished in St. Louis – that was quite a hoopla to finish under the arch on the Mississippi – I’ll be honest with you: We get more accolades, media coverage, and attention when we stop in smaller towns,” Klein told The Press. “In ‘09, we came through Harper’s Ferry and they treated us like kings and queens. It was just incredible. They laid out the red carpet. The whole town came out – and that was just an overnight in the middle of the week.” Bigger cities, he says, tend to have more politics, and for that reason many group members prefer small towns. 

 "The City of Guttenberg, Guttenberg Schools,  Iowa DNR, US Fish and Wildlife and the Lock and Dam have always been accommodating and super to work with," says Regan. "Those welcomes are not forgotten.  We don't always have that kind of treatment in the bigger cities. The small towns love events like this and appreciate the travelers in town."

  Road crew and paddlers will do a scouting run in late May to perfect the details of the route. Klein expects Rumblers arrive on Aug. 2 by midday. “That’s such a short day by our standards – 7 miles. We can pretty much put in and take our time. Even with a later start – we’re usually up at 5 a.m. for breakfast – we could probably be in by about noon, if not sooner.” 

The Great River Rumble is put on annually by Midwest River Expeditions, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people enjoy the rivers and promote environmental consciousness. The deadline to sign up for the trip is July 15. For more information, visit 

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