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Published April 11, 2011, 03:05 PM

'We're Getting Too Old for This': Flooding Puts Retired Rural Couple in Same Boat Year After Year

Eugene and Marijo Vik commute with the ducks when they venture from their farmhouse by boat across two miles of water spilling out of the banks of the Wild Rice River.

By: Patrick Springer, Forum Communications

ADA, Minn. – Eugene and Marijo Vik commute with the ducks when they venture from their farmhouse by boat across two miles of water spilling out of the banks of the Wild Rice River.

On a good day, when the wind is at their backs and the battery powering their tiny trolling motor keeps its charge, the trip takes half an hour.

The retired couple have learned many lessons in the years they have been forced to boat to dry land to escape from their ring-diked haven, years that come with increasing frequency in the perpetually wet Red River Valley.

Now they make sure not to wait too long to make the return trip. If they misjudge the time, they can get lost while navigating in the dark the puzzle Mother Nature has created out of the watery landscape.

Before they learned to carry a spare, they had to row to shore when the battery died – inevitably while bucking a headwind churning the waves white.

And, if they stray from the deep channel following the coulees, they must get out and pull in cold, waist-deep water. Now they know where the water is too shallow for their duck boat.

“We just kind of grin and bear it,” Marijo says. “It’s an adventure.

“Of course,” she adds, with a grin in her voice, “I’m the one who gets to row.”

Eugene, a disabled Vietnam veteran with a wrecked shoulder, mans the motor. Top speed, going with the current with no headwind: 5 or 6 mph.

“Against the current,” Eugene says, “it’s real slow.”

The worst trips actually are when the floodwaters recede, but before the washed-out gravel road to their farmhouse in southeast Norman County has been repaired.

Then they must walk the two miles where a neighbor lets them park their vehicles, and moor their boat, trudging through the muddy mire, sometimes with supplies in hand.

“It goes in phases,” Marijo says. “Right now we’re boating. Then we’re going to slog.”

Today marks the seventh day the Viks have had to boat in and out of their farmstead this spring. In the record 2009 flood, they were stranded by water for 31 days.

“And that’s tough,” Eugene says. “We’re hoping that this year it’s not as much,” Marijo adds. “It gets stressful.”

It wasn’t always like this. When Eugene grew up on the farmstead, the Wild Rice River rarely left its banks. The first major flood he can recall was in 1969.

Except for floods, which seem to come with increasing frequency, the Viks like the quiet seclusion of living at the end of a dead-end road out in the country.

“We like being there,” Marijo says. “People think we’re nuts for being there at times like this. Most of the year it’s good.”

Their country paradise shrinks to an acre when the Wild Rice floods severely. The ring dike Eugene built protects their house, barn, chicken house and two sheds as long as the pumps keep going.

“It’s an island,” Marijo says. “We call it Vik Island.”

But, she adds, the necessity of having to take a boat to run to town for errands, or to go anywhere, long ago lost its novelty.

“We’re getting too old for this,” she says. Both will turn 66 this year. “Since ’97 it’s just been every year. It just doesn’t seem to ever quit.”

Springer is a reporter at the Forum in Fargo, which also owns WDAZ

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