I've developed a slide show presentation about the trip that I've been able to share with people dozens of times all over the country. For the first time ever on Saturday May 12th I finally have a chance to do it in my home town of Wausau Wisconsin. If you have plans to be in Wausau on Mother's day weekend and are looking for a great way to entertain your mom come check it out. Details about the show are listed on the home page of my web site at www.portagetoportage.com
Start: 7:30 AM - MM 232
Finish 10:00 AM - MM 218 Grafton Illinois
Time: 2:30 hours
Daily dist: 14 miles
Total dist: 5740 miles
Companions: Jason Cummings
Weather: Overcast, low 70’s, SE wind 5-10 mph
Notes: Yeee ha!
It was about a year ago that I was in San Diego nervously trying to get my head around all the logistics for a trip I’d dreamt about for years. The mere fact that the idea of the trip had morphed into very real planning seemed like a dream itself. My mind was in a fog of what-ifs and unknowns as well as the sadness that comes with leaving friends behind when you head off in a new direction in life. I’d been kayak camping before, but only for a week or so, and never on something of this magnitude. Five thousand miles seemed like an almost insurmountable mountain to climb. It would be at least two hundred days of paddling to figure out. The obstacles, campsites, water stops, re-supply points… It was too much to take in all at once, so I decided not to. Instead I started out with a broad view of where the trip would take me. Then I took it one month, one week, one day, one hour, one minute, and finally one stroke at a time.
That’s how I did it
5740 miles… one stroke at a time.
In the planning stage I realized how, instead of vanishing into the wilderness, this trip would encircle the core of our country passing along the edges of some of our most populated cities. With the proximity to civilization, I realized that this trip could be shared with others all along the way. I thought that, if people could follow along, this trip might serve as a reminder of what adventures await us close to home. I also believed that this trip (accessible - in parts - to almost everyone) could motivate people to get out and explore their local waters on their own. For those reasons I decided this was a trip that should be shared.
So it was that I brought along ten pounds of computer, charger, spare batteries and cords. So it was, as well, that on so many nights when I was tired and sore and so desperately just wanted to get to bed, that I stayed up and fought my heavy eye lids to get the blog post up for that day. I knew the daily reports and computer could put me in touch with people along the way. But I never could have anticipated how many people would answer my call to share in this adventure with me. It was a tremendous effort to keep the blog going day after day. But for every person that opened their home to me, joined me on the water, sent a word of encouragement via. E-mail, or told me they were enjoying following along, it was all worth it.
Two hundred eighty days and 5740 miles since it began on a crisp early winter day last December, I have shared a daily account of this trip and my life. With a bumpy start, and many ups and downs, it has been an experience of a lifetime. I am so glad I could bring you along for the ride. Today I am pleased to report that I have paddled the last stroke into Grafton Illinois.
The loop is complete.
It is done.
Start: 7:30 AM - MM 267
Finish 2:00 PM - MM 232
Time: 6:30 hours
Daily dist: 35 miles
Lock 25: 11:30-12:30 - 1:00 actually locked through this time
Total dist: 5400+
Companions: Jason caught up with me in camp
Weather: Overcast with a little drizzle/mist, low 70’s, SE wind 5-10 mph
Notes: Last full day on the water - I am excited to see the finish line in Grafton
To say I’m excited to see the finish line in Grafton is an understatement. I am VERY excited. It struck me as I pulled out of Lock 25 today that, with only 23 miles to go to Grafton, the time it will take to get there can be measured in hours instead of the months used in the beginning of this trip. By 2:00 when I pulled off the water I’d already come 35 miles and Grafton waited a tantalizingly short 14 miles downstream. It wouldn’t have taken long to grind out those last few miles but I had bigger plans.
Last December when I put in on the Mississippi for the first time I was joined by Jason Cummings. He had paddled up from Portage Des Sioux, MO and escorted me for my first five miles on the way back down to his put-in. As he put it a “Portage to Portage” trip of his own. A few weeks ago Jason e-mailed and asked if I was going to close up the gap in the trip. Of course I was, so we made plans for him to join me in camp the last night and paddle together on the final leg back into Grafton. It just seems right to have the same person that joined me on the first day out of Grafton to also join me for the last day back into town.
Jason had to work all day (somebody has to work after all) so he didn’t get on the water until the early evening. By then I had camp set up and fire wood gathered for what would be only the second campfire I built on this entire trip. At about 5:30 Jason called to double check what island I was on before he committed to heading downstream on what he thought was the correct channel. Having to paddle upstream to correct the mistake of going down the wrong channel would have taken a gargantuan amount of effort in the rapidly fading daylight. I lit the fire to try to create some smoke to mark where I was but amazingly the soaking wet wood burned so hot it didn’t create any smoke (it may have had something to do with the pint of camp fuel I used). Thankfully Jason could smell the fire which was just enough to assure him that he was on the right track.
With a half hour of daylight to spare Jason glided into camp for what he informed me would be his first kayak camping experience. Coming fully prepared with a tent, marshmallows and smores fixings, a few beers, and a cold Coke for me, I think he’s already got kayak camping all figured out.
This last night has me it bit in a daze. I’m excited to be on the cusp of completing the loop, and at the same time a bit melancholy knowing that this is the end of it all. Looking at my food bags almost empty and not being the least bit concerned is strange. My batteries are getting a bit low, and that’s no big deal. I have more water than I need and may actually dump the extra to lighten the load. It‘s odd to think that all my gear (a little thread bare and faded) that has served me so well can finally rest when I reach the boat ramp in Grafton tomorrow.
After digging out the one 8.5”x11” map that I’ll need for the day, planning for tomorrow’s paddle took about two minutes. There are no locks, no long crossings, no big winds, no logistical hurdles at all between here and the finish line, just point my kayak down stream and go.
Check out full day 277 post below
Start: 6:45 AM - MM 301 - 8 miles south of Hannibal, MO
Finish 12:45 PM - MM 267
Time: 6:00 hours
Daily dist: 34 miles
Lock 24: 11:15-11:30 Portaged lock and dam
Total dist: 5400+
Weather: Mostly cloudy to overcast, 70’s, SE wind 5-10 mph
Notes: Showers threatened all day but it only rained an hour or so.
After a week and a half with apparently nothing to haul, the barge industry is back in action. Over the last two days I’ve seen more barge traffic than I had seen in the ten days prior. This traffic is resulting in bottlenecks at every lock. When I reached Lock 24 today (Lord knows what happened to Lock 23) two barges were waiting to lock through downstream while an upstream barge was already re-assembling himself after locking through. It didn’t matter to me because once again I was able to slide the Ikkuma, fully loaded, over the dry spillway on the far end of the dam. It took a little doing to round up the logs and sticks required to act as bumpers over the rocky embankment, but I was up, over, and back in the water in just fifteen minutes, faster than it takes to lock through even without a waiting line.
The weather man had been talking about a lot of rain on its way from the disintegrating hurricane that rolled into the Gulf last week. The sky was cloudy but thankfully, so far, all I’ve seen is a couple short showers. In fact the entire afternoon was dry and beautiful with a hint of sunshine even popping out just before sunset.
With a little more time at the end of the day’s paddling than I’m used to I was able to go for a walk along shore where I’m camped. I could only go about 100 yds in either direction until the sand ran out and became sticky mud, but along the way I did find an interesting animal tooth (looks like a molar from something big). I also took the time to clean up my kayak a bit. Weeks in tannic rivers had yellowed the normally bright white hull. The other day I had pulled the Ikkuma up on a mud beach for a break and before I launched I rubbed the sticky mud off the hull. In so doing I discovered that I’d rubbed some of the yellowing off the hull. Figuring it couldn’t hurt, today I rolled the Ikkuma up on its side and polished out the entire hull with Mississippi River mud. Incredibly the mud and a little elbow grease did a great job in making the kayak look presentable again. It seems like a silly thing to polish a boat in the midst of a 5000 mile trip, but wouldn’t it be a shame to come across the final finish line with a dirty boat.
Jake is out of cell coverage again so he phoned in a report. He had a great day of paddling and is enjoying what will probably be the last rain free campsite of the trip. He also able to portage the last two locks avoiding a lot of barge traffic today.
Start: 10:30 AM - MM 327 Quincy, IL
Finish 3:00 PM - MM 301 - 8 miles south of Hannibal, MO
Time: 4:30 hours
Daily dist: 26 miles
Lock 21: 10:45-11:00 Portaged lock and dam
Lock 22: 2:30-2:45 Portaged lock and dam
Total dist: 5400+
Weather: Clear blue skies, 70’s, calm winds
Notes: Luck allowed me to avoid long waits by portaging two dams
Today was one of those wonderful late summer days where the weather was warm, clear, and dry. I’m enjoying it for all it’s worth as I carefully watch a weather system move in from the south, a remnant of the hurricane that spun into the Gulf of Mexico last week. The weather man says it’s going to be a wet end to the week, but for now I’m loving life.
With a great breakfast with the Strosakers to start the day I was on the water by 10:30 and right from the put-in I could see that there was a lot of traffic at Lock 21 just down stream. With one barge in the lock, another waiting upstream, and a third waiting downstream it could take all day to wait a turn to lock through. Thankfully this lock is a bit different than all the rest I’d seen upstream. On the far side of the dam, opposite the lock chamber, is a concrete spillway. Right now it’s lying about six inches above the water holding back the river above, but at flood stage it would allow water to flow freely over the top. This structure is flat topped and smooth much like a road and about as wide. It was easy business to slide the Ikkuma out onto the dam then across and down a short slope to the other side. Instead of hours of waiting it took mere minutes and I was on my way. The only thing I missed was the opportunity to have my picture taken in a lock by David and Esther who had driven down to see me lock through. I did paddle back across to thank them once again for their hospitality, I guess we’ll have to get a picture next time.
A few hours of paddling brought me to and past Hannibal Missouri which we drove down to visit yesterday. Only eight miles further I came to Lock 22 which was just as busy as the one above. Thank heavens this dam was constructed much like the one above and I, once again, was able to jump across in fifteen minutes. Just a few hundred yards below the lock I found a great camp spot high above the water with cool shade trees and a great view of the river and hills on the far shore. I timed how long it took the barge that was in line in front of me to get through the lock and was very grateful to have been able to portage saving myself three hours of waiting above.
All of this barge traffic is a bit of a surprise after a week of seeing very few. With only 83 miles and two locks to go and three days to reach Grafton I can handle some waiting. But if the locks continue to be of the same design I’ll be happy to keep sliding over the spillways and continuing on my way.
Start: 6:15 AM - MM 361 IA/MO border mouth of Des Moines River
Finish 12:00 PM - MM 327 Quincy, IL
Time: 5:45 hours
Daily dist: 34 miles
Lock 20: 9:15-9:45
Total dist: 5400+
Weather: Clear blue skies, 70’s, W wind 10+
Notes: A great day on the water
Admittedly worn out from pulling into the wind all day yesterday, I was grateful to have a comparatively short and much easier go of it today. In addition I ended the day not on a sand blasted river bar like yesterday, but instead at the home of the father and step-mom of my good friend Duane.
Last fall when I was driving back to Wisconsin from San Diego I had a bunch of kayaks to deliver along the way. [It’s rare for any of my paddling friends to do a cross country drive without at least one extra boat to deliver somewhere]. One of those deliveries was right here in Quincy Illinois for Duane. The boat I was delivering was his home made “mini me” kayak he wanted to keep at his father’s house so he could have something to paddle when he comes to visit (which isn’t nearly often enough Duane). Duane’s parents, David and Esther, were not home but I did meet their next door neighbor who let me into the Strosaker’s garage. Becky was very interested in the trip I was about to embark on and she made sure I added her contact information to the Strosaker’s just in case I should need help when I was passing through Quincy. With very few contacts on the Upper Mississippi at that time, on what I knew would be a very cold run down the river, their offer as a potential source of help was a treasure.
As it turned out winter shut me out long before Quincy and my re-start was below, so I never did need Becky’s number. As I came in to town on a very beautiful day with sublime weather the stopover was much more social than logistical, yet (as you know) I always appreciate a comfy bed and home cooked meal. Ahead of schedule, due to the river pushing me incredibly fast, I arrived at the boat launch at noon less than six hours after starting out 34 miles above. David knows this river well and figured I’d be moving faster than I expected and he and Esther were there right on time to pick me up. Once the Ikkuma was emptied of gear and loaded on their van, David whisked me back to their house where I got cleaned up before we headed down to Hannibal Missouri.
Hannibal is a little river town who’s claim to fame is being the childhood home of Mark Twain. We started our tour of town with a stop at “Lover’s Leap” which provided a panoramic view of town as well as the river valley. From there we made our way to the Mark Twain Cave where I enjoyed a walk through the famous cave that appeared in the Adventures of Huckleberry Fin.
From the cave we made our way downtown where we saw Mark Twain’s childhood home and the famous white fence. Capitalizing on it’s Mark Twain connection a short walk down Main Street in Hannibal also allowed me to see; The Mark Twain ice cream parlor, The Mark Twain bookstore, The Twain Pub, The Mark Twain diner, The Mark Twain drycleaner… I think I even saw a Mark Twain septic pump drive by. It was a neat little town and one worth visiting if you get the chance, especially the cave.
Start: 6:00 AM - MM 409 Burlington, IA
Finish 5:00 PM - MM 361 IA/MO border mouth of Des Moines River
Time: 11:00 hours
Daily dist: 48 miles
Lock 19: 3:40-4:20
Total dist: 5400+
Weather: Storms in AM then clear, 70’s, S wind 20+ (headwind)
Notes: A long hard day paddling into the wind.
Sloppy wet and slow going with headwinds pushing against the current.
The wind was blowing out of the south at well over 20mph… South being, of course, the very direction I was headed… That’s all I’m going to say about that.
The day was a bit of a slog but not without highlights. Shortly after getting on the water this morning I passed through Burlington, IA. At one of the loading docks was the Living Lands and Waters barge. Living Lands and Waters is the organization started by Chad Pregracke, the parents of whom I stayed with last week. The organization has done a lot to clean up the Mississippi River, as well as others. The barge is their base of operations where they store the trash they’ve collected until they can off load it to the landfill.
A bit further on form Burlington I had to take a forced break to wait out a storm. The front actually slowed the wind for a while, and as much as I wanted to stay on the water and take advantage of the lull, there was a lot of lighting associated with the storm so I thought it wise to wait it out. While watching the storm pass I was treated to some amazing cloud formations.
What was my destination for most of the day ended up being one of the most remarkable things I saw. Lock 19 I was told is a behemoth but nothing could have prepared me for the true enormity of the lock. Designed to allow tows consisting of three barges wide and five long with a tow boat behind to lock through in one pass. To accommodate that size tow the chamber is well over 1200 feet long and 120 feet wide. To add to the experience of being alone in a lock chamber that it took me ten minutes to paddle end to end, was the fact that it also lowered me over 40 feet. By the time the huge gates swung open to the lower river level the lock chamber looked like an empty blimp hanger. It was HUGE!
Start: 1:00 PM - MM 433 New Boston, IL
Finish 6:00 PM - MM 409 Burlington, IA
Time: 5:00 hours
Daily dist: 24 miles
Lock 18: 5:15-5:45
Total dist: 5400+
Companions: Joe and Joe for the first two miles from their cabin back to the river
Weather: Mostly clear, 70’s, S wind 15+ (headwind)
Notes: Left Jo’s cabin at 11:15 for paddle to main channel
As of yesterday I had paddled ten days I a row. They weren’t all long days but it felt good to sleep in a bit this morning just the same. After a nice breakfast prepared by Jo the three of us (Joe, Jo, and me) launched off the beach by their cabin and paddled together back out Sturgeon Bay to the main channel in New Boston. There we said our goodbyes and I turned my kayak into the wind and started south.
After parting ways with the Joes, it was a fairly uneventful day aside from the choppy water from the strong wind blowing straight upstream. The later than normal start didn’t give me a lot of time before dark which didn’t matter because with the wind blowing like it was I didn’t want to slog it out any longer than I had anyway. The campsite I ended up in is on a beautiful point of land on the downstream end of an island that I’d bet was under water little more than a week ago. In fact I’ve noticed the river dropping significantly over the last six days I’ve been on it. Hopefully this trend will reveal even more dry land like I found tonight and make the daily chore of finding accessible, campable, camp spots a lot easier.
Start: 7:00 AM - MM 463 Fairport, IA
Finish 1:45 PM - MM 433 New Boston, IL
Time: 6:45 hours
Daily dist: 32 miles
Lock 16: 8:00-8:30
Lock 17: 11:45-Noon
Total dist: 5400+
Companions: Joe and Joe for the last two miles to their cabin
Weather: Mostly clear, 70’s, NW wind 10+ (tailwind)
Notes: New Boston by 12:45 then paddled up to Joes’ cabin on Sturgeon Bay
There was no wind to be complained about today. Right at Muscatine, IA the river took a sharp bend to the south putting the brisk northwest wind at my back. With a helping push and temperatures low enough to almost require a jacket I hardly broke a sweat as I headed downstream toward New Boston, IL.
Along the way I passed through two locks at the first (Lock 16) I learned a bit of the lingo used by the barge industry. When I radioed the lockmaster an requested lockage he told me to hold tight on his “river wall” because a “side by one” was locking through on his way upstream. The “river wall” he automatically clarified on the radio was the lock wall closest to the main channel (which was also the furthest away from the active lock chamber where the barge would be coming out). A “side by one” I knew was some sort of tow/barge arrangement because I could see it in the lock chamber, but I had to ask the lockmaster just what that meant.
So while I was being lowered six feet closer to the sea level in the lock I struck up a conversation with the lock master. There I learned that a “side by one” is a tow arrangement that is small enough to lock through in ONE go but the tow boat has to break loose and lock through on the SIDE of the raft of barges. Most of the lock chambers I’ve seen so far are big enough to accommodate three barges lashed side by side, and long enough to accommodate three in a row with a tow boat behind. The size of the particular tow boat that was coming through works better if the barges are lashed only two wide. That means that in order to maximize the number of barges he can push, the captain was pushing a raft four barges long and two wide. This lock can accommodate a raft four barges long, but not with the tow boat behind it. Therefore the towboat had to push the barges in, then break loose, come in along side, tie up, lock up, nudge the raft ahead just far enough to make room for him to maneuver back behind the barges, tie back up, and finally go on his way. The whole process takes a while but it’s still faster than having to break a long raft in half and take it through in two sections.
That's it... only one foot
The next lock I came to (Lock 17) provided me with the shortest lockage I’ve done so far. After entering the giant chamber and having the equally giant lock gates groan shut behind me, the downstream valves were opened and I watched only one foot of the wet lock wall reveal itself before the downstream lock gates started to open to send me on my way.
From Lock 17 to New Boston was only about four miles and with the current and wind pushing me I made it there in less than an hour. Waiting for me there were Joe and Jo a couple from the Quad Cities area that has a cabin on the end of Sturgeon Bay just above New Boston. They had been following along with the blog since the very beginning and when they realized I was coming through on my way to close up the gap they invited me to stay at their cabin. Through a couple e-mails and phone calls we hatched the idea to have them meet me in town and paddle up the couple of miles to their cabin together which would make them only the third and forth people to paddle with me on the river so far. As we shook hands and exchanged hellos at the boat ramp a steady stream of huge motor boats were launching into the river. Then as we made our way up the bay that stream of boats now motored their way past us on their way further up. Joe explained that up ahead was a popular beach that the boaters liked to hang out at. Sure enough, when we passed under a bridge there was a growing crowd of boats and people hauled out on the beach to the left. Just beyond the party beach on the right shore was the Joes’ cabin where we pulled our boats up on the sand beach and ended a wonderful day of paddling.
After reading the blog for so long, Jo was dialed in to my frequent mention of food and set about making sure I didn’t go hungry while I was with them. With a spread of every snack food you could imagine we enjoyed a nice chat before heading into Muscatine so I could see a bit of the city I’d paddled by earlier from land. Made from clam shells harvested from the river, Muscatine once was the largest button producing town in the world and to honor that tradition a huge statue of a clam digger has been placed by the water front. With the advent of plastic buttons that industry died out but the town also is the home of Heinz Ketsup and Hon office furniture. The statue of a bottle of ketsup on an office chair is yet to come. After dinner at Jo’s favorite local Mexican restaurant and a visit to the local ice cream parlor, we capped off the evening by stopping back down by the river front to see the highway bridge over the river light up with colored lights. Joe was disappointed that the normally choreographed changing multi colored lights seemed to be stuck on one color, but it was impressive just the same.
Start: 8:45 AM - MM 495 Rapids City, IL
Finish 4:45 PM - MM 463 Fairport, IA
Time: 8:00 hours
Daily dist: 32 miles
Lock 14: 9:10-9:15
Lock 15: 11:30-Noon
Total dist: 5400+
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70’s, WNW wind 20+ (headwind)
Notes: Fought wind all day
If you were to ask anybody that is the least bit geographically inclined which way the Mississippi River runs they‘d more than likely say from north to south. Indeed, over who knows how much time, the river does run from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota primarily south to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Of course, like all rivers, the Mississippi twists and turns often running toward every direction on the compass within a thirty mile horseshoe bend, but overall it does flow from north to south. With that thought I was quite excited last night when I heard that big winds from the west northwest were due for today. A big tailwind combined with the already fast flowing river promised to push me downstream like a rocket.
Unfortunately, after reviewing the route I had planned for today, I discovered that this thirty mile section was aligned almost straight east to west… right into the big wind. What I’d hoped would be a great boost downstream instead was a persistent challenge to my forward progress. In fact the wind was blowing so hard at times that it brought me to a stand still despite my efforts combined with the river’s. If I had been anywhere but on a river like this I would have sat the day out and waited for calmer conditions. With the river’s help I knew I could make some distance and after reviewing the maps with Brent Pregracke (who has spent his entire life working these waters) we had a route lined out through side channels in order to avoid the wind as much as possible.
The first ten miles of progress took nearly twice as long as yesterday while I paddled over and through two and three foot waves being pushed up from the opposing forces of downstream flowing water and upstream blowing wind. The side channels were great ways to get out of the wind. By the time I’d cleared the second lock of the day in Davenport, IA I had barely had a chance to take my hands off the paddle while I fought my way downstream. In need of a break I spotted a rough ramshackle hut on a raft nosed in to the shore below the Highway 61 bridge. Brent had suggested that I keep my eye out for this very craft (called the Riff Raft) and the half dozen college age kids that go with it.
I couldn’t believe it, the words had just come out of Brent’s mouth and a couple hours later there they were. As I bobbed in the wind blown waves taking pictures a girl waved me to shore from a tarp covered window. The young woman was just what Brent had told me to expect. A little “earthy” with a distractingly large nose piercing and several tattoos. While yelling to each other over the howling wind while I sat in my kayak feet from shore, I learned that the group (who call themselves the Unseen Ghost Brigade) is a small theater troop that is floating down the river in their home made raft. They're making stops at river towns along the way doing street performances with hopes of raising money from donations to continue on with the trip. They have a flyer describing what they are all about so when Carin offered to get one for me I took the opportunity to land and stretch my legs.
The raft itself is well built and serves as the foundation for the shelter the group has assembled above. To get a picture of it in your mind try to picture a kids fort in the back yard assembled from whatever spare parts could be scavenged from all the construction projects in the area. Add a Minnesota boat registration number and an outboard motor and you have it. To make the picture more complete situate this ramshackle construction on the shore of one of the biggest rivers in the world and fill it up with no less than six bohemian street performers.
Curious as to what the inside living quarters might look like for six people in one little shack I asked Carin if I could come inside. She said sure so I ducked the flapping tarp that is the door into the relative out-of-the-wind calm inside. The interior was incongruously tidy compared to the ramshackle exterior of the structure with a well built helm in one corner, a three burner propane stove in another, and storage in the back. They have a storage compartment on the roof of the hut where they keep camping supplies that allow them to spread out on beaches along the way and not have to cram into the shack every night.
Over a brief conversation I learned that after building the raft and starting out from Minneapolis in late June the troop is hoping to make it to New Orleans by New Years. They are making stops at river towns all along the way to perform a play entitled “Death on the Mississippi and the Adventures of the Unseen Ghost Brigade”. They’re also doing a documentary chronicling their adventure and the state of the river and the towns along it. Having run most of the water that lies ahead of them I know they’ll have plenty to report on.
Before I left Carin invited me to sign the ceiling of the shack and I reciprocated by inviting her to add her signature to my kayak. Just as I was getting ready to leave another of the kids named Chad rode up on a bicycle and we exchanged a quick explanation of what was going on and he signed my boat as well.
After my brief visit with the Riff Raft I pushed against the wind for the rest of the day and finally started looking for a camp site at about 3:00. It wasn’t until nearly 5:00 when I settled on a wind blown mud “beach” on up a hundred yards or so on a connector ditch that runs to a back bay. This was the only high ground I could find that was accessible and not covered in thick growths of Poison Ivy. The ground is a gelatinous mud that my feet begin to sink into if I stand in one place too long. Much of the beach is covered in a layer of dead dry grass that seems to spread my weight and not allow me to sink in. Taking a cue from what mother nature had started, I set about gathering up arm loads of the grass from all around the shore heaping it up in a layer about three inches thick where my tent was to go. The grass helped keep my tent up out of the mud clean and dry. I also gathered more grass and completed my campsite by laying out a walkway from my tent to the water so I could access the river without getting muddy feet. It took a little while but the effort turned what would have been a muddy wet camp site into a cozy dry one.
Start: 7:00 AM - MM 540 Savanna, IL
Finish 2:45 PM - MM 495 Rapids City, IL
Time: 7:45 hours
Daily dist: 45 miles
Lock 13: 9:45-9:55 (no waiting today)
Total dist: 5200+
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 70’s, SW wind 10+
Notes: Reconnected with the Pregracke family
Of all the people I’ve stayed with on this trip one of the most important was the very first. It could be said that Gary and Keekee Pregracke saved the day back in December when they opened up their home to my parents and I. After getting snowed out up north and having to pull up and high tail it south in search of open water, we were feeling a bit overwhelmed. Being able to stay at a real house with friendly people (rather than another motel) made all the difference in helping us get back on our feet. With the Pregracke’s help we were able to re-group and set out toward St. Louis with an organized plan to get me back on the water.
Because the Pregrackes were so kind to us, it meant a lot to me to try to touch base with them as I came through their area on my way south. I’ve said it in my web site that one of the things I’m trying to show by doing this trip is what adventure lies in our back yards as this water-borne loop passes through the figurative back yards of much of our country’s population. For the Pregrackes this trip passes through their literal back yard and my actual route within feet of their dock. It would have been crazy for me to not stop by for at least a quick hello. After touching base with Keekee, once again with the help of their soon-to-be daughter-in-law Tammy, I received an energetic offer of the use of the same guest room where my parents and I stayed last December. It suffices to say when I woke up this morning I was excited to be on my way to visit with everyone again.
Indeed, after opening my eyes to bright sunshine illuminating the walls of my tent, I was startled to realize that I’d slept that long. However, when the bright tow boat search light swung upstream in search of other obstacles around the bend, the walls of my tent turned back to dark and I relaxed back into sleep once again. An hour later I did rise and an hour after that breakfast was eaten, my boat was packed, and I was on the water heading south. The day progressed without a hitch other than a stiff head wind that slowed my swift six mile per hour pace to five for the last two hours of the day. Compared to the 2.5-3 mph pace I had been setting while paddling UP the Fox River last week, I was still cruising.
By the end of the day, just past the Interstate 80 bridge, I reached my destination and was greeted by Keekee at the end of their dock. After getting cleaned up and organized I enjoyed dinner and a nice long visit with folks that seem like old friends.
Start: 7:30 AM - MM 578 East Dubuque, IL
Finish 3:00 PM - MM 540 Savanna, IL
Time: 7:30 hours
Daily dist: 38 miles
Lock 12: 11:15-12:15 (1:00 hr brings paddling time to 6:30 hrs)
Total dist: 5200+
Weather: Overcast - drizzle/mist most of the day, 70’s, calm winds
Notes: First significant slowdown by a lock
When I woke early this morning it was raining, or should I say still raining as it had been raining and storming all night. Rather than break camp in the rain I rolled over and dozed off for another blissful hour of sleep. The rains let up long enough to brake camp and load the boat but then a drizzling rain/heavy mist started up and persisted most of the day.
Three hours on the water brought me to a county campground/marina where I stopped to top off my water bottles. At least two days of water remained in the MSR Dramadary Bags but time has taught me to never pass up a chance to fill up. At the campground I chatted with a man who was in the process of relocating his giant RV. The rains last night had flooded out his site leaving it a muddy mess. It was funny to think that I fared better in my tent on an island in the river than this guy did in an RV at an established campground. I’ve said it before that I’d gladly take the backcountry over dysfunctional civilization any day.
Yesterday I learned how fast I can go on this river and today I learned how locks can sometimes slow you down. Of course compared to portaging, the one hour I had to wait for a tow to pass through (and re-assemble) at lock number 12 was no big deal. The hour delay at the lock was actually a great excuse to get out and stretch my legs and to make a few important phone calls.
Part of the reason it felt so good to get a bit more sleep this morning was because last night I was up late trying to sort out details for the next ten days. There are two stopovers I had tentatively planed on the way south. The first is in the Quad Cities area just outside Moline where the Pregracke family lives. Gary and Keeke Pregracke (coordinated by their son’s girlfriend Tammy) are the ones that invited my parents and I to stay with them as we were heading south to escape the winter storm last winter. During our visit we were able to re-group and formulate a plan for getting back on the water. It was the Pregrackes that suggested Grafton Illinois as a good place to put back in, figuring that the quaint river town would make a good finish line when I did close up the gap this fall. The other stopover is in Quincy Illinois at my friend Duane Strosaker’s parent’s house. Last year Duane’s dad, upon finding out about my trip and extremely late start date, said quite simply “That boy’s going to freeze.” He’s been following along with my adventures and invited me to stay for a bit of a break when I passed through.
True to form I didn’t have anything pre-planned when I set out from Boscabel Monday afternoon, just a rough idea of who I may be able to visit on the way down the river. It was today, during the one hour I had to kill waiting for Lock 12 to clear, that I finally had time to touch base with the folks I was thinking about visiting. It was a productive couple of calls and plans are now in order for me to pay these folks a visit. The Pregrackes I expect to reach by tomorrow night and Strosakers by the beginning of next week. It’s always a relief to have a plan in order, I wonder why I don’t do it more often.
The rains did finally let up in the early evening giving me enough time to get all my gear dried out. Tonight’s campsite is amazing. It’s a high sandy island (probably dredge spoils from the shipping channel) situated on the outside of a bend with a beautiful view of the river in both directions. Flanking the river to the east are high stone bluffs and in the distance is a truss bridge crossing the river. It’s one of the best camp spots I’ve had on the river so far.
Start: 8:30 AM - Wyalusing State Park, WI
Finish 5:45 PM - East Dubuque, IL
time: 9:15 hours
Daily dist: 52 miles
Total dist: 5200+
Weather: Mostly cloudy - rain off and on, 80’s, SW winds 15+
Notes: Big miles on a big river
Yee ha, 52 miles in one day! I had forgotten how fun this river is to paddle.
With twelve days allotted to reach Grafton (near St. Louis), I had figured that I’d need to average about 38 miles per day in order to make it on time. The lower half of the Mississippi, the section I paddled last winter, flows free from St. Louis all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Not only does it not have dams and locks in the way, the lower half of the river just plane flows fast. My pace down there last winter was well above six miles per hour. If I could maintain that pace I could pound out fifty mile days easily and reach Grafton in just eight days.
However, the upper half of the Mississippi is quite a bit different than the lower half. Up here the Army Corps of Engineers has built a series of dams with locks to create what they call pools in order to maintain a navigable depth of water for boat and barge traffic. With all of these impoundments I couldn’t use my old river pace to calculate how long it’d take me to reach Grafton because I had no idea just what kind of pace I could average in the slack water in the pools and faster flowing water below the dams.
After my parents dropped me off at the boat ramp at Wyalusing this morning, I set out for what was my first full day on the Upper Mississippi, anxious to see what sort of pace I could set. Well… after logging a 52 mile day, even with a later than normal start, I’m fairly sure I’ll be able to reach Grafton by the 11th. I didn’t necessarily want to go 52 miles. But the end of my standard 8 hours of paddling put me right at Lock 11. Once through the lock I was hoping to see nice sandy islands on which to camp like I’d seen up above but there were none. Instead I paddled a bit further on before settling for what turned out to be a great camp on a wooded island below Dubuque.
It was a rainy and windy day on the water but I had fun just the same, and now that I know I can set the needed pace, I can relax and plan my next two weeks of paddling with more confidence.
Start: 2:15 AM - Boscabel, WI
Finish 7:15 PM - Wyalusing State Park, WI
Time: 5:00 hours
Daily dist: 27 miles
Total dist: 5200+
Weather: Partly cloudy, 80’s, SW winds 10+
Notes: Many memories of last winter and my first time through here.
If you’ve been following along with this blog since the beginning, you are probably well aware that there is a bit of a gap in the loop that’s the result of being chased south by an early winter storm last year. Like I said in the last post that Portage always was and still is the town I consider the finish line of this trip. The fact remains, however, that I have a little unfinished work to do in order to make it official.
It may not mean anything to many other people, but I have a burning need to close up that gap and know better than to think that I can take my time and paddle those miles some other day. For that reason, the day after reaching Portage (still tired from all the celebrating), I am back at it.
Boscabel was the place where my parents found me at the end of the third day of paddling last fall at a canoe launch with a half foot of snow on the ground. By the next day more snow had fallen along with the temperature and the river was clogged with huge rafts of snow and ice. As a result, my parents and I were left with no prudent choice but to jump south to warmer weather and an unfrozen river.
Today was a different story. With the temperature in the 80’s, clear skies, and a pleasant wind, it was an absolutely glorious day. Watching the river flow past the put-in (finally in the direction I was going once again) I was giddy with excitement to be getting back on the very river I grew up on.
With the river pushing me at two miles per hour and my added three, I made awesome time heading downstream toward my destination for the day, Wyalusing State Park. Wyalusing lies at the confluence of the Wisconsin river where it meets the Mississippi. I’d paddled this section of river once before, about eleven years ago as my brother and I finished paddling the entire length of the Wisconsin River. With my mind swimming with memories of last winter and eleven years ago, I drank in the beauty of the steep hills that flank the river dripping in lush green vegetation.
With a late start (we did have to drive four hours to the put-in) it was nearly dark by the time I reached the take out at the boat ramp in the State Park. The road to the boat ramp was closed for construction so I locked the Ikkuma to a kayak rack nearby and walked out with my gear to my parents waiting in my truck. This being our last night together for a while, we went into town to enjoy a meal at a restaurant then returned to camp for a campfire. Knowing that we’d be saying good by once again in the morning, all three of us were uncommonly silent as we sat watching the flames dancing in the fire. Alas, sometimes the only way to have someone return is to let them go.
I made it!
It was a day of surprises and moments I’ll remember forever. Thank you everyone that came to see my return (by water) to the very spot on the Wisconsin River where it all started last December. It was overwhelming to see all the friends and family that showed up to wish me well.
It’s been a long trail and I couldn’t have done it without the help and encouragement everyone has given me throughout the last nine months. It has also been a very long day so please forgive me for forcing you to wait a bit to hear more details.
Start: 10:00 AM - Governor’s Bend, WI
Finish 1:45 PM - Riverside Park - PORTAGE, WI !
Time: 4:45 hours
Daily dist: 6 miles
Total dist: 5200+
Companions: John, Tom, Elizabeth, Dad, Aaron, Dave, Margie
Weather: Clear skies, 80’s, SW winds 10+
Notes: Arrived at Indian Agency House at 12:00 noon
After getting sorted out at the campground our group of five paddlers which included (my brother Aaron, Dad, Cousin Dan, and friend Margie) headed out for Governor’s Bend where I left off yesterday. Waiting for me there was the first major surprise of the day. My good friend Dave Lindo had flown in all the way from Oklahoma City to see me cross the finish line. So he wouldn’t have to wait around for me to arrive, Dave and I drove back to the Indian Trails Campground to borrow a kayak so he could join me on the water. By the time we returned my mom’s cousin Tom and his daughter Colleen had also joined our group. Right on schedule at 10:00 we all launched into the Fox River and two hours later (after carrying around the only fallen tree that blocks the narrow river) we reached the Portage canal and the end of the Fox River for this trip.
Waiting for us at the Indian Agency House was two dozen onlookers there to see the arrival back in Portage. There to greet us as well was the very same gentleman that escorted me out of town on his SUP board last winter. Portage Doug (as he’s known in our family) had paddled the length of the canal from his apartment on the other side of town. It was an unexpected surprise but suddenly I was shown a means to get across town to the start point on the Wisconsin River that didn’t involve walking which is what I thought I’d be doing. So it was, after many hugs, hellos, and a quick interview with the press, that I dropped the Ikkuma into the canal and paddled it across town. There wasn’t much water in the canal but it was just enough to float my boat.
Doug jumped ahead with a ride from his friend Paul and caught up with me where there was a low head dam that I’d have to portage. Once back on the water I could see some folks on the lawn next to the next bridge one of those folks ended up being the second big surprise of the day. There waiting to greet me was my friend Neil (whom I met up with in Fort Lauderdale last February). After a quick hello, Doug and I continued under the bridge and on to the very end of the canal just past the refurbished canal lock. Neil and others had followed along on foot and were there to help Doug and I carry over the flood control embankment back out onto the Wisconsin River.
From that last carry it was a very quick run downstream to exactly where it all started early last December. On top of the bank was at least three dozen people cheering me on to the finish line. With their cheers of encouragement, I touched the bank, officially back where it all started, at 2:45. In the park shelter nearby was a huge spread of potluck items to feed all the masses.
I regret not having the energy or ware-with-all to give a speech at the picnic. It would have been the perfect opportunity to thank, first hand, many of the people that helped me make it back. So if you were there, or only wish you could have been, please know that I truly feel blessed to have been surrounded by so many great people thorough this trip and I thank you.
It has taken a lot of work but the blog and e-mail access I’ve had throughout this trip has allowed me to share the adventure with you. In return your kind words of encouragement have helped me all along the way. I couldn’t have done it without you and in many ways it felt like we made it back to Portage together.
If you’re like many people at the picnic that told me that reading the blog has become such a habit that they don’t know what they’re going to do now that I’ve reached Portage, you don’t need to despair. Tomorrow I’m going to be right back at it on the Wisconsin River where I left off last winter. Follow along as I close up the gap over the next thirteen days on my way to Grafton Illinois.
Start: 10:00 AM - Endeavor, WI
Finish 1:45 PM - Governor’s Bend, WI
Time: 3:45 hours
Daily dist: 10 miles
Total dist: 5200+
Weather: Clear skies, 80’s, SW winds 10+
Notes: River getting small and crooked
The paddle today was a rather straightforward and pleasant endeavor with the highlight being when we spooked a nice sized buck out of some high grass along shore. Starting out over two hundred feet wide, the river twisted and turned more and more loosing a little width and a little depth with each bend. By the time we neared the take out I had to slide over three different downed trees that blocked clear passage of the river.
After paddling John and I collected my truck from the put-in where we left it in Endeavor then returned to the Indian Trails campground where my family was beginning to rally from points far and wide. With only a couple hours to go before I was scheduled to do a slideshow at the campground, I quickly updated my slides by adding the Great Lakes and Fox River stories. By show time at 5:00 a group of about twenty people had assembled in the campground dancehall. Even the owners of the campground Dave and Myrna (who was celebrating what I think was her 34th birthday) made time to hear the stories of the trip.
For dinner our crew made our way into town and ended up at the very same restaurant where we had breakfast last December on launch day. I have to say it was a little spooky to be back there eight months later on the eve of the last day of paddling into Portage. While we ate we made plans for the paddle and picnic celebration tomorrow then finally returned to the campground for a campfire.
Start: 3:00 PM - Montello, WI
Finish 7:00 PM - Endeavor, WI
Time: 4:00 hours
Daily dist: 11 miles
Total dist: 5200+
Companions: John and Tim
Weather: Clear skies, 80’s, SW winds 10+
Notes: Seemed to take forever to work the shuttle with cars.
At the rate it took the three of us to meet up, run a shuttle, paddle 11 miles, and get back to the campground it would taken two years to paddle as far as I have on this trip. It didn’t help that road construction had us detouring all over to reach Endeavor nor did it help that for a short while we weren’t 100% sure where our take out was.
Much like my efforts with shuttling with a bicycle yesterday, car shuttles for paddling trips tend to be riddles of a higher order that are often run on faith rather than full understanding. In fact when I explained the plan to Tim (while taking his boat off his car to put it on my truck along with the two others) he understood as far as the first stop but quickly got lost in what went where and why. Finally as he shook his head and waved his arms to ward off confusion he simply said, “I’ll just follow you.” It truly does require faith… just don’t forget your car keys.
With all three boats on my truck, and Tim following along in his empty car, we left the campground in route to the town of Endeavor. A fairly quick drive got us to the outskirts of town where a “Road Closed to Thru Traffic” sign blocked our access to the put in. Undeterred we detoured to another highway (the only other access to town) and quickly discovered another identical sign on the other side of town. Apparently Endeavor, much like an island, had been completely shut off from the rest of the world during most of the summer road construction season. We cautiously drove around the barricades into town and onto the take-out wondering how the local species may have evolved during their brief geographic isolation.
When we reached the town boat ramp we found a man on shore with a small mud splashed flat bottomed boat. He was there paddling the clumsy craft with a kid sized canoe paddle through weed choked water, not to go fishing or bird watching, but to pick up credit cards that were discarded by some unknown thief. Apparently the ancient dented craft the man had employed had a fairly fast leak. He explained that he had to paddle around as quickly as he could to pick up the cards then head back to shore to empty the boat of water and put the cancelled cards in his truck. More interested in the water than who this man was or how he came to be responsible for collecting the wayward cards, we scanned the several hundred yards of thick vegetation that separated the ramp from the open river channel and asked if there was another access point that had more direct access to open water. The man directed us to another boat ramp nearby which is where we left Tim’s car.
From Endeavor it was a quick drive to the put-in in Montello where I ended my day yesterday. Once on the water we were greeted by a fairly stiff head wind that slowed our progress down the nine mile long and half mile wide Buffalo Lake. The very shallow lake is overgrown with thick mats of vegetation. About half way down we came across the huge aquatic weed mowers that keep three lanes clear for navigation, one along each shore with connector channels that allow lakeside homeowners to reach the third main channel down the middle. None of the channels provided passage that allowed us to hide from the wind. As we paddled on enjoying each others company and conversation it came to light that both John and I had read that the lake got its name from the last free ranging bison to live in Wisconsin. Apparently the hapless (and I guess lonely) animal fell into the lake and drown…
I wonder where those credit cards came from.
Three hours after starting out we reached a point where we knew we should be nearing the take-out. Somehow, however, the water didn’t look anything like where we had left Tim’s car. A half hour of investigating (which involved slogging through hundreds of yards of thick weeds to shore) revealed that we were as far as the first boat ramp we’d found and that the other ramp where we left the car had to be further upstream. The only thing we had to do was figure out where exactly, in the weed choked water. upstream was. There actually was a clear channel where the deeper flowing river prevented weeds from growing. We just had a hard time accepting the fact that the very twisty channel would indeed lead back to the western shore (where we knew we had to be) as it wound its way east and north toward the opposite shore of the mile wide marshy valley the upper end of the lake was morphing into.
Just before sunset we finally reached our destination and, with mosquitoes taking blood samples from our legs, quickly loaded Tim’s boat on his car and locked the other two to trees. We then drove back to the Montello to retrieve my truck and picked up the other two boats on the way back to the campground.
Start: 12:30 PM - Marquette, WI
Finish 3:30 PM - Montello, WI
Time: 3:00 hours
Daily dist: 11 miles
Total dist: 5200+
Weather: Clear skies, 70’s, calm winds - nice
Notes: Ran the route as a day trip using a bicycle to work a solo shuttle.
When I first got started in paddle sports more than twelve years ago it was with open canoes on the rivers around Wausau and later Sparta Wisconsin when I lived a summer down there. At that time I could never seem to find anybody to go along with me, so I often went alone. To avoid having to paddle upstream on out and back trips, I worked my own shuttles by using a bicycle to ride back to where I’d leave my truck at the put-in. Sometimes I would lock my bike at the take-out if it was on the way to the put-in. Other times I’d simply put the bike in the canoe with me. Either way, when I reached the take out I’d lock the canoe to a tree then ride back to where I left my truck and pick up the canoe on my way home.
Now, you may remember that my goal for this trip was to paddle a continuous loop of water around the eastern US while seeing what there is to see and meeting folks along the way, with the only rule being that I had to start each day on the water where I left of the day before. I had no rules regarding who carries my gear or where I stay at night. That being said, at this point in the game I’ve honestly had my fill of sleeping on the ground and am very happy to take advantage of any civilization that comes my way. Of course I’ve been doing that all along anyway, so no surprise there. With just a few very short days of paddling left on the way in to Portage I’ve decided to go the lazy man’s route and set up a base camp to day trip the last miles to the finish line.
Day tripping on a one way water route, of course, involves a shuttle to be able to return to camp each night. Seems how I was running solo today, I figured I’d dust off my old bike and work a shuttle like I did when I was paddling around home twelve years ago. Shuttles are always a bit of a brain twister to figure out and are often more complicated “on paper” than they are in reality, add a bicycle to the mix and it just seems worse. When I explained my plan for today to my brother Luke (a high school math teacher) he had trouble following the logical sequence of [drop bike - drive truck - paddle boat - ride bike - drive truck - pick up boat - go home] and asked “Geeze man, is it worth the trouble?” I thought so, for old time’s sake at the very least, and arriving in my truck from Wausau (pop up camper in tow) I set about finding a place to lock my bike in Montello which was my water borne destination for the day.
The drop spot for the bike had to be secure because ultimately my boat would be locked there while I rode back for my truck. The canoe trail take-out at the dam in Montello was crawling with people fishing from shore and had few suitable trees or poles onto which to lock the bike/boat anyway. Searching for the right spot, my attention was drawn to the Rendezvous Paddle & Sports shop across the bridge just a hundred yards away. After explaining my situation Charlotte from “Charlotte’s Café” (which is part of the business along with a bait shop, canoe/kayak sales, and canoe/kayak/tube rentals on the river) she said it’d be no problem for me to lock my bike up to a tree behind the store. Conveniently there was a low floating dock nearby in a quiet backwater of the Montello river (connected just downstream to the Fox) where I would be able to take out later on. Before I departed in my truck (with the lunch rush filling the counter in the café) I gave Charlotte one of my trip flyers and promised to explain more fully what I am up to when I returned.
With my bicycle securely cabled to a tree I jumped into my truck and poked the boat ramp in Marquette as my destination into my navigator. It was then that I once again realized how a bit more pre-planning could have made my life a bit easier on this trip. Normally, by the twisty nature of rivers and straight nature of roads, the distance covered by a day of paddling can be retraced by a bicycle in a comparatively short time. If I’d looked ahead last Sunday when I selected my pull out spot for the day, and picked a location on the north shore of Lake Puckaway, that would have been true. However, I didn’t look that close at my maps, nor think that far ahead, and simply picked a convenient spot on the south shore of the lake.
What my navigator revealed to me (and what was plane to see on my maps when I finally focused on the roads instead of the water) is that on the south shore of the lake between Montello and Marquette is a large wetland through which no roads cross. Instead the highway skirts way south then way east and finally back to north before it returns to the shore of the lake. This roundabout route creates a rare instance where the bike ride is more than twice as long as the paddle (25 miles vs. 10 miles in fact.) Later in the day when I was talking to the folks at the Rendezvous store I learned that they don’t run their shuttle pickup trips to Marquette for that very reason… smart…very smart.
As I drove to the put-in in Marquette…and drove… and drove… and drove… I realized that I’d have my work cut out for my (eight-months-in-a-kayak spindly legs) when it came time to ride back to pick up my truck. The plan was set and, I was committed either way, so it didn’t pay to worry about it until the time came. Making great time in an empty boat in ideal conditions I covered the ten water miles in about three hours. The most interesting thing I saw along the way was what appeared to be a cable ferry designed for livestock. It was set up just upstream from the lake to apparently move animals from the south shore to an “island” in the marsh to the north. In 5000 miles of paddling this was the first time I’d seen such a contraption.
After pulling out at the Rendezvous dock, securing my kayak, and switching into biking mode, I stopped into the store long enough to have a quick bight to eat where I had a chance to visit more with the owners. With a belly full lunch I hopped on my bike to begin what turned out to be a pleasant ride back to my truck. The ride was nice but my underused legs protested the sudden work load all the way.
In my truck I motored back to my boat loaded it on to the rack and headed south to the Indian Trails Campground outside of Portage where I’ll be base camping for the next few nights. The campground owners Dave and Myrna (who were in Portage on launch day and have followed along with the entire trip) were expecting me and took time out of their busy schedules to visit for a bit and make me feel at home.
Off the water
With less than 40 miles to go to Portage (and the celebration we have planned this coming Sunday Aug. 29th) I needed to slow down before I reached town too soon. With time to burn I figured it’d be a good chance to get back up to my parent’s house in Wausau to re-group and, of course, enjoy some of my mom‘s cooking. These three days off gave me a chance to sort through my equipment boxes to find replacements for some of the gear that has begun to fall apart after months of use. In addition I had the opportunity to concentrate on plans for what is to come after reaching Portage. Plans are now coming together for a twelve day “closing the gap” run from Boscabel, WI to St. Louis, as well as the “long walk in the desert” that I’ve been telling people I’m looking forward to (after so much time on the water) when this trip is over.
Of course being home also gave me time to spend with family. On Tuesday my brother Luke asked my dad and I if we’d like to go fishing with him and his two sons. This wasn’t so much an invite to a day of fishing as a request for extra hands to help tie hooks an pull lines out of snags for the two energetic young fishermen. The outing was a success and the boys had a great time even taking home a few fish for dinner.
Wednesday had me running around taking care of non-trip errands such as new tires for my truck. I did finally have time to get out and visit my grandmother who will be turning 96 in October. I’m looking forward to being at her birthday party for the first time in ten years. Late in the day I took the opportunity to join a group of paddlers for an evening paddle here in Wausau. About nine of us put in at Schofield Park on the west side of town and enjoyed an hour on the water which took us down stream to the top of the whitewater course then back up and around some of the islands above Gilbert Park. It was a beautiful late summer evening and I had a great time meeting folks on what will once again be my home waters when I return from the end of the end of the trip next month.
Start: 7:00 AM - Princeton, WI
Finish 1:00 PM - Marquette, WI
Time: 7:00 hours
Daily dist: 15 miles
Total dist: 5000+
Companions: Mark and my brother Aaron
Weather: Clear skies, 80’s, calm winds - amazingly beautiful
Notes: The first “real” paddle with my brother Aaron.
It’s interesting, after such a long trip seeing so many amazing places, the simple and sometimes silly things that stand out in my memory… The first sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico, a cormorant trying to swallow a fish so big his neck wasn’t strong enough to lift it, the smell of frying bacon wafting from the windows of passing tow boat kitchens when I paddled down the cold lonely Mississippi last winter…
As simple as the day was, early this afternoon as I watched my brother Aaron approaching in his kayak, I knew it would be one of those I will long remember. I’ve been on the water with Aaron three times before this. The first was Neil’s bachelor party in Florida which was a quick outing on West Lake during which I spent my time rescuing multiple guys from capsizes in the mucky shallows. The second was an hour long session on an overgrown farm pond of a lake where I gave Aaron a rolling lesson. The third was aboard a dragon boat for the annual YMCA dragon boat races in Manitowoc. Despite those other times on the water, today was the first time I ever really paddled with Aaron where we were actually paddling somewhere with a purpose.
After putting out a last minute call for people to join me on the water today, I got three takers. Mark (who has now paddled with me six of the last eight days), my mom’s cousin’s husband Tom, and my brother Aaron (who was coming down to pick me up at the end of the day). The storms that passed through two days ago had the river pushed up and flowing a little faster than normal. So, instead of driving to Princeton to paddle all the way upstream with me, the plan was for everyone to put in at the take out in Marinette and paddle along Lake Puckaway until crossing paths and paddling back.
Ultimately, the very same storms that drove the river back up had knocked down a bunch of branches in Tom’s yard so he got stuck doing clean up and couldn’t join us. That left Mark and Aaron trying to join me today. Mark got an earlier start and caught up with me at about noon. Aaron was about a half hour behind and found us at 12:30. Making very good time on the tranquil (flat calm) lake, it took us only a half hour to make it back to the boat landing. It was just a short half hour but it was great to be able to share the water once again with a new friend and for the first of what I know will be many times with my brother Aaron.
At the boat landing we loaded my gear and kayak on my truck and I drove Aaron back to where his truck was waiting in Green Bay. From there Aaron went home and I continued on to my parent’s house in Wausau. The plan now is for me to take the next three days off to rest up a bit and get myself and my gear organized before the last four day push into Portage.
Start: 6:45 AM - Eureka Lock, WI
Finish 3:35 PM - Princeton, WI
Time: 8:45 hours
Daily dist: 20 miles
Total dist: 5000+
Weather: Mostly cloudy skies becoming clear late, 80’s, calm winds
Notes: I can now say I've been to Princeton
The mosquitoes that chased me into my tent last night were hungry and waiting for me to emerge this morning. I waited in bed as long as I could but the call of nature pulled me out of the tent into the gauntlet of tiny stingers. Thankfully my bug suit protected me from most of the attackers and I was able to dive back into the tent without letting too many back in with me. The bugs were the only troubling thing I had to deal with today, even the slightly higher river flow from the overnight rains didn’t do too much to slow my progress upstream.
The only real obstacle that made for some work was a portage around the remains of the Eureka lock and dam. The old and weathered lock gates are still there but the dam has eroded into a pile of rubble and a rapids. This I was able to portage by way of a short carry down a grassy path on the SE side of the old dam. A few miles upstream from the dam I passed by Berlin Wisconsin and, much like Omro, it too had beautiful riverside parkspace that seemed to go on forever. Unlike Omro, however, I didn’t stop for a break today and instead continued on all day along the winding rain swollen river until I reached my destination in Princeton, WI.
My first order of business upon reaching my camp spot was to dry out all the gear that got wet from last nights storm, which mainly included my tent, raincoat, and tarp. Afterward I made a foray into town in search of a store that sells hunting licenses. My brother Luke was sure to inform me that bonus deer permits went on sale at noon today and that if I could I should get one. It took a little asking and a fair amount of walking, but I finally did find a gas station that could help me out. With a license in hand, as well as two fresh apples, I headed back to the river and called it a day.
Start: 8:30 AM - Oshkosh, WI
Break: Noon to 3:45
Finish 5:45 PM - Eureka Lock, WI
Time: 5:30 hours
Daily dist: 17 miles
Total dist: 5000+
Weather: Mostly cloudy skies, 80’s, passing storms (some strong)
Notes: From big lakes to a small river.
We had planned on getting a leisurely start to the day, but Bob and I were both up early so I decided to pack up and head for the water sooner than later. True to the rules of the game Bob took me right back to the boat ramps were we pulled off the water two days ago and watched as I once again made four bags of gear disappear into the hatches of the Ikkuma. With promises to paddle together again some day, I bid farewell to Bob and headed out across the last large lake I’ll see on my run to Portage. With the morning haze obscuring the view of the far end of Lake Butte des Morts about seven miles away it made it seem even bigger than it is. The mouth of the Fox river lie only five miles up and I soon made that and entered a river only half the size of what I’d paddled from Green Bay to here.
With record amounts of rain fall this summer the current is still flowing as it would be in early summer which means a bit more work for me, but with fair winds and comfortable temps it was smooth sailing. At about noon I came into the town of Omro which had beautiful waterfront parks that seemed to stretch on forever. With lots of time and not too far to go, I decided to take a break at the boat ramp on the west end of town and take advantage of a good cell connection to get caught up on e-mails and blog posts. While I was typing away on my computer a SUV (with kayak racks on top) rolled by very slowly then stopped when the driver saw my boat. The driver then got out and took a closer look at the boat then finally noticed me sitting a few hundred feet away under a park gazebo.
It turned out that the driver of the car was a local paddler named Pam. She’d been tipped off about the trip by her aunt Bev who lives on the Wisconsin River up in Rhinelander. Both are kayakers and have been following the trip for a while. After a nice visit, Pam drove home and I finished checking my e-mails with the sound of thunder rolling continuously my way. Any thoughts of getting back on the water had to wait as I quickly re-stowed my gear in the Ikkuma and pulled it a bit further up the boat ramp as the winds began to whip the river into a frenzy. Just as I pulled my rain coat on the skies opened with loud cracks of thunder and I retreated back to the shelter of the gazebo I’d been in before. As quickly as the storm arrived it passed leaving broken clouds and some sunshine in its wake.
Figuring the coast was clear I put back on the river and enjoyed another couple of hours of fine paddling. However, with only a half mile of river between me and the camp I was headed toward, I got chased off the river by yet another even more lively storm. Fortunately I was able to pull out on a gravel beach next to two huge oak trees. Once again I battened the hatches on kayak but this time, instead of a nice park shelter, I was forced to rely on my rain coat while I crouched behind one of the massive trees as monsoon like rain fell and winds blew hard enough to rock my fully loaded kayak sitting on the ground next to me. The worst of the storm lasted only a half hour or so but the rain persisted for a half hour more. By the time it all let up it was getting dark so I decided to make camp where I was. With darkness descending it became a race to get the tent set up so I could escape the swarms of mosquitoes attacking from all sides.
One of the goals and purposes I set in this trip was to meet local paddlers and experience local paddling destinations both on and off the route. With plenty of time to reach Portage by the 29th, I have every reason to take every opportunity to explore local waters that are not necessarily on the route. It was that spirit that had me paddling “the wrong way” on the Fox River last weekend and that had me riding home with Bob (known as Wisconsin Bob to his friends in Florida) last night.
Bob lives in the Waupaca area which is known for its locally famous chain of lakes. This series of small interconnected lakes is a very popular destination for paddlers from all over the area. Unfortunately it’s also very popular with motor boaters as well, thousands of which crowd the waters on nice weekends making it not as pleasant for paddlers as it could be. Because it was mid week we thankfully didn’t have to worry about crowds.
After breakfast we got on the phone to rally some of the local crew to see who was up for a paddle. Mark and Terry were up for the adventure but wouldn’t be able to catch up with us for a few hours so Bob and I decided to do a warm up run on the Crystal River giving the others time to catch up with us. The Crystal is actually a river I had paddled in the past. Actually the distant past it startled me to think it had been over 20 years since my family camped with some friends in Waupaca and floated the river in canoes. Like so many things you see as a child, the river didn’t seem as big as I remembered it. In fact, relative to where I’ve paddled, it was pretty darn tiny. Just the same it was a fun run through pretty stretch of water making for a great way to start the day.
Once we returned Bobs whitewater boats to their racks we re-armed with Greenland style kayaks and paddles to add a little extra excitement to our adventure on the Chain of Lakes. Waiting for us at the boat ramp at the top of the Chain was Mark and after exploring one of the lakes Terry caught up with us. With only three miles to paddle from one end of the lakes to the other, we took our time exploring the nooks and crannies that we found as well as taking time out to practice a few rolls.
Like so many great days on the water, we ended this day at a local eatery and enjoyed a sandwich while telling stories about trips past and planning trips for the future.
Previously posted phone update
Jake is out of internet contact once again. Since he is a little ahead of schedule he decided to take the day to explore the Waupaca Chain of Lakes with new paddling friends. He hopes to be back on the route tomorrow.
Also, details for his arrival in Portage have been ironed out (at least for now). Check out the home page for more information.
Start: 10:00 AM - Menasha, WI
Finish 3:30 PM - Oshkosh, WI
Time: 5:30 hours
Daily dist: 15 miles
Total dist: 5000+
Companions: Mark, Terry, Tim, and Bob
Weather: Mostly clear skies, 70’s, SW wind 15-20
Notes: Lake Winnebago was my last run on open water.
It’s not big by great lake standards, but just the same Lake Winnebago is big enough to demand some attention. Long enough to display an empty horizon line when you look down to the south, and well over 10 miles wide where I traveled on the north end today. The wind was up a bit but thankfully out of the southwest putting me safely in the lee shore as I paddled twelve miles south to where the Fox River enters the lake in Oshkosh. A few of the guys I’d met over the last few days had mentioned trying to catch up with me on the lake. After an hour of paddling solo, I looked over at a boat ramp where I saw some other kayakers land and, sure enough, there were Bob and Terry pulling their boats off Bob’s car.
The three of us continued south together and after another hour of paddling, another paddler, Tim, joined our growing armada. A few miles further on we ran into Mark who had paddled out from a park in Oshkosh bringing our ranks briefly up to five boats.
As quickly as our group grew it soon began to shrink. With several miles to paddle, Tim had to turn around and head for home while Bob and Mark headed back to where Mark left his Jeep in order to have another vehicle to shuttle boats. This all left just Terry and I continuing on the last few miles to the take out where Terry’s car was waiting.
When we reached the boat ramp we were greeted by yet another now familiar face, Dave, who was one of the coordinators that had organized the Fox River Heritage Paddle that I had joined last weekend. He was there to try to catch up with me to escort me a few miles further on to a spot he knew I could stay. As much as I appreciated the help it wasn’t needed because plans had already been hatched for me to head to Bob’s place in Waupaca. There I planned to take a day off the route and explore the Crystal River and Waupaca Chain of Lakes with Bob and anybody else that cared to join us.