Paddling, pouring rain, mosquitoes, friends, family, beers, bonfire, burgers, smores, laughs, tubing, sunshine, more mosquitoes, outdoor videos… and everything in between.
It really was a great weekend, and it was already more than a week and a half ago! Time flies! I finally got a chance to sit down and think about what a wonderful weekend it was – Adam and I woke up Monday morning after it was all over, called work and found out we had to hustle back to Kaukauna and get the truck ready to roll on out to Idaho. We had to say good-bye to our long weekend, get packed quickly, fill the car, drive, speed-shop for trip essentials and get to work. We’ve been kind of hustling since. We did a couple of runs out west and got back for our 34-hour restart yesterday afternoon, working on fumes of workable hours and staggered sleep. We were grateful to get back for the break.
We are now sitting in a hotel room, enjoying our time off while celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary ten days late. It’s fine with us! We splurged for a nice room, and plan to splurge for a nice dinner later on, followed by a visit to the hot tub, then wine, chunks of Abbyland cheese that we picked up at a truck stop, and couch-cuddling while watching stupid, mindless TV. That’s just sometimes how we like to roll.
So… wow, I am getting off-subject! The canoe trip! What a great weekend! Adam and I actually mentioned this weekend upon hire at V&S Midwest. We wanted to be sure we could get the weekend off, and thankfully they were really cool about it, and it all worked out great.
We had about 20 paddlers this year, so another great turnout. I really enjoy hanging out at my parent’s house in the boondies and doing some river-paddling with a mix of family, friends, and this year – even a few new PCT friends!
Everyone arrived Friday night and we hung out, taking it easy so we could be up early and ready for our 8:30am shuttle to the river. On Saturday morning the shuttle pulled into the driveway right on time. We all gathered coolers with drinks and snacks, slathered on layers and layers of whatever mosquito repellants we could find, and lined up for a group photo as it started to sprinkle. The sky off in the distance was a dark blueish-gray, and we all just shrugged, smiled, and without question we crammed as many people into the shuttle bus as possible. Off we went.
We got dropped off at the river, threw ponchos on underneath our life jackets and pushed off into the river. Some were in canoes (Adam and I took a canoe this year), and some were in kayaks. The water was really high this year, and it was moving very fast. Good. It was a little chilly, and the thought of getting out to pull the boats through low-water sandbars wasn’t sounding too appealing – yes, we’ve had to do that in past years! Higher water is always more fun! You just never know what it’s going to be like from year to year – that’s a fun part of it all. This year granted us a brand new challenge – pouring rain, and even some thunder!
We all constantly paddled our arms off from the very start since it poured down rain the second we got onto the water. I took a photo at one point when it let up to a light sprinkle and I remember thinking, “Oh, cool. Maybe it’ll stop.” Then it started to pour rain again. Seriously. It was like two minutes of calm.
The rain didn’t feel too cold until a little over halfway into the trip. I would swish my hands on the surface of the water to warm them up at that point. Most of us were soaked through because of the rain, and I think that’s why we were feeling so chilled. Since the water was so high, we were able to paddle the 12-mile stretch of river in only three hours. We didn’t stop for lunch, we didn’t stop to swim, we didn’t stop to fish, or play, or drink. But we all paddled on with smiles on our faces. Everyone was still having fun! I kept thinking how awesome it is that I have such a hardcore group of friends. I guess you can’t be afraid to get wet if you’re paddling on a river! Even if you don’t fall in!
Before we even left for the paddling that day, my dad snuck out into the mosquito-infested forest, through tall grass and rough terrain along a creek to drop supplies for a mid-paddle bloody mary drink bar. When we arrived at the secret spot, I pulled up to the shoreline, hopped off the canoe and into the grass to help set up the drink bar. I was immediately swarmed by thousands of mosquitoes. Thousands. And thousands. My face turned to a fuzzy layer of blood-sucking vampire bugs, and I quickly scrambled to grab all the supplies, throw them in our canoe, jump in and push back out into the middle of the river where there were at least only maybe hundreds of skeeters. Damn, they were thick this year! It was a bummer we couldn’t enjoy the bloody mary bar that my pappy worked so hard to get ready. Stupid mosquitoes. Anyway, we enjoyed the bloody marys the next morning – we couldn’t let the ingredients go unused!
The rapids were fun this year, too. There were hardly any rocks showing for us to run into, so we just navigated some fast, large swells and a few white-water dips while freezing water splashed up inside the boats and covered our already rain-soaked laps. We had only one tip-over. There’s got to be at least one each year, or I don’t know that it would be an authentic canoe trip! I guess it was my dad’s turn this year. He got caught up on rock and tipped just enough to catch the fast-running water over the edge of his kayak. In he went. It was early in the trip, too, so it made for a really cold trip for him!
We were all happy to get to the landing down the road from my parent’s house. We pulled our boats out, gathered coolers and untouched lunches and walked up to the house where we all immediately went into dry-out mode. Gear was scattered all over the place and dry clothes were pulled out and put on. Before we knew it, my dad had a fire going, we were dry, some had taken naps, and food and beers started to come out. The rain stopped, too, but the mosquitoes did not. At least around the fire the skeets weren’t as bad, so that was kind of the place to be! Adam even set up a projector outside later in the evening and we watched some videos on a sheet that hung from the house gutters. It was a really cool addition to the weekend.
It was great to have a few of our PCT friends make the trip out – thank you SO MUCH, Hoop Dreams, Peter Pan, Lighthouse and Treekiller! Please come again next year — and we hope to have more! I demand sunshine next year, too… the rainy paddle was fun and all, but it’s a lot more fun in the sun when we can stop to have lunch, snacks and beers, and even swim a little bit. Next year!!
We did have a small crew tube on the Elk River on Sunday morning. I always wished people didn’t have to get home for work on Monday. It’s always sad to see the weekend come to an end and everyone head home. I always recommend folks hang around for a just a wee bit longer to go tubing. It was a great year for that, too! The sun came out and the air warmed up, so after the initial shock of cold water splashing onto our laps as we jumped and butt-landed into our tubes, the water felt great! We floated on down the quick-moving river and navigated by arm-paddling away from shore until we reached the landing, hauled our tubes up the road and ended our river weekend in the sunshine.
Thanks again for everyone that made it out this year – you make it worth putting together year after year, so watch for next year’s trip! It’ll be around the same time, which is usually the first or second weekend in June. I hope everyone can make it!
Tonight I love the river. Nothing beats the sound of a moving stream of water, big or small.
We were missing one of our friends on the river this year. Every year we paddle that river, I will think of Richard. He always added laughter and a butt-load of extra fun to the trip. For those of you that have been following my blog, you may have read a few months ago about how we tragically lost Richard in a car accident. It was sudden, unexpected and totally awful. Those of us that have had the pleasure to know him – even if only for a short while, will miss him forever. And to Meryl – thank you so much for making the trip up this year. I’m sure it was difficult for you to do this on your own, but we were all really happy to have you there. We love you to pieces!
There are obviously a lot of parts of our lives that will never be the same without him – and for me, this canoe trip is a big one. Of course we’ll continue to have fun on this trip every year, but it’ll just be a little different. Every once in a while, when the river turns calm and quiet, we’ll glance over and imagine Richard laying back on his kayak, floating down the river as he soaks in the sun’s warmth. And we’ll miss hearing his laugh (which always forced a smile) echo down the river as he squirts the next person to paddle by with his water bailer. Shit. We miss you, buddy.