Another Canoe trip with Gary. This time we went some distance to a river, and planned to both canoe and bike. Drop the bikes at the end, drive to the beginning and leave the truck, then come back on bike and drive to the canoe. Well, it was a good plan.
This trip was high on expectations on what we could accomplish, and low on knowledge about what we would find. Luckily, the beauty and serenity of the area was much more than I expected, and the timing was way off as to what we could do.
The drive north started with a parking lot traffic jam on US 23 so we jumped ship and went up Whitmore Lake Rd. to 36 and around on dirt roads – added a lot of time to the trip. We got in late enough that we just went straight to Frankfort to drop off the bikes at the Marina next to Betsie Lake, then to a DNR campground down a long dirt road to just above the Grass Lakes Flooding dam.
We had eaten dinner in the truck on the way, so set up, and to sleep. I had just gotten a new mosquito netting canopy from Bivouc, so we tried it out and slept under the stars except it was pretty cloudy and lots of trees. The frogs were loud and persistent all night long. But a pleasure to be out with no tent, by the river, and there were hundreds of frustrated mosquitoes. That’s a good thing.
An early start, with scrambled eggs augmented by dandelion, plantain, and grape tendrils. We left the truck by the sign-in station, paid a fee to cover the night as well as leaving the truck, and canoed a few minutes before the first portage.
That was quick and easy, and then we were down the river.
This is a very bendy twisty river! The water was over all a bit low, so we were all over the river picking out the high water spots, then also navigating around hundreds of trees, (thousands of trees?) and then the natural twists and turns of the river. It may be a 45 mile river, but I imagine we went at least twice that far since we crossed back and forth from bank to bank all day long.
That added a few hours to the time it took to paddle.
The upper part is considered the easy stretch as well. It was slow, well maintained (nearly all trees had been cut so there was some passage) but we never really knew where we were. We kept waiting for Thompsonville, and realized finally we had passed it far far back.
The river changed back and forth from gravel to sand to clay and back. It began with the lovely long weeds all pulling downstream, few rocks, and very clear clean water. The trees were also changeable, we saw tall tall aspens, lovely cedar forests, maple forests, hugely tall cliffs, and also the low marshes.
A highlight the first day was finding a bank with ripe wild strawberries mixed with red raspberries. The strawberries were immediately eaten, the red raspberries saved for later pie. Gary loves black raspberries more than anyone I’ve ever known, we didn’t find a one. But later we found abundant service berries as well, and the birds had not eaten them. We filled a container of berries.
Looking over some cattails more closely, we discovered chocolate mint growing with them. Picked a bunch of that and meant to make tea later, but instead they came home with me. It was a great pick me up smell though as I got tired.
St. John’s Wort was everywhere and in bloom. It was great to see one of my favorite plants so present. I already had lots at home making oil and tincture, so I just picked a bit for pleasure.
We just kept paddling and paddling, eating fruit and nuts and drinking lots, so lunch was very late. Avocado sandwiches were welcome with some homemade mustard Gary made from poor man’s pepper plant, and some homemade vinegars and other tasty ingredients. All on homemade sourdough bread I had made the day before. That was when about the only photos were taken, Gary had a quick nap while did a little texting and tweeting. Recharged, we headed on for a few more hours until we were in the state forests and found a place to pull the canoe up for camping.
Once again, it was a place made more lovely by the total lack of ANYONE else on the river. But why? Sure it was Thursday, but I’m constantly amazed that i end up doing things and being places that no one else is doing or being. The second day we found a few paddlers in tin cans, the obligatory cooler of beer. A few more serious kayakers, and maybe four people fishing – one woman. That’s on almost 45 miles of river. As we got closer to Frankfort, more and more tents on the river banks, but even then only about 6-7.
We found a great place to camp, not to much poison ivy, and a walk revealed ramps in flower and we dug up a few. This was after dinner, or they would have gone into the pot. Tomato soup, with potatoes, zuchini, and onion. And an array of spices from Gary’s camping supply.
Birds are a huge part of every canoe trip, and we had the usual Great Blue Heron flying ahead of us down river. Lots of Little Green Herons, Cedar Wax Wings may have been the most prevalent, and Gary spotted the amazing Piliated Woodpecker flying over us. There were two, I saw them as odd shaped fat looking big birds, he got the positive ID. We had just gone by some of their obvious holes in the trees, so I was hoping to see them and knew they were around.
Of course many ducks – the shy wood ducks, the common ducks, and a lot of what he called a Blue WInged Teal Duck. We chased a lot of those down the river as well.
We also saw a few muskrats and evidence of beaver activity, one really large piled up house. Looked like a lot of work! We’re pretty sure we saw two river otters, slow, sleek, moving very unlike a muskrat. Very early on a deer broke out of the woods and jumped across the water to the other shore just a bit in front of us. Wow!
A creature that sure looked like a mink was on the other shore as we set up camp the second night. We had no trouble with animals in camp, and the second night we started out under the mosquito netting again. Just as it was beginning to get light, the rain started, and got very intense even with the trees above us. Gary acted fast, leaped up and set up the tent, I got really cold really fast, and was glad to crawl in to that shelter and get warm again. He had also set up the pie almost ready to bake the night before, so that it was just a matter of adding berries to the crust, some thickener, and some sweetener. I had brought agave syrup for that. So he assembled the pie, and cooked it just outside the tent using his baking set up.
It wasn’t long before it was ready. Breakfast — service berry red raspberry and blueberry (I brought those) pie with forest made crust. Wow. Sitting in the tent as the rain finished, eating this wonderful creation bit by bit, anticipating another long day on the water, that was truly a high point for me.
We packed up the wet stuff, and headed off. We were still fast and strong, which was good because we were only half way to Frankfort and the bikes, The river flows southwest then curves north and west, and the second half is considered the more challenging.
Now I understood how easily we could tip being caught up on some log or brush, and either panicking or making the wrong move. We also had a few totally blocked passages. We were able to just go over a few logs by speed and pushing over. But we came to one were the canoe would fit, but no people. So I did my first climb over the log and let the boat go under.
Later the portage around a total log block was unlikely – undercut high bank on the left, marsh and wetlands on the right. A lot of logs were all jammed tight against an extra large one, but enough of a platform that I felt very comfortable getting out, helping Gary pull the loaded canoe over, and then getting back in. Another skill learned and practiced!
Gary did one on his own while I filmed from the bank. A newly downed tree with full live foliage, the canoe went under, Gary climbed over, then picked me up on shore.
Reading the river got easier, naturally reacting to steering became the norm, and also understanding Gary’s moves finally came clearer. Finding water deep enough was a continual process, I even began to understand where to go and find it. And see it.
It rained a bit the second day, and was cold and cloudy until late afternoon. We were working hard enough it wasn’t much of an issue, but I had not dressed or prepared for cold. Another lesson learned.
The only other dam, at Homestead, was a pretty easy portage, and we sat and ate peanut butter sandwiches, as well as cheese and mustard sandwiches. People kept showing up, watching the dam overlook, and leaving, one guy wanted to talk about canoeing so Gary did that while I walked down river and found a private place to pee.
After a day and a half in the wilds 1/2 dozen or so people seem like a crowd… nice to not have other people around and no canned music, only trees and green stuff to look at. There were a few houses, and one spot with a lot of RVs parked right on the edge. But mostly isolated “log” cabins (made from processed lumber — too uniform to be real to my eye) and busted up docks.
Some serious erosion every once in a while, some of the houses clearly looked in danger. And some were way high on cliffs. Gary enjoyed the many swings (like on m front porch) on stands right on the edge of some of the cliffs. You want that swing to be moored in, and you can’t jump of!
I ended up spending a few hours singing every song I could think of. I just liked the sound in the wild areas, and it was nice to slowly focus on breathing and resonance and sing with the rhythm of paddling and watching. It just felt good, and Gary didn’t object, so that was a pleasure. Fok songs, protest songs, Monkees, Beatles, a very odd assortment I’d say.
We took more breaks the second day, needed them. But that also meant we took out at almost 7 pm in Frankfort. The river end did remind me of the Huron near lake Erie. More open marshes, no more towering trees and forests, more islands and snaking tributaries coming in from all sides. There was also more wind and waves.
We had a long but pretty easy paddle into the lake, but had fortified ourselves on the first bridge before the lake with dinner. Cold beans, wrapped in tortillas with hot sauce. The Fig Newmans, chocolate, most of the fruit, the nuts, and other food was gone.
We found the bikes, took out at the public marina there, and Gary went off on bike for the truck. Our thinking was that he would be able to ride much faster without me, and someone (me) would need to be a bit awake for the long drive home.
About 2 1/2 hours later, a tired and in his own words “loopy” Gary pulled in. I was getting cold and just beginning to worry. No worries. Loaded, he got an ice cream, I had done my chocolate peanut butter cone a few hours before.
We made the drive but were both really tired, it took a lot of focus to be safe and also keep going.
I’ll blog more details later. Just wanted to get some basics down early.