Our First Trip with a Mortgage

Huron River, Island Lake State Park to Placeway Picnic Area 

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15 July 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been too long since Ellen and I have paddled–out last trip was 9 June.  In the time since then, we bought a house and worked like dogs on it daily, and it definitely feels like home. One great feature of our new house is that we no longer have to carry the boats out of the basement for each trip–as you see in the photo to the left here, we have a nice garage that holds the boats.  For now they are on the floor, but by fall we want to get a system for hanging them–any paddlers out there have advice?

Anyhow, to get back to the paddle: this is a 5-mile trip we don’t do all that often because it usually feels too short. Since we aren’t in our usual paddling shape, though, and since I’m still nursing a sprained ankle, we figured it was the perfect trip for us right now.  It was sunny, but the polar vortex kept the air brisk and lifted a wind against us that got a little strong at times, but I love a cool summer, so I’m not complaining. With the breeze and a surprising number of downed trees in this short section, the trip took us longer than we thought, but we were glad for time back on the river!

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The Trip We Had No Business Taking

Huron River, Delhi Metropark to Honey Creek

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9 June 2014

IMG_1733aThis paddle was a joyous one because it marked my return to the river after being side-lined for a couple weeks with a nasty sprained ankle. Now, you may be thinking, “hey, you don’t need two good ankles to paddle!” But you do need them to carry the boats up the stairs out of the basement and to steady yourself on wobbly put-ins.  So side-lined I was! To the left here, you can see the sprain when its bruise was at its most glorious.

So after weeks of sitting still, even this short 3-mile paddle was a real treat for me. Spring had clearly settled in on the river while I was away–the trees and even the river grass were lush and verdant, and the herons had made their return to the river. I was even glad to see the Tubbs Street rapids, which usually put a little bit of a chill in my spine. Would that we had more time to paddle right now!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut we don’t, because Ellen and I are in the midst of buying and moving into a house! (Probably we should have been at home packing these boxes instead of out paddling.) Our new house has a garage that will make for much easier access to our boats. It may well be that we are able to sneak in another paddle before our moving date later this month, but once we are fully in the new place, it will be so nice to have a less fussy boat-loading process. So here’s to an easier trip set-up for us in the near future, and between now and then, keep your fingers crossed for us and send us good vibes for moving!

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Muskrat Love

Huron River, between the train bridges around Honey Creek

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19 May 2014

We set out late in the afternoon to do this quick paddle on a chunk of the river that swells up before Barton Dam. In the past I have referred to this paddle as the one around the Obama bridge–that’s it in the photo above, so named on account of a graffiti tribute to Obama on the bridge dating back to the 2008 election.  But the elements have worn off most of the letters on that graffiti, so I’ve taken now to referring to this paddle as the one between the set of train bridges near Honey Creek.  You may wonder, Gina, who cares what you call it? But one precaution Ellen and I always take with every paddle, no matter how small, is to file a float plan–that is, to let someone (usually my sister) know where we are going so that, if we don’t turn back up, folks know where to look. So there you have it.

Anyhow, it turns out we weren’t the only ones with idea to enjoy the chunk of river between the bridges; we saw three other double-bladed paddlers, one racing canoe, a fisherman, and a whole mess of wildlife starting with a million million muskrats!

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Okay, not a million, but really, lots of them, and they were not shy. They posed on logs, snarfed down snacks in front of us, slapped around their whip-like tails, and went butt-up underwater only to resurface three feet away, waving.  They did all but sing that song Captain and Tennille wrote for them.  If the river had a headline act for this paddle, it was the muskrats.

IMG_1681IMG_1683There weren’t quite as many turtles out as there were muskrats, which is really saying something because there were tons of turtles out, too.  This log in the photo to the left here, which Ellen and I think of as the turtle equivalent of the ratty couches that undergraduates keep on their porches to drink beer on, was just jam-packed with turtles–even turtles on top of turtles.

Off on his own little perch was the lone turtle in the photo to the left here.  You can’t tell it because the zoom lens of our camera is so powerful, but according to Ellen (Brandoberger chief wildlife photographer) this little guy was not two inches long.  Clearly this turtle is still too young to move over to the party log, but I suspect it will be over there by June doing the turtle equivalent of shotgunning a beer.

IMG_1690We usually dip into Honey Creek for a few hundred yards when we paddle this part of the river, but this swan in the photo to the left was nesting right at the mouth of the creek, and we decided to stay out of her comfort zone.  All the same, it was a great paddle; the river is high–high enough that we had to duck to do out loops under the train bridges, and that there was a noticeable current in this usually swampy section.

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Not Quite Our Longest Paddle, but Our Fastest

Au Sable River, Borcher’s B&B to McMaster’s Bridge

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13 May 2014

This trip was Ellen’s and my second to the Au Sable River, a Michigan treasure.  We decided to go a little (well, actually a lot) further than we did last time we paddled this river, shooting for what my sister was calling a “marathon paddle”: 26 miles.

IMG_1623Our put-in was Borcher’s B&B in downtown Grayling, where we spent a night in our lovely room with a balcony overlooking the river and enjoyed a delicious breakfast. Borcher’s is great if you’re looking for a place to stay on the Au Sable–they’re some of the nicest people in Grayling; they have their own livery and also help with spotting if you have your own boats; and as a put-in spot, you can’t beat it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_1645OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe started our trip around 8:45 am in temperatures hovering around 50 and cloudy conditions. Through the day, the sun peeked out a few times and it got to be about 60; not bad weather for a spring paddle in the north country.

The river was fast! The Au Sable is spring-fed so it never gets too slow, but days and days and days of rain had made it noticeably high, even in town where it crept up the boards on folks’ docks. So the river was fast, and we sped right along on it.  We averaged well over 4 mph the whole trip; before lunch, we covered over 15 miles in under 3 1/2 hours.  This first part of the trip was consistenly fast. My GPS told me that we clipped along at 5 mph with little effort; if we paddled a little harder, we were in the range of 6 mph; and at several spots where the water was especially fast, we hit 7 and even 8 mph. For a couple of gals whose home river carries them along at about 3.5, this was heady stuff!  The high water meant lots of barely submerged logs and rocks to steer around–and we also flew past about a dozen fisherman (but remarkably saw no other paddlers all day).   By lunch, as you can see to the left here, we were exhausted–but ready to get back to it after eating every scrap of food we had brought along.

It’s hard to describe what I think is the most awesome part of the Au Sable, which is how tall it is. You’re in your boat floating along, and white pines and other trees line the river, just towering over you. It’s beautiful, and humbling, and something I get a taste of when we are on other rivers (since trees and rivers are old friends) but it’s different in the north woods of Michigan. I’ve tried to put together a slideshow of images that suggest something of what it’s like, but this vertical aspect of the river is really something you just don’t get if you don’t see it in person.

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Though it was chilly enough out that we saw nary a turtle or heron, there was still much wildlife to be seen, and Ellen was wrangling the wildlife cam (as per usual) and got the excellent shots in the slideshow below.

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The second, after-lunch part of our paddle was not as fast–this part included the section of the river known as Connor’s Flats, where the current slows down to about what we are used to, in the 3 m.p.h. range.  The whole trip ended up being a little shorter than we expected–23 miles (so no marathon), and we managed it in just under 5 1/2 hours. This makes it, as the title of this post suggests, not quite our longest paddle (see the 25-miler we did on the Grand for that), but hands-down our fastest in terms of mph.  (This might explain why, in the convenience store we stopped at after our trip, we contemplated buying two bags of potato chips, one bag of Cheetos, one bag of Cracker Jack, plus M&Ms. Rest easy–we put most of this stuff back on the shelf.) It was a super-fun trip, and without doubt counts as one of our epic journeys!

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PS: The day before this paddle we went to visit the virgin forest at Hartwick Pines, which is always something to see.  If you want a look at some trees over 350 years old, interesting fungi, inscrutable woodpecker craftwork, a brand-new baby fern, club moss (don’t miss the club moss!), and the skeleton of a coyote we stumbled across, take a click through the slideshow below!

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The Enduring Chill

Huron River, Hudson Mills to Delhi Metropark

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2 May 2014

Well, our pal Doug, Ellen, and I had planned to do a longer, more out-of-town trip today, but cool and rainy weather compelled us to nix those plans and go only slightly out of town–over to Dexter to do this 9-mile trip that is an old standard of ours. As you can see in the picture above, the river is, like, mid-wardrobe change; it’s still getting out of it’s wool pants and stocking cap but has a nice spring shirt on.  The summer tube top is still packed away….

It didn’t rain on us, but it was a bit nippy out, and as you can see in the slideshow below, everything on the river–including us–looked a little cold. We saw a number of turtles, all pretty big and all looking at us like, “where’s the sun?!” This heron, our first of the season, was trying like crazy to book a trip back to Florida.

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But it was a nice trip all the same, and the river was running super-fast, so it took us less than 2 1/2 hours.  And warmer weather is on the way–next week, the lowest highs are in the 60s, and the highest high is 80!

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Finally!

Huron River, Lower Huron Metropark to Oakwoods Metropark

Paddle # 1 2014

20 April 2014

After a long, dreadful, cold, snowy, rotten, and did I mention long winter, Ellen and I finally got out for our first paddle of the year with our pal Doug. We did a paddle we do pretty often, 15 1/2 miles through three metroparks.  In hindsight, maybe that was a little long for the first paddle of the year, but the hardy current pushed us along at a clip of about 5 m.p.h. almost the whole time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw some pretty cool stuff on this paddle, thanks in large part to Ellen, who always has her eye out for birds.  Also, get a load of the zoom on her camera here–it’s like a telescope!  It’s thanks to that camera, and her keen eye, that we got such awesome pictures of the eagle nest and parent eagles giving us the stink-eye.  Have a look in the slideshow below–you’ll see the nest (which was huge–probably 6 feet across and 3 feet deep) with one parental eagle in it, a second parental eagle in the branches keeping watch, and then that latter bird on the move.

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The river was also replete with signs of beavers in need of something to chew on; we saw so many trees with beaver marks on them.  The ones in the slideshow below were the most hilarious because of the signs on the trees.  Hey, they don’t say “No Chewing!”

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Probably the most welcome sight, though, was a little bit of nature’s first green (it’s gold, you know).  We didn’t see many trees with buds, but there were a couple willows already lighting up the river with some color.  Come on, Spring!

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2014, Here We Come: 30 Trips, 3 New Rivers

1 January 2014

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2014 is the fourth year running that Ellen and I will try to get to our goal of 30 paddling trips and 3 new rivers before the year is up.  We did pretty well in 2013 with 27 trips (as close as we’ve ever gotten to our goal) and arguably 3 new waterways:

  • we paddled the St. Joseph River, Ellen’s home river, for the first time (this is a new river, free and clear)
  • we paddled around Pine Island, that being the first time we dipped our paddles in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico (this one’s not a river, but still)
  • and we paddled the south branch of the Kalamazoo River (we had paddled on the main branch before, but never on the south branch)

I really think I could get a lawyer to argue that this means we clear our “3 new” goal, but all the same, in 2014, I’d like to get it more cleanly, not relying on branches and salt water.

We did undeniably have an eventful paddling year; by mid-June we dubbed 2013 The Year of the Portage.  Wow, did we portage this year.  Thanks to some early storms, to our choice of rivers without liveries, and to the fact that we occasionally went looking for trouble, we portaged and portaged and portaged. 2013 was the year we carried, pushed, or pulled our boats through or around some serious river blockages.

SweetPeaintheSunWe also dealt with a far more emotional portage this year when our cat Sweet Pea died. This incredibly handsome guy lived to be probably 17 or 18 years old (alas, we didn’t have him as a kitten, so we don’t know how old he was, really) and, as this picture makes clear, he knew how to catch a sunbeam and truly lived the dream. He was a keen and talented bird watcher, a mantle he seems to have passed to EllenHe had a master’s degree in Getting in the Way, and habitually he flung himself down into the pose you see him striking in the photo to the left here in front of the door as we carried in our boats and gear after a paddle. We miss the little man; unloading after a paddle may be easier now, but it’s way less fun, and way less puffy.

2014 is starting off cold here in our corner of Michigan–today, it’s already snowed 3 inches and the high today is 17 degrees.  I’m hoping for an early spring, a season with clear rivers, and–again!–30 trips, 3 new rivers!

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