Getting to 30

Huron River, between the train bridges around Honey Creek

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11 April 2015

IMG_2779 IMG_2778Since I  started this blog 5 years ago, Ellen and I have been shooting to make it to 30 paddles in a single year–no small feat, given we live in a place where the rivers freeze for the winter. We haven’t done it yet, but we’re going to this year, and we figured out today that one way to get there is to take quick trips whenever we can squeeze them in, like this short, fun paddle we took around Honey Creek.  In the hour we were on the river, we saw two trains, about two dozen turtles who looked quite cold but happy to but sunning themselves on the old log that is the river’s version of that couch on every frat house’s front porch, and a dog called Jack who we made very, very anxious by paddling his creek.

30 paddles this year, folks–count on it!

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Good-Bye Winter; Hello, River!

Huron River, Argo Park to Gallup Park

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5 April 2015

Today, after a long winter, Ellen and I put our boats in the water for the first time this year.  We are both busy with work things so only had time for a quick trip–this one’s right through town and not even 3 1/2 miles long–but it was great to be back on the river, and what a lovely trip it was.

Below are photos from roll call on our part of the river–as you can see, it was just us and some water birds that were good company mostly, except WOW are geese some serious punks.

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The river isn’t fat and fast with the spring melt anymore, but it wasn’t slow; we got to a top speed of about 7 mph and held an average of just under 4 mph. It was partly sunny, windy enough that I wished for a kite I could get airborne and use to pull me down the river, and temperatures topped out at 62. It was, in short, awesome. For a map of our route through beautiful Ann Arbor, click here.

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Carpe Wetsuit

Huron River, Hudson Mills to Dexter Metropark

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15 December 2014

You don’t live in Michigan and expect warm paddling weather in December.  So when the weather forecast promised temperatures of 50 degrees–that’s warmer than it was the last day we paddled in Florida last month!–we knew we had to seize the day (plus our wetsuits, just in case).  We headed out with our friend Doug and hemmed and hawed about whether we should do this paddle of about 6 miles or the slightly longer one of 9 miles to Delhi. Turns out all the gates to the park and takeouts at Delhi were locked up, so that decision was made for us, which ended up being good, as you’ll see as you continue to read. Click here to see the piece of river we paddled.

The river had on its lovely, dark winter colors, and with trees bereft of leaves, we could see plenty of wildlife. All the critters that are usually so hard to locate were easy to spot: the browns and grays that hide in summer’s background inch up to the foreground during late fall. The one bright note in the woods was the pileated woodpecker, who was so loud and so big that it would have been impossible to miss.

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I am always the first to get cold on these kinds of trips, buy by the end of our two hours or so on the river, I wasn’t the only one who was cold, and we were all glad we had done the shorter trip. Doug actually had on a jacket and a hat, which is almost unheard of. Ellen and I were glad for the extra warmth of our wetsuit layers–turns out you don’t need to go into the drink for those to be useful. But I think we were all glad for the paddle, and sad that it might be the last one of the year.  Being cold was worth it.

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Sneaking in One Last Paddle

Dawson Canal up to St. James Creek

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28 November 2014

Our last day of this trip, we had to get ourselves to the airport right after lunch, but we hoped to sneak in one more short paddle before we had to leave.  We woke up to chilly temperatures by Florida standards–48 degrees! We took a walk by the canal, pondering whether or not to go out on the water; the sun was out, but it was a little nippy.  What decided it for us was that we checked what the temperatures were back in Michigan . . . 17 degrees.  Knowing that, we felt like we owed it to the people back home to paddle, so out we went!

The truth is, it wasn’t so cold once we got on the water–we have plenty of cold weather gear, and the sun warmed us up, plus it got warmer even just in the hour we were out. We had time to paddle only about a mile, into some bigger water before St. James Creek.  You can see where we went by clicking here.

The birds came out to say good-bye to us in force, including a representative from the eagles–two soared over us each day as we were putting in our boats, but this is the only one we saw while we were out paddling.

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I am thoroughly a Midwesterner at heart and rivers are my first love, but I so appreciate spending Thanksgiving in the warm backwaters of friendly Pine Island!

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Thanksgiving in Nature’s Food Court

Backwaters of the Southwest Side of Pine Island

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27 November 2014

On Thanksgiving, we had a nice, sunny day with temperatures in the  mid to high 70s and less wind than the previous day–so, calmer paddling when we dipped out into open water and less work when we paddled the canals. During our paddle the day before, we had picked out some mangrove channels to save  for the holiday, and we wended our way to them in low tide.

When we stopped for lunch, it was on an exposed bank that for sure isn’t there when the tide is high, and we spied some creatures that we still can’t identify.  They looked one way on the bank and another in the water, as you will see, and overall they looked a little strange.  When poked, they moved around. Can anyone help?

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As we got deeper into the mangroves, my new smart phone’s GPS, which had been making me feel so confident about our ability to find our way back to the canals after our explorations, dropped out. I panicked a little, but luckily, my other GPS (girlfriend positioning system) kicked in–Ellen got us back to the canal amazingly efficiently!

We paddled back to our dock as the tide was coming in, and the tide was obviously bringing in all the birds’ dinners, because they were fishing and eating all around us: the pelicans were doing their graceless, mouth-first plops into the water, small birds were skimming the surface and darting to a tree when they clipped a little fish, osprey were flying around with half-eaten leftovers of fish . . . it was a little nuts. But to each bird, its own Thanksgiving feast.

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The Sea Was Angry that Day; the Backwaters, Not So Much

Backwaters of the Southwest Side of Pine Island

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26 November 2014

This is the second Thanksgiving that Ellen and I got lucky enough to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving paddling around beautiful Pine Island in Florida. As with last year, we were thankful especially for my mom and step-dad, Patsy and Gene, who generously loaned us their winter home for our trip, and also their great friends Sandy and Dan who did everything from helping us launch our boats to loaning us their car one night to fixing the washing machine when it was acting up to giving us fancy crackers to help fill out our lunch the last day we were in town.  They’re Thanksgiving superheroes!

IMG_2189We got to paddle three days of this four-day trip, which was fantastic. This post is all about our first paddle, which happened in some interesting weather. The temperatures were all right, especially by Midwesterner standards: a high of 73 and  low of 55. But there was a high surf advisory and wind gusts up to 30 mph with threats of riptide and 5-6 foot waves.  That morning on the news, the weatherman said, “Small boats, stay in today.” But he meant motor boats, I think, and in any event, in open water.  But kayaks can creep where even the smallest of motor boats can’t go, so we went out with the plan of sticking to the backwaters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a good plan, but the thing of it is, you need to paddle through canals to get to the backwaters, and the wind was with us in one canal, speeding our boats along like yellow bullets, but against us–and cold!–in the next canal. The work of getting to the backwaters was considerable–in fact, most of our paddle was in canals, as you can see if you click here and look at the record of our paddle (for it to really make sense, click on the top right for satellite view), and we tried to find a place to tuck in and eat the lunch we had brought along to no avail, since anywhere we tried to pull over, the wind messed with us.  Finally, a woman came out of her canal-side house to see what in tarnation we were up to, and when she heard our lunch dilemma, she lowered this awesome boat lift you see pictured here–a sort of elevator for watercraft–and let us come on up and eat our lunch on her dock.  Nice lady!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe backwaters, though–they were warm! We could feel the heat of the water radiating up around our boats, and the wind was totally blocked by the mangroves. We wound around and around mangrove paths, which led to some protected smaller, shallower open waters where there were birds ahoy! check out the slideshow below to see the cornucopia o’ birds we saw this day–well worth the work of the paddle out!

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We were also lucky enough to see two seaprate ospreys enjoying their lunches–kinda ghastly from the fish perspective, but good eats for these birds!

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IMG_2213The other wildlife of interest in the mangroves were these cool spider crabs, which were literally all over the mangroves as we paddled all through them. It was pretty creepy, and Ellen was completely fixated on them, which made them hard to ignore. We learned later that night that the crabs live on the mangrove branches so that, when high tide comes, they can crawl into the water and eat the little tiny fish that swim around in the mangrove branches.  So: they’re not hanging out there waiting for us.  This is cold comfort when the branches you are paddling through are alive with them.

We had two cool brushes with wildlife that we did not get pictures of.  One was only an audio brush–we heard a great horned owl hooting–they nest in the mangroves. And we shared the canals with some dolphins, which is nice and all but man, they are big, and when they come up to breathe, it’s unsettling to a person not used to seeing something that size under the water.

We paddled 7 1/2 miles this day, earning our dinner when the wind was against us.

 

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Freezin’ on the ‘Zoo

Kalamazoo River, Mayor’s Riverside Park to D Avenue Boat Launch

Ellen and Doug spy Fall!

Ellen and Doug spy Fall!

 

12 September 2014

Ellen and I and our paddling pal Doug planned this paddle of just about 7 1/2 miles when it was still hot and humid in Michigan; we didn’t anticipate starting out in a cool drizzle and paddling with temperatures that never got close to 60 degrees and barely any peeks of sunshine.  Doug came in shorts (and with a spare pair of shorts, just in case?); I was smart enough to bring my trusty Elmer Fudd hat with the earflaps but was still cold; Ellen deliberately left her sunglasses in the car to try to draw out the sun.  The weather wasn’t on our side, realy–but we had a good trip anyhow.

For one thing, we saw the first signs of fall on the river in some changing leaves, and the bald eagle below got some of his smaller bird friends to re-enact a scene from The Birds behind him, so we had a little Halloween preview.

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Also, while the river is a little dirty and stinky through Kalamazoo, it is one of the few industrial areas we ever get to paddle through, and that’s kind of cool.  We start out near a railroad yard, go past lots of closed and some working factories, hold our noses through the sewage treatment area, and go under two really cool old train bridges.  But then there was also the wildlife, and we saw some gems! On top of the bald eagle and his backup birds, a ton of Canada geese, and ducks of all stripes, we saw a great hawk making the most of the electrical towers we float under, a ton of cedar waxwings that taunted Ellen, never allowing her a good shot until this one you see below finally relented, and more than our fair share of northern flickers and blue herons. So, in other words: birds ahoy! 

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This paddle is always over too soon–it took us just about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and we weren’t hurrying. The river was moving at a pretty fast clip, and there were a ton of downed trees from a recent storm, which meant once we had to paddle upstream and find another way around, but otherwise, it was a paddle during which we didn’t have to do a ton of work and got to enjoy the sights–which we did, even if we were a little cold.

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