Finding the Edge

Huron River, Island Lake State Park to Placeway Picnic Area


29 November 2015

Ellen and I and our paddling pal Doug thought that, if the temperature were above 40 after Thanksgiving, we’d squeeze in this short paddle of just over 5 miles on a scenic, meandering part of the Huron River. It’s a treat to paddle in November in Michigan, and really, 40 isn’t so cold, is it?

IMG_3504The weather forecast for today promised temperatures just over 40, so we made our plans. Let me emphatically tell you it was not over 40. As we headed out to the river around 1 p.m., all temperature gauges read 37 or so, and it got colder as we paddled. Consistently, there was frost on the river grass, and ice was forming on the more still edges of the river. Intrigued, Doug decided to use his kayak as an ice ram.  It’s not everyone who has rammed river ice with a kayak, but Doug has–and Ellen and I got to witness it. It was thicker than it looked, and it made an unsettling iceberg-ish sound when he plowed through it. I thought “Titanic!” I don’t think Ellen or Doug did, but I’m the one in charge of thinking up catastrophes.

IMG_3501As we paddled along, in the distance we could hear guns at the nearby firing range, and there was at least one deer hunter out there with us, plus scads of mountain bikers and two other paddlers way off in the trees taking a break, but there were not many birds nor beasts on the river. We saw this kingfisher who made up for being the only one there by being extra fancy.

At some point when it seemed like it was getting colder and we had been out on the river long enough, Doug says, “Did someone make a wrong turn and miss the end of the river?” And I, slow on the uptake, go: “Us?!”  And then we paddle faster for a while, panicking a little, wondering where the takeout is.  We did not make a wrong turn; we soon got there. It’s not the coldest paddle we’ve ever been on (for that paddle, click here), but it was cold–maybe the edge of what we’d paddle in again in terms of low temperatures. Still, it was a great paddle, so we decided that it deserves the blog tag of epic journey!

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26 November 2015

You what’s something to be thankful about? A 60 degree day at the end of November in Michigan!  Recent good weather melted the 8 inches of snow dumped by a winter storm last weekend, so Ellen and I took advantage of the nice day and headed to Argo Pond, a little bump of wider water on our local river, the Huron, for a late afternoon paddle. It was unbelievably nice out–especially after having so much snow around for a week. The sun was low in the sky but shining, and a little wind kicked up some small rolling waves and did ridiculously dramatic and beautiful things with the clouds–I mean really, can you believe this photo?

IMG_3490We shared the river with one other paddler we saw and a welter of water fowl, including this lone, cute American Coot who has hanging out with some wood ducks.  We don’t see American Coots a lot, but when we do, I always think of this song, which seems sort of appropriate, given the holiday?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from Gina and Ellen on the river!

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Why So Lonesome, Kalamazoo River?

Kalamazoo River, Mayor’s Riverfront Park to Plainwell


9 October 2015

On this moody, cool fall day Ellen and I headed over to the Kalamazoo River with our pal Doug to make this long paddle of just over 15 ½ miles (which converted into just over 4 ½ hours on the river) between Kalamazoo and Plainwell. It’s a paddle Ellen and I had done once before several years ago, and the truth is, not just this stretch of river but much of the Kalamazoo feels a little like a well-kept secret: we have never run into another paddler while we were on it, and only twice have we even seen other boats (in both cases, fisherman passing us just as we put in on Kalamazoo and on their way to the dam above Kalamazoo). So—that gets me to my title: why so lonesome, Kalamazoo River?

One answer is that the Kalamazoo, at least in the stretch right by the city of Kalamazoo, is far more industrial than recreational: trains crank around a busy train yard right across the river from where we put in at Mayor’s Riverfront Park; factories line the river on and off for several miles; the water reclamation plant sprays reclaimed water in to the river at a wide spot; and paddling through the town of Parchment, you always get tell-tale whiffs of their paper plant. (Happily, I report that this is the first time since the oil spill that I saw no visible evidence of oil in the water.) This all might turn some people off, but take a look at the pictures below—to me, the industry along this river makes it interesting in ways that few other rivers we paddle are.

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So if industry is keeping folks off the river, I think they’re missing some compelling scenery. But another reason the river might not often get paddled is because there aren’t a lot of places to stop. If you put your boats in the water at Kalamazoo, as we did, the first reasonable take-out is at D Avenue, about 7 miles downstream. Then, really, the next takeout is Plainwell, over 8 miles later. That’s a pretty big commitment.

We can always be counted on to visit the Kalamazoo River, and if the truth be known, we are happy to have the river to ourselves—though we like to see more wildlife than we did during this paddle when every animal seemed to stay tucked into its warm hidey hole. But after a whole day of cloudy skies, blindingly bright sunshine broke out the last mile or so of our paddle—and we were paddling due west into Plainwell, so we ended our day by paddling off into the sunset.

PS See below: Nessie?


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Just a Wee Paddle

Huron River, between the train bridges around Honey Creek


4 October 2015

Ellen and I have–alas!–been pulled away from paddling by the current of back-to-school. To get out and enjoy the moody fall day, and to give ourselves an excuse to put the boat racks back on the car in anticipation of a bigger trip later this week, we did this quick paddle-around.  The fall colors are not yet at their peak, but they are most certainly on their way–check out the palette above.  A lovely paddle, over too soon.

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Hot Weather, Low River

Huron River, Portage Lake to Dexter Metropark


3 September 2015

Ellen and I and our pal Doug had a different trip planned for this day but switched it out for this shorter trip so that we fit it in before the rain.  Considering it’s late afternoon now and still not raining, I feel a little cheated–but it is crazy hot out, so maybe it’s just as well that we weren’t out on the water for a longer paddle.

Not that it was always a paddle; sometimes it was a walk. At one point or another, all of us got hung up on rocks or in shallows and had to walk our boats (Doug did twice), so the picture of Ellen above walking her boat through ankle-deep water sums up a lot of our time on the river.

IMG_3415Considering how hot it was, it’s probably not surprising that there were lot of other paddlers with us on the river, and also a ton of geese.  Plus we saw a handful of turtles, a deer or two, and the osprey to the left here.

Soooooo . . . not the most eventful paddle, but one that left us all with wet feet and sweaty hats.  Fall can show up any time now!

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Motown Paddle

Detroit River and Detroit Canals


31 August 2015

Ellen and I learned about the sunset tours of Detroit’s east side canals that Detroit River Sports does earlier this summer; luckily, we were able to do one before we turn the corner and head into fall. We had a lovely night for it–as we paddled away from the dock at 6 pm, it was in the high 70s with not much wind. And we had wonderful company, as our friends Louis and T joined us for the paddle, plus we had two great Detroit River Sports guides, Julie and Laura. I’ve outlined the course we followed below, in orange.


The canal paddling was awesome–we saw the Fisher Mansion (now home to Hare Krishnas, thanks to Fisher generosity in a will sometime in the past), the now-empty boat wells of bootleggers back in the day, new and pretty fancy housing developments, and then also abandoned and overgrown would-be developments. Around Harbor Island and Klenk Island were awesome neighborhood canals with cool boats, happy barking dogs and prowling cats–and other animals, too (wait for it, below).

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One thing my map and canal photos above don’t show is what serious open water we were in when we left the canals and went into the Detroit River and the mouth of Lake St. Clair. How serious was it?  Well, there were some giant freighters, and there was speedboat wake taking the form of three-foot waves, and there were constant swells, and you could see Canada.  You could paddle to Canada, if you wanted to.  I’m not a fan of big, open water and I get seasick pretty easily so this part wasn’t my favorite in many ways, but because I loved the freighters, it sort of was my favorite part, too.

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In all, we paddled about 4 miles, maybe 2 of those miles on the big water. It was a great trip–a ton of fun and so much to see–and without doubt one of our most unique paddles!

photo 5

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The Return of Doug!

Grand River, Tecumseh Park to Fitzgerald Park



24 August 2015

This paddle on the Grand River is one of my favorites—the river is wide and friendly, the wildlife typically plentiful, and the scenery a balm to this Midwesterner’s heart. The trip was even better this time around because it marked the return of our friend Doug to the rivers after some months of travelling!

Fall was most definitely with us on the river. It was a cool day—it never got to 70, and I was sorry I left my jacket behind—and we fought a steady 4 mph wind coming out of the west that gusted to 14 mph like all the time.  By the time we had paddled 500 feet due west head-on into the wind, I said hopefully, “well, the river will curve soon and we won’t be paddling right into the wind anymore.”  “I don’t know,” says Ellen in reply, “the river’s a pretty straight shot west.”  If you look at this map my GPS made of our paddle you can see that, as usual, Ellen was right. So we paddled just over 12 miles directly into the wind.

But what a lovely paddle it was. The wind meant we had to paddle pretty constantly–no lollygagging and letting the current take you—but it whipped up some amazing clouds and made the trees along the bank do constant dances for us.

And there was wildlife! Have a look below for the array, and note especially the osprey on the wing and the deer who decided to look at us through its back legs.

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By every measure, a great trip—and one made all the better by the return of Doug’s cookies as paddlin’ fuel!


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