It was a nasty day in November by most people’s standards, the temperature was in the thirties, there was a stiff wind out of the northeast driving occasional rain, sleet, and snow showers, a harbinger of things to come. It had to be early to mid November in the early 70’s, I wasn’t deer hunting, which starts on the 15th every year, I was running my hunting dog, but not hunting that day. On most days like that I would stay down in the valleys and in the woods to avoid the brunt of the wind-driven rain, but on that day, I decided to climb the large hill behind my parent’s house. My parent’s house sat at the edge of the Grand River valley, northeast of Grand Rapids, a couple of miles from the river itself. From the top of that hill, I could look down at their house, and see for miles off to the east, looking across the entire valley.
I was standing there on the top of the hill, squinting into the wind-driven precipitation, admiring the view as I often did, warm in my cocoon of clothes suited for that kind of weather, when it hit me. I didn’t just tolerate weather like that, I didn’t go out in it just to prove I was tougher than every one else, I love it, I do love it so!
“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
That pretty much sums up how I feel, only different kinds of good weather! I read another quote a long time ago in the Readers Digest that I haven’t been able to find, but it has stuck with me my entire life. “The weather is never really as bad outside as it looks to be through a window”, or something to that effect. I have found that to be very true. But, I think a love of “bad” weather is an acquired taste, or so it would seem. The first few times you are out there it is probably because you get caught in an unexpected storm, or you are forced to be out when you normally wouldn’t have been. I am sure most of you have heard the saying “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. I found that it holds true of the weather, too. At first, you’re just happy to have survived, but then, something else starts to take over. Everytime I was out there when most people wouldn’t be, I found a strength growing within me, to the point where now, my soul feeds on the energy from the storms.
That’s what I felt that cold, windy, rainy day on top the hill, I was absorbing the power of the storm, growing stronger and more sure of myself with every hard gust of wind and every band of the wind-driven sleet that was bouncing off me, I felt like I could take on anything! That’s a power that sticks with you all the time once you feel it for the first time.
Recently, an online friend posting something on Facebook after a day of biking in the rain all day, about being cold and wet on the outside, but that their spirits were high for the next day of their trip. My contribution was, “Being cold and wet on the outside makes the fires burn stronger on the inside”, and that’s the way it is for me. I never feel as alive and vibrant as I do when I am outdoors in “bad” weather.
Yes, I know I am crazy. Enough people have told me that over the years that it has finally sunken in that I’m the crazy one, not them, as I believed for so long. And even though I know that I’m the crazy one, it doesn’t stop people from reminding me of that on a regular basis. When I tell people about my being knocked off my feet while fishing for steelhead on Christmas Eve and getting dunked in the Rogue River, they tell me I’m crazy. They tell me that when I relate to them the story of Spud and I fishing the Betsie River at Homestead dam in an ice storm so bad that we had to thaw our rods out every so often because the fishing line was freezing to our rods. I hear it when they find out that I kayak rivers in January. People will tell me how beautiful the pictures I take on those days are, (Like the one on the top of the page) but they still tell me I’m crazy for being out there to take the pictures. Sometimes people will throw in a few expletives for emphasis, but the general response is always “You’re crazy”. Even people who hunt or go ice fishing tell me I am crazy for being out there because I like it, they may be out there, but they only tolerate the bad weather in order to pursue a hobby they enjoy.
OK, I get it, I’m crazy. I have given it a lot of thought over the years, as to what makes me love being outdoors when most other people are sitting huddled up under blankets in their living room, and there are many reasons. Some are simple, some not so simple. One reason is that it helps me relate to the past. It wasn’t that long ago, just a few generations, that most people earned their living in such a manner as to require them to be outside no matter what the weather was like. Farmers had animals to feed and water, cows that had to be milked twice a day, and wood to cut and split in order to heat their homes. Loggers were out there cutting down trees, skidding the trees to the rivers, and piling the logs up for the spring thaw when the logs would be floated downstream to the sawmills. There were whalers, fishermen, and sailors out on the ocean in all kinds of weather, as were the hunters and trappers out in the woods, supplying food for the few who had indoor jobs. Most people have heard the story of George Washington at Valley Forge, but if you really want to understand what the soldiers there went through, try camping in a tent in the middle of winter! It will give you an entirely new perspective on the hardships they faced that winter. As I wander around outdoors in the dead of winter, I often think of those who went before me, and what they faced without the high-tech gear available to me, and how much different their live’s were to ours.
Another reason is that most of the time, I am out there all by myself. I see things in person that most other people never see. Winter has a beauty all its own that most people never see. Sometimes it is a hard, harsh beauty…
And sometimes it can be amusing….
If you spend the winter hibernating, you never get the chance to see either.
There’s a lot to be said for the quiet solitude of winter, getting a chance to reflect on times gone by and times yet to come. Visiting places before the crush of summer crowds show up to distract you from what God has put there to be found. And I have found that the few people I do run into during the winter are much more friendly than those summer crowds. Maybe it is because we share a common bond to begin with, we are crazy to be out there in the first place, but almost without fail, I’ll end up in a conversation with any one I do meet outdoors in the winter. In the summer, you’re lucky if some one will even return a hello. On the day I took the beach pictures, I ran into one other person, and we stood there practically shouting at one another for 15 minutes to half an hour. We had to shout to be heard over the roar of the wind, the thunder of the waves crashing into the ice, and the frozen spray from the waves pelting our hoods. That was one of the things we spoke of, how friendly winter people are compared to summer people. We spoke of how crazy every one else is for not being out there to experience what we were experiencing, the awesome power and beauty of nature!
Most of the time though, I am out there by myself and never see another soul. That’s OK by me, I like my own company, even if the rest of the world doesn’t hold the same opinion. I can go at my own pace, spend as much or as little time in an area as I want to, explore what interests me, and pass by what doesn’t. Sometimes what holds my interest is the grand overall view of a place, sometimes it is a pretty little pebble that most people would never notice.
Then there is the cocoon effect. When you’re dress right, you can feel all snug and warm no matter what the weather is, it is like having your own little cocoon around you. I like that feeling.
There are also what are called microclimates as well. You will find pockets of cool air on hot days, and areas that are warmer on cold days. Not surprisingly, you will find most of the animals where you feel most comfortable yourself. They don’t like being uncomfortable any more than humans do, with one exception. Animals seem to like a warm, light rain. You’ll often see them out feeding, even playing, as long as the rain is light, and it isn’t too cold. I have found that being outdoors in extreme weather has taught me a lot about microclimates, and how animals react to them. As a matter of fact, I never heard the term “microclimate” until after I had already figured out that there was such a thing. I learned by observing animals, and always questioning why they were where they were, especially if it seemed they were in an unlikely spot, and by just paying attention to my surroundings. I could, and probably will do, an entire blog on microclimates one of these days, you can’t be a really good hunter, fisherman (Yes, bodies of water have microclimates too), or nature photographer until you understand them and how important they are to wildlife. And, if you’re ever in a true survival situation, knowing microclimates can literally be a life saver.
Even though I understand them, I still break the rules, I still climb hills on nasty November days, I still walk the Lake Michigan beaches during January gales. And I will stand there, taking in the power and beauty that is there to be seen, feeling the power flowing to my soul, and I’ll say to myself, I love this, I do love it so!
Saturday was the day I had scheduled a group paddle on the Grand River near Grand Ledge to see the ledges, but no one else signed up, so I went alone. It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic day! The weather was perfect, a lot of the trees still were vividly colored, I met some nice people, and had a few interesting things happen along the way.
I grew up in Grand Rapids, about 50 miles from Grand Ledge, but had never heard of the ledges there until just a couple of years ago when a friend, Georgena, told me about them. The ledges, as they are called, are 300-million-year-old sandstone and quartzite rock formations, rock ledges that rise 60 feet (18 m) above the Grand River. They remind me of a miniature version of the upper peninsula’s Pictured Rocks. Thank you for telling me about this place Georgie!
I did a little research on the area and found out that at one time, Grand Ledge was the second most popular tourist attraction in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Not only are there the ledges there, but there is a chain of seven islands in the Grand River, and one of the first amusement parks in Michigan was built on the largest of the islands. That turned out not to be such a wise idea, as the amusement park has long since been washed away when the river has flooded over the years. The only thing left is a small portion of the foundation to one of the buildings, and it is easy to miss that, as it is now part of a flood wall on the island.
As it is today, Second Island, the largest of the islands, is a park that is connected to the mainland by a footbridge that you can get to at Island Park, right in downtown Grand Ledge. There is also a pathway along the south bank of the Grand River that takes you past the ledges on the south side, all the way to Fitzgerald Park. That’s where I put my kayak in the river, at Fitzgerald Park.
The first thing about the day on Saturday is that once again, I was amazed at how well my new kayak worked! Now it isn’t like the Grand is anything more than a long pond, but I noticed right off that the new kayak cuts through the water so much easier than the old one, it is hard to believe they are supposedly the same boat. When I paddled the old one at speed, you could hear and feel the water building up at the bow, and it put off a huge wake for a kayak. By huge, I mean that one time when I hit the beach at speed to take out after a paddle, the wake from my boat broke over the side of the River Diva’s boat and got her wet! And if you know the Diva, you know that she doesn’t even get her feet wet, so I heard all about the wake from my old boat. But, there was none of that on Saturday, this new boats cuts through the water like a knife, no more bow wave in front, and no more wake in the back! I am happy that the old one broke!
I was paddling upstream on the north side of the river, checking out the ledges on that side, as I hadn’t seen them up close. I did try to go up a creek that enters on the south side, but it was too shallow yet, despite the rain we finally got this last week. There isn’t much of a current, I could paddle easily, and more or less hold in place when I wanted to take pictures. I chatted with some rock climbers and hikers along the way, but on the way upstream, I didn’t stop a lot. I continued on upstream well past the ledges, through the town of Grand Ledge itself, and on until I hit a stretch of the Grand that was too shallow to find a way through easily. The colors were gorgeous!
About the time I hit the shallow stretch of river, I noticed that the wind was picking up at times, so it seemed like a good time to turn around. I don’t paddle rivers as large as the Grand very often any more. There have been too many times when wind has pushed me back upstream faster than the current would push me downstream, and that is no fun. As it turned out, the wind wasn’t a problem, but if you have ever tried paddling 10 miles of the Grand against a stiff headwind, you’ll know why I was keeping an eye on the weather.
It was on the downstream part of the day that some of the more interesting events occurred. I had stopped under a
small tree that hung out over the river to take some pictures, when I heard a loud “SPLAT” close to my boat. I looked over to see a small rodent swimming away from me, too small to be a beaver or a muskrat, so I paddled over to get a closer look. It was a chipmunk that had fallen out of the tree, and was headed across the river. I assumed it was going across the river because I had been blocking it from the near shore, so I paddled ahead of it, hoping the little guy would turn around and go back to where he had come from. That didn’t work, he just swam around my kayak and kept going for the far shore. It seemed like such a long way for such a little guy, that it was probably good if he had and escort to make sure he made it. I dropped back and followed him, they actually swim better and faster than I would have imagined. He had gotten to where the aquatic plants growing on the river bottom grew all the way to the surface, and I was about to leave him to make it on his own, but then I noticed he wasn’t making any headway in the plants. I paddled up beside him and helped him along by bringing my paddle up from behind him so he had something to push against.
Now then, you may ask why I did things the way I did, but I had a bad experience saving a chipmunk when I was a kid. We found one that had fallen into a manmade hole and couldn’t climb back out. I had the great idea of lowering a stick into the hole so that he could climb out. He did, at warp speed! He was up the stick before I had time to react, and the little bugger rewarded me by sinking his rodent teeth as far into my thumb as he could. Fortunately, chipmunks aren’t know to carry rabies, so I didn’t have to get the shots. I wasn’t about to give this one the chance to run up my paddle and start chewing on me the way the other one did.
It took a few nudges, but he finally made it to shore, and I wished I had gotten my camera ready to take videos! He couldn’t decide if he wanted to run, shake himself dry, or what, but he kept falling over like a drunk on a three-day binge. It was funny to see him start to go over, watch him try to stop the fall by sticking his leg out to one side, but not soon enough! Over he’d go, then back on his feet trying way too hard to go way too fast! He was obviously very cold and tired from his long swim, he fell over at least half a dozen times, as I sat in my kayak laughing at him, I guess that was my reward for helping him make it to safety.
I continued back downstream to Island Park again, there is a flock of ducks that hang out there, and people feed and photograph the ducks. I didn’t want to ruin the chance for the people who were there then, besides, I was enjoying soaking up the sun on the fine day that it was. It was while I was hanging out just above the park that the second interesting thing happened. I saw a fish’s tail come up out of the water. That isn’t unusual, suckers and carp do it all the time, but this wasn’t the tail of a sucker or carp. I slowly moved towards it, it was a 2 1/2 to 3 pound brown trout! You can tell by the spots. I could see him quite clearly with my polarized sunglasses on, but it turned out to be a better picture with the sunlight reflecting the yellow from the trees onto the water. I could tell from its color and how beaten up it looked, that it had just finished spawning and was starting back down the river, probably all the way to Lake Michigan. There are times when I wish I had a DNR biologist along with me on my excursions, and this was one of those times. I know the Grand doesn’t hold brown trout normally, it is too slow, too warm, and there is too much sediment in the water for native trout. I also know that browns spawn in the fall, normally heading upstream to do so. I don’t think a brown from a tributary of the Grand, like the Rogue River, would fall back to the Grand, then go up the Grand to spawn, that doesn’t make sense. Also, from the color, I could tell it was a male, and few male river browns make it to that size, so it almost had to have come all the way from the lake. (biology lesson here. Male brown trout get darker and the colors of their markings get more intense when they are in the spawning mode. The females change color as well, but not to the degree that the males do. If it was a lake run fish, it was probably silver before entering the river. On average, female trout of all species grow much larger than the males, so if you see or catch a large trout, it is probably a female. lesson concluded) So, I am wondering just how common this is? Is there a population of lake run browns that successfully spawn in the Grand? I know that a few lake run browns, even an occasional lake trout, are caught at the Sixth Street Dam in Grand Rapids, but I assumed they spawned in tributaries of the Grand, not the Grand itself. Anyway, I got so close to this fish that I tried to tail it, but that doesn’t work on trout. I wasn’t going to keep it anyway, just get a good picture as proof.
By then the people taking pictures of the ducks had finished, so I continued my journey back downstream. I stopped off where the rock climbers were in action, and talked to some of them for a while as I was stretching my legs and taking a break.
That also gave me the chance to get up close and personal with why they call the ledges the ledges.
First of all, some housecleaning notes. You may notice that I have added some links to other websites on the right side of my blog. I will be adding more as I have the time, and may even start a link page if I figure out how. These are links to organizations whom I support. Most will be links to land trusts/nature preserves. These groups use member contributions to purchase critical environmental properties, and most of the lands are open to the public. The size of the preserves range from just a few acres, to thousands of acres, and some are entire islands in the great lakes. So if you are looking for a place to wander around in, or to kayak in nature for a day, you may want to check those links out. The preserves are scattered all around the State of Michigan, some are well-developed with clearly marked trails, others are just land to walk around on. Some are closed to the public, and I don’t think any allow camping, but the websites will let you know which are open to the public. Mouse over the links for more information.
One group that does overall good work but who I won’t link to is the Nature Conservancy. I was a member for years, and was about to become a life member when the environmental/animal rights wackos took over the leadership of the Nature Conservancy. They came out against hunting and fishing, and began closing off most of the group’s property, which I don’t agree with. They saw a significant drop in membership after they came out publicly against hunting and fishing, as they learned many of the membership had been sportsmen and women up until then. So they began a stealth movement of sorts, they took the verbage against hunting and fishing out of the group’s mission, but were still lobbying to outlaw both sports. To me, that’s the worst kind of dishonesty. That along with the fact that the leadership are elitists who want the average Joe’s money, but who think that the average Joe isn’t good enough, in their eyes, to set foot on land that he helped purchase. I know there are environmentally sensitive areas that require extra protection, but way too much of the land held by the Nature Conservancy is now designated as too environmentally sensitive to allow the public, or even the membership, to set foot on. So while I still support the idea of purchasing land to protect it from development, I can no longer support the Nature Conservancy.
On a related note, it may surprise many people to learn that THE major source of funds to restore wildlife habitat in the United States comes as a result of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. There is an 11% Federal excise tax on guns, ammunition, fishing rods and reels, tackle, etc. The generated revenues from Pittman-Robertson are placed in a special trust under the control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and are to be allotted to state wildlife conservation programs for wildlife restoration, not just game animals, but all wildlife.
So much for that stuff, now back to this last weekend on the Jordan. The number one thing that hit me once again this weekend was the drunks in Graves Crossing Campground. This is a trend I have been seeing more of, and I don’t like it. I know that’s just my opinion, but when did the out-of-doors become an excuse to drink to excess?
OK, Spud and I, and a few others, were known to do some drinking back in the day, Spud and I even polished off a case of beer in a day a couple of times. That may sound like a lot of beer, but when you are up before dawn, fish hard for 4 or 5 hours and it starts getting hot, 10 AM doesn’t seem that early to crack a beer. We would each drink about a beer an hour, probably less during the day, then finish off the case sitting around the campfire in the evening. I don’t ever remember being drunk. We couldn’t have been too drunk, my truck was a cop magnet, and we were pulled over a few times on the way to or from a river or our campground. The one state cop did tell us that we shouldn’t be drinking while driving, and then we wouldn’t have had to have shoved our beers down our waders when he pulled us over. But that was all he said about it. (Spud had gone in over his hip boots and we drove to the campground so he could change to dry pants and put on his waders. It was half a mile each direction, and I still managed to get pulled over. The police were looking for a truck like mine that had been involved in a crime.) I was never quite sure how he knew we had beer cans stuffed in our waders, but he did. We never set out to drink a case in a day, it just happened, the case was supposed to last the weekend or even longer. The reason I brought a case was so Spud wouldn’t buy the beer, he would only buy Pabst Blue Ribbon, and it seemed like I got the skunked ones most of the time. But, we were never drunk, and we never drank while we were hunting, ever!
A couple of years ago, Larri and I were up in the Pigeon River Country in the spring. We did some fishing, some exploring, and some mushrooming. We came across a group of guys that were so drunk, they had to go and get the pick up truck to haul one of the group, who had passed out on his feet, back to camp. They had shoved him in the bed of the pick up with his feet hanging over the tailgate, along with another member of the group, who had to be tied to the tailgate to keep him from falling off. The driver was so drunk he could barely stay on the road at an idle, and the three remaining members of the group were staggering up the trail behind the pick up, laughing at “Doug and Jim” who couldn’t walk, and asking if we would like to join them for a beer. It appeared that at any moment, one of them would soon be tied to the tailgate too.
As a matter of fact, in a way, drinking became one of the wedge issues between Larri and I that eventually lead to our breaking up. The friends of hers that we kayaked with would plan weekend trips, setting up camp on a Friday night, then we were supposed to paddle a different river or section of river Saturday and Sunday. That was the plan as told to me anyway. As it turned out, Bill, the leader of the group, would always come up with an excuse not to paddle on Saturday, and they would go booze cruising instead. The first time it was to do the wine tour around Traverse City, not too bad, but Bill was chugging back a few beers between the wineries, and he was driving. If you have a CDL, which I do as a truck driver, and you’re in a vehicle where the driver is drunk, they pull your CDL, whether you’re the driver or not, which means I would have lost my job.
The next time we went the excuse was they needed more gear, and they had to do some shopping, an excuse to drink all day. By the third time, I knew what was going to happen, so I brought my fishing gear, and sure enough, Saturday morning Bill announced it was too windy to paddle, maybe they should do a color tour instead. So while they went off drinking, I went fishing. I never said anything about their drinking, but Bill told Larri I was no longer welcome on their trips, since I was so anti-social. I had explained to her about my position and my job, and how I couldn’t risk losing my means of supporting myself, but that didn’t mean a whole lot to her, she told me she was going anyway, and I wasn’t invited. Some girlfriend….LOL..so while it wasn’t drinking that directly lead to our breaking up, it did expose how little I meant to her, so there was no reason to stay in the relationship.
Just the other day, there was a story about a deer hunter that fell out of his tree stand around 10 AM because he was drunk. One of many reasons I quit hunting, too many drunks in the woods carrying weapons. I loved hunting, I still do, but now I hunt with a camera, and I leave the woods to the drunks during hunting season. When you have drunks armed with deadly weapons falling out of their tree stands at 10 AM, or any time for that matter, it tells me the woods aren’t a safe place to be. I would like to say that it is a shame the few ruin things for the many, but I am not so sure it is just a few who drink while hunting anymore. I was talking to a CO (Conservation Officer) a couple months back,and he told me he now spends most of his time in court testifying on alcohol related offenses. Of course that includes drunk driving, as COs in Michigan are full law enforcement officers, just like a state policeman, but with the added duty of enforcing fish and game laws.
On a side note, if you ever meet a CO while you are out and about, thank them for the fine job they do. A cop goes to work thinking there is a chance he may run up against an armed criminal, a CO KNOWS he is going to run up against an armed criminal EVERY day. The men and women who are COs do an outstanding job, and they love to get a chance to talk to the public in a non-enforcement situation. They know their patrol areas better than any one else, so they are great sources of information. I learn new things every time I get a chance to talk with one.
So that brings us back to Saturday night at Grave’s Crossing. I’ll bet that at least half the groups staying in the campground were doing some serious drinking. I could tell by how loud and obnoxious they were. It was so nice when I camped in the Pigeon River Country Labor Day weekend. There were a few others camping, but it was quiet. You could hear the coyotes, the owls, the frogs, the birds, etc, not a bunch of drunken yelling. I go up north to get back to nature, I don’t understand going up there just to get drunk. If I wanted to get drunk, I could stay home and save the gas money that it costs to drive up there to by more booze. When did being a drunken jackass become acceptable behavior any place, let alone a campground in the woods? When do you grow up and realize that being part of nature is so much better than being drunk? I think that’s a big reason, people are afraid to admit they are getting older and want to act as if they are still kids, instead, they act like rude, inconsiderate slobs.
Now for the good things, my new camera is great, but it is going to take some getting used to. The controls are all in different places, and I had used the old one so much, it was second nature to operate it. I am sure I’ll get used to the new one soon enough. It takes very good pictures, not as good as my Nikon, but few cameras can compete with a Nikon. The new one is even smaller than the old one, and it sure is a lot easier than lugging the Nikon around, and a lot less expensive to replace than the Nikon.
The Jordan River Valley is beautiful anytime of the year, it is stunning in the fall when the trees have turned color!
I still can’t get over how well I paddled on Sunday, one thing I forgot to put in the blog about that was the inside of my kayak was as dry as a bone when we finished, and I didn’t have a spray skirt on to keep any water out. I didn’t even get splashed shooting the tube at Chestonia Bridge.
It was a glorious weekend, in fact, almost a perfect weekend! Except for a few rowdies at the campground and a few weather issues, it was a perfect weekend. I started out Saturday morning, and the drive up there was beautiful! The trees were at about their peak for color, and there were a thousand times when I wanted to pull over and try out my new camera. But, I knew if I started doing that, I wouldn’t get to the campground until evening, and I had planned to fish on Saturday. That’s where the weather issues come in. There was a stiff north wind blowing, strong enough to blow the explorer all over the road, and there were clouds and intermittent rain showers, and some sun. It seemed the most beautiful areas were always under the clouds, so any pictures I took would have suffered.
I arrived at Graves Crossing State Forest campground, and set up my tent in a gale again. I am getting pretty good at that, same thing happened last time I camped. I didn’t know if others in the group I was meeting were camping or not, so I locked my kayak to the picnic table so any of them would see it if they showed up. As I was taking care of business, I was debating with myself over whether to fish or not. That strong north wind was roaring up the Jordan River Valley, since it is oriented north to south, there was nothing to slow the wind down. I did something I never thought I would do, I checked the weather on my smart phone, 44 degrees with a 22 MPH north wind gusting to 34 MPH. Since I had already changed from my water sandals to my hiking boots because my feet were getting cold, I decided to forego fishing in favor of trying out the new camera. The 44 degrees didn’t bother me as much as the wind. I’ll fish in colder weather than that, but wind as strong as it was Saturday makes for miserable fly fishing.
I went first to the area known as the “Landslide” then to “Deadman’s Hill” both offer great views of the Jordan River Valley, especially in the fall when the trees are at full color. Here are a few pictures I took.
I also walked a trail in the Cosner Nature Preserve and checked out a couple other places as well. There are a number of nature preserves in the area, they are on the small side, but they make for an interesting side trip when the weather isn’t the greatest for fishing.
It was getting on towards evening by then, and I was meeting Mike and Connie in East Jordan for dinner that night, so I headed to town, knowing that I would get some good waterfowl pics in the estuary where the Jordan River flows into Lake Charlevoix. I wasn’t disappointed there were swans, geese, ducks, and other things to photograph there. I found the headquarters to the Jordan River Watershed group, they do great work and have a nature trail behind the headquarters I have to check out some time.
I have to say a few words about East Jordan, what a great little town! They have a great system of free parks right on the river estuary and the lake itself, and very well maintained. The people there are very friendly and helpful as well. It gets quite crowded up there in the summer, not my kind of place then, but it is a favorite place of mine to visit in the spring and fall when the crowds aren’t so large. If you are ever looking for a place to spend a weekend or a vacation, I can highly recommend the East Jordan area.
After a darn good bar burger at the Lumberjack Bar and Grill in East Jordan, and making plans with Mike and Connie for breakfast the next morning at Darlene’s, I headed back to the campground. That’s the only downside of the weekend. The group next to me had brought a keg for the 3 or 4 of them there, they had offered me a beer earlier, so I had some idea what the night was going to be like. Next to them was a group of older women, one who cackled like an old hen on a regular basis. The worst thing was one of the guys with the keg cackled just like the older woman, it was hard to tell who was cackling the most. There was also some jerk on the other end of the campground yelling as if he wanted the entire world to hear him, but I never did make out anything he was yelling about over the music and cackling coming from the two groups nearest to me. I got the perc coffee pot ready for in the morning, then brought my old Coleman Lantern in the tent with me to take the chill off the night air, it was getting cold already. To me, you can’t beat a lantern for cold weather camping, not only are they a source of light, but they give off a lot of heat as well. So I laid there on top of my sleeping bag, so my body heat would get the sleeping bag warmed up a little while the lantern heated the air in the tent, listening to two different radio stations, the cackling, and the yelling as I mulled over the day and planned for the one to come. Larri, if you ever read any of my blogs, thank you for one great sleeping bag! It is an oversized Trekker, big enough for some one my size, and it is toasty!
Luckily, I can sleep through anything short of a full-scale nuclear attack, and I may be able to sleep through that, it is just that I have never had to try it yet. I was up before dawn, fired up the stove to brew coffee. It took a while, there was a hard freeze that night, everything was covered in frost, and there was a thin layer of ice in the coffee pot. Early mornings are my favorite time of the day. I stood there drinking my coffee, watching the day world come to life as the night world went to bed for the day. I saw and heard a flock swans fly over, and thought about making a dash for my camera to capture the moment, but they were just to beautiful, flying and honking in formation, highlighted by the glow of the morning sunrise, to take my eyes off from them. I was meeting Mike and Connie for breakfast at 9, so I finished my coffee and left early to check out the estuary again, and again, I wasn’t disappointed. The cold air over the warm lake was generating a heavy mist coming off the water, with a bright, clear, early morning sun to light it all.
This photo doesn’t do it justice, there was more there than the camera could take in, but it gives you some idea. I met Mike and Connie at Darlene’s. Great breakfasts, but even better are the homemade breads and rolls at Darlene’s. I bought a cinnamon roll to take along kayaking. I was telling Mike over breakfast that I had the feeling it was going to be a great day, and how I almost wished we weren’t going kayaking, as usually when I had that feeling, I had a great day fishing. It turns out that I had a great day kayaking. We then went over to Jordan Valley Outfitters to pick up the kayak Mike was renting, it turned out to be the smaller version of Connie’s Rubber Ducky. They don’t have a lot of merchandise in their store, but it is a good place to stock up on the basics if you run out, and their website is full of useful information about the Jordan River area.
Then it was back up to Grave’s Crossing, where we prepped our boats and waited to see who else was going to show up. I thought I would make use of the time to make a few casts, but before I even got to the river, the rest of the group showed up. I did make a couple flips just to say I did. We spotted vehicles at Roger’s Bridge, and we were off. I had helped every one else get in the water as I have knee-high boots that keep me dry when launching, but they all waited and let me lead. That turned out to be a bad idea in a way.
The Jordan below Grave’s Crossing is fast, twisty, and with lots of obstacles to manuever around. It isn’t particularly hard, but you do have to pay attention. I noticed right off that the new boat I got this summer was working great, and I was reading the currents perfectly. I was really on my game, shooting over and around obstructions as each warranted, using the current to set up for the next obstacle, and just having a great time! It was like a racer hitting all his marks each and every time, or a baseball player going 4 for 4 with three home runs, it was that good! Then I heard a yell that some one had gone over, so I paddled back to where I could see they were OK, and waited for them to get dried off and ready to go again. Connie had come down to where I was waiting and we talked, and after we set out again, I was trying to pass on the tricks of the trade, but she couldn’t keep up, and I didn’t want to slow down. I was having way too much fun! If you have never kayaked, in fast water, the river will bulge up slightly in front of an obstacle from the force of the water hitting it, and that leaves a dip or hole in the water level behind the obstruction. I was slewing sideways down the dips into the holes to set the kayak up for the next one to come. I was having the time of my life, and completely lost track of the rest of the group. I never ran aground, never hit a rock, and the only log I hit besides the ones you had to go over was one I never saw. Even those half-submerged logs that you have to go over I was hitting just right, in the right place with the right speed to slide over them with out slamming into them or getting hung up on them. It was that good of a day! I did fall back to the pack a couple of times to make sure every one was OK, and we took a long break at Webster Bridge, but when the conversation turned to eye liner and lip gloss, I was off to the races again.
If there were any downsides to the kayaking, it could only be that I wished I had been on a tougher river, like the Little Manistee, to take advantage of how well I was paddling, and the fact that we didn’t see a lot of wildlife. I did look, I wasn’t focused only on the paddling, I did see some big trout, and a few salmon, even saw an immature wood duck, and managed to get a picture. I was going to try for more pics than the one I got, but I waited for the rest of the group so they could see it too.
I am hoping that Sunday was an indicator of things to come. I have been trying to lose some weight, and I am not sure if that was the reason for how well I was doing, or the fact that I got a good night’s sleep before a paddle for a change. Since I work 2nd shift, a lot of the times we paddle, I am going on 3 to 4 hours of sleep, and that isn’t enough for me to do well on. I do want to apologize to the rest of the group though, I wasn’t trying to be antisocial or ignore every one, it is just that I haven’t had a day paddling like this in a while, and I was having way too much fun to slow down, and you all seemed to be busy catching up since you hadn’t seen some of the group in a while.