Memorial Day weekend, Sunday afternoon, Thompson’s Harbor State Park
After a morning of birding in the Ossineke State Forest Campground and along Isaacson’s Bay, then photographing the two Presque Isle lighthouses, I went to Thompson’s Harbor State Park, one of Michigan’s least developed state parks.
Leaving the new Presque Isle light, I saw a sign for the back entrance to the state park, and I’m glad that I took that route in, rather than the main entrance, which is off from US 23 between Alpena and Rogers City, Michigan.
First I suppose some information about the park is in order. You’re required to have a recreational passport for entry, there’s a self pay station in the park if you don’t have one, of course, I do. There’s no camping allowed in the park, other than at two cabins which may be reserved for $65 per night. Here’s more from the Michigan DNR website.
“Situated along seven and a half miles of Lake Huron shoreline, this undeveloped park provides a rustic retreat for hikers exploring the park’s six miles of trails.”
Following the link above will give you a map of the park and trails, along with info about reserving one of the cabins if you are so inclined. I’ll throw in two photos of some of the informational displays from within the park to begin with. (Click the pic for a larger view)
At this point, I should say something about the differences between the two Great Lakes that I am familiar with.
I have spent the most time along the Lake Michigan shoreline, as that is closest to me. Because of the prevailing westerly winds, for most of the Lake Michigan shoreline, sand dunes rise abruptly from very close to the water’s edge. The dunes are very much like snow drifts, some rising over 500 feet above the lake.
However, since the prevailing winds along the Lake Huron shore in Michigan are offshore, there are no dunes, and the land slopes much more gently down to the water. At least in the area I was this weekend, the Alpena area, there are many marshes along the Lake Huron shore, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park is a perfect example of that.
Thompson’s Harbor State Park lies between Grand Lake, a relatively large inland lake, and Lake Huron itself. Much of the park is marsh land, with higher ground interspersed between the marshes. The higher ground is covered in the thick, dense growth typically seen in Northern Michigan cedar swamps. The outlet from Grand Lake flows through the park, and empties into Lake Huron within the park’s boundaries.
My plan was to drive to the main parking lot for the trails, and to hike several of the loops of trails within the park. However, I came to a sign and another road that led to where the drain from Grand Lake enters Lake Huron, and stopped there first.
While shooting those photos, a couple came kayaking down the river, something that I was going to research while there. They said that it takes 45 minutes to an hour to paddle from the dam that controls the level of Grand Lake to Lake Huron, but that it is best done in the spring and early summer, as the water gets low later in the year. That’s good to know. There’s also an access site at the dam, which is where you can put in at.
I started towards the main parking lot again, but I saw an eagle soaring over one of the marshes along the Grand Lake drain, and stopped to try to get a photo of it. I did, but the eagle insisted on staying between the sun and myself, so the photos aren’t worth posting. But, along with the eagle was an entire flock of these, common nighthawk.
Nighthawks aren’t related to true hawks, they are nocturnal birds, more along the lines of a giant swallow in a way, they catch insects while in flight. It’s rare to see them during the daylight hours.
While I was trying to get a photo of the eagle, and the nighthawks, I was seeing many other small songbirds as well, but all of them escaped my lens other than this yellow warbler.
That’s when something that I noted in the post about Isaacson’s Bay came together in my mind. I was seeing many birds along the roads between the wetter areas, where the brush was also more open due to the roadway being cut through the brush. Walking through the dense growth there would have been pointless as far as birding, as I had learned on my short attempt at the nature trails at the Presque Isle Lighthouse. You have to be able to see more than three feet in order to do any effective birding.
So, for the rest of the way to the main parking lot, whenever I came to a more open area on the road, I would pull over and walk up and down the road a short distance in each direction. I saw many birds, but got few photos of them.
It was mid-afternoon by the time I did reach the parking lot, and started my hike for the day.
Things did not go as I planned, which was to hike most of the trails in the park and to get great photos of the endangered dwarf lake iris. For one thing, I had already been on my feet and/or walking since before sunrise, and my legs were getting tired, so I did a 2 1/2 mile loop and called it good.
I did find dwarf lake iris, which may be classified as endangered, but they’re certainly not rare, as you will see.
I’m not happy with those photos, but they were the best that I could do. Early in the morning, while it was still quite cool, I had put the polarizing filter on my lens for the landscape shots I took at that time. I guess that it was due to thermal expansion, but when I tried to remove the filter for the flower shots during the heat of the day, it wouldn’t budge. Later in the evening, when it had cooled off outside again, the filter came off with no problem, but by then it was too late. You can also see how the dwarf lake iris came to get its name, they are tiny little things, less than 3 inches tall as you can see by my fat fingers in one of the photos as I tried to get a clear shot of the flower. But at least the iris came out better than these.
The orange flowers were particularly beautiful, but I only found them growing in standing water, making it hard to get as close as I wanted. There was the filter that wouldn’t come off cause weird effects as well. Then, to top it all off, there was a sign near where I took a break that identified what the orange flowers were, which I had planned on photographing so that I could ID the flowers, but people started shouting about a snake, and I forgot to shoot the sign, or even look at it closely. I did get the snake though!
The snake had caught a goby in Lake Huron, and was bringing it onshore to eat.
By then, I was hungry, a bit tired, so I headed back to the campground that I was staying at pausing only long enough to shoot some bad photos of a ruffed grouse in the brush.
Back at the campground, I wolfed down a ham sandwich, then started shooting photos again.
Once again, I tried to pack too much into one day, and that left me short of time and energy by the time I got to Thompson’s Harbor. I could have, and probably should have skipped the two lighthouses on the way to the park, and devoted more of my time to the park. But, I think that I hit the highlights well enough for the time that I did spend there.
Thompson’s Harbor State Park is a great example of a somewhat unique ecosystem that is home to plants that grow nowhere else in the world, that alone makes it worth visiting. The hiking trails are well laid out and well marked, and double as cross-country sky trails in the winter. I would think that it would be an excellent area for skiing in the winter. I would rate the trails as easy, since the park is flat for the most part, and the loop system there makes it easy to do as little or as much hiking or skiing as you want to do.
There are miles of Lake Huron shore to explore, either by foot or by kayak, as the drain from Grand Lake where it enters Lake Huron makes a good access site for kayaking the big lake. Although not technically part of the park, the access site on Grand Lake at the dam offers kayaking on Grand Lake, and/or a trip down the river that empties into Lake Huron.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Ludington State Park Canoe trail, needs water or work
On Sunday, April 29th, I attempted to kayak the canoe trail at Ludington State Park. I say attempted, because I was not able to do the parts of the trail that I most wanted to do, as the water in those areas wasn’t deep enough to float my kayak.
Since I began this post, I have done more research and learned that I tried the trail too early in the season, as you will read as you go along. As it was, I had one of the best still water paddles I have ever done, and learning what I have learned since Sunday only makes me want to go back that much more.
Before I get to the details of the day, here’s a link to the Michigan DNR’s web page on Ludington State Park…
A link to the DNR’s webpage and map for the canoe trail…
And here’s the map that I generated from my GPS unit.
You can click on my map for a larger version of it. The map I generated covers a lot more than just the canoe trail, for once I found that the trail was impassable for me, I went to the north of the trail, and paddled around the islands and marshes there.
The canoe trail begins at the Hamlin Lake beach day use/boat ramp area, and you start by paddling east from there around a point, and then south along the shore of Hamlin Lake. It is a very pleasant paddle as long as the winds aren’t too strong. Hamlin Lake is quite large, and a stiff north or east wind can kick up some good size waves, something to keep in mind.
My day started well, there were two other couples, one in a canoe, and the other in kayaks, that launched at the same time that I did. Very early on, I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes right on shore.
I was following the two couples that had launched at the same time I did, and when they came to the first marsh, the paddled a short way in, then turned around and came back out. I stopped and checked the sign that was there to make sure it was where to turn, and it was. I paddled all the way to what looked like the back of the marsh, and found an old fence pole wrapped with some very aged reflective tape to signal the small opening through the reeds.
The trail is only about ten feet wide at that point, more than enough room, but it was hard to spot that small of opening in the reeds unless you searched for it.
No problem, I found it, and it was almost exactly what I hoped it would be, a quiet paddle through a marsh. It wasn’t long though, and I was getting hung up on trees that had fallen in the water, and not recent blow downs. The trees had been in the water for a long time. Still no problem, I jump logs when I am river kayaking all the time. Then the water became to shallow to paddle, and I was using my paddle to pole my way through the marsh.
I had to fight my way through the last fifty feet or so of the trail before the first of three short portages that are part of the trail, but I made it. I got out of my kayak, and took this shot looking back.
The portage wouldn’t have been any big deal, it was only ten to fifteen feet, but looking at the next pond, I could see that it wouldn’t be a paddle, I would be poling much of the time. I may have tried it, but the launch to that pond would have been a muddy mess. The water didn’t come close to solid ground at all any more, I would have had to walk several feet in some very black, very smelly swamp mud to get my kayak to the water. Since I have never tried this before, I didn’t know if things got better, or worse, so I turned back and fought my way back out the same way I had come in.
Once I got back to the main body of Hamlin Lake, I continued south along the shore, thinking that I could go around the marsh loop backwards from what the signs suggested. There were times when I could see signs in the marsh for the parts of the trail through the marshes, and it looked like the type of area I wanted to paddle. I could also here the croaking of herons and cranes coming from the marshes, along with other bird calls and songs.
When I got to the other end of the marsh loop, it was much the same, although I didn’t have to pole my way through mud to get to the portage into the marshes and ponds. It would have been another very short portage of less than twenty feet, but there wasn’t enough water on the other side of the portage for me to bother trying.
We have had a relatively dry spring, so maybe that’s why the water level in the ponds and marshes is low, but if that’s the case, I sure wouldn’t want to try the canoe trail during a dry summer.
Hamlin Lake is a man-made lake created during the timber cutting days, and the water level in the lake is controlled by the State of Michigan I assume, I could be wrong about that. The dam on the Big Sable River that sets the level of Hamlin Lake is in Ludington State Park, but such matters as lake levels is often a complicated and convoluted subject, especially when property owner associations and/or the courts get involved.
This is why you should always do your research before trying something like this. I did a web search and learned that the Michigan DNR does control the water level of Hamlin Lake, and they begin raising the lake in spring when all the ice is off the lake. You can learn more about the area by following this link, which provides a ton of information about the Hamlin Lake area.
When I was up there last November, the lake level was much lower than it was today, which I was told that they do every fall to make room for the spring runoff when it comes, and that is true.
What controls the water levels in the marshes and ponds, I have no idea. It could be that in the years since the canoe trail was created, that the marshes and ponds are simply filling in as marshes and ponds do naturally. Or, it could be as I have just learned, that I was a big dummy for trying the canoe trail this early, before the lake is raised to its summertime level.
It would be extremely helpful if the DNR mentioned any of this anywhere on its website or publications about the trail!
I thought that it looked like the water level in Hamlin Lake was normally higher than it was today by the appearance of the stumps in the water and looking at the shoreline, now I know why!
So, it looks like it would be a great place to paddle, when there is enough water to paddle in. I would normally recommend doing it in the spring or fall, to avoid the hoards of mosquitos and biting flies that would make such a paddle a lot less pleasant during the heat of summer. But, those are the seasons when the lake level is low, and I was already poling my way through the soft, stinky mud in the parts of the marshes connected directly to Hamlin Lake, and are really parts of the lake itself. In the fall, you would be walking through that mud to get to the first portage when the lake level is lower.
The problem with doing the trail in the summer months is both the insects will be fierce, and Hamlin Lake is an extremely busy lake in the summer months. It’s a great fishing lake, and it also gets a lot of use by water skiers and people using personal watercraft.
But after learning that I really made a mistake trying it this early in the season, now, I am going to have to go back and give it another chance when the lake levels are higher.
So, if you want to try the canoe trail, you’ll have to wait until the water level in Hamlin Lake has been raised high enough to make the trail navigable. Other wise, you can do what I did, which is paddle the area north of the beach/boat ramp, but it isn’t a marked trail. If you go north from the beach/boat ramp area, there are a number of islands, bays, coves, and marshes for you to paddle, and you don’t even have to portage if you don’t want to. I did do a short portage across one strip of land that was about thirty feet wide, but I could have circled around just as easily. The map of mine that I posted doesn’t show all the land and islands that are there, and I don’t know how to “add” land to those maps.
Last fall, when I hiked the Island Trail, I was thinking the entire time that I was hiking how great it would be to paddle that same area, and it was! Since I couldn’t do the canoe trail, I paddled around the islands that make up the Island Trail, and some of the connecting marshes as well. At one point, I was working my way through a marsh using a canal dug by beavers, how cool is that!
So, rather than try the canoe trail, I would suggest that you pick up a copy of the hiking trails map, or follow this link to print out one for yourself, and paddle around the islands that create “Lost” Lake. It really isn’t lost, it is a part of Hamlin Lake with just a few small openings between the islands to get a canoe or kayak through. The bridges for the hiking trails are built high enough that you can paddle under them with no trouble, although when the lake is drawn down, you may have to drag your boat a few feet through the sand to make it from Hamlin Lake to Lost Lake, or vice versa, depending on which direction you are going.
This was my kind of paddle! I normally paddle rivers, small lakes, marshes and swamps, I’m not big on open water paddling. I love rivers, small lakes, marshes and swamps because you never know what’s waiting for you around the next bend, whether it be good or bad. The good, I was able to paddle right up on some wildlife, like this raccoon.
And seeing mute swans flying overhead is always great.
Okay, for the bad. Sometimes you run into a deadend and have to retrace your route, no big deal as far as I’m concerned, that’s part of exploring a new area. Besides, it was back in the deadends that I found the most wildlife, like the wood ducks that stayed hidden in the reeds enough so that I wasn’t able to get a good photo of them. So I don’t consider running into a deadend a bad thing.
The only real negative I found during my paddle to the north of the canoe trail was the number of people hiking the “Island Trail” while I was kayaking near the trail. Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan, and the “island Trail” one of the most popular trails in the park. During the first portion of my paddle north of the canoe trail, I was always within earshot of the people hiking the trail, and as a result of the amount of human activity, I didn’t see as much wildlife until I got farther north, where the “Island Trail” turns away from the water.
The farther north that you go, the fewer people there will be around, and the more wildlife you will probably see. The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area lies just to the north of Ludington State Park, although the wilderness area does not touch Hamlin Lake directly. You could access the wilderness area by walking through the northern tip of Ludington State Park to add hiking, or possibly even camping to your paddle if you wanted.
That’s one thing I wish I had done differently, actually two things I should have done differently. I should have researched the lake levels before I tried the canoe trail, and I should have spent the night camping somewhere in the area.
The paddle that I did to the north of the canoe trail was one of the best still water paddles I have ever done, it ended way too soon for my liking. But, I had spent so much time trying to get through the canoe trail, that I was running out of daylight. And that paddle to the north would have made about the perfect sunrise paddle, lasting all day. I should have gone up on Saturday, hiked some of the trails, camped overnight, and hit the water at dawn!
Now that I have learned not to try the canoe trail until the lake level is up, I will probably go back and do the canoe trail one day, then the area to the north the next.
There are many reasons why Ludington State Park is one of the busiest in Michigan, it is a beautiful area with abundant wildlife, and despite the crowds, I can’t wait to go back and do it again, this time, for an entire weekend!
Weekly Photo Challenge: Celebration
I had to dig back in my archives for these, photos taken while kayaking.
The classic pose of a kayaker celebrating, paddle held high overhead.
She was a bit early in this celebration, the worst was yet to come, but she didn’t know it. She made it OK though.
Those aren’t of me by the way, I was the one shooting them. I had already shot the dam and set up to take photos of any one else brave enough to try.
Not only were the people I kayaked with fun on the river, they knew how to cook as well.
Kind of lame, but the best I could come up with, unless I had gone out and taken a shot of Christmas lights or something.
Thanks for stopping by!
Now if that don’t beat all
I’ve got a lot of environmental and recreational news to share, but first a little side note.
Tuesday afternoon when I went into work I had to go up to the front office to speak with my immediate supervisor about the logistics of getting the truck I drive in the shop for its regular maintenance. While I was standing outside my supervisor’s office, the owner of the company came over to me to ask if I was going to attend the Christmas party this year, but first, he had to make fun of the old worn out shoes that I wear to work. The reason I wear old worn out shoes is because he’s a cheap bastard that doesn’t pay his employees what they are worth.
It must be that I’ve mellowed out over the years, in my younger days, I would have done one of two things depending on my mood, either have lit into the owner for being such a cheap bastard and then having the gall to poke fun of the shoes I was wearing, or I would have walked out without a word, and never returned. Of course the economy was a lot better back then, and I never had to worry about landing another job. The truth is, I don’t really have to worry about it now, holding a CDL-A with a Hazmat endorsement and a clean driving record, I could be working somewhere else by the end of the week. The problem is that I have gotten more picky in my choice of jobs over the years as well. I don’t really want to go back to driving over the road and be away from home for weeks at a time.
I’ve also gotten smarter, if I had quit on Tuesday, I would be throwing away any holiday pay for Christmas and New Years, plus, the first of the year, I’ll be getting a check for an extra week for the paid days off that I haven’t taken. I’m not about to hand that cheap ass bastard I work for an extra weeks pay just because I got mad. Revenge really is a dish best served cold, so I’ll wait until that extra weeks pay is safely in my checking account, then let the cheap ass bastard know what I think of him as I walk out the door.
I have decided that if I can’t find a different local job by the first of the year, I’ll go for a regional over the road job. It isn’t my first choice, but it’s a job, and one that pays about twice what I am making now. The bad part, only being home for a day and a half a week. At least I will be able to buy some new shoes. 🙂 I’m thinking of gift wrapping the ones the cheap ass bastard made fun of and leaving them for him as a parting gift to thank him.
Now, on to the good news, and where do I start.
I think it will be with this story, the states of Wisconsin and Michigan are teaming up to create a joint park along the Menominee River in the western Upper Peninsula. You can read the entire story here http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2011/12/michigan_wisconsin_team_up_to.html
That stretch of the Menominee River includes two popular geologic features: Piers Gorge and Quiver Falls, and it will be Michigan’s first whitewater recreation area. It also will be the first state recreation area to be jointly managed. The river forms the boundary between the two states and has class IV and V rapids.
I hate to admit this, but I’m not sure I would want to tackle that river at my age. Since I’m pushing 60, I’m not as spry, or as foolish as I used to be. I would have to look the rapids over first, and that will be made easy as hiking trails also may be developed along with high-bluff overlooks and canoe and kayak launch sites and parking.
“The walk along the shorelines will be spectacular,” said Paul Yauk, the linear trails program manager with the Michigan DNR.
If only it wasn’t so far away. That’s a full day drive from where I live.
In my last post I wrote about the clean up being done in Muskegon Lake, in 2005-06, a similar $10 million cleanup of contaminated sediment was completed at nearby Ruddiman Creek next to Muskegon’s McGraft Park. You can read about the clean up here.
In fact, Muskegon is making the news a lot recently. The old Sappi paper mill has been purchased and the new owners are in the process of demolishing the old mill.
I hate to see people lose their jobs, but I am not at all sad to see the old paper mill go away forever! The stench from the mill was enough to make your eyes burn if the wind pushed the fumes your way, and the mill itself was an eyesore.
Another good news/bad news story is that Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest electric utility is going to shut down the B. C. Cobb power plant in 2015.
The public utility on Friday said the two remaining coal-fired units at B.C. Cobb will cease operations by Jan. 1, 2015. Cobb’s two units are among seven smaller coal-generating units statewide that will be closed.
The good news is that Consumers is shutting down its coal-fired plants and relying on others that are fueled by natural gas, which is a good thing for the environment. The bad news, as a single property, the B.C. Cobb generating plant is Muskegon County’s largest taxpayer. A good deal of that tax money goes to the local schools, so that’s a hit they don’t need at this time. There are also 116 people employed at the plant, but most of them will probably be offered transfers to other Consumers Energy facilities.
This is great news for the environment, but we have to remember that there are a lot of people who are going to be affected in a negative way, from the loss the tax base to people losing their jobs.
More good news for the Muskegon area, the Owasippe Boy Scout reservation has brought in an expert to design a new system of trails for mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers and trail runners.
The Owasippe Outdoor Education Center is working with the Chicago Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, which owns the Owasippe property, to manage the land during the 46 weeks of the year when it’s not used for Boy Scouts summer camping.
The old trails were shut down to the public last year due to the environmental damage, mostly erosion, that was happening. With the help of the Alcoa Corp. which donated $3,000 and 12 employees to join about another dozen volunteers for a trail work day at Owasippe to return the abandoned section of trail to nature — a process that will be done with all of Owasippe’s trails that are rerouted.
The new trails will be laid out so as to minimize any damage to the environment, and will be expanded to take users through even more of the 5,000-acre property.
I am going to end this one with some good news from the Grand Rapids area, where I live. Turns out that the Grand River isn’t as polluted as most people assumed.
That’s about test results done in hopes of either removing the dam on the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, and possibly restoring the rapids that the city is named for, or constructing a man-made set of rapids for kayakers to use.
There’s a lot more I should say about this, and the news that two universities have received a grant to research converting the S S Badger from a coal-fired ship to using natural gas, but my heart isn’t into this right now. In fact, there was more to be said about all the stories I posted links to, but right now, my employment and financial situation are weighing me down mentally.
Since I started this post a couple of days ago, I have talked to a national trucking company, and have a job offer to consider. The pay and benefits are so much better than my current job that it is hard to say no, except, I would be out for a week at a time with 34 hours of home time each week.
That would mean I would have to suspend this blog, heck, I would have to suspend my life. Thirty four hours off isn’t enough to do anything more than get ready for the next week on the road, doing laundry and grocery shopping, then packing. There would be no trips up north, not even any local hiking or kayaking trips.
I tell myself to take the job, knowing I won’t be there for long, a year or so at most. I could pay off some bills, and what’s a year? I’ve done it before, I can do it again.
Well, I don’t have that many years left, I don’t really want to lose another one, not for money anyway.
There’s so much to consider in making a decision, if I am boring you, please feel free to click away now.
I’m lucky in that I’m in pretty good shape for some one my age, which is 57 years old. Most people judge me to be about ten years younger when they first meet me. In fact, one of the branch managers where I work made the comment that he could handle the heavy laundry carts as well as I can if he was my age. Turns out that I’m a year and a half older than he is.
That’s another thing I have to consider as far as a job, driving over the road isn’t the healthiest lifestyle either. I am just now getting back into shape after the years I spent over the road before I got the job I have now. Sitting behind the wheel of a truck for 11 hours a day, chain-smoking to stay awake and fight off the boredom isn’t something I want to do again.
I’d better change the subject. We got our first real snow of the year last night, just enough to cover the ground. I haven’t sorted through the photos I took to have any post here yet, I’m not sure there are any worth posting. I do love the first snow of the year though, it’s always so bright and clean.
Only a few more days left until the winter solstice, the day of the least amount of daylight. From that day until the summer solstice, our days will be getting longer. Our coldest months are January and February, but at least the sun climbs higher in the sky each day, and it stays light longer with each passing day. I think I will have myself a celebration of sorts on the first day of winter, not to celebrate winter, but to celebrate the longer days that are coming.
I’m sorry for the disjointed rambling nature of this post, the weekend is coming up, and I’ll be back to normal with a couple of days off. Thanks for stopping by!
Worth the wait, Ludington State Park
Regular readers of this blog know that I planned to go up to Ludington State Park yesterday, and camp in the back of my explorer. But things didn’t go as planned on Wednesday or Thursday, so I finally made it up there today, Friday November 25, 2011. It was worth the wait, it was one of the best hikes I have ever done.
Since I originally posted this, I returned to Ludington State Park for a day of kayaking, which you can read about here.
I “rediscovered” Ludington State Park back in April, when I went on an excursion to photograph some of the lighthouses on Lake Michigan. As I wrote back then, my family used to go there often when I was a kid, but I have found many places on my own since then, and haven’t been to Ludington in years. The dirty little industrial town has cleaned up its act, and now is pretty little tourist town. The state has done a lot with the park as well, adding hiking, cross-country skiing, and a canoe trail. Here’s a link to a map of the hiking trails, here’s a link to a map of the canoe trail. Ludington State Park is on a strip of land, mostly dunes, between Lake Michigan to the west and Hamlin Lake to the east. Hamlin Lake empties into Lake Michigan by the Big Sable River that flows through the park.
The weather started out beautiful, bright and sunny, although the wind was pretty stiff out of the south. I made a stop at the Ludington City Park to see if the waves were crashing into the lighthouse or the breakwater, they were, a little, not enough to spend time trying to get a photo. So I continued on to the state park. I tried finding a map, but they were all gone, the park gets a lot of use, even this time of year I found out.
I started out headed north on the Island Trail, and what a cool trail it is. There are a series of bridges and boardwalks connecting some of the islands in Hamlin Lake.
Some of the islands are large enough that they have bogs and marshes on them. I could bore you to tears with all the marsh and bog photos I took.
There are more islands farther out that aren’t connected to the trail system.
I was under the impression that the canoe trail weaves its way around these same islands, but I was wrong. There are even more islands south of the island trail trailhead from where I started from, and the canoe trail weaves around those islands, not the ones I hiked today. Why the state hasn’t added these islands and marshes to the canoe trail, or marked these as a second one, I have no idea. The entire time I was hiking the island trail, I couldn’t help but think what a fabulous paddle it will make.
One of my fears was confirmed though, I didn’t see a wading bird of any species today, I am pretty sure they have all flown south for the winter. I did see some trumpeter swans, geese, and mallards though.
And a huge flock of American coots.
That’s less than 10% of the flock, I zoomed in so you can tell what they are. The place looks like a waterfowl wonderland.
There was a lot of fresh sign that beavers are in the area.
You can see the sap running, it hasn’t been too long since a beaver was gnawing on this tree. And here’s a shot just because I love it, nothing special, just an old stump in a marsh.
Towards the north end of the island trail, you can see where the dunes from Lake Michigan are encroaching on Hamlin Lake.
I got to the end of the island trail, then cut over on the connector to the ridge trail. There’s a shelter there along the way, made from field stone.
Here’s the view out the front.
And out the back.
The woodpecker stopped by as I was taking a break and changing the batteries in my GPS unit, and I shot the picture through the back window of the shelter.
Then it was time to start the climb on the ridge trail. I almost wish I had gone the other way around, as the ridge trail seemed somewhat anti-climatic after the island trail. It s a much more typical Michigan trail through mixed forests along the top of a sand dune ridge. You do catch a glimpse of the Big Sable Point Lighthouse from time to time.
But you have to look carefully through the trees.
You may even see one of the reasons for the light being there.
As you can see, it was getting cloudy and hazy, and not long after these last two, the clouds really thickened up and so I didn’t take many more photos. I got back to where I started from, but wasn’t ready to leave yet, so I wandered along the Big Sable River, from the dam to a footbridge across the river just downstream a way. I took a few photos, but they aren’t worth posting here, except this one of a herring gull taking off…
This one of the sand drifting like snow in the wind…
And a close up of an American coot taken from the bridge…
Other than the sun disappearing on me, the only other negative was the number of people there in the park today, it surprised me. Most people walk the first half of the island trail to the lost lake trail, or walk along the river from what I could tell, so the time I was on the north end of the island trail, and all the time on the ridge trail, I was all by myself. The ridge trail has some steep hills to climb, so I think most people avoid it. I imagine that this park is like an ant farm in the summer, with people crawling all over it. I sort of knew that already, but I didn’t think there would be crowds the day after Thanksgiving.
Anyway, the island trail is worth dealing with the crowds, it is my new all time favorite trail! The only question will be will I hike it again? Sound funny? I am thinking that the next time I go there, it will be with my kayak next spring when the waterfowl and wading birds are back. With all those islands…
All those marshes…
and dozens of nooks, crannies, and coves to paddle around in, I am sure I can spend most of the day on the water in my kayak, just getting out from time to tie to stretch my legs and explore the islands that aren’t connected by bridges…
What I should do is what I planned on doing this weekend, hike one day and kayak on the other. There are still a lot of trails there I haven’t covered yet, and it looks like it will be about the perfect still water paddle. How many days til spring?
Thanks for stopping by!
State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse / Michigan River News
From the Michigan River News Blog
State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse
By Andy McGlashen • November 11, 2011
If you’ve ever run the rapids of northwest Michigan’s Jordan River in a canoe or kayak, you know what makes it a paddler’s paradise. There’s the clean, swift water, the springs trickling out of shadowy cedar forests, and the chance of spotting a mink or a bald eagle.
And sometimes there’s the band of beer-drinking revelers, whooping it up on the riverbank.
Heavy use of the Jordan by party-minded paddlers is raising tough questions about how to preserve the wild character of Michigan’s first designated Natural River. Local conservationists want to build structures to protect the resource, but they face opposition from the state program that restricts development on wild streams.
“It’s a fragile resource that’s being loved to death,” said John Richter, president of Friends of the Jordan River Watershed. “Somebody told me we should let nature take its course. And I said, Wait a minute. This isn’t nature. It’s people.”
Richter says about a half-dozen sites on the river are being degraded in one way or another from overuse. Paddlers and tubers litter and relieve themselves on private land. Stream banks are eroding, which can ruin fish spawning habitat. And the landings where people launch and end their canoe trips don’t have enough space or parking.
“People are just pulling off the river where there’s high ground and converting them into campgrounds,” Richter said.
Perhaps the most popular party spot on the river is Frog Island, an area of riverbank surrounded by wetlands where repeated loading and unloading of canoes and kayaks has caused severe erosion.
“I understand their point of view, but the program isn’t working. They want no man-made features, but what’s happening is worse.”
“Frog Island is probably a third the size today of what it once was,” Richter said.
When Friends of the Jordan and other partners installed woody debris a few years ago to shore up Frog Island’s banks, “people just ripped it up,” according to Brian Bury, administrator for the Natural Rivers Program of the Department of Natural Resources.
Richter said he would like to see stream banks at Frog Island and other sites stabilized with logs—larger than the woody debris used there previously—to stop erosion. At Old State Road, where heavy paddling traffic creates problems with parking and trespass on private property, he favors building a new parking area and a landing with toilets and a boardwalk just upstream from the road, on public land.
But those ideas have met resistance from the Natural Rivers program, which was created in 1970 to ensure that development doesn’t diminish designated rivers’ aesthetic character, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities.
“We’re looking for a natural river that offers a certain kind of experience,” Bury said.
For now, Bury said any ecological damage caused by overuse of the Jordan isn’t significant enough to merit changing its aesthetic character, and building new landings would just set the table for heavier traffic and more elaborate parties.
“The general thought is that, at this point, we’d do more harm than good” by building the structures, he said.
Richter said he respects Bury and his work, but thinks the state’s position is shortsighted. The “certain kind of experience” the program promotes has disappeared on the Jordan, he added.
“I’m not sure Brian has spent enough time on the river, say on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July,” he said. “I understand their point of view, but the program isn’t working. They want no man-made features, but what’s happening is worse.”
Richter said another solution proposed in public meetings is a limit on the number of watercraft on the river. But he and Bury agree that such a limit would be unpopular and hard to enforce. Paddlers need permits to float some rivers within national forests, but the state has no permit system.
“To control private use of watercraft, we’d need a legal mandate,” and that’s not something the state is interested in, Bury said.
Don Montfort, whose family owns the Swiss Hideaway canoe and kayak livery, said his clients are on too tight a schedule to cause much trouble. He said the main problem is the growing number of locals who have flocked to the river as canoes and kayaks have gotten cheaper, a position Richter shares.
“The locals say, ‘This is our river, and we’re going to stop wherever we want to stop,’” Montfort said.
Other ideas under consideration include increased law enforcement and more signs indicating restrooms, access rules and river etiquette. But enforcement has already been stepped up with little effect, said Montfort, and signs are unlikely to discourage bad actors.
“When you block off one area” from riverside partying, “it’s just going to pop up in another,” he said.
Richter agrees that it will be tough to find solutions that work for paddlers, conservationists, anglers, homeowners and the state, but his group will continue holding meetings and seeking input.
“We’ve got to do something,” he said. “Before we know it, I think we’re going to have a dozen Frog Islands.”
via State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse / Michigan River News.
Finding places to kayak or canoe
I can tell from the search engine terms that people use and end up here at my blog that paddlers are looking for information about places to paddle. I also know from my years of being involved in the sport that paddlers are much like fishermen, they have a few favorite places they love and return to regularly, but they are always looking for new places to explore and new challenges. What I am going to attempt to do in this post is share some of the tools I use in finding new places to paddle, whether they are small lakes, marshes, rivers, or the Great Lakes.
Many paddlers specialize on one type of water, some prefer lakes and seldom tackle a river, others prefer rivers and think that paddling a lake is boring. I love them all, if there is enough water to float a boat, I can probably be talked into paddling it. Some people paddle for exercise, others paddle to get out into nature, but no matter what your favorite type of body of water is or why you paddle, the process of finding places to paddle is the same, more or less. Finding suitable rivers and planning trips on them is a bit trickier for reasons I’ll get into as we go along.
After 40 some years of paddling, and several years organizing trips for a group of kayakers, I think I have a good idea as to how to plan a trip. It helps that I have paddled most of the rivers in lower Michigan at some point in my life, so I have a basic idea what the rivers are like to begin with. However, there are a lot of people who are new to the sport and are looking for good places to paddle. With the Internet, and possibly a trip to a book store, it is fairly easy to plan a trip on just about any body of water that is suitable for paddling.
Before I go any farther, I should point out that I live in Michigan and the laws and rules concerning riparian owner’s rights, road and bridge right of ways, and other laws make accessing rivers and lakes fairly easy here. In Michigan, for the most part, if you can get a canoe down the river it is considered navigable water, and it is open to the public. From what I understand, the laws in other states are not so friendly to paddlers. So your first step in planning trips is to have a basic understanding of the laws in your area, and is best if you contact the state agency that is charged with enforcing many of those laws. In Michigan, it is the Department of Natural Resources, and I think most states have a similar agency. The very best thing to do is talk to a conservation officer, or CO as they are called here. They know the laws better than some one who answers the phones or E-mails. It has been my experience that a CO would much rather explain the laws to you before they have to come out and issue you a ticket because a property owner called to report that you are trespassing.
When I was younger and paddled with just a few people who were as hardcore as I was, most of the time we did what we called bridge hopping. That is, we found a river that looked like you get a canoe down it, and paddled from bridge to bridge using the public right of way along the road as our access. Some property owners aren’t exactly keen on that idea, or of fishermen doing the same thing, so they make things as tough as they can for you. That can also mean some pretty tough slopes to slide down, or climb up, in order to get to or from the water. On smaller rivers in more populated areas, you may find a bridge every mile or two. On larger rivers, it can be any miles between bridges. All it takes is some ability to read a map and find the roads that cross the rivers.
Bridge hopping is one way of scouting sections of a river before tackling a longer trip, especially if you can’t find any information about paddling the river from other sources I’ll get to in a minute or so. I have found a few rivers that weren’t suitable for paddling by bridge hopping, the east branch of the Au Sable and some sections of the White River come to mind on that one. You may find that a river that looks great at every bridge is clogged with one logjam after another in between the bridges, and that you spend more time portaging the logjams than you do paddling. Or, on the east branch of the Au Sable, the logs were close enough together that in many areas, you could walk from log to log, dragging your boat behind you. Another that comes to mind is the Pigeon River between the Pigeon River State Forest Campground and the Pine Grove State Forest Campground. In that stretch of the Pigeon, the river “braids”, that is it breaks up into many small streams, some of which disappear underground, only to emerge some distance away. It does not make for an enjoyable day of kayaking. Another stretch of river that does the same thing is the Jordan River above the Graves Crossing State Forest Campground. It is illegal to paddle that part of the river anyway, but I have fished it enough to know that I would never want to try getting a kayak or canoe through there.
Another good thing about bridge hopping is that you may run into other people who are paddling the river the day that you’re there. I recommend doing scouting on nice summer days when you’re most likely to meet other paddlers for that, and other reasons. There’s nothing better than first hand information from people who have paddled a stretch of river that you’re thinking of trying.
Unfortunately, I have to offer a few words of caution about word of mouth info. If the people you run into on the river are floating it in equipment much like your own, it is a pretty safe bet to take their word for river conditions. If it is a group of young guys in whitewater boats, you should ask some serious questions, unless you’re looking for serious whitewater. If they aren’t on the river, they are just there at a bridge, or they are fishermen, then you should take everything with a grain of salt. It could be that the person you’re talking to is one of the land owners along the river that’s fed up with drunks trashing his property. Or it could be that it is a fisherman who really didn’t notice how many times they had to get out of the river to go around logjams. I can tell you from experience that I don’t notice things like that when I am fishing, unless I am also scouting the river at the same time for kayaking later. Then there are those sickos that love to tell you the river is open and a great float, then when you’re out of earshot, laugh their butts off at the thought of you trying to paddle the river through miles of tangled up logjams. It could be that the person is a fisherman who doesn’t want to share the river with a bunch of kayakers.
So where do you go for information? The bookstore is a good place to start. There are a couple of good books on paddling in Michigan, and I would assume that the same holds true for other states as well. In the books you’re likely to find information you can use, such as directions to access sites, maps, charts that show the distance between access sites and the time it takes to paddle between them.
I have two books on paddling in Michigan, not surprisingly, one is titled “Paddling Michigan” by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, the ISBN is 1-56044-838-5 and the other is “Canoeing Michigan Rivers” by Jerry Dennis and Craig Date, ISBN 1-882376-95-1. Both are good books, the first contains information on paddling still waters and the Great Lakes along with many rivers, the second contains only information on 45 rivers in Michigan. Depending on what type of paddling you prefer, you can pick up either of these books and plan many days worth of paddling from either.
Now then, a word of caution about books, and websites. No matter how hard the authors try to make sure the information that they present to people is correct, things change. Campgrounds, access sites, and parks open and close, and here are a few examples I have run into over the last few years.
The Pigeon Bridge Campground on Sturgeon Valley Road was closed for a while due to a bad well, it re-opened, then was slated to be closed again in the spring of 2011, although it did end up being open all this year.
The Forks Campground on the Boardman River was closed the last time I was there, I don’t know if it has re-opened or not.
There are several dams that are slated for removal on the Boardman River, I am going to assume that the stretches of the river near the dams will be closed to recreational users while the removal takes place. I don’t have a timetable for the removal, I’m not sure one exists yet.
The DNR has closed the one state forest campground that was on the Little Muskegon a few years ago, permanently. Every vestige of the campground has been removed, although there is still a long trail to the river if you don’t mind carrying your boat almost a quarter of a mile.
The DNR access site on the Pine River near Edgetts Bridge has been closed, I think permanently.
Several canoe and kayak liveries have closed or moved their operations, and that becomes important on some rivers, since it is often a livery service that keeps the rivers open enough, as far as logjams, to make the rivers suitable for paddling.
The reason I gave those examples is that I always try to have a back up plan in mind in case I run into something that stops me from doing what I had in mind. Rivers are worse in this respect than lakes, but it happens on lakes as well. There’s not much worse than when a group of friends packs up their gear, drive for several hours, only to find that the county park they planned to use as access to a paddling spot is closed for maintenance.
If you’re paddling a river, you should always know what the next access site downriver from the one you’re planning on taking out at is, just in case you happen to miss the one you plan to use, they aren’t always easy to spot from a kayak or canoe. I always research all the access sites in an area, so if one is closed, we can change our plans and still get in a paddle. If planning on paddling a lake, I find other lakes in the area as back ups, just in case.
Finding places to paddle
How do I find places to paddle? I keep my eyes and ears open all the time to anything that may lead me to a new paddling spot. Most of the places I find to paddle are rivers, lakes, and even marshes that I spot while driving, either for work, or when I am on my way to or from some other outdoor activity. Books are one source that I have already mentioned, but there are many others as well. The Internet is one, you may have well landed here because you were researching places to kayak. Often when I am researching a river I will type “XXXXX river map” as a way of getting useful information, of course I have to weed through many sites to find what I am looking for. If I know what county the paddling place I am researching is in, I’ll use “XXXXX county parks” and see if there are any parks that can be used as an access site. A lot of the Internet is hit or miss, sorry to say. Other than searches for specific rivers, one place to try is paddling.net. Some of the info is useful, some not so useful, but it is a place to begin.
Unfortunately, the Michigan DNR is way behind the curve when it comes to information for kayakers and canoeists, the state long ago shut down a series of campgrounds that were intended to be used by paddlers on rivers like the Manistee and Muskegon. It is hard to find any info from the state on paddling unless you know where you are going to paddle and look for campgrounds and/or specific access sites. Their web site isn’t the easiest to navigate either.
A couple of years ago, I was organizing a paddle on the Manistee, and called the DNR field office in Grayling about a section of Goose Creek State Forest Campground that is intended for paddlers, and the people at the field office didn’t know that the section of the campground existed. They had to check and call me back after a few days.
Other times I have had really good luck getting useful information from the field offices, so it depends on what you are inquiring about, and who answers your call or is on duty when you stop in. I find the Conservation Officers are a great source of information when I run into them and they have time to talk. I have never met a Michigan CO that wasn’t helpful, although one time I started chatting to one just minutes after he had a confrontation with a group of armed deer hunters, and it took him a few minutes to unwind from his enforcement mode, totally understandable as far as I a concerned. Once he had relaxed, he started giving me the lowdown on a river I was thinking of fishing, but then he got another call and had to cut it short. CO’s know their territories like the backs of their hands, and they know the law, so when a CO tells you it’s OK to use an access site, you know it’s OK to use. Overall though, the State of Michigan could do a much better job.
However, if the river you are thinking of paddling flows through a National Forest, you may be in luck. I have handouts from the United States Forest Service on a half a dozen rivers flowing through the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Most of the handouts have maps and include a table with the distance and paddling times between the access sites. I’ve looked online, but the USFS website has to be one of the very worst for finding what you are looking for. The handouts that I have I picked up at the local ranger station in Baldwin, Michigan. That ranger station is right on M 37 in downtown Baldwin and is open on weekends at least in the summer. The address is 650 North Michigan Ave, Baldwin, Michigan 49304 and the phone number is (231) 745-4631. There is also a ranger station in Manistee, Michigan, the address is 412 Red Apple Rd, Manistee, Michigan 49660 and the phone number is (231) 723-2211. I am sure there are other ranger stations as well, I think there is one in Cadillac, but I’m not positive on that. Ranger stations in other parts of the state may well have the same type of handouts for rivers closer to those stations.
Word of mouth is a good way to find new spots to paddle as well. I try to strike up conversations with other paddlers I meet while I am paddling to find out what they know.
You may also want to join a group or club, I was the organizer for a local paddling group through Meetup.com, and I know they have many other kayaking, paddling, and outdoor adventure groups all over the United States. Don’t let the name fool you, it is a great organization, and the reason I am no longer with the group I used to organize has nothing to do with Meetup, and everything to do with some of the members who joined the group I ran. There are other groups and clubs as well, an Internet search may lead you to one in your area.
What it all boils down to is keeping your eyes and ears alert for finding places to paddle. You may get a great idea from a news story, or somewhere else you may never consider. I keep a list of places on my computer, and as time allows, I plan trips to these places.
Planning a trip
I am going to focus on planning river trips, paddling on lakes or the Great Lakes is fairly easy to plan for, you find an access site, and paddle until you don’t want to any more.
For regular season day trips, I like to plan for 4 to 6 hours of paddling on the water, depending on the length of the drive to get to the place, and how difficult of a paddle I expect it to be.
For overnight trips, 10 to 16 hours of on the water time works well.
For winter paddles, I like to keep the time down to around 2 to 3 hours, depending on how cold it is.
If you do find information on a river that you would like to paddle, you probably won’t see the speed of the river listed, at least not as miles per hour of the current. What you will probably find listed is the gradient of the river, that is how much the river drops per mile of river. If you are fairly new to paddling, the gradient may not mean much to you, so I’ll try to explain it. All rivers flow downhill, and the amount it drops is the gradient. Here are the gradients for a few rivers in the lower peninsula of Michigan to give you an idea on how to use the gradient in your trip planning.
- faster than 14 feet per mile, very fast and you’ll probably find some serious whitewater on any river that drops faster than 14 feet per mile. There are no rivers in lower Michigan that fast as far as I know.
- 10 to 14 feet per mile, fast, often with at least some whitewater, but not always. This is the speed of the Pine, Sturgeon, Pigeon, and the infamous 6 to 9 mile bridge section of the Little Manistee River, which I think is the toughest paddle in lower Michigan, even though there isn’t much whitewater per say.
- 6 to 10 feet per mile, a moderate flow, and rivers in this range are the Pere Marquette, the Au Sable, and the White Rivers as examples.
- 3 to 6 feet per mile, slow, this is the rate of drop for the lower stretches of our larger rivers like the Grand, Kalamazoo, and Muskegon Rivers.
That’s for the average rate of drop, or gradient of the rivers, but no river flows at an even pace over its length, there are slower parts, and faster parts. There is a nice section of fast whitewater on the Muskegon River in downtown Big Rapids, but it is short and doesn’t get much written about it, even though it is as good as the Pine River is. On the other hand, there isn’t much whitewater on the Little Manistee, but it is fast, tight, and twisty, with log jams at every bend, making it difficult to negotiate with out going over.
In theory, the steeper the gradient, the faster the river flows, and the faster you’ll cover ground, but it doesn’t always work that way. On the faster rivers, there are often obstacles that slow you down, and the greater chance of some one going over, which also slows you down.
If you’re really lucky, you may find a map that shows you all the access sites, and a table or chart with the paddling times between them listed like on this website for a kayak/canoe livery on the Pine River here in Michigan.
If you’re not that lucky, you can figure you’re paddle time using the gradient of the river as a guide. Here’s how I figure the length of a paddle in time for given gradients, trying to stay within the 4 to 6 hour time frame for a day paddle.
- 10 to 14 feet per mile of gradient, 12 to 16 river miles
- 6 to 10 feet of gradient, 8 to 14 river miles
- 3 to 6 feet of gradient, 6 to 10 river miles.
You’ll notice I used the term river miles, as rivers twist and turn a great deal. You may find two bridges a mile apart as the crow flies, but that is very often 2 to 3 miles of river miles because of the twists and turns. In general, smaller rivers twist and turn more than larger rivers. Back in the old days before computers, I would estimate river miles by finding the straight line miles and multiplying that by 2 for larger rivers, and by 3 for small rivers, and that usually worked out well.
Then, some one showed me how they measure river miles using Google Earth. You can use the ruler tool to measure the river miles. If you do anything in the outdoors, Google Earth is a great tool to have available, I use it often. Since I got a handheld GPS unit, I find it easier to calculate river miles using the mapping software that came with it, but I still use Google Earth a lot. You can even find access sites that aren’t listed on maps by using Google Earth. But using either Google Earth or mapping software, you can measure river miles by using the ruler tool and clicking along the river as the ruler keeps a running total of the distance. Here’s a quick example I did of a section of the Pine River, from the Meadowbrook access to the Skookum access sites.
You can click on the map for a larger view, but basically, I traced the river with the ruler to come up with approximately 3 river miles between the two access sites.
Here’s the disclaimers to go with what I have just written. That all applies to rivers that are fairly open, that is, not many obstructions to slow you down. The more paddling use a river gets, the more likely it is that the river is open, and you won’t run into many problems, if any. However, when you paddle rivers that don’t see many other paddlers, you’re likely to encounter many trees and logjams that will slow you down. The smaller the river is, the more likely that is to happen.
If there is a livery operating on the stretch of river you’re planning on paddling, the river is probably free of major obstructions, but you may find some obstructions if you paddle in the off-season as I do. Be careful if you check to see if there is a livery operating on a river by checking online, many livery operators will list a number of rivers that they supposedly serve on their websites, when they actually only operate on one stretch of one river. They list many rivers as a way of getting you to their website because they know people are looking online for paddling information.
If there isn’t a livery operating on the river you want to paddle, you’ll do well to scout it by any means possible, Google Earth, the Internet, word of mouth, etc. Some people don’t mind dealing with many obstructions on a paddle, often refered to as a wilderness type paddle. Back in the old days, many of my canoe trips were what are now considered wilderness paddles, so getting out of my boat a number of times to portage around trees and logjams doesn’t bother me too much. I still like to do one or two of the wilderness paddles a year, but many people don’t like that type of paddle at all.
I wouldn’t plan a ten-mile long day trip on a river that I didn’t know, and that I couldn’t find solid information about, because that trip could turn out to take a much longer time than the miles involved would suggest. That’s when I would go back to bridge hopping again, taking several short trips until I knew what the river was like. Be prepared, and don’t think that because one stretch of river is open that the entire river is going to be open.
Maybe I should tell you of one of my mistakes recently to show you what not to do. I had read that a canoe livery had opened a stretch of the White River above Hesperia, Michigan, and loving the White, I set out to scout that stretch of it. I started by paddling upstream from Hesperia, but only made it as far as the first bridge I came to. The river was open, but the current made it very difficult to paddle the river going up. I talked two other somewhat new kayakers into joining me to scout the rest of that stretch. We started at a roadside park on M 20 and spotted cars at the first bridge downstream. It was a breeze, a great paddle, and we could see signs that some one had removed many of the fallen trees that had once blocked the river. Then I made my goof.
Since I had found the last part of that stretch to be open, and we found the first stretch open, we didn’t spot a car at either of the next two bridges down, we decided to go all the way to Hesperia, bad choice as far as my fellow paddlers were concerned. The middle section of that stretch was one fallen tree after another, and we made close to a dozen portages to get around them. There were many other obstructions that we either smashed through, or jumped over in our boats when we should have probably portaged them as well. Neither of my fellow paddlers were dressed well for the number of somewhat difficult portages we did make, and they were not enjoying themselves with their legs getting all scraped up from the brush, or the hoards of mosquitoes that attacked them when they got out of their boats.
They were good sports about the entire affair, and they continued to help me scout rivers after that, but they both refer to it as the Hell Paddle. Oh, and I forgot to mention that when I did my upstream attempt at scouting, I talked to some locals that told me that the river was still open, yeah, right. To me, it was like the old days when many of our paddles entailed many portages, but most people are looking for an easier paddle.
This is the first of many posts I’ll do on paddling in Michigan. I was hoping to be able to have more photos and maps, but since it looks like that may take longer than I planned, I’m going to make do with what I have for now. Hopefully I will save others from a Hell Paddle of their own, unless that’s what they are looking for. I will include some wilderness type paddles in the series I do, and that will be duly noted.
A grand day kayaking the Grand River
Probably the most under used recreational outlet that there is in West Michigan is the Grand River. That’s certainly true among us kayakers, the Grand is hardly the first river that comes to mind when you think about rivers to kayak. It’s slow and it’s muddy, but it isn’t nearly as polluted as most people think, especially above the city of Grand Rapids. I know, it looks dirty, but that’s not pollution or the river’s fault, the Grand is a large mature river that carries tons of sediment each day.
Because the Grand is a large river, the largest and longest in Michigan, it has a very large flood plain by the time you get near Grand Rapids. That’s a good thing in a way, because few houses have been built on the floodplain, leaving the river looking very natural and undeveloped.
As you can see, there are no signs of human encroachment in sight, and there are miles of the Grand just like this.
This trip started simply enough, my buddy Mike asked me if I wanted to go kayaking this Sunday, and my reply was that it would have to be close to home as I am saving money for my Labor Day trip to the Pigeon River Country to go elk “hunting” with my cameras. So, I suggested the Grand River near Ada, since I had grown up in that area and it has been at least 30 years since I have paddled that stretch of the Grand River. I made the mistake of suggesting that we paddle upstream to the Thornapple River, and then up the Thornapple to the dam, then drift back. It turns out that Mike has an aversion to paddling upstream, which I am going to have to cure him of. 😉 The mere mention of paddling upstream was enough for Mike to back out, but he didn’t tell me why until after I was back.
That left me on my own, which is one of the reasons the Grand River is great for a solo kayaker, it is almost as easy to paddle upstream as it is to go downstream since there is very little current in most places. I’ve done some tough upstream paddles in my day, I did four miles up the White River a couple of years ago as an example, and I’m getting too old for that kind of paddling.
My plan was to put in at Roselle Township Park, since I had read that they added a canoe landing to the park. As you will see on the map that I’ll post here later, Roselle Park is on Grand River Drive, about halfway between Ada and the DNR access site on Knapp Street. I was going to put in at the park, paddle up to the Thornapple, then drift back to the park.
I say “I was going to” because when I got to the park, my plans changed. They built the canoe landing, they even built a road going to the landing, but they have the road closed, leaving you with a half mile carry to get your canoe or kayak to the water. It’s a great park, on what used to be the Ada Beef Company property that was donated to Ada Township. Why they don’t allow you to drive to the canoe landing is beyond me, the landing is about worthless the way it is now. (Since I wrote this, I received a reply from Jim Ferro, the Ada Township Planning Director explaining why the landing and access is the way it is. You can read the explanation as a comment below the main body of this post)
Since I didn’t feel like carrying my kayak half a mile, I put in at the Amway DNR access site instead. I don’t think that its official name is the Amway access, but it is on land next to Amway’s headquarters, on land that Amway donated to the state for the access site. It is on M 21 also known as Fulton Street in Ada, on the north side of the road, and not signed. You turn into the east gate for Amway, just before the bridge over the Grand River, then veer right to the access site just before the Amway gates.
You can see where the Thornapple River joins the Grand from that access site, and it’s an easy paddle up the Thornapple. My day started well, once I got on the river, there was a great blue heron hunting on the flats where the two rivers meet.
It was so focused on food that it paid me no mind at all as I paddled past it and started up the Thornapple.
It may be hard to believe, but this is right in “downtown” Ada. The only signs of development that you see are the three bridges that cross the Thornapple. One is the current automobile bridge, one is the old railroad bridge, and between them is the old historic covered bridge.
About 3/4 of a mile upstream on the Thornapple, you come to the first of many dams on the river.
You can portage the dam, there’s a trail there for you to do so, but the impoundment above the dam is surrounded with wall to wall waterfront homes, and normally filled with jet skis and people waterskiing. The portage is mainly used for people going down river anyway, not crazies like me going upstream. That was as far as I wanted to go on the Thornapple anyway, so I turned around and drifted back to the Grand, watching the kingfishers and hawks hunting over the river.
It was a beautiful late summer day. Sunny skies, temperature around 80 degrees, and a light wind. I drifted back to the Grand River and just let the current carry me along slowly, about the only paddling I did was from one side of the river to the other to get a better view of something on the bank. I think I saw one house and two places of business along the way, the rest of the river is heavily forested and you would never know that you were on the Grand River just outside of Michigan’s second largest city other than some occasional traffic noise.
Different people paddle for different reasons, some like fast whitewater rivers like the Pine where the paddling itself is the focus. Some people like slower rivers such as the Thornapple or the Flat so they can hang their feet over the side of the kayak and relax. Some people prefer inland lakes, and some prefer the Great Lakes. Me, I love them all and then some. I’ll even paddle swamps and marshes if there is enough water to float my kayak and a way to get on them.
This day was a hang my feet over the side of the kayak and relax kind of day, and floating down the Grand works great for that. However, it is also a good river to get the paddling muscles in shape on, if you paddle upstream. I met at least a half a dozen other kayakers who typically paddle the Great Lakes working their way upstream. Talking to them, they were there because it was close to home and a way to stay in shape for when they go out on the big lakes. They all had the long, narrow, open water boats rather than the type of kayaks one normally uses for rivers.
Did I mention it was a beautiful day?
The large floodplain and forests along the Grand River also makes a good home for many types of wildlife. Like this spiny softshell turtle.
It, along with many other species of turtles were out basking in the sunshine all up and down the banks of the river. There were also wildflowers on the banks, like this cardinal-flower.
Of course there were frogs, like this leopard frog.
And as I was chatting with another group of kayakers, this flock of sandhill cranes flew past us.
I drifted all the way downstream to the canoe landing at Roselle Park in order to check it out from the water, and so I would have some idea how far I had gone, and how long the paddle back upstream was going to be. The float down was about as good as it gets, but I knew the paddle back was going to take some work, so Roselle Park is as far down as I went. If Mike had joined me, we would have left a vehicle at the Knapp Street access site and floated all the way down to there, a total of about 6 river miles from the Amway access site.
As it was, I turned around and started back up the river. It isn’t hard going at all, the Grand is like a long narrow lake rather than a river. I did stop a couple of times for a break, and a couple of times for pictures like this one.
That about sums up how great of a day it was, being able to get that close to a bald eagle as it was perched waiting for a fish to get too near the surface.
A couple other wildlife notes. There were reports of a black bear living along the river in this area a few years back, I haven’t heard of any lately though, but for as close to Grand Rapids as it is, the river itself is pretty wild. I saw a lot of clam shells in the shallow parts of the river, and along the banks, that’s to be expected. But, I also saw many clam shells on rocks and stumps out in the river. That leads me to believe that otters may have returned to this stretch of the Grand River! There are lots of raccoons living along the river, I saw their tracks all up and down the banks, in places, it looked like a raccoon super highway. And, raccoons are known to feed on clams, but I don’t know that they swim out from the bank, grab clams, and then eat them on rocks and stumps that are in the river. That sounds like the eating habits of river otters to me, but I could be wrong about that. It would not surprise me to see one there though.
I made it back up to the boat ramp at the Amway access site and called it a day, a grand day! Here’s a map of the area along with the GPS track of my paddle.
There are many options for you to choose from if you would like to give this section of river a try. The entire stretch of the Grand River from Ada to the Northland Drive bridge is like you see in the pictures, forested with very few houses or other signs of human development. The only road that crosses the Grand in this stretch is Knapp Street, otherwise it is about 12 miles of wooded undeveloped river. In fact, of all the rivers I have ever paddled in Michigan, this may be the least developed of any but a few, like the Jordan or the Pigeon. There are a couple of houses near Knapp Street, and some development as you approach Northland Drive, but that’s it.
For solo paddlers, it works great. I know, I did it backwards, you should paddle upstream then drift back, but even my trip was easy enough. But you can put in at either the access site at West River Drive (it is shown on the map above) or Knapp Street and paddle up as far as you want, then drift back down. If you want to use more than one vehicle, you can go downstream between any of the access sites, depending on how far you want to go, and how long you want to stay on the river. It may not be sparkling clear water, and there may not be much current, but if you are looking for a place close to home to spend a relaxing day on the water with abundent wildlife to watch, then the Grand River may surprise you as to how good it can be.
A future trip, the Les Cheneaux Islands
I am beginning to wonder if I do too much exploring online, and not enough on the ground trips. Given my current employment situation, I have to be content with putting together some future trips for when I can afford to take them. Michigan has so many great areas to explore, I know I will never make it to all of them.
One such area I want to spend more time in is the Les Cheneaux Islands, just east of the Mackinac Bridge, near Hessel and Cedarville Michigan. The Les Cheneaux Islands are a group of 36 small islands, some inhabited, along 12 miles of Lake Huron shoreline on the southeastern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The name is French for “the Channels”, noting the many channels between the islands in the group.
I know a little about the islands, but have only been through Hessel and Cedarville a couple of times on my way to or from other areas and places. The area is quite busy during the summer months, as the islands and the sheltered bays around them draw large numbers of boaters to the area. The area is becoming very popular with kayakers as well, for the same reasons.
The motivation for starting to put this together came from a regular source, the Little Traverse Conservancy. They announced on their Facebook page that they are going to be having a work day at their Shelter Bay Preserve. They are going to dismantle an old cabin on the property, and remove it via pontoon boats. They included an aerial shot of the area that also showed a boat ramp nearby that is to be the gathering point for those who can make it to the work day.
Hmmm, a boat ramp on a sheltered bay near the Les Cheneaux, I need to check that out more for future reference!
One of the things that always holds me back as far as exploring new places, especially when the places are on one of the Great Lakes, is knowing where the access sites are before leaving home. There have been a few times when I headed off to some new destination, and wasted entire days looking for access sites, places to camp or motels as a place to stay, or even how to get to my final destination. On the other hand, I have discovered many great places by accident while looking for where I thought I was going in the first place. But, I have limited time these days, and let’s face it, I’m not as tough as I used to be either. In the old days, pulling off to the side of the road and curling up to catch a few hours sleep on the seat of one of my old pick up trucks was no big deal if I couldn’t find a place to stay the night. That idea doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
Back to the Les Cheneaux, by checking the map the LTC included in their Facebook post, I was able to locate the preserve and the boat ramp in both Google Earth and my GPS software, now I have a starting point to go by! I knew the LTC also has other preserves in the area, including several on the islands themselves. So checking their website, Little Traverse Conservancy, I was able to pinpoint their preserves on a map done with my GPS software.
You can click on the map for a larger view.
All but two of the blue dots on the map are LTC preserves or points of interest. One of the blue dots is the boat ramp, and one is a township park where the LTC purchased the land and then donated it to the township for the park. It has free parking and access to Lake Huron for kayakers right in Hessel.
When checking the area through Google Earth, I discovered that there is a campground near the boat ramp, and another just up the Forest Service Road that leads to the boat ramp.
Now I am getting somewhere! I know where there are a couple of campgrounds on the mainland to use as a base camp, two access sites to Lake Huron, and where the preserves are in the area.
The LTC doesn’t allow camping on their preserves, which I can understand, but they are great places for day hikes. I was surprised to learn that the LTC owns a great deal of Marquette Island, the largest in the Les Cheneaux chain. I could easily spend a day or two there hiking the preserves and taking photographs. The LTC also owns a good portion of Boot Island.
Then there is Government Island. This is from Hunt’s Guide to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula:
“Picnicking and camping are available on this beautiful, uninhabited island, just off La Salle Island and an easy 4 1/2 miles straight out of Cedarville. Of all the 36 Les Cheneaux Islands, it’s the only public land, because a Coast Guard Station was here from 1874 to 1939. Today it’s part of the Hiawatha National Forest. The pilings from its dock are on the cleared site at the island’s northwest end. Today, says the U.S. Forest Service, “the island is being managed to preserve the natural wilderness condition favorable to plant and animal life.” Birch and conifers dominate the two-mile-long island. It’s been a popular day-trip destination for the area’s many boaters.
The shore in general is surprisingly rocky and steep, though small boats can be beached at two places. The first landing seen from a boat coming from Cedarville is readily apparent on the island’s east shore. After beaching the boat, walk up the hill into a meadow where you’ll see two small outhouses. The cleared campsites and some picnic tables are nearby. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. A second landing at the island’s south side is also readily apparent. It too is near a picnic area. The view here looks out into the expanse of Lake Huron. Camping is permitted only on designated campsites. None are reservable. Campers are asked to follow the principles of leave-no-trace camping and leave the area as clean as it was when they arrived, or even cleaner. A sandy beach stretches along the west shore for a third of a mile.”
Of course, since it is managed by the Federal Government, I can’t find a link to it other than through third parties. But, there are enough of those, plus what I have learned through books and talking to people is that camping is allowed on Government Island.
Side note, as bad as the Michigan DNR’s website is to navigate in order to find information on camping, access sites, etc., it is a dream compared to any of the Federal sites.
Since the weather around the Straits of Mackinac can be, how should I say this, uncooperative?, I may not be able to get out on Lake Huron or to any of the islands for a day, maybe more, in spite of the fact that they are somewhat sheltered compared to the open water of the Great Lakes. I don’t want to get up there planning on paddling the islands on to find that a stiff southwest wind has Lake Huron too rough for me to venture out on, and nothing planned as a back up. That’s where the nature preserves on the mainland come in, they will be something to do if the weather doesn’t cooperate with paddling the islands.
So now I have a basic plan with a back up in case of bad weather. The basic plan, arrive at Shelter Bay in the early afternoon and set up camp at one of the two USFS campgrounds there. Then, put my kayak in at the boat ramp marked on the map and paddle to the LTC’s Shelter Bay Preserve and hike that, and return to the campground for the night. The next morning, I’ll load my kayak up and put in at Hessel and paddle to Government Island and set up camp there. That will be my base for day trips to the preserves on Marquette and Boot Islands, hiking the preserves there.
My back up plan is staying at the USFS campground, and hiking the LTC’s preserves on the mainland.
That’s a very good start, I will continue to research the area for more places to go, more things to see, and more photographs to take, but it isn’t a bad start for just a few hours of exploring. I am going to add some more detailed maps and more information on the LTC”s preserves, as well as anything else I find.
I will post this as a page to my Places to Explore page as well.
Oh, and I haven’t given up on my Lake Huron/Ocqueoc Falls trip, I know I haven’t done anything with it in a month, but, I am going to the Pigeon River Country for Labor Day weekend, and I’ll spend one day verifying some things I have found online already before I continue to build that page any further.
Pride goeth before the fall
But it isn’t fall yet, and I am somewhat torn about that. On one hand, I love the greenery that comes with Michigan summers, the heat, not so much. I know to those living in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, 97 degrees with a 75 degree dew point is considered a cool day. But not here in Michigan.
Our summers are really way too short here, the trees don’t really finish leafing out until near the end of May. By the middle of September, fall is arriving, the trees are turning color and beginning to lose their leaves. I love fall, spring even more, but we go over 6 months, from November until April, with no leaves on any of the hardwood trees. Fortunately, we have lots of evergreens, or I would go bonkers. I do love me some green trees, even if I don’t care for the summer heat.
This heat wave that’s been going on all this week, and really for the last few weeks, is wiping me out to the point that I don’t have a lot of energy left for anything, not even blogging. I have been walking every morning, and ending up wringing wet with sweat. This morning I got back to my apartment and found the sleeves of the shirt I wore had white stripes from salt stains because I had been sweating so much. It’s even worse because of my job.
In the first place, I can’t get the air conditioning in the truck repaired. It started going out last August, I told my boss about it, nothing happened. Soon after it conked out completely, the weather cooled off nicely, and we had a very pleasant fall last year. As soon as it started to warm up this spring, I told my boss about the AC again, and I have been writing it up on the daily vehicle inspections I am required to turn in every day. The truck has been in the shop a couple of times for regular service, but the AC has never been repaired. In fact, I picked the truck up yesterday from the shop, and still no AC. If you have never driven a big truck, you have no idea how much heat one of those big diesel engines radiate back into the cab.
Being in the trailer to unload and load it is even worse. The trailer is nothing more than a long metal box sitting out in the direct sun getting hotter and hotter inside all the time, with no air flow at all inside. I tried stopping at the beginning of the dead-end street the Lansing branch is located on and opening the trailer door before I pulled into the branch and to the loading dock, but the manager there had a fit. He accused me of driving with the door open all the way from Grand Rapids, even though I told him I was pulling over to open the door almost in front of the branch, but he threatened to call the owner of the company and have me fired, so I quit doing that. Of course the manager in Lansing is always threatening to call the owner and have me fired, for things like turning one of the carts around so I can pick it up with the power lift the right way to get it on the truck, or not saying “Hi” to him before I start my unloading. My boss refers to the Lansing manager as “The Child”, and tells me to ignore the manager, but it’s no fun being threatened with being fired on a regular basis, I need a new job.
I half suspect that the company I work for is not having the AC in the truck repaired on purpose, thinking they will save a few cents a day on fuel if I am not idling the truck with the AC on when I am unloading and loading the trailer. Oh well, enough whining for now.
Like I said, I am doing my walk every morning, but it is so hot by then that I have missed so good photos, because I don’t have the energy to chase bugs, birds, or critters around like I normally do. Like yesterday, I learned that a pair of cedar waxwings had a nest in a small maple tree, but one time around the tree looking for the nest and the young were all I wanted to do. Normally I would have circled the tree until I spotted the nest, but it was too darned hot, I broke off the search and headed for the next shady spot on my path to cool off a little.
Today I saw a couple of small, very pretty light blue butterflies flitting about, but I wasn’t about to follow them around hoping they would land where I could get a good picture, although I did manage this one.
That picture really isn’t very good, and it doesn’t begin to show you how pretty the butterfly was, but I wasn’t going to stand there with the sun beating down on me in hopes of getting a better one. It has been the same with birds, not just the cedar waxwings yesterday, if I know they are in a bush or tree within range of my camera, I will normally wait them out, circle the bush until I see them, or go in after them to get a picture, but not this week. It’s too hot, and I am also worried about stressing the wildlife out as well. I see most of the birds have their mouths open most of the time, I don’t know if birds pant similar to dogs to try to cool themselves, but I never see birds acting that way in cooler weather.
I did also get this picture of a caterpillar.
Again, not the best shot in the world, but it wouldn’t sit still, and I wasn’t going to wait until it did. With hot weather, insects are even more lively, since they are cold-blooded, like frogs.
97 degrees with a heat index approaching 110 degrees, and frogs are still sunbathing on rocks, I would fry! The water looked good though, even though you can’t see it in the picture.
Speaking of water, I joined a kayaking group this week. It is kind of funny really, the group I joined is an offshoot of a group I started a few years ago. I started a kayaking group through a web-based company called Meetup, the premise being to use the Internet to bring people who enjoy the same activities together. At first I was very happy with Meetup, the groups I joined, and the kayaking group I organized, but then a number of things happened all at once.
I guess I need to explain how Meetup operated. It is free to members, the people who organize a group pay a fee to be an organizer. That was no big deal to me, the fee was reasonable enough considering everything. But then, the programmers at Meetup decided to make wholesale changes to the way the website operated and its appearance, to make it more like Facebook or Twitter, and to downplay events scheduled through Meetup. Hundreds of other organizers and I protested the changes, but the management at Meetup told us if we didn’t like it, too bad. If I am paying for a service, I expect the people selling me the service to listen to its customers, and not try to force me to purchase a product that I don’t want. The management at Meetup paid no heed to its customers, and rammed the changes down our throats despite our protests. I see that those changes must not have gone over too well with the non-paying members either, because Meetup has gone back to their old format and discarded the changes they were making back then.
At the same time as that was going on, there was a member of the group who was cheating on and beating on several women at the same time, and the women were also members of the group. I was getting Emails from both the women asking about the other, and other Emails from them as well. I got fed up with the entire situation and deleted all three from the group. The jerk got ticked off about being booted out of the group and threatened to sue, and Meetup took his side in the matter, to the point of threatening me by telling me that if the jerk did sue, Meetup would join his lawsuit against me.
I had wondered about the liability of organizing a group that engaged in a dangerous sport like kayaking, I didn’t expect to face a lawsuit over kicking a woman beater out of the group, so between that and Meetup’s poor customer service, I dumped the group.
The group continued on under new organizers, letting the woman beater back in, but I wasn’t involved at all. A few days ago, my friend Mike who also left the group at the same time I did, sent me an Email telling me a splinter group had formed. We’ll see how this one goes, I don’t hold out much hope for it as far as my continuing with it.
I am not to sure about the new organizer’s ability. So far, the only scheduled trips I see are on slow rivers, and on the same rivers multiple times. I don’t mind a slow river now and then, but that’s not all I want to paddle. And as much as I love the Pere Marquette, I don’t see a reason to paddle the same stretch of it twice in two months, when there are many other sections of it to run, and other rivers just as good. Variety is the spice of life. Give me a fast run down the Jordan one weekend, and a slow float on the Muskegon on another.
So we shall see how it goes, if it turns out to be what I think it will be, people who think they are hardcore paddlers doing slow rivers as quickly as they can complete them, I’ll leave the group once again. There are times when I paddle when the paddling is the thing, mostly on faster rivers, but not always. But there are other times when I want to slow down, relax, and enjoy the scenery and wildlife as I float along only paddling enough to steer. I am not going to try to keep up with a bunch of exercise freaks who use kayaking as a workout.
Now that I have all of this off my chest, I’ll get back to the photo and kayaking series I am working on.
And the heat goes on
Another very hot, very humid day here in West Michigan, and I am holed up in my apartment enjoying the comforts of central air. I don’t know why, but even though it is comfortable inside, I don’t have much energy. It may be because of work, I get wiped out by the heat every night when I’m working, but normally I recover by Sunday, and I am set to go. I don’t even feel much like blogging today, that’s bad.
I did start a series for beginning kayakers, I have two and a half pages done, two are posted, one on buying a kayak, the second is on the other gear for kayaking. I have a third page started for places for a new kayaker to go, but I have run out of steam right now, and hope to finish it over the next few days. I was prompted to get started because my buddy Mike has been bugging me for some time to do something along these lines, and because I received a very nice comment from some one requesting information on places for beginners to kayak. I hope I was able to help them.
I have also started a page for future trips up to the Lake Huron shores, which I am sad to say have never spent much time exploring. I am just starting to pull some info together for that area, and I am working on coming up with a format for my future exploration pages that I can actually use to help me plan my trips. For this page, I am going to put all the info together on one main page. As it is, I spend too much time looking through favorites I have bookmarked time and time again, plus internet searches I have already done, so I am going to put links to everything on the main page. Once I have all the information assembled on the main page for the area, I’ll break it down into weekend trips, long weekend trips, and week-long trips.
The information I will be assembling will be State Parks with trails I would like to hike including links to the trail maps, lighthouses along the shoreline, possible kayak excursions to some of the lights that are offshore, but only a short distance, historic sites, some of the State Forest campgrounds in the area, nature preserves and natural areas, and as always, anything that strikes my fancy.
After I have done the trips, I hope to use the page I did to help me plan the trip as the starter for my post on the trip, which will save me even more time. I try to include many links in my posts for readers to follow if they are at all interested in learning more about the places I travel to. If I start with the links already there, then all I need to add is my experiences on the trip. As it is now, when I get home to write-up one of my trips, I end up looking up all the Internet pages I used to plan the trips a second, third or fourth time. I know Dick, I am too results oriented, I can’t help it.
The Fortune Bay Expeditionary Team is going to do a combination hike and kayak trip on the Manistee River Loop Trail, and Manistee River. I wish I would be able to make it. The Cost: $40 includes camping fees, transportation of gear and any needed support. Not too bad. But they meet on a Friday night when I am working, and I am probably way too slow of a hiker for any one else going on this trip. The ten miles of hiking doesn’t bother me, but it would take me all day. I go slow, very slow, because I am always looking for photo ops, plus, I am an old fat guy who needs a breather from time to time on the hills. Especially if this heat wave continues into August.
I am a little spoiled. The summer of 2009 was cool, so cool other people were complaining all summer long about how cool it was. Not me, I liked it just fine. It was almost like having 6 months of spring, my favorite season. Last summer, 2010, was warmer, but we never got the humidity we’re getting this year, which made the heat tolerable to me. This year, we went from a cool wet spring to a hot, humid summer with no transition, and now we’re in a drought, making i even worse. I haven’t been up to the Rogue to fish, but I’ll bet that there is some trout mortality taking place because of the heat. It’s been a rotten year for trout fishing, but there’s that spoiled thing again. The last few years have been great, so an off-year seems worse than it really is.
I do hope the heat wave breaks soon. I like Michigan summers, I miss the greenery during the fall and winter, but I don’t do heat well. It’s a bit of a conundrum, I’m not ready for fall, summers always seem too short in Michigan, but I don’t like the heat we get some summers. This year has me almost looking for fall to get here with some cooler temperatures.
In fact, the last few days I have been thinking fall is coming too fast as it is. I am already beginning to see some signs of fall’s approach. Even while some of the birds around here are just hatching out new broods, I see other species starting to join up into small flocks, which will grow larger and larger until the head south for the winter. I am seeing a few leaves beginning to turn colors, but some of that is due to the drought we’re in, I am sure. The trees are looking stressed, the grass is turning brown, I want the green back!
I didn’t walk yesterday, but I did shoot this through my slider to the deck here.
Yes, that’s how hot it’s been, even the squirrels are prostrate from the heat.
It is 8 PM, I am going to brave the heat and try to get in a walk this evening. I hope every one stays cool this coming week, it’s going to be a scorcher!
So much for that idea
I just got back from the shortened version of my daily walk around the apartment complex here, it hasn’t been a stellar day so far. I wouldn’t call it bad day, but things are not going to plan so far.
It started this morning when I went to the kayaking group’s blog to look for the posts on future trips for the group, and they are gone, all of them. Either WordPress deletes things automatically after a certain amount of time, or I just plain screwed up, I don’t know which happened. With them was gone all the work I had put into planning them, so now I have to start over from scratch. I think I have some of the info I need stored in the GPS software from the day(s) I went scouting, but I am afraid to look with the way this day has been going.
As I was lamenting the loss of all that information, a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through the area. Severe weather isn’t common for Michigan, and it is even less common at 9 AM. After the storms rolled through, I had the great idea of heading out for my walk before the heat and humidity had a chance to build back in. That plan seemed to be working, it was quite pleasant outside, and the sun even made a very brief appearance.
I didn’t bring my Nikon along this morning, I was planning to continue the head to head battle between it and my new Canon, but when I picked it up this morning and once again felt how heavy it is, I set it back down, stuffed the Canon in my pocket, and went out for the walk. Here’s why…
I have taken at least a dozen shots or more of these with the Nikon in the last two weeks and not one has come out well. With the lens I have, the Nikon can’t focus on the entire flower the way the Canon does, and/or the colors were off.
So, the Nikon is sitting back in its case, but I don’t want to give up on it again like I did before, since I think I am close to getting good pictures out of it on a regular basis. It doesn’t do close-ups well, and that’s what there is to shoot most of the time around my apartment complex, so I’m not lugging that thing around when I probably won’t use it. This is the type of shot I get around here…
I got to the pond at the south end of the complex, and didn’t like what I saw..
Luckily, there are many carports to take shelter under, or the entry ways to the individual apartment buildings, so I kept on going, I didn’t think the storm would arrive before I finished my walk anyway, it did…
Two lines of strong storms in the morning? That’s almost unheard of around here. I waited this one out under a car port, but I wondered how safe that was with all the lightning bolts filling the sky. I was thinking of making a dash across the parking lot to the building on the other side, when one lightning bolt hit very close, and I could see the lights go off. I thought to myself, I think I’ll stay right here for now. This wasn’t the first time I have taken shelter in one of the carports, but today was the first time I had trouble staying dry. The wind-driven rain was blowing through the car port more than I thought it would. Then I was glad to have left the Nikon home, I would have had a hard time keeping it dry.
When the wind, rain, and lightning did let up, I set off to finish my walk. I had just gotten started when I noticed yet another cloud formation approaching and thought to myself that there couldn’t be a third line, could there? About that time I saw a stroke of lightning from the third line, so I made a bee line, back to my apartment.
I made it before the rain began for the third time, and by the time I got inside, the power had been restored.
I still haven’t checked my GPS software to see about information for kayaking trips, I’ll do the tonight after work or tomorrow. I am really bummed that I somehow lost the posts for at least a half a dozen trips though, It would have been quick and easy to copy the info from that blog, and paste it into posts in this one. But, that’s the way things go sometimes, just like getting caught in thunderstorms, things don’t always go as planned.
Today would be a great day to get lost
The weather today is hot and humid, which I hate with a passion. I’m a fall to spring kind of guy. When the temperature is close to 90 degrees and the dew-point is in the mid to upper 70’s, I die. I have spent the entire morning trying to think of something to do outdoors and where to do it, but the only thing I can think of would be to hop in my vehicle, crank on the AC, and get lost someplace while scouting out places to hike, or kayak. The problem with that idea is that gas is still close to $4 a gallon, and my Ford Explorer is a thirsty gas-guzzling hog, and I can’t afford it right now.
I did replace my Canon Powershot yesterday, by staying home over the 4th of July weekend and some other things, I was able to replace it sooner than I thought I would be able to. But now, I don’t have the money to take it anywhere very far from home. I did take it and my Nikon D50 out for a hike around Palmer Park last evening, to test the two cameras side by side. The first thing I found out is that dusk is probably not the best time to be doing camera tests, or maybe it is. I do know that using them both side by side and trying as best as I could to take exactly the same shots with each of them only confirms my opinion that the Nikon has the superior optics, but that the Canon’s software is much better.
Maybe it is because of all the bad-mouthing I have been doing about the auto focus on the Nikon or that I have finally found the settings that make it work correctly, but last night the auto focus worked and worked well almost every time. I only had to manually focus for a couple of shots. Given how bad the lighting was, it wasn’t bad at all, in fact, I was kind of impressed at how well it worked. But it has very tough competition from the Canon, who’s auto focus seldom fails to focus correctly.
Palmer Park doesn’t really have any great scenery, but I did take a foliage shot with both cameras, first, from the Nikon.
Then, the Canon.
But, when the Nikon get’s it right, it produces some awesome images.
That’s a yearling button buck, and he better get a lot smarter by the time those buttons start growing antlers next year. I was able to sneak up fairly close to him as he was feeding, then he took off when he figured out that I was there. As he was running away, I whistled, and he stopped dead in his tracks, and even started walking back towards me as I continued to whistle and shoot pictures at the same time.
I did get some deer shots with the Canon as well, but I couldn’t stop myself from zooming in all the way that the camera can, so the quality isn’t as good as it could be.
That reminds me of another reason I don’t like summer as much as the other seasons, bugs! All the deer that I saw were being eaten alive by the deer flies and mosquitoes, and were constantly shaking and scratching because of the bugs. I felt sorry for them, they can never escape the bugs, and we think we have it rough. I had insect repellent on, and while I didn’t get bitten, the bugs sure were annoying.
I didn’t get bitten by the bugs, but I must have stepped in a plant that caused a burning rash on my right ankle that’s still tender today. Oh well, those things happen, even though I try to avoid plants like burning nettles and poison ivy. I don’t think the rash is from either of those, I have no idea what caused it.
I do know that I have tiger-striped feet. I have been wearing my hiking sandals so much that I have tan lines across the tops of my feet, which I am finding to be quite amusing for some strange reason.
Back to the cameras, I have found a couple of tricks to use with the Nikon to improve its performance, I hope. One is a feature they call “flexible programming”, when the camera sets the exposure, I can dial across the possible exposure settings either towards faster shutter speeds, or towards a smaller aperture setting.
For any given lighting condition, there are several combinations of shutter speeds and lens aperture settings that will give you the correct exposure. For example, the camera could come up with a setting of a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second with a F/5 aperture, but an exposure of 1/200th of a second at F/7.1 will work also. Or, you could go the other way and use a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at F/4. The amount of light hitting the sensor will be the same with all three settings. By going with a slower shutter speed, and stopping the lens down to a smaller aperture, I hope to gain some depth of field, make focusing less critical, and get closer to the lens’ sweet spot. Every lens has a sweet spot somewhere in the range of its aperture settings, normally very close to the smallest aperture it will stop down to. That’s due to the physics of light and lenses, there is a sweet spot in all lenses where they produce the clearest, sharpest images, and apertures on either side are not quite as good as far as image quality.
That’s why I can’t figure out why the Nikon engineers stress shutter speed over smaller apertures, maybe they think their lenses are so good that they don’t have to stop their lenses down?
The only problem is that the camera doesn’t retain the offset when it is turned off, I have to manually set it each time I use the camera. I’ll give that a try when I’m shooting landscape pictures and see how it works. I was going to last night, but it was a low light situation, and there wasn’t any room to play with the exposure settings all that much. Besides, I was too busy watching the deer fend off droves of biting insects to be fooling around with exposure settings last night.
The other thing is that the Nikon has a landscape setting, but the manual doesn’t say very much about it, so I will have to experiment with it to see what it does.
Now, back to the heat, humidity, and trying to think of a good place to go and what to do on a day like today.
I thought about going kayaking, which sounds like a good idea, cool water and all that, but the reality is that it is darn hot sitting in a kayak on a hot sunny day. You have the sun beating down on you, plus reflecting up at you from the water. Besides, I would be going solo, so I would have to do a paddle up and float back trip, and the idea of paddling up a river when it’s 90 degrees out isn’t all that appealing to me. I think the kayaking group has about disintegrated to the point where it isn’t a group anymore. That’s partially my fault, but no one could agree on when and where to paddle no matter what I suggested, so I’m not taking all the blame on this one.
I thought about going fishing, but that isn’t as cool as you think it would be, plus, I have never had a good day fishing in oppressive heat. I never even see any fish activity, I think the fish feel the heat as much as we do. I will admit that when I first step into a river on a hot day that it feels great, but that feeling is short-lived. Think about it, you’re wearing rubber pants that don’t breathe on a hot day. That cool feeling is soon replaced by profuse sweating from every pore on your body. There is no air circulation in a pair of waders, or if there is, they aren’t really waders anymore. Back in the day, I was known to wade wet, that is not wear waders, but a few run ins with leeches and cut up feet from glass, bottle caps, fish hooks, and the other garbage people throw in rivers has persuaded me that it isn’t such a great idea. Especially since that as I said, I think the heat bothers the fish even more than it bothers me. Emerging from the river to find my legs covered in leeches just doesn’t sound like my idea of fun on a hot summer’s day. Besides, then I would have to act all macho, as if the leeches didn’t bother me, when I would really want to start screaming like a girl and yelling “Get them off me!!!!” I sure am a spoiled pansy, aren’t I?
Hiking? In 90 degree heat? Get serious! That’s OK out west when the dew point is 10 degrees and you can hike on a glacier, where if you do manage to start working up a sweat, sitting down for a second or two will cure that. The farthest I’m hiking in Michigan under these conditions would be to the pool here at the apartment complex, but that’s so full that people are parking by my building to walk to the pool from here.
Oh, and that really makes sense, doesn’t it? People get in their very hot cars to drive a few hundred feet to the office where the pool is located, but that parking lot is full, so they park near me, and walk a few hundred feet to the pool in order cool off, from having gotten in their very hot cars no doubt. They could have just walked from their apartment, and saved some gas, and stayed cooler. And we wonder why gas is so expensive?
That’s why I’m not in my vehicle with the AC cranked up, doing some scouting, as much as I would like to be.
And, most of them won’t go in the water anyway, for there are tons of kids in the water, and we all know that kids go in the water. They are there to bake like potatoes, which I don’t understand at all.
Sorry, the heat is getting to me, just thinking about it is enough, since I’m sitting here enjoying the comforts of central air.
That’s it! If I can’t do anything outdoors because of the heat, I’ll sit here in the AC and blog about being outdoors in the heat.
And speaking of blogs, I have found another good one to follow, Seasons Flow. Actually, the author of that blog found me first, and then I checked out their blog. I like it a lot, who ever writes it does a very good job in terms of both writing and explaining what they write about. I suggest you read a couple of the posts there, if you like mine, I’m sure that you’ll like that one too.
There will be a point to all of this eventually, but first I have to say a few things about blogging. August 3rd will be the one year anniversary of when I started this blog, after coming home from a day of fly fishing on the Pere Marquette River. The first post was about a guy who sits in a lawn chair along side of the road who I talk to from time to time.
Since then I have added 70 more posts, this will be the 71st since that first one. Some have been just a few words long, but, most of them have been longer posts that included some useful information I hope. This blog is taking on a life of its own, I really like doing it, even though coming up with the right words is like pulling teeth at times. By the time this blog is a year old, it will have had over 2,500 views. That’s not big by blogging standards, and I don’t have a ton of people who have subscribed and are waiting with bated breath for my next post. That’s OK, I am doing this for me first, as a way of recording my thoughts and my excursions in the great outdoors. It’s the journal that I started dozens of times before, but never kept up with, mostly due to time constraints.
Since the beginning of summer I have noticed the number of views per day has gone down a little, but, I am getting more hits than ever from the search engines and direct hits, and fewer from through WordPress. I think that it is mostly due to people being too busy in the summer to be surfing blogs, time will tell on that one. But I can tell from the search engine terms people are using that they are looking for information on the web, and not finding it, which is how they end up here. Sometimes, not often enough, they do find at least some things useful, I can tell that by the links here they click, such as to the few maps I have posted as well as other links.
The search engine terms people use most to end up here usually have to do with kayaking, hiking, and fishing, in that order. Maybe that’s because I write about kayaking, hiking, and fishing, but, I can tell from the number of times people have clicked the maps I’ve posted that they are looking for places to go, and how to get there. I think it is because people have bookmarked my blog that the proportion of direct hits is up, that I can’t say for sure.
I do wish I could get more feedback from readers in terms of comments, even in the form of questions. That’s human nature for you.
I know how the people looking for information feel, for often I am frustrated when I am searching the web for information about places I would like to go. My problem is one of time, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to blog away as much as I would like, plus have the time to do the things I like to blog about.
It would be nice to be able to do a data dump, that is plug my brain into the computer and let all the memories I have of places I have been and things I have done transfer to the computer, where I could organize them all in such a way that people would find them useful, that’s what this blog really is, but it is slow, sorry about that. My fingers don’t have a very high bandwidth.
My friend Mike has suggested that I do a blog devoted to kayaking, with info on rivers, put in, take out sites, and other information people need. That was sort of the idea when I started this, but it has branched out as I have gone along. Thinking about this has given me an idea though, I do have some saved trips from the kayaking group I can tweak and post here. Good idea Jer, why didn’t you think of that earlier?
OK, so I will do that, and continue to pound away on hiking places and my series on photography, a little at a time.
But what really got me started today was thinking of a place to go today in the heat, just like thinking of something to do over the 4th of July weekend. I have not put much effort into my places I am planning on going page. After the 4th, I have started doing some trip planning for a trip to the northern Lake Huron shoreline. Like I need more to do.
I do, I need to get my act together and come up with a real list of places, with plans, such as where to stay, and where to go ahead of time, so I have something to go to on days like today. I know I am going to the Pigeon River Country for Labor Day weekend, I want pictures of Michigan bull elk with antlers! But that’s just one weekend in the rest of my life, not that I have to plan for every weekend, or every type of weather. Some trips would be weather dependent, such as a color tour to the Jordan Valley area, and kayaking the Jordan River. I don’t really want to drive all the way up there if it is going to be cloudy all weekend, that isn’t good for photography purposes, one of the reasons for going in the first place.
And by the way, the entire area from East Jordan to Cross Village in northwest Michigan near the Lake Michigan shore maybe the best area in the State of Michigan for a color tour. I think it is M 119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village that is considered to be the best drive for a color tour in the state.
I wouldn’t want to take a fly fishing trip if the area I was planning on going to had gotten three inches of rain in the last week. So that’s why I need a large list of plans done in advance, so if the weather ruins one, or my job ruins it, I have another to choose from and I won’t have to scramble to come up with something else.
I find that working on this blog is taking up time I would normally use to plan trips, so I am going to use this blog to plan my trips. If I do the planning pages well, they can be the basis for the posts on my trips to where the pages are about. That will save time in the long run.
And the point to all of this, kill some time sitting in the AC while not feeling guilty about not getting off my dead rear end while I was writing it.
We both lost our heads
Well, I’ve had a shower and washed the river water off from me, so I am feeling a lot better. I know I smell better, I love rivers, but river water on humans or dogs doesn’t smell that nice. So, how did I get wet? I’ll get to that later.
Four of us went kayaking today, Connie, Mike, Randy, and myself, and we did the lower Rogue River below Rockford again. I know that we just did the same stretch of river about a month ago, but it’s close to home, and tons of fun after a heavy rain like we had this last week. We spotted my vehicle at the bridge on West River Drive, and put in at the River Street access in downtown Rockford. The river wasn’t quite as high today as it was the last time, but only by a few inches, it was still moving along at a good clip! And it was a beautiful day for a paddle, clear blue skies, and warm temperatures, couldn’t ask for a more perfect day.
I was paddling well, picking good lines through the rapids at Jericho, and at the rock garden at the powerline access site. I only bumped bottom a couple of times in the rock garden, so the river was still very high. During the summer, if we haven’t had much rain, I usually end up walking at least part of the way through there. Then we came to the real rapids at Childsdale, and I picked a much better line through the them this time than I did the last time, since I had a better idea of how they have changed. The standing waves weren’t as large either, today they were only chest high, not over my head like when we did it last. The waves were still high enough that we stopped at the pool below the Childsdale Bridge and drained the water out of our kayaks. I had thought about wearing my spray skirt today to stay dry, but it was the kind of day that getting wet was an OK thing, so no spray skirt.
On a side note, it is amazing how much the river has changed in just one year. When I was fishing the upper Rogue a few weeks ago, I noted many changes to a stretch of river that I had fished so many times that I knew it like the back of my hand. With the wet spring we had, I am having to relearn the entire river, almost as if I had never fished or kayaked it before. Not only have the rapids at Childsdale changed, or the changes I noted in my earlier post, but the sandbar just below Packer Road is gone, as are a couple of the small “islands” a couple of bends further downstream. I love rivers, one of the reasons is that there are always new things to learn, they are forever changing.
But, back to today, it was awesome! Surprisingly, we were the only ones on the river at that time, other than two guys fly fishing above Childsdale. I scared the crap out of one, I didn’t mean to. I yelled out to him that I was going behind him to give him some advance warning so he would know we were coming, and you could tell that it gave him quite a start. But, that’s the way it is when you’re fly fishing, you get lost to the world, which is why I love it so.
Other things of note, just above the rock garden, I saw what had to have been a 3 to 4 pound trout jumping out of the water as if it was hooked and being played by some one, but there was no one around. I wonder if it was leaping out of the water to catch dragon or damsel flies? Trout sometimes do that, and it was a big fish I saw today. Going to have to fish that spot soon! One other really cool thing was a deer standing just a few feet from the river as we went past. Then there were the turtles, including one super huge one that we saw just above Childsdale. It had to have been close to 24 inches in diameter, not a snapper though.
We were paddling along, enjoying the day, with Connie and I out ahead of Mike and Randy by a little bit, when we came to an island just above Rogue River Road. Connie went to the left, and I went to the right. Just about the time I got to the end of the island, I heard a splash, and saw Connie bobbing along with her kayak, she had gone over. She told us after that she couldn’t decide which opening to go for to get past a tree in the river, and waited too long to make up her mind. By then, the current was so fast that she couldn’t make it to the opening she did finally choose, and she hit the tree, which rolled her. Just last week I had told Mike that she wasn’t the greatest paddler, but she kept her head and didn’t get into to trouble. She did keep her cool after she rolled, she was staying with her boat which helped keep her above water, along with her PFD.
Another side note here, I think a dry hatch is one of the most important features to look for when shopping for kayaks. Not just for storage, but the dry hatches add floatation to the boats, keeping them, and possibly you, above water. With out a dry hatch, or added floatation, a kayak will sink, or actually, roll along in the current below the surface. I won’t own a kayak without a dry hatch for that reason. You can add floatation bags to kayaks with out dry hatches, but you’re better off with a kayak with the dry hatches in my opinion.
Anyway, Connie was holding on to her boat, but her paddle and a water bottle were floating away from her, so I swooped over and grabbed them, and could see she was having trouble getting her feet out in front of her due to the fast current. I was waiting for her to gain a foot hold so I could help her, but I didn’t know the water was too deep there. I was now floating backward, with her stuff and mine, but I didn’t want to hit her. I thought that she would be able to get to her feet, then I was going to paddle up against her boat to help her hold it in the current until Mike and Randy caught up to us. That didn’t happen.
What did happen is that I floated backwards into a log just above the surface of the water, too low for me to go under, but just high enough so the back of my boat started under it. Not good! I was thinking I would bump it, turn sideways, and that I could muscle my way off, wrong! My boat started going over before I could grab the log with enough muscle to hold me upright, and water started rushing into the cockpit, I knew I was a goner then. I had that helpless feeling of doom, well, not doom, but the feeling of knowing I was helpless right then. It seemed like it took forever, I’m sure it was only a second or two. I yelled “Bye”, tossed my paddle towards the front of my boat so I wouldn’t get tangled in the paddle leash, and waited for the boat to roll. It did, and I slid out of the cockpit into the river.
I popped up above the log some how or another, but my boat and everything else was below the log. I ducked under the log, saw my $1,000 hat floating away, grabbed it, and put it back on my head. No, I didn’t pay $1,000 for a hat, it is the hat I got from Trout Unlimited when I became a life member, and that did cost me a grand, but I refer to my life member hat as my $1,000 hat.
That water was cold! It was one thing to have gotten splashed earlier in the Childsdale Rapids, but it felt a lot colder fully submerged. I could just touch bottom with my toes when my head was almost fully under water. It was a struggle, holding on to my boat, corralling everything else floating around me, and making my way towards shore. On the way, I realized my camera was in my chest pack that I wear when kayaking, and it was fully submerged as well. Needless to say, I made it to the bank, I didn’t drown, but the camera did. I am hoping I’ll be able to revive it, but I’m not holding my breath, I did enough of that in the river today.
As soon as I had solid footing, I took the batteries out of the camera, and set it on the bank. I threw Connie’s paddle up there as well, mine was still hooked to the paddle leash hooked to my boat. I even saved my water bottle from floating away, but I lost Connie’s, and Connie. The last I saw of her, she was still holding on to her boat, floating downstream, with Mike and Randy, who had caught up to us by then.
With them there to help her, I began the task of getting the water out of my boat. If you have ever wrestled with a water filled kayak in a fast current, you’ll know it’s no fun. The spot I made it to wasn’t great, I was standing on a small shelf of knee-deep water, with a drop off to water close to over my head any farther away from the bank. The bank itself was close to three feet above the water, with a little spit of ground that was lower, just below me. I kept pushing my boat farther up onto the lower ground there as the water ran out of the boat, making it lighter all the time. I didn’t wait to get all the water out, I was worried about Connie, so when I had most of the water out, I grabbed everything I had set on the bank, retrieved my paddle from the log it had managed to get caught on, and set off downstream.
A side note on paddle leashes. Mine is a very long one that is self coiling, and having seen several types in action, I think the self coiling ones are best. Connie was using a paddle leash, her’s broke. I’m not sure what she had it attached to, the “experts” say to clip them to yourself. I’ve always been leery of that idea. Today’s the first time I’ve gone over, but I’ve never liked the idea of having a paddle attached to me if I were to ever go over in a fast current. My thinking is that if you are already fighting the current to stay alive, you don’t need a paddle clipped to you doing its own thing in the current as well, or worse, catching on something below the water and holding you under.
On the other hand, one of the times my ex-girlfriend went over, she got her feet tangled up in her coiled paddle leash as she was trying to get out of her boat as she rolled, which is why I tossed my paddle away from me when I rolled today. I clip my paddle leash to the small dry bag I keep my survival kit in, and that in turn is held in place by the deck bungees on my boat. My thinking is that if there was enough strain on the paddle leash, it would pull the dry bag off my boat, and the dry bag would act as a float to help me locate my paddle. I really like the idea of a paddle leash, with my being such a klutz, I think one is essential, even though I thought I would never use it as intended. I thought that having one would save me from losing my paddle when I was taking pictures or something like that. The one thing I didn’t have to worry about today was my paddle, the coiled leash stretched out as intended, and while my paddle was stuck on a log about 6 feet from me, it was still attached. All I had to do was tug on it a few times to get the paddle loose, then pull it back to me.
That’s what I did, and I struck off downstream with a boat a quarter of the way full of water, which makes it hard to paddle. Not only that, since everything was wet, I was holding the strap for my camera in my teeth so it wouldn’t get any wetter. After I rounded the first bend, I saw Mike on his way back upstream, looking for me no doubt. Randy and Connie were emptying the water out of her boat, it was the first good place along the bank to do so, but well over 200 yards from where she first went over. I pulled out there as well to finish draining my boat also.
I didn’t bother to change clothes then, the water that had seemed so cold when I first rolled didn’t seem as cold by then, and it was a nice warm day. The rest of the paddle was uneventful, and very pleasant, despite the drama of having gone over. We made it to West River Drive, pulled out, and I drove Randy and Mike back to their vehicles while Connie stayed with our boats. Then we stopped at Score on Northland Drive for a beer and a bite to eat.
One thing that did happen shortly after we were under way again is that we saw a Great Blue Heron standing on shore, not 30 feet from me, and it never moved. It was taunting me because my camera wasn’t working, I swear!
It will be a few days before I find out if my camera survived or not, I have it in a container of rice to dry for now. I still have my Nikon, but it’s NOT going on a river with me, EVER! Not even when I’m fishing.
I have to think about the chain of events between when Connie went over and when I did some more. I know why she went over, indecision, which is rare for her. I know why I went over, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going while floating backwards while thinking of a way to help Connie. Other than watching where I was going, I don’t know what I could have done differently to help her. If I had gotten out of my boat to try to help her, then there would have been two of us floating downstream holding on to our boats, which is how we ended up anyway. If I had paddled closer to her, I don’t think there would have been anything I could have done to help her in that current anyway. I could have thrown her a rope, but I’m not sure it would have helped either. I guess what I am saying is that I need to think of a good way to perform water rescues on the river. As much as I’ve read about kayaking, that subject never comes up. Part of that is because every situation is different. Another part is that there isn’t a lot you can do in a kayak without going over yourself, since they are so tippy to begin with, and you need both hands to paddle. Actually, I hope the situation never arises again, but I know that’s wishful thinking on my part.
Oops, I forgot to add in the map of our trip last night when I published this. You can click on this map for a larger, printable view.
Today, I’m going to be lazy
I’m sitting here after my morning walk around the apartment complex listening to the rain falling outside. The rain was just a very heavy mist while I was walking, which made it a great day for a walk. The temperature is cool for summer, which makes it just right for me. It’s nice sitting here with the windows open with not much to do. I know I should be working on another nature photography page, or organizing pictures on my computer, or something, but I’m not going to do much more than enjoy the day and think.
It’s only a little over a week until the long 4th of July weekend, and I still haven’t made any plans on where to go or what to do. I would like to kayak out to Saint Helena Island, near the Mackinac Bridge, and check out the historic lighthouse and island. The island is a nature preserve held by the Little Traverse Conservancy and open to the public. The problem is the weather, paddling 3 miles across Lake Michigan in anything less than perfect weather isn’t for me. By perfect, I am talking mostly about light winds. I don’t want to get out to the island and have to deal with 6 foot breakers while trying to get back to the mainland. That, and it is such a long way up there, and I’m not sure what else I would do in that area if the weather wasn’t good for kayaking. I’m sure I could find something to do, but then, it will be the 4th of July weekend, and the area will be crawling with “fudgies”. Maybe I better rethink that one.
There are other places I could easily go, I could do the last part of the Mason Tract Trail I haven’t completed yet, or wander around in the DeWard Tract. There is always the Pigeon River Country, so much of it I haven’t explored yet. I have all those nature preserves held by the Little Traverse Conservancy to explore, including some newer ones along the Pigeon River that I missed the last time I was there.
Mike would like me to start another blog and focus solely on kayaking, I am mulling that one over. I do need to add a lot more to the kayaking information I have started on here on this blog, but there are only so many hours in the day. I would like to include a GPS developed map and track for any rivers that I write about from now on. I have done nearly every river in the lower peninsula outside the southeast part of the state, and even then, I’ve done the Huron and a few others there. To tell you the truth, they all begin to run together after a while, and that’s a project that I couldn’t do from memory alone. I have to refresh my memory when I am going to run some of the rivers, even ones I have run many times in the past. For one thing, many of the access sites share the same names on different rivers. I’ll keep plugging away at it, a little at a time. I need to win the lottery, devote all my time to my outdoor pursuits, and hire an assistant to help me take notes.
And part of the problem with that would be the same one I have trouble with when writing up hiking places. I mean, a hiking trail is a hiking trail, they are all pretty much the same, and how much can you write about them other than where they are, how long the trails are, and give people a general idea of the lay of the land. I thought about adding lots of pictures of either trails or rivers, but that would get boring to any readers in a hurry, because so many of the pictures would be very much alike. I think I could do more with pictures than I have, but that I should focus on put in and take out sites, along with a couple of pictures of the rivers and trails themselves.
I know that I am getting more hits on this blog all the time from people looking for information on all things outdoors, and I will continue to add more to this site as time permits. I should have started this blog years and years ago, before there were even blogs. I don’t want it to sound like I am bragging, but what I know about the outdoors in Michigan would fill a small encyclopedia of several volumes, and I really don’t know that much about the state compared to what there is to learn and do. There are places I used to go to often that I haven’t been back to in a couple of decades, and when I do go back, I find things are completely different than from when I used to go there. Most of the changes have been for the better, but not all, I think the state crams people in too close together in the camping areas in state parks nowadays. That’s why I’ll stick to the state forest campgrounds, I like my space. But when I was at Ludington State Park a few months ago, I was surprised to see how much nicer it was than when I used to go there regularly, other than the shoe horn camping areas.
And as much as I have travelled around the state, and spent as much time hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking, and exploring this state, I continually hear about places I have never been to yet, but would love to go.
I know that I don’t want to turn my blog into what most of the outdoor blogs I’ve seen are, a place to sell advertising space on, with meaningless gear reviews to attract advertisers, and very little information. I know when I go searching for information on the web, most of what I run into is ads, with little or no useful information at all. I do find the Michigan DNR’s website to be fairly useful, but horrible as far as navigating it. I hate to say it, but as far as for information, the state’s Pure Michigan website is worthless, nothing but ads, and often from businesses far from the area I am looking for information on. I would love to get hooked up with the Pure Michigan ad campaign and be able to provide useful information to people who are thinking about exploring this great state. I would also like to pitch the idea for a Pure Michigan coffee table book and other merchandise, stuff people would actually find helpful. Not much chance of that ever happening though, money trumps help every time.
I wouldn’t mind earning a few bucks off from my website, but money isn’t my main motive here. I love the outdoors, I love Michigan’s natural beauty, and I like being able to share what I know with others. If you’d like information on something but don’t see it here yet, feel free to ask! I may not be able to answer your questions, but even if I can’t, I may be able to point you in the right direction about what ever it is you are looking for.
As far as what I’ll do over the 4th, I know I’ll end up doing what I always do, watch the weather this coming week, and what they are predicting for the weekend, then I’ll make my decision a day or two before I leave. It will depend on how much rain we get, whether the rivers in an area will be too high for fishing, and if the weather will be good for photography, exploring, or for fishing. As long as it isn’t too hot. If it is, then I know I’ll be standing in a nice cool trout stream somewhere, even if I’m not going to catch any fish.
This weekend, I think Mike and I are going to do the lower Rogue below Rockford, Michigan again. It was a blast a few weeks ago, and should be again with all the rain this week.
Kayaking the middle leg of the Little Muskegon
Mike sent me a text Saturday evening, wondering if I would like to paddle on Sunday, and of course the answer was of course. After some confusion caused because I missed a text from him, we were able to meet up on Sunday morning to decide where to paddle.
I suggested Coopers Creek from the Kent County Park down to where it meets the Flat River above Greenville, Michigan, then floating the Flat into Greenville and taking out at the dam in town. I scoped that out this spring when the water was high, and it would have worked then. But when we got to where I thought we could pull out by the Greenville Museum, it would have meant a long, wet, muddy carry through some pretty thick brush, so we decided against it.
My next suggestion was what I call the middle leg of the Little Muskegon River. There are enough access sites to the Little Muskegon that you can do anything from an hour or two paddle, or even a weekend/overnight trip if you stay at the private Mecosta Pines Campground just west of the town of Morley. I’ve never camped there, so I can’t tell you much about the campground, other than that it’s there. If you did want to do an overnight paddle, you could start in Altona, paddle to Morley, spend the night there, then proceed on the next day.
I’ve always broken the Little Muskegon into three day-paddle sections, from Altona to Morley, which we did a few weeks ago, from Morley to either Daggett Road or Newcosta Ave./W. County Line Road, and from one of those down to where the Little Muskegon joins the Muskegon River at Croton Pond. Each of the three stretches of the river take from 4 to 6 hours to kayak or canoe, depending on how fast you paddle.
Normally, I go from Morley to Newcosta/ W County Line, but since we were getting a late start, I suggested Daggett Road instead to cut an hour or so off from the time. I should explain the name for Newcosta/ W County Line, that road is on the boundry between Mecosta and Newaygo Counties. Newaygo County calls it Newcosta Avenue, while Mecosta County calls it West County Line Road. To make it more confusing, it is also known as CR 607, but you’ll be able to see it on the map I’ll include later in this post.
Anyway, we dropped my Explorer off at Daggett Rd and headed to the dam in Morley to put in. The dam is right in town, you can’t miss it, and there is a city park there. While Mike was getting his gear stowed, I took a few pictures.
That shows you what a beautiful day it was! We shoved off, and before we had really gotten going, I saw a little blue heron fly across the river in front of me. I ended up seeing three or four of them during the course of the day, but wasn’t able to get pictures, darn. It did set the tone for the day though, as we spooked a number of deer from the river’s edge, along with great blue herons, kingfishers, an eagle, lots of turtles, ducks, and more. Then there were the wildflowers, I should have taken more pictures of them, but I was too busy trying to notice everything we were seeing to take pictures, but I dd get one good one.
The Little Muskegon is a smaller river, with many twists and turns along the way. It actually gets twistier the farther down you go, until just before Croton Pond when it slows and straightens out a bit. One of the best things about it is that it is seldom crowded. We had a beautiful day with temps around 80, but we only saw 5 other kayakers on the river all day. There was a couple who were fishing from their kayaks, then a family of three later on. Part of that is because the Little Muskegon isn’t well-known, and part of it is because it is a smaller river, and it gets tight in places.
We had one portage, well, one lift over a freshly fallen tree. But, there were a few places where there was only enough room on the edges of log jams for a kayak to squeeze through, and one or two more places where we had to duck down under logs just above the water. The river kept us on our toes! There’s no whitewater except for a few short stretches of barely class I rapids on the lower river, below Newcosta/ W County Line Rd, and since we didn’t go that far, we just had some fast riffle water and rocks to negotiate around, and the logjams. Even though all the rivers are receding since we haven’t had much rain the last two weeks, I never ran aground hard enough to have to get out and walk, which sometimes happens on the Little Muskegon during dry summers.
Back to the wildlife, Mike and I spent most of our time pointing out birds and animals to each other as we went along, here’s a picture of a mother merganser playing injured to lead us away from her young.
And here’s one of the back-end of a very large snapping turtle that was sunning itself on a log three feet above the river.
This one was huge! About 24 inches in diameter, but of course it was facing the wrong way. I was working my way around the log he was on when he decided I was too close and slid off the log, making quite the splash!
The only downside to the entire day was minor, the lithium batteries for my GPS unit lasted a whopping 2 hours and 17 minutes. Part of that is my fault, I know battery life is terrible, but I forgot to set the display to a screen that would have extended the battery life. However, the best I have gotten out of any batteries, lithium or alkaline, has been around 5 hours tops. That’s not acceptable performance as far as I am concerned, and I’ve heard DeLorme is no longer going to support the PN-40 model that I have. Oh well, I can make nice maps like this one for every one who wants information about our kayak trips.
You can click on the map for a printable version. As you can see, it took us about 4 hours to cover the almost 13 miles of river today. We were moving right along most of the time, but not in any hurry, and we only took a very short break to stretch our legs. It was too nice of a day to rush, and we were busy watching the wildlife for most of the trip. Either that, or we were working our way through the tight squeezes in some of the logjams.
We didn’t take a lunch break today, so by the time we finished our trip, we were famished. That meant dinner at the Moe-Z-Inn in Morley again. It’s one of those small town dives with really good food, and the service was even pretty good today.
What happened to spring?
I just got back from my daily walk, and I am soaked. No, it isn’t raining, there’s bright blue skies and light winds, but it is very hot already this morning. The high temperature yesterday was close to 90 degrees, and we are forecast to be in the 90’s the next two days.
It was just two weekends ago when I was at Muskegon and it was in the low 60’s, with a cold fog. Also that weekend, Mike and I went kayaking, and it was cool and cloudy that day as well. We have had a very cool, very rainy spring, until June, and now we are having a summertime heat wave. I don’t do well in the heat no matter what, but to jump from 60 to 90 in a day or two is even worse. As Mark Twain said, “Every one complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. I’m not complaining about it too much, there’s nothing you can do but to dress accordingly and plan for what the weather will be. It would have been nice to have a week or two of weather with temperatures in the 70’s before the heat rolled in though.
The weather and the season do play a huge part in my plans for my outdoor adventures. I love spring, it is my favorite season! With the weather that we’ve had, it has taken a while, but the trees, bushes and grasses are all growing strong in the thick, vivid, green of spring, and I truly love that. It does make photography more difficult though. I hear birds singing, but it is hard to see them in the trees now, unlike a few weeks ago when there weren’t any leaves yet. The same holds true of mammals, it’s a lot easier for them to hide in the summer. Even when I do see them, it is harder to get a good photo when they are in the shade. Just this last weekend I was hiking through the Cooper Creek/Spencer Forest County parks, and while I saw some birds and animals close enough to photograph, the shade was so deep that I doubted if the subjects would even be visible in a photo.
But, while some things become harder to photograph, other subjects emerge to fill in the void, such as flowers and insects.
I know, insects aren’t every one’s favorite subject for a photo, so here’s a flower.
Although if you look closely, there’s a spider in the flower.
I would like to be doing more kayaking now that summer has arrived, but it looks like I’ll be doing either more hiking, or kayaking lakes and large rivers by myself this year. I have been trying to put kayaking trips together, very few people in the group even bother to reply, and even fewer can make it when I do plan something. Then there are issues as far as transportation and the spotting of vehicles. It is getting very frustrating. A couple of years ago I was organizing a group of close to 200 paddlers, and we would have 20 to 30 people show up each trip. That became a problem as far as finding access sites that could accommodate that many vehicles and boats. It would be nice to hit a happy medium, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
I don’t mind paddling by myself, I don’t even mind paddling lakes and large rivers, but then, I would rather start at dawn, and that’s hard to do since I work second shift. I haven’t won the lottery yet, so I’m still a working stiff. Evenings are OK, as long as I can find places where I’m not getting run over by power boats. I love dawns, the quiet, the wildlife, the start of a new day.
Since it looks like I won’t be kayaking again this weekend, it will give me a chance to do some fly fishing. Darn! I’ll have to see what the weather is like the rest of this week before I decide where, and then there are the gas prices as well. I think I need a trip to the Pere Marquette. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll be on the Rogue for sure.
I’m still working on the photography pages, a little at a time. It seems like there is something that comes up when I think I will have time to work on them that limits how much I am able to write. problems at work, or my mother’s health, or something out of the blue. Two weeks ago it was having to do a random DOT drug test for work, that my boss had forgotten about until after it was due. Last week, it was the staff at the apartment complex trying to tell me I was late with last months rent, when I wasn’t. Both of those things took a while to resolve, and took time away from my work here. The heat wave doesn’t help either. It takes me more time at work to finish my run each night, and more time to cool off after work, and after my morning walk.
I’ll keep plugging away at it, it may take me a while to finish the project, but I will eventually finish it.
Preserving for the future
I read an article online at MLive.com about a state senator who wants to cap the amount of land the State of Michigan can own. The gist of it is that local units of government are suffering because the state doesn’t pay property taxes like a private entity does, and therefore, state ownership of land is hurting local units of government. I understand the problem, but the solution is not to cap the amount of land the state owns. For the article, click here.
Here is my reply.
I am opposed to any cap on the amount of land the state owns for many reasons. First, I think that a cap is a backdoor way of eventually raiding, and possibly ending, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. If state ownership of land is capped, then there is no reason for the trust fund to exist any more, and politicians would love to get their hands on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to use for purposes other than what the citizens of Michigan intended it to be used for.
I understand the plight of communities surrounded by state land as far as the reduced funding because of the state’s lower payments in lieu of property taxes. However, does Sen. Tom Casperson believe that there are buyers waiting to purchase any of the state’s land holdings? Wishing something doesn’t make it happen. In fact, what we’ve seen over the last 30 plus years is just the opposite, owners of large parcels of land in Michigan have been selling, even at very reduced prices, or donating their land holdings, to the state to get out from under the property tax burden here in Michigan. I don’t think that Sen. Casperson or David Bertram, legislative team leader for the Michigan Townships Association, would be too happy if the state were to try and sell off some of its land holdings. With property values already depressed, if the state were to put even more land on the market, prices, and assessed values would plummet even further, and local governments would be no better of financially than they are now.
That’s what a cap on the amount of land the state can own would do, because as pointed out in the article, the state owns very little land in the lower third of the lower peninsula, where we need more recreational opportunities, not less. A cap would force the state to try and sell off some of its existing land holdings in order to purchase more land close to the population centers where state ownership of land is lower. It makes sense for the state to develop more recreational opportunities down state, so that the citizens of Michigan don’t have to drive “up north” to enjoy our great state.
Mr. Bertram complained that “Michigan owns more land than any other state east of the Mississippi”, which is what makes us the envy of all the other states east of the Mississippi. That’s why every weekend we see droves of cars with license plates from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other states heading into Michigan. That’s why I choose to live in Michigan rather than any other state east of the Mississippi, as do many others in this state.
At a time when the state is pouring millions of dollars into the “Pure Michigan” ad campaigns every year, this is no time to cap the amount of land the state owns. The money spent on those ads will be money poured down the drain if people from out of state get here to find the campgrounds full, the beaches crowded, and the woods so full of people that the visitors never want to return. Tourism can play a huge role in turning our state’s economy around, as we are finally starting to learn. But tourism won’t continue to grow if we don’t continue to grow our recreational opportunities for the visitors we seek to attract.
Capping the amount of land the state owns is a shortsighted attempt to solve a funding problem that probably won’t work even if it is tried, for reasons I pointed out earlier. Instead of capping the state’s land ownership, we should be increasing the amount of land the state owns. It is the second best investment we can make, after education, in the lives’ of our children, grand children, and beyond.
Michigan is a unique state, two peninsulas surrounded by the Great Lakes, with vast tracts of forests, and clean, free flowing rivers. We have some of the world’s finest beaches, rocky coastlines, and we have some of just about everything natural that people could want. We have the choice to preserve our state as an oasis of nature in the middle of an industrialized world, or destroy what nature has given us. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to preserve what we have. We owe it to the world as well.
There were people who complained when our Nation Park system was created, and those who continue to complain to this day. However, I think history has proven the complainers to be wrong. Yellowstone National Park wasn’t just the first National Park in the United States, it was the first National Park in the world. We started something which is now called “America’s best idea”, preserving natural areas for future generations. We were the leaders in something that the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to us in doing.
Michigan has always been a leader in preserving our natural areas, this is not the time to change that. Our system of parks and recreational areas is one of the finest in the country. Looking forward with a vision towards the future, we should expand on that even as the rest of the country continues to industrialize. That will make Michigan an oasis of nature that millions of people from neighboring states and even the from around the world, will want to come to in order to enjoy what we can offer that no other state can. People two hundred years from now may not know who we were, but they will thank us for having the foresight to preserve the natural areas in this state. The time to do that is now.
Screaming down Michigan’s lower Rogue
Last week after we had paddled the Little Muskegon River, every one decided that we should do something this weekend. For one reason or another, every one but Mike backed out, which worked out well for the two of us. We did Michigan’s lower Rogue River, from the dam in Rockford down.
As I was walking out to my explorer to go to breakfast, I heard a strange call from behind me, turned, and saw a small hawk perched in the top of a tree nearby. I snapped a couple of quick pictures, but I doubted if they would turn out well, as I was shooting into the early morning sun, such as it was. It was cloudy, but there was enough sun burning through the clouds so that the pictures are more like silhouettes than anything recognizable. I worked my way around where the hawk was perched trying to find an opening in the leaves to get a good view of it, until I finally got this shot.
Not great, but far better than the first few, and of course he flew off as I was getting ready to take more.
After breakfast, and picking up my boat, I headed to Rockford to meet Mike. We met where Powers Outdoors used to be in downtown Rockford, and talked for a few minutes to see if any one else would show up. Mike and Connie had done the lower Rogue last weekend, and Mike said the last mile was slow and filled with mosquitoes, and that the paddle up the Grand River to the DNR access site was a bit of a struggle due to the high water and fast current. I suggested we pull out at West River Drive instead of going all the way to the Grand, so we loaded my boat in his truck, and set off to drop my car at West River. There is some type of structure there, I don’t know if it is a pump station or what, but there’s a very small parking area, and a fair access to the Rogue there. It is right next to the West River Drive bridge over the Rogue, on the northwest side.
Normally, I put in at Rockford’s Richardson-Sowerby Park just south of 10 Mile Road/Division Street, but Mike suggested putting in off from River Street instead. It has been a couple of years since I used the River Street access, it is much improved! It used to be a muddy trail through the brush, now they have steps down to the river and the brush has been cleared to make it much better. Here’s a map of the parks in Rockford, and the streets, you can’t miss the parking area on River Street, even though it isn’t marked as a park on the map.
The clouds had thickened back up, and it was cool, but pleasant as we set off downstream. We hadn’t gone very far before I checked my GPS unit, and it said we were travelling at over 5 MPH, without paddling. With all the rain we’ve had the last few months, the Rogue was running high and fast, just the way I like it. The lower Rogue is much faster than the upper stretches of the river above the dam in Rockford, and has a completely different character. The lower Rogue is almost all rocks and gravel, with little sand or muck. The trouble is, it is shallow during the summer, too shallow during dry spells. The average gradient is around 13 feet per mile, making it one of the faster rivers in southern Michigan. It also has some short, but very exciting stretches of true class II whitewater, rare in lower Michigan.
We exchanged pleasantries with the few fishermen along the river we encountered, the river can be crowded with fishermen during the spring steelhead and fall salmon runs, but there were just a handful today. We were just drifting along for the most part, no need to paddle when you’re moving as fast as we were, except to steer. Even the rock garden at the powerline access was easy to navigate without hitting any of the boulders in the river there. It seemed like we had just gotten started and we were already to Childsdale, the first and most impressive of the stretches of whitewater, named for the road that crosses the river near the end of the rapids.
Even experienced Michigan kayakers usually stop the first time they get to the Childsdale rapids. The river seems to disappear, as if going over a waterfall. The river is flowing to the northwest, and is around 60 feet wide I would say. Then you get to the beginning of the rapids, and part of the river makes a sharp left turn, it is hard to see that as you approach, but that branch is very shallow and blocked by fallen trees, or at least it used to be. I haven’t been through there in quite a few years now, I should check it out when I am fishing one of these days. Anyway, what you see ahead of you is a narrow little section of the river about 20 feet wide that looks like it just ends, and trees beyond that. There is a very small part of the river that branches off to the right, only a few feet wide. You can not see down the river until you are almost in the rapids, the drop is that fast.
I was being really brave today and told Mike I wasn’t even going to stop to look it over, I have shot the rapids there dozens of times, in even higher water than today. Stopping wouldn’t have changed the outcome anyway, I wouldn’t have been able to see the changes in the river from the top of the rapids anyway.
I entered the center branch of the river just to the right of center like I always do, and the river drops about 10 feet or so in the first 40 feet of the rapids, leading straight towards a high bank right in front of you as you run the first part. It is hard to see because of the drop and the trees, but the river makes a very sharp left turn at the bank, and today, as always, there was a small tree with branches reaching out into the river, just waiting to catch people who don’t get turned quickly enough. I made that turn, then the river slows its fall slightly, makes a cut back to the right, then it falls off again. You have to make a quick zig to stay off the high bank, then an even quicker zag to avoid rocks to the left after the high bank. It was after the zag that I looked straight ahead of me and saw the top of a standing wave breaking above eye level. Actually, several large standing waves, but the one was larger than I have ever seen in the Childsdale rapids before. I hit it slightly off to one side, and water crashed into my boat, soaking me, as did a couple of the other waves as well, but not as much. Even if I had hit them dead on like I should have, I would have been swamped. Should have put the spray skirt on.
It must be that the high water this year has moved some of the rocks around, or some other debris has lodged in the river to form those very large standing waves that I have never seen there before. It may be time to walk the bank there as well as the other branch to see how much has changed, and to figure out a better line to take through there.
The river slows its descent some after that, and the part that branches off earlier to the left rejoins the main branch there, so the river widens out as well. Mike was almost as wet as I was, so I suggested that after the last part of the rapids, we stop at the sandbar that’s there and drain our boats. We ran the last 100 feet or so of the rapids and pulled out on the edge of the pool below the rapids. I had several inches of water in my boat, and I was almost as wet as if I had gone swimming.
From then on, it was a normal day on the lower Rogue, there are 3 more stretches of true whitewater, and many more very fast, very rocky stretches of the river. We saw herons and ducks, of course, turtles, somewhat surprising as chilly as it was, lots of wildflowers, and a bunny.
I did get jammed up sideways on a some large rocks farther downstream, because I was running my mouth, not paying attention to where I was going, but nothing serious.
It seemed like a very short day, because it was. We ran almost 7 miles of the river in just over an hour of paddling time, we averaged 4 and 1/2 MPH according to my GPS unit, but by the clock and mileage, it was closer to 6 MPH, that’s fast for any stretch of Michigan river!
If the weather had been nicer, or if we hadn’t been soaked to the bone, I would have tried to talk Mike into running at least part of the river a second time, but as it was, we headed back to Rockford to pick up his truck. We also dried off and changed into dry, warm clothes, and went to the Timbers on Lake Bella Vista for lunch. Great food, and a “perfect” waitress. I say “perfect”, because she used that word more often and in less time than any one I have ever heard.
It was over lunch that Mike asked me an interesting question, the answer to which I had been thinking about the night before. What he asked was, “What would you be doing if you could be doing what you want?” It just so happened that I had come up with a great, but unworkable idea the night before as I was driving the last leg of my run Friday night. I am not going to try to write this correctly, I am going to write this as my wandering mind went off on its own, and it will give you an idea of how convoluted my train of thought becomes at times.
The starting point was that I am thinking of doing another blog about how silly some of the so-called green or alternative energies are, both on a financial, and an environmental standpoint. This is where it went from there. The triple tragedy in Japan, of the earthquake, tsunami, and disaster at the nuclear plant have probably set nuclear energy back another 30 years here in this country. Building a nuclear plant in Japan or southern California is like playing Russian Roulette and unloading only one chamber of the gun instead of all but one, you’re going to die. Michigan is a safe place to build a nuclear plant. The geology around Lake Michigan makes a tsunami almost impossible. We don’t have earthquakes in the region. But, there has to be a very old, very deep fault in the Great Lakes region somewhere, and if we did have an earthquake, it would be a big one, like the ones near New Madrid back in the 1800’s. I was taught the geology of Michigan and the region is boring, but it’s not. There has to be a fault around here somewhere, running down the Saint Lawrence River. We’re just south of the edge of the Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rock on Earth. When the tectonic plate that includes Michigan rammed into the Canadian Shield it pushed up the highest mountains that have ever existed on the planet. Remember that TV show on the Discovery Channel about Georgian Bay, and how I’d like to go there and see the old roots of the mountains that are all eroded away? And those old fossils found in Nova Scotia, it takes very old rock to trap very old fossils. Was that the same show as the one that showed the Torngat Mountains? They were beautiful, I’d like to go there too, and to Nova Scotia to see the fossils. I’d love to go on those kinds of expeditions, I should have become a scientist like I planned on way back when. But what field? That’s what stopped me. I couldn’t decide what interested me the most, biology, botany, geology, archeology, or any of the other “ologies”, and they all required some degree of mindless memorization that does nothing to advance science, it’s all a made up language just so those in the field are the only ones who know what they are talking about. Then there is all the boring parts of being a scientist as well, it isn’t all field work, the part I would like the most. It’s too bad I couldn’t do just the field work, being outdoors, exploring, it’s what I love and what I do best. What a minute here, they always have a guide with them that shows them where to go and helps them find what they are looking for! That’s the job! I know enough about all the “ologies” that I know I could be helpful to scientists, and I know how to run an expedition into the wilderness, I should start a company and call it…..that’s it, Scientific Expedition Outfitters, and cater to scientists who are going out in the field. I could be their expert in getting around in the wilderness, and helping them find what they’re looking for. Wait, you don’t have any experience outside North America…..hmmm….no problem! I could be a source of information and the person who puts the expeditions together using local guides.
OK, so if I were in my twenties, and knew what I know now, that’s what I would shoot for. I would start an oufitting business that caters to scientific expeditions, set up a network of reliable local outfitters, and be doing what I love, being outdoors, exploring, and learning. I would be taking part in the field work, assisting in research, and leaving the boring part of being a scientist to the scientists. But at my age, starting it now isn’t realistic. By the time I got it going, I would be too old to do it.
I guess I will have to fall back on my other dream. Win the lottery, build a small house in the woods, and build a pole barn to do woodworking in, and split my time between building furniture to give away to the poor, and doing my own amateur exploring.
Oh, and the river was a blast! It was nice with it being just Mike and I, great times, great company, great food, sounds like a beer commercial.
And here’s a map of out trip, you can click on it for a larger version to print if you like.
A nice day for a change
Our cool, wet, cloudy, windy, almost spring continues. I like rain as much as anyone, but this is getting ridiculous. We’ve had a few more days of off and on rain, mostly on, over an inch in one day again on at least one day, I’ve stopped keeping track. Yesterday, it never made it out of the 50’s, with rain and wind. It wasn’t bad out, but a nice day now and then would be even better.
I know that in the long run all this rain is a good thing. Lake Michigan is rising several inches a month, and since it was very low, that’s a good thing. But, as soon as the rivers get close to being fishable, we get several more days of rain, several more inches of it, and the rivers get too high and muddy to make it worthwhile trying to fish. I still have all my gear in the explorer, ready to go, just in case the pattern breaks.
The weather is also interfering with my photography. Cloudy, rainy days usually aren’t the best for taking pictures, and some wildflowers have bloomed and the flowers have been blown apart in the wind before I get a chance to take a good picture of them. It is very hard to get good close-ups of flowers when they are being blown all around by the wind, it is close to impossible. There have been a few exceptions, such as this one.
By using the flash on a rainy day, it turned out well. There was also a breif period of sun on another day when I walked, and was able to capture this picture of a great blue heron as he was fishing.
Yes, that’s a minnow in its beak.
I am supposed to go kayaking this weekend, the lower Rogue! The lower Rogue has some of the best whitewater in lower Michigan, just not a lot of it. The chute at Childsdale is always fun, and with all the rain we’ve had, it will be screaming on Saturday! That is, if any one else decides to go, it may be just me and Mike, and I am OK with that.
I have been working on the pages about how to take better nature photos, but getting it all arranged into some type of meaningful, readable form is turning out to be more of a chore than I thought. I should start at the beginning and go step by step, but I keep going off on tangents, as I am known to do. But trust me, I will finish it, someday.
I have been working on a couple of pages on the Hiking Places page since my vacation in the Pigeon River Country a couple of weeks ago. I am about finished with Green Timbers, I may add more to that one later, I’m not sure yet. I have added some details on the High Country Pathway and the Mason Tract, there will be more to both of them when I get a chance to return to the area. I’m not sure when that will be.
I would normally be going up north for Memorial Day weekend, but frankly, I can’t afford to this year. Between $4 a gallon gas and working for a couple of cheap-ass bastards, I have to watch what I spend for a while. I do know that after the holiday weekend that I am going to get serious in a search for a new job. I took the one I have now for one reason, it worked out very well as far as having time off to take care of business for my elderly mother who is now in a nursing home as she is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Now that she is taken care of, I can widen my job search.
A new job may slow down my blogging, I hope not, because the more I do this, the more I like it. I am closing in on having had 2,000 people visit my blog, which is no big deal to the big time bloggers out there, but then I’m not doing this in an attempt to make money, except for my photo gallery. It would be nice to sell a few pictures to make a few bucks, but I knew that it was never going to be a real money-maker when I launched it. As far as this one, I am getting more hits through the search engines all the time, and even a few new subscribers, at big thank you to those who have signed up! I hope you find my blog informative, and maybe a little amusing at times. You can always send me questions if you have any, I will try to answer them if I can.
Getting back to photography, I have been checking out a few nature photo contests to see if maybe I would have a chance of winning, and I am coming to the conclusion that most of them are little more than a money-making scam for the promoters looking to cash in on all of us Ansel Adams wannabes out here. I may be missing something, but between the cost of prepping a print to their specifications as far as size, matting, and framing in order to qualify, and the entry fees, submitting a photo would cost more than you can win, if you do win. Then, if your picture does sell during the exhibition, they charge an outragous commission to boot.
I looked at one last night, entry fee, $50. Not bad, but the print had to be in a certain size frame, with a certain color matt, and then there is the cost of shipping it to where the contest will be held, and the cost of having it shipped back if it doesn’t sell. The top prize was $250, no one is going to get rich winning those contests. To top it off, the one last night charged a 50% commission if your photo sells! The only ones making any money are the promoters! I will admit, most of the contests don’t charge a 50% commission, but most do charge between 20%and 30%.
Looking at the past winners of these contests, I wouldn’t even call them nature photography. Most of the time the judges pick what started as a photo of a subject in nature, but then the image has been photo-shopped or altered in some other way on a computer, then printed on a non-traditional media of some sort. The winners seldom look like anything you see in nature. I’d be willing to bet that you could take an Ansel Adams photo, submit it to one of these contests, and it would be considered far to blasé for the judges nowadays. I am not going to spend three or four hundred dollars to enter a contest that only pays $250, and have the promoters take 50% if the picture were to sell.
That reminds me, still haven’t heard anything from Trout Unlimited as far as their photo contest, so there is still hope there. That one would be a good one to win, even though it pays nothing. Having one of my pictures used for the TU calendar would be reward enough, and a great way to introduce the world to my photos.
That’s about all the time I have right now, I have to do the work thing again for one more night, then a 3 day weekend! Yeah!
Kayaking the Little Muskegon above Morley
Yesterday, six of us kayaked the Little Muskegon River from the dam at the Altona Riverside Park down to the city park in Morley, Michigan. I guess you would say it was an up and down day, but overall, a great day! The weather started out very nice as we met in Morley and spotted a couple of vehicles in the city park there on the pond. You can continue across the pond to the dam in Morley, where there is another park right at the dam, but taking out there isn’t as good as the city park.
Then we drove up to Altona to put in. The Little Muskegon in this area is between 30 and 40 feet wide most of the time, and a typical Michigan stream with some riffle areas mixed with deeper holes on the bends and near where logs and trees have fallen into the water. The current is moderate, not anywhere near as fast as the Pine or Sturgeon Rivers, but faster than rivers like the Flat or Looking Glass. The gradient is around 5 feet per mile.
We got every one in their boats and on our way without incident, including Mike and Connie’s new boats, which perform very well it turns out. It was a beautiful afternoon as we wound our way downstream through the mixed forests and occasional tag alder swamps along the upper river. We went past the access site at the end of Three Mile Road, which is a DNR site and offers good access to the river if you want to shorten up the trip by about an hour or so. I did notice a few dark clouds, which were a portent of things to come.
We made it to the dam at Rustford, which we portaged on the right, and had a light lunch there at the dam. I don’t know who actually owns the property, but they keep it mowed and maintained, and it makes for a great spot for a break. Last year when we ran the Pine, we took two breaks, which worked out great, so I wanted to try that again yesterday, but things didn’t work out that way due to the weather later in the day.
It was after our break at the dam that things went downhill some what. I was helping people get back in the water, when one of our group flipped as she launched. I watched it happen as I was pushing her off, and I don’t know why she went over, she must have leaned the wrong way or something. We pulled her boat back out and drained it, this time I let Mike help her launch.
I could be wrong as to when we saw what, but for much of the trip we had both an eagle and at least one great blue heron taking off from in front of us time after time as we floated along. I don’t remember if we saw them first above or below the Rustford dam, I think it was before. At regular intervals we would see either the eagle take flight from the top of a tree with its white tail fanned out, or see a great blue heron take off from the river as it was hunting. Somewhere around there, we also saw a deer running through the woods after we had spooked it. We also saw a number of pileated woodpeckers, and there were birds singing in the trees and bushes all along the way. We also saw what I think was a little blue heron and a number of ducks that we never got close enough to for me to identify.
Then things went downhill a bit again, we came to a fallen tree that blocked the river completely, and required that we portage around it, sort of. I don’t remember it very well today, it wasn’t burned into my mind the way the other trouble spots later on were. I think it was pretty straight forward, I pulled out, set my boat off to the side, then helped Mike pull out, and we set his boat off to the side as well. Then, one by one, I helped the women out of their boats, passed the boats over the log jam to Mike, he helped them back in, and we were off again, no big deal. If I am wrong about that, please correct me.
The next trouble spot is burned into my mind much more than the first. I don’t remember why I was lagging behind the group as much as I was, it may have been to change the batteries in my GPS unit, but I do remember coming around a bend in the river and seeing the silver and black of some one’s paddle jammed nearly vertically against the face of another log jam, and that the owner of the paddle was struggling trying to pull a water-logged boat up a steep bank. It was the same person that went over at the launch from the Rustford dam, and other members of the group were going through a small opening on the left side of the logjam to help her out. I knew her paddle had to be retrieved, but it wasn’t going to be easy where it was jammed in the logs. Right next to where her paddle was in the logjam, there was a spot where some one who was good in a kayak could have limbo-ed under the log, which is what she tried, but wasn’t able to pull off. I thought about trying it, I am not sure that I would have made it either as big as I am, but I know for sure I wouldn’t have been able to snatch her paddle off the logjam and gotten down in my kayak in time to make that very small opening.
That left me with the alternative of paddling down to her paddle, grabbing it, then paddling back upstream against the fast current before the hydraulic formed by the logjam could roll me. I carefully positioned my boat so I was drifting downstream sideways and as soon as I could reach the other paddle, I snatched it, shoved off the logjam with my paddle, then paddled for all I was worth to keep from getting slammed into the logjam sideways, which probably would have rolled me. It worked even better than I expected, except that now, I had two paddles and one pair of hands. Every couple of paddle strokes I would have to grab the extra paddle and reposition it to keep it from slipping off to one side of my boat, digging in the water, and trying to spin me sideways in the current. I finally got far enough from the logjam where I had time to stow the extra paddle behind me, which turned out not to be such a good idea. I should have taken it apart and stowed it in a better position. I still had to shoot through the small opening in the logjam on the left bank. I was all lined up to power through that opening, when at the last second, the extra paddle shifted, dug into the water and spun me somewhat sideways as I was going through the logjam. It spun me enough so I slammed into one of the logs, but I was in far enough that I could put both paddles away, and pull myself through the rest of the way by grabbing the branches.
Through the logjam, I paddled over to return the extra paddle to the person who had lost it, and who was struggling mightily trying to hold her water filled boat out of the water on a steep bank. I was just able to shove her boat up far enough so she could hold it fairly easily, when Connie mis-judged the current as she tried to go through the opening in the logjam, crashed into the logjam, and was stuck there sideways to the current. Luckily, the current on the edge of the river wasn’t nearly as strong as it was mid-river, so the hydraulic wasn’t as bad, and Connie didn’t panic and roll like so many people do in that situation. But this left me with a dilemma, stay and help the swimmer, or help Connie so that she didn’t become the second swimmer of the day, I opted for the later. Mike was trying to help, and to be honest, one of us should have just bitten the bullet and gone swimming ourselves at that point, it would have been a lot easier out of a kayak. That would have been too easy.
I paddled over to below the logjam where Connie was hopelessly stuck, got up a head of steam going upstream, and crashed as far of the way through the branches making up the logjam as I could. At that point I was able to reach forward and up to grab a good-sized branch and pull myself up and into the heart of the logjam, to the point where the bow of my boat hit Connie’s boat, and knocked her free of the branch that was holding her stuck in place. My boat and I were solidly planted in the branches, it was like doing a chin-up with a kayak attached. Mike did about the same thing towards the bow of Connie’s boat, and then we used our paddles as pry bars to move branches and Connie’s boat around until she was finally free of the branches, and able to paddle back upstream.
At some point in this timeframe, I think I remember looking over to see the person who had already been swimming twice go over a third time as she tried to re-enter her boat with out some one to help her. I know this sounds cold-hearted, but I didn’t really care by then. She has been with us for a few trips, and nearly every time, she has rolled at least once. After a while, people should realize on their own that maybe kayaking isn’t the sport for them, or that they should limit themselves as far as the types of water they paddle. I like her, I feel bad that she went over, and if I hadn’t been tied up already helping some one else, I would have been there to help her. I don’t even mind the inconvenience to the group as far as the time and trouble her lack of skills cost us, but she is also putting people at risk because of her lack of ability.
I took a long break and debated with myself over whether I should leave the last paragraph in and continue to explain it, or delete it, and I am leaving it. This blog is named Quiet Solo Pursuits, mostly because I am good at offending people. Human nature is a funny thing, if the person who rolled her kayak multiple times yesterday reads this, she will probably be hurt and offended, and never join us again. When the other members of the group find out she’s never coming with us again, or maybe even from reading this, they will be hurt and offended, and mad at me for hurting and offending her to the point where she doesn’t come with us anymore. I would rather the person be hurt and offended, and alive, rather than drowning on a river somewhere because she isn’t very good at kayaking.
I was able to retrieve her lost paddle with not much trouble, but what if one of the less experienced members of the group had tried it, rolled, and gotten caught in the branches of the logjam? It happens, people drown while canoeing and kayaking, and I would rather it not happen to some one I like. But, it makes me the meannie if I tell some one they are very good at the sport, and maybe they should give it up, or not join us on certain rivers.
Something else happened yesterday that fits in with this all too well. A group of teens were jumping into the Kalamazoo River, even though there are signs warning against it. Of of the guys was told by his friends that he shouldn’t try it because he wasn’t a very good swimmer, but he did anyway, and now he is lost and presumed drown. He got caught in the currents and even though his friends tried to rescue him, they weren’t able to pull him out. The power of moving water is nothing to fool around with, people die.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear water, or currents, but I do have a healthy respect for them. As Clint Eastwood said in one of the Dirty Harry movies, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. The same applies to kayakers, male or female.
Where was I? Oh yeah, we had just gotten Connie out of the logjam the first time. I say first time, because the second time she tried to make it through the small opening in the logjam, she got stuck again. Not as bad as the first, I was able to reach through the branches and get enough of a bite on the bow handle of her kayak with my paddle to pull the bow of her boat into the opening, where she was able to pull herself through. It sounds so simple here as I type it, but I know I was working as hard as I could to get her through, and I am sure she and Mike were as well.
After that, we had one other portage, the last logjam looked worse than it was. I beached my boat a few yards upstream, then had Mike come down through some small branches right along the bank until he got to the large logs that couldn’t be moved. I helped him out of his boat, then one by one, he helped the women out of their boats, started the boats over the logs to me, and I helped the women get back in and under way. The only bad parts were that we had to portage at all, and some burning nettles on the bank. If you don’t know what burning nettles are, they are the plant equivalent of jellyfish in a way. They have little bristles that stick into your skin and shoot a chemical into you that causes a burning, itching sensation and a rash. I was wearing long pants so I didn’t get stung, Mike was wearing shorts and got it pretty bad, as he had never run into them before.
It wasn’t long after the last portage that the coolest thing of the day happened. Mike and I were just catching up to the women, and they were all grouped together along the shore. It looked like Connie was taking pictures of the wildflowers along the bank, of which there had been many all day. I saw the flash of her camera go off, then she reached down next to her boat and lifted a very young fawn out of the water. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a few days old. They had seen it swimming, trying to get out of the water, but it wasn’t big enough to make it up the bank right there. Connie tried to get it on shore, but the fawn squirmed loose from her, knocking her camera in the water I guess. She said later that her camera had been in the river, so I am assuming it happened when she picked the fawn up.
The fawn half swam, half jumped its way up the river until it found a place to exit the river, and it was off. I did try to get a picture, but it turned out blurry and the only thing you could see was that something had splashed the water, darn.
I had wanted to take a second break, but between the time we lost on the portages and logjam and the fact that the clouds were getting darker, it is a good thing we didn’t. We felt a few sprinkles once in a while as we crossed the short stretch of the Morley pond we had to paddle. It was raining very lightly by the time we retrieved the vehicles from the put in site in Altona, just hard enough to say it was raining. Great timing.
After that, all of us but one went over to the Moe Z Inn for dinner. The service isn’t the greatest there, but the food is very good, and they even have Blue Moon on tap, just about a perfect day.
Here’s a map that includes the GPS track of our paddle. It took us 5 1/2 hours with the three portages and the logjam.
My survival kit and why I carry one
As some one who was more or less raised in the great outdoors, I have always felt at ease there, even when things weren’t going well. It has only been the last few years that I have put together a survival kit of any kind and carry it with me. That’s mostly because of what I have seen and heard has happened to others who weren’t prepared, and from watching the Survivorman show on TV. If you’re not familiar with the show, it is about one man surviving in the wilderness for a week at a time. Survivorman is Les Stroud, some one who taught survival and outdoorsmanship for a living before he began his television career. He would set up a very typical scenario about how some one could be stranded in a wilderness area, and then he would spend the next week there showing the rest of the world how to survive if something like that were to happen to us.
What brought his point home to me was that many times the scenario he used to set up how he could become stranded were similar to things that had almost happened to me. I began to realize that I have been darned lucky my entire life, and that there was the possibility my luck could run out one of these days.
We’ve all read stories of fishermen who have drowned while fishing, or a hunter dying in the woods when they became lost, and like most people I thought it only happened to others. I even pulled a friend out of the water once when he was overcome by the current of the Rogue River and was real close to being swept off his feet and downstream where he could have drowned. But, we were young then and just laughed it off. Maybe age plays a part of my new concern for safety, I would rather think that it is that I have made to the point were wisdom over-rides the bravado of youth. In the last few years a number of things have happened that made me decide to put a survival kit together. One was kayaking with Larri and some of her friends who have a tendency to tip their kayaks over in the winter. Since we were prepared, those times became something to laugh about rather than a tragedy. I was already putting my kit together when I had a close call of my own, stepping in quicksand while fishing on the Boardman River a few years ago. Quicksand isn’t like you see in the movies, not at all, but it can still kill you if you panic. I was wading along and my left leg sunk into the quicksand where a spring apparently fed into the river. My right foot was still on somewhat solid bottom, but my leg was twisted in an awkward position while I was holding myself up with it. This all happened after I had been fishing for several hours in the very cold early spring water, and my right leg started to cramp up.
For a split second there I thought I was going to be one of those news headlines about a decomposed body being found floating in a river, then I used my head. I threw my fly rod up towards shore to free my hands and using all the strength remaining in my right leg, lunged forward as if I were swimming. I reached down to the bottom with my hands to help pull my left leg out of the quicksand. It helped that I lunged across the current, as the water pushing against me helped pull my leg out of the quicksand. I was wet and chilled, but alive. I retrieve my rod, wrung as much water out of my clothes as I could, then took the long walk back to my vehicle. Fortunately it was a nice day, and I was wearing clothes that not only dried quickly, but also kept me fairly warm while they were drying.
This hit close to home, but then to drive that point home, a guy who used to be my boss and was friend of mine, died while kayaking in Canada just a year or two later. If there was any one who went by the book and would have had all the right gear and taken all the right precautions, it was him.
I don’t intend this to be a full lesson in survival, so I’ll just hit a few of the major points, and list what I now carry with me whenever I am outdoors. I am writing this from the perspective of some one who lives in Michigan, where you are never more than a few miles from a road, or other means of reaching safety. If you are venturing into more remote areas, you should take even more precautions than I am going to list here.
The first one is to let some one know where you are going and when you’ll be back, so if you don’t check in with them, they can alert the authorities that you are missing and may need help. If you don’t know of any one who you trust to do that for you, there is a new online service you can use for free called Trailnote.com. Their system isn’t perfect, but it is rather new, and a lot better than being stranded in the wilderness for days with no one knowing that you are. I use it, as do some of my online friends.
Point two, take some time to look over a map of the area you are venturing into so that you will have an idea of the shortest route out when and where trouble may occur. Let’s say you are kayaking a river and your boat gets damaged on a rock, and you have to walk out. You could follow the river, but that’s usually pretty rough going through wetlands and tangled brush. You’d be much better off if you knew where the closest road was to your location and walked out that way, most of the time. You should know if there is a large swamp or high cliff between you and safety and have a plan in your mind of what you would do if your boat were to be damaged at some point on the river. And, if you are part of a group, don’t leave that all to one person. What if they are the one that is injured and no one else in the group knows where they are? At least a few members of the group, if not every one, should know where they are going, and the quickest routes to safety.
Here’s what I carry with me and why. Remember, I live in Michigan where you are never more than a few miles from a road, so my kit is put together to keep me alive for one night, two at the most. If I get lost, I know I’m not going to starve to death before I make it out or I am rescued, and I know I won’t die of thirst. Michigan’s official nickname used to be water wonderland, one is never more than 6 miles from a lake here in Michigan, so water isn’t a problem. What does kill people in Michigan, and all places for that matter is panic, panic and hypothermia.
If you are prepared, there should be no reason for you to suffer from hypothermia, and if you are prepared, there is a lot less chance that you will panic and do something foolish. As soon as most people realize they missed a turn on a trail or in some other way are lost, they go crashing through the brush because they just know the trail is just “over there”, and end up getting themselves even more lost. Stop and think, and if you are off the trail, backtrack to where you pick it up again unless you are very good with a map and compass.
If you are kayaking and a thunderstorm delays you long enough so you may not make it to your take out site before dark, or your boat is damaged, don’t paddle on into the darkness in a blind panic unless you know you are very close to the take out.
The first thing to do if something happens and you may think you’ll be stuck out overnight is to sit down, try to relax, and consider your situation. Can you make it to the end before dark? Is there a chance that some one else may come along shortly? If you do have to walk out, do you know which direction to go, and can you make to a road or other place of safety before dark?
If you do have to spend the night, find a sheltered area up from the river so you will be dry. Don’t waste all your time looking for a perfect spot, find a good spot and gather firewood with the remaining sunlight. A fire will keep you warm, and increase the chance of rescuers seeing you, and make you feel a lot better about your situation.
Here is what I always bring with me and why….
•A compass..Every one has a tendency to walk in circles in the woods, even I do, and I am different from most experienced outdoorsmen, I’ll admit it. You don’t have to be an expert with a compass, but know how to use it well enough to travel in a straight line. You may think you can follow the river, but that is tough hiking through swamps, thickets, and more twists and turns than you knew there were. Don’t rely on one of those pin on your clothes types of compasses, or the cheap ones that come in the prepackaged survival kits. Buy one that works and it could save your life! A GPS unit is a great thing to have, but batteries go dead or the unit could fail at the time you need it most.
•Salt..I carry a 35mm film container with plain old table salt in it in case of leeches. Yes, there are leeches in some of the rivers we kayak, and salt is the best way to remove them.
•A first aid kit… it doesn’t have to be fancy, but being able to clean and dress a wound can be a life saver, get one! Since I have been carrying a first aid kit I have used it several times, but never for myself. I have cleaned and dressed a wounded dog that got tangled up in barbed wire, and did the same for a kid that had fallen and scraped his knee up badly.
•A throw rope…one long enough to be able to pull a person to safety or retrieve a boat stuck in a logjam. I have a commercially made one, but a good rope of 25 to 50 feet long will work. Rope is too handy not to carry. You can unravel some of the rope to make string if you need it. I won’t hike or kayak without a good rope with me anymore.
•A multitool…a multitool is like a Swiss Army knife on steroids, buy a quality one that will hold up to use. Mine has a knife, saw, screwdrivers, file, etc. They can be used to make repairs to your equipment or in survival mode.
•A bailing sponge..used to soak up the water in your boat. I have never tried it, but I’ll bet I could use it and other things I carry to make repairs to my kayak to the point I could float my way out by jamming it into a hole or gash. This is for kayakers only.
•Two heavy duty trash bags..in survival mode, there are tons of uses for these. Use them as a ground cover to sleep on, or as covering if it rains, just make sure you don’t suffocate yourself! You may also be able to use these with the bailing sponge to make a temporary patch to your boat if you are kayaking and your boat is damaged.
•An extra water bottle..a lot of my kit is stored in my extra water bottle as added protection to keep it dry. In Michigan, you are never far from water, but an extra bottle to carry it in is a good idea
•Water purification pills…yes, there are filters, but they take up more room, drop a couple of the pills into your bottle of water, and you know you will have safe drinking water.
•An emergency whistle…mine doubles as a holder for waterproof matches, more on those later, but the whistle can be heard at a longer distance than your voice. Remember that three blasts on a whistle is an internationally recognized distress signal. So if you hear some one using a whistle and giving three short blasts at a time, you should investigate why. It will probably turn out to be a kid, but you never know unless you check.
•Waterproof matches..I carry them, not sure if I trust them, but hypothermia is the most important thing to worry about, so I carry these and several other ways to start a fire to stay warm. Make sure you carry the strikers too, since you can no longer purchase strike anywhere matches. You can make your own by dipping the heavy kitchen type matches in wax to within a quarter of an inch or so from the head, leaving the head unwaxed.
•Magnesium flint stick..another way to start a fire, shave some of the magnesium off the stick with your multi-tool, and strike the flint into the pile of shavings with the knife blade and you’ll get a good fire going in no time. Magnesium burns easily and with a very hot flame and will dry out damp tinder.
•A Bic lighter.. another way to start a fire.
•A rain poncho.. I always carry rain gear when I kayak or hike, but the more waterproof gear you have, the better, and it can be used in ways other than a poncho, such as a tarp over your head by tying it to some bushes, or to catch rain water to refill your water bottle.
•A Space blanket..Note, these are intended to be used next to your skin, I am not sure if they work, I hope to never find out, but better safe than sorry. I am sure I’ll find a use for them if the need ever arises.
•Insect repellent…nuff said, unless you like spending a night in the woods as food for mosquitoes.
•Toilet paper…nuff said there too, well, maybe not, I carry the end of a roll so it doesn’t take up much space, can also be used as tinder for a fire.
•A survival Candle..can be used for light, but also puts off more heat than you would think. If you have a pop or beer can, a little work on it with your multi-tool and add in the candle, and it will turn it into a nice lantern/handwarmer.
•Chemical handwarmers..I have a couple of these, I have never used them, but they don’t take up much space and if they put out any heat at all, they are worth it to carry.
One more thing, for trips to more remote ares, like the UP or Canada, add an axe. I know people who never leave home without them, and if you are in a true wilderness area, neither should you..
So that’s it, a few notes, you can add and subtract from this list, but I think it is a good one, based on my experience and also too much time spent watching Les Stroud, Survivorman, on TV. Stay away from the cheap survival stuff most places sell, except as the base for your kit. Remember that fire is probably the most important thing you will need if stranded. Make use of anything you have and can find, and don’t be afraid to make use of things in ways they were never intended to be used for.
I carry almost the exact same things in my daypack, and in my fishing vest, that way I always have it with me. None of these things are going to help you if you forget them at home.
One last thing, none of this is any good unless you check your kit at least once a year, especially if you include battery-powered devices in your kit. I have a tradition, the first weekend after New Years Day, I go through all my outdoor stuff, fishing gear, backpacks, kayaking gear, etc. I clean and inspect everything, lubricate what needs it, check any expiration dates, like on the water purification pills, and REPLACE any batteries! You should too, maybe not the same day, but pick a day and do it!
In about 48 hours from now, I will be setting up my campsite in the Pigeon River Country for a week of fly fishing, hiking, exploring, and kayaking. As I was thinking about it, it dawned on me that most people refer to it as roughing it, not me. Sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag is second nature to me, I grew up camping, and if anything, I sleep better while camping than at home. Going with out electricity? No big deal to me, I’ll have a lantern and flashlights along, besides, I am up at first light and normally go to bed shortly after it gets dark anyway. No TV? Ha, I don’t even turn the one I have at home on, so I sure won’t be missing that. No stove? I do bring a Coleman stove, and between that and a campfire, I can cook most anything I care to eat anyway. On top of that, food tastes better cooked outdoors, or it is that being active in fresh air makes food taste better. Maybe it’s because I do so much camping that I don’t think of it as roughing it, and I’ll tell you, after 4 years of being an over the road truck driver, camping sure beats living in a truck!
I’ll be spending 24 hours a day in the great outdoors, in one of the most beautiful locations in the state of Michigan, what could be better? Instead of seeing endless traffic, parking lots, and houses on top of houses, I’ll be seeing blue skies, wildlife going about its business, trees, and flowers. Instead of hearing TV, stereos, voices, loud cars and bikes, I’ll be hearing birds singing, and the wind whispering in the pines. I’ll hear the loons, coyotes, owls, and whippoorwills serenade me to sleep at night. Instead of smelling what other people are cooking, cheap perfume, and car exhaust, I’ll be smelling crisp clean air slightly scented with the fragrances of pine and wildflowers. Roughing it? I think not!
OK, so there is one thing I will miss, a hot shower. I’ll check into a motel next Saturday so I can take a shower, and before I meet with friends for kayaking the Au Sable on Sunday. It will make things easier as far as packing up for the trip home as well.
I was talking to a friend the other night, and she had all kinds of questions about my adventures, similar to what many people ask. Are you going alone? Yep, except for next Sunday for kayaking. Don’t you get bored or lonely up there by yourself? Never, there never seems to be enough time when I’m up there, and I am never bored, even if I am just sitting in the woods somewhere taking in all of nature. I am always too busy to be bored, and there are too many critters around for me to get lonely. But what if it rains? I’ll put on a rain coat and stay dry. Don’t you get cold? No, I have an excellent sleeping bag, and good outdoor wear that keeps me snug as a bug in a rug. Doesn’t it get wet in the tent? Not if you know where and how to set up a tent. What about the wild animals, aren’t I afraid of being attacked? Hardly, I’ll be safer in the woods than driving down the road, and safer than in some neighborhoods. What about the bugs? OK, you got me there, most of the summertime bugs can be a pest, but that’s the reason I take my vacation in early May, the bugs aren’t out yet. I can’t say that I like having to wear insect repellent all the time in the summer, but it is a small price to pay in trade-off for all the other good things there are.
Truth be told, if I were independently wealthy, or retired, I would live about the same as I am going to be doing this coming week anyway. The difference would be that I would have a structure rather than a tent, and the structure would have a shower and water heater. Don’t get me wrong, I love the culture that is available in the cities, but on my terms. I love a night at the symphony, or a day in a museum as much or more than any one, but as a visitor. As far as life, give me the great outdoors! Now that’s really living, and living well.
Just one week to go!
Next week at this time, I’ll be on my way north for my annual fly fishing, hiking, kayaking, exploration week in and around the Pigeon River country. The one good thing that came out of the time I spent as an over the road truck driver is that almost everything I will be taking with me is already packed. All I have to do is load it in the explorer, which I will do a little at a time this week when I leave for work each day. Being so organized takes some of the anticipation away, but it also eliminates all the hassles. I found some huge duffel bags at Gander Mountain a few years ago, they are almost too large to be practical for most people, but they work well for me. I have one for all my kayaking gear, everything I need fits into that one huge duffel, except my kayak of course. My PDF, mud boots, packed dry bags and all fit, so that stuff is already packed. I have another one of the dufflels that holds my sleeping bag, foam mat to sleep on, and pillows, so that stuff is mostly packed, I just have to roll up the mat since I leave it unrolled when I store it.
I have a large plastic tote that holds all my fishing gear, both pairs of waders, my fishing vest, net and everything else except my rods, which are in their own case that fits on top of the tote very nicely. The beauty of the tote is that when I’m done fishing, I can throw my waders in the tote and keep the mud and water off from everything else in my explorer.
Another large plastic tote holds all the cooking and other camping items I need, and I have dedicated stuff for camping, so that stuff is all packed and ready to go. Dollar stores are great! I bought a cheap set of silverware for just a couple of bucks that work just fine for camping, along with dish cloths, towels, and other things. That stuff isn’t great by any means, and it wouldn’t hold up to everyday use, but for a few camping trips each year, it works very well. I can keep it all packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I have some stackable plastic storage containers that hold my coffee, sugar, and those kinds of things, I just need to fill them up for this trip. I also cheat, and steal, condiments from restaurants in those small individual sizes. Why take an entire bottle of ketchup or mustard along for one guy for one week? Those individual packs make packing and camping a lot easier, and less wasteful in the long run.
Basically, all I need to pack are some clothes and my food. I’ll buy the food that can be frozen this weekend, and that means most of the food. I even freeze the milk I’ll be taking, I buy the small individual serving sized containers of chocolate milk, pour a little out of each container to make room for expansion, then freeze them. I have it down to a science, I don’t even need ice in the cooler for a day or two, since everything is frozen to start with. I buy chocolate milk because it tastes better after it starts to warm up in the cooler, I hate warm milk. I know the individual serving sizes are wasteful and expensive, but what the heck, it is just for a week, and as I use them, I can throw the containers away to make room for the ice I need to keep the remaining stuff cool. The individual size also makes it easy for planning, one for each day I’ll be up there. Ballpark sells packages of individually wrapped hot dogs, I know, terribly expensive. But, I don’t want to live on hot dogs for the entire week, so I’ll buy a pack and take a couple with me this trip, and the rest will stay frozen for my other trips this summer. I will be drinking well water from the campground this week, but I’ll start with my water bottles full, and frozen, since I have to take them with me, it works great to freeze them to start with. By starting with almost everything frozen, I don’t have to worry about my food keeping well for the week, and it cuts down on the amount of ice I have to buy. What food I bring that can’t be frozen goes in the same large tote as the cooking stuff, or in the cooler with the frozen stuff.
A couple of other things about the tote, my camp stove fits perfectly in the recess in the lid of the tote, which is cool for storing the stove. Keeping everything in the tote also works for critter control. There are bears in the Pigeon River Country, but I am more likely to have raccoons, squirrels, and chipmunks try to raid my food. By keeping everything in the tote, it makes it easy to keep it in my vehicle except for when I’m actually cooking, and that keeps the critters out of my food. That also comes in handy when I am off fishing or exploring, I can stop where ever and when ever I want and have lunch. My base will be Round Lake State Forest campground for the week, but that’s just my base for the week. I could be fishing or exploring 10 or 20 miles from there on any given day, and having everything with me saves a lot of driving back and forth to the campground if I get hungry.
My clothes are easy as well, since my outdoor clothes are all just for outdoor use, I just have to pack what I am going to take with me for the week. That’s easy too, everything, or just about. You never know what the weather is going to be like up there. A couple of years ago, I woke up to frost on the ground, ice in the coffee pot, and the high temperature that day was 85 degrees. I pack my clothes in two small duffels, for a reason. One duffel holds just one change of clothes, as an emergency change in case I get wet or something. That duffel also holds a power inverter, which changes a vehicle’s 12 volts DC to 120 volts AC so I can power my laptop and battery chargers and such. It also holds all the chargers one needs these days, cell phone, GPS unit, cameras, etc. That duffel stays in the vehicle so that if I am out fishing or hiking and need a change of clothes for some reason, I will have one when I get back. When I run into town, I’ll have the power inverter so I can power up my laptop and download my pictures from my cameras to the computer, check my Email, and all that modern stuff. The other duffel holds most of my clothes, my personal stuff, and a flashlight for use in the tent. That duffel goes in the tent once I have it set up.
OK, I have to throw in a shameless plug here. It has now been many years that I have had it, and I still think it is one of the best things I have, and that is a L L Bean Personal organizer for toiletries, it is excellent. I saw them in the Bean catalog and pointed it out to Larri when we were together and planning an order to Bean, and told her I was going to add one to the order for myself, and suggested she do the same. When I got back home from after my next week over the road, she had surprised me by ordering them separately from what we were going to order, and I have loved it since she gave it to me. Why get excited over a toiletries bag? Because it is the most well thought out product I have ever used. It works well for camping, or any other type of travelling. It has pockets for different size containers, a removable shower caddy, a hook for hanging it on a shower head if you are in a motel, or a tree branch if you are camping. The stuff in it stays put and organized, there’s tons of room, it’s water-resistant, cleans easily, you name it, this thing does what it is supposed to do, and it stands up to wear and tear. I know Larri gave them as gifts to her kids and some of her friends, and I used to get comments about mine from other drivers when I was still over the road. I mean, it is just a nylon bag with pockets for your stuff, but it is one product I have bought that has actually worked better than I expected, when most things you buy turn out not to be so good.
Getting back to packing, or should I say unpacking now, the best part of the system I have developed means that when I get home on the Sunday night at the end of my vacation, I don’t have to do any unpacking if I don’t want to. I will do some, I will bring the expensive stuff in, like my cameras, laptop, and fly rods, but the rest could stay in my vehicle if I am too tired to unload in one night. I am sure I will also unload the food, and maybe a trip or two more, but the rest of the stuff I will unpack the same way I pack, a little bit every day.
The only downside is that it was expensive to get set up in the first place. I essentially have at least two of most of the household things that one uses on a daily basis. I have two sets of cookware, my good stuff for at home, and a smaller, cheaper set for camping. Same with most things, like silverware, food containers and things like those. I took it even farther, not settling for duplicates, but having triplicate of some things. Like rain gear for example. I have a full rain suit packed in my kayaking bag, a full rain suit in my day pack, and a rain jacket packed in my fly vest. Why, you ask? When I was an over the road driver, the company I worked for “guaranteed” 48 hours off for weekends, hah! Seldom did I get the full 48 hours off, a lot of weeks it was closer to 36 hours, and that was only because I was willing to break the law and drive over my hours as allowed by the law in order to get home at all. There were a number of times I never made it home at all, and I would stay in a motel to take the break the law requires a driver to take. Time was at a premium, much more so than money, as the one good thing about being over the road is that I was making a lot of money, and didn’t have any time to spend any of it. So, I started to get things set up so that everything I needed for each type of trip was already packed up so I could get home, take a shower, grab a bite to eat, throw the right duffel bag or tote into the vehicle, and take off for the weekend. Let’s say I was going fishing, all I had to do is put the plastic tote that holds my fishing gear in the car and I was ready to go. No searching around for the stuff I needed, it was all packed and ready to go, just add water. And, I never forgot anything that way, no having to remember to pack a rain jacket, or insect repellent, or any of the other things I keep in my vest. Same with my daypack, it has the essentials in it all the time, grab it and go.
While it was expensive to get the system set up, I am finding that it saves me money now. By having dedicated outdoor clothing, I am finding that it lasts a lot longer than when you wear it often as casual clothing. I am not tearing up my good outdoor gear wearing it to work, and that saves me money, as I can buy cheap stuff for work. Another way it has saved money is that there haven’t been any trips into town to pick up something I have forgotten, and who hasn’t had that happen? I don’t go camping with other people very often, but it seems like every time I do, some one has forgotten something, that doesn’t happen to me anymore. It does take some of the anticipation and excitement out of getting ready for a trip, but that’s minor compared to knowing that I have everything ready and won’t have forgotten anything.
It’s looking like it could be a great week as well. We’ve had a lot of rain here in April, nearly record amounts. Lake Michigan rose 6 inches in April, that’s several trillion gallons of water, and that’s a good thing. It looks like the monsoon is about over, things will dry out nicely, and the fishing should be great. I feel sorry for all those guys hitting the traditional opening day today, the rivers are way too high for the fishing to be any good, I hope no one drowns in the floods. We’re not suppose to get much rain at all this next week, which means the rivers will be just right when I get there. If the rain does return, doesn’t bother me a bit, I like fishing in the rain, as long as it isn’t a downpour. If there is a downpour, then that will be time to go exploring, but I am looking forward to a mostly dry, warmer week than the past few weeks have been.
There are two non-fishing things I want to do that week, one is to check out the sinkhole area again. It has been years since I have been there, and I’d like to get some better pictures than the ones I do have. I’ll do that if there is a bright sunny day, but there is a lot of wind. Wind makes fly fishing difficult, much more so than rain. The other thing is to hike more of the trails up there, especially the northern end of the Shinglemill Pathway. I have done the southern end a lot, along both sides of the Pigeon River, a lot of it in waders. They’re not the most comfortable footwear for hiking, but they get the job done when you’re hiking in and out of your favorite fishing holes. That reminds me of something else I want to do, check out the Little Traverse conservancy preserves farther downstream on the Pigeon River. They’re not in the Pigeon River Country, but close enough for me. I would also like to do some kayaking on some of the lakes up there, like Dog or Osmun Lake. I have done the Pigeon and the Sturgeon Rivers, but I have never paddled any of the lakes. I see my list just keeps getting longer, I need to win the lottery and spend the rest of my life there.
One more thing, I am working on the photography tips that I promised a couple of weeks ago, that is turning into quite the project, almost like writing a book, which it really is. The more I write, the more I realize that I am just scratching the surface, but I’ll keep plugging away at it. As I go, I am also figuring out how I want to put it all together in a coherent form that flows and builds as it goes. It isn’t going to be as easy or as quick as I thought it would be. Sorry about that.