Kayak Trip Report - 3/30/2010 -An Extended Expedition


Posted on : 3/31/2010 07:55:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

I went on yet another river adventure last weekend.  This time around, the expedition consisted of Jamie in a canoe, and Denis, Jeff, Brian, and I in kayaks.  Brian was to be initiated into our crew of mis-adventurers.  It didn't take long.

The map of our journey is at the end of this post.

The brief version is that we traveled roughly 12.5 miles in 7.5 hours.  We completed trips 2, 3, 4, and 5 as laid out by the folks at GREAT.  According to their maps, all four trips should take between 7 and 11 hours to accomplish.  Given all that happened, I'd say that we were quite lucky to have finished as soon as we did.

The weather predicted for Saturday was clear with a high in the mid-50s.  The weather for Sunday was supposed to be cold and rainy.

The car windows were covered with a light frost when I began putting the kayak atop my car at 8 AM.  There was a bite in the air that gave me brief pause to reconsider the day's adventure.  However the sky was clear and the sun promised to warm things up later in the day.  I ran a couple of errands and then shot out to the park on Vandercook Lake where I was supposed to meet Denis around 9:30.

Denis arrived, my kayak was stowed with his in the back of his pickup truck, and we were shortly joined by Jamie who had dropped his canoe at our starting point on Jefferson Road.  We then learned that Jeff and Brian were waiting for us at the starting point, so we headed off to meet them.

The cold from earlier that morning had yielded to the sun's persistent persuasions.  Our breath no longer left plumes in the air.  But it was still a long way from anything you could reasonably call 'warm'.

Boats were unloaded at our starting point and staged waiting for our trip to begin.  Even our kayaks looked just a little leery of a river still filled with the run-off from a snow laden winter.

Jamie led the way.  With but the slightest shrug of his shoulders, he lifted his canoe from its resting spot and gently placed it in the water.  It was a feat of strength and majesty that only his well muscled 6'-2 frame might have accomplished.  As he paddled down the river with sun gleaming in his hair and his blue eyes ablaze in anticipation of the feats yet to come, one could be excused for mistaking him for a Nordic prince leading his band of hardy adventurers.  Or perhaps he is Adonis reborn to travel from Persephone to Aphrodite and back again.

Oh my......I think I'm getting moist.....

[Thus ends the lesson on being careful about what you wish for.  8*)  ]

Your gracious interlocutor had recently purchase a pair of water shoes.  Why have water shoes if one isn't prepared to get them wet.  And so I promptly stepped into the river so as to mount my kayak.  I no longer had to worry about my feet being cold or feeling any other sensation.  They had gone numb and would not recover for several days.

Denis then promptly demonstrated a better method of entering the river by getting into his kayak while it was on dry land.  He then performed a few pelvic thrusts to scoot himself into the river.  It worked.  And he was dry.

Once we were all in our boats, we quickly ducked under the US127 bridge and were on our way.  In less than a few hundred yards we were faced with our first obstacle of the day; a foot bridge placed across the river by some errant landowner.  We all had to scoot down deep in our kayaks to slip under the steel frame of the bridge.  Another inch of water and we all would have had to portage around the bridge.

As it was, only Jamie and his canoe had to make a brief exit from the river.  By the end of the day, the kayaks only needed to leave the river three times for obstacles.  I am pretty sure that Jamie exited his canoe close to a dozen times to go over or around dead-falls and bridges.  By the end of the day, we were both pretty well gassed.  At least Jamie had a good reason to be exhausted.  He did twice the work that the kayakers had done.

Once past the foot bridge, we wandered through a marsh.  It turns out that Brian is quite an avid hunter.  He pointed out several spots where beavers had been at the trees along the shoreline.  He also was able to point out mallards, wood ducks, and other bits of fauna along the way. 

At one point we saw a series of what looked like golf balls sitting in the mud and covered by shallow water along the river's edge.   Eventually we figured out that the golf balls were really turtle eggs, waiting for a bit more sunshine before they hatched.

Michigan weather has largely been above freezing for most of the last few weeks.  It might dip below freezing at night for a while, but the day time high temperatures have run from 40 to 60 degrees F.

Yet as we floated through the marsh, we caught glimpses of ice hidden here and there.  Mostly it was on the river bank protected from the sun by marsh grass, trees, and bushes.  Occasionally there would be still pools of water that were covered by the slightest sheet of ice.

This first leg of our journey is known as Trip #2 by GREAT.  It is mostly open with very few obstacles between Jefferson Road and Reed Road.

One modest caution for this stretch of the trip, always remember the last bend in the river.  Water, not unlike everything else, prefers to travel along in a straight line until it is given no other choice but to turn in a different direction.  That means that the flow of the river tends to stack up along the outside edge of the turn and then stay along that same edge until the river bed bends back in the opposite direction.

So if the river is bending to the left, keep right.  And stay to the right until the river bends back to the right.  Then get left.  There were quite a few spots where the rest of the river was only a few inches deep.  Those, like your loquacious host, who failed to watch where they were going found themselves briefly grounded until they could paddle back into deeper water.

The only serious issues we had were the second foot bridge that is marked on the map, and bend in the river where a dead fall resides.  The second foot bridge was only a few inches above the water.  Denis managed to squeeze his kayak under the bride, but he was standing on the bridge while his kayak was passing below it.  The rest of us got out and went around.  It is unfortunate that people don't consider the impact of their actions when they purposefully block a public waterway like that.

The dead fall, also marked as the first place where I almost got wet, was the first serious obstacle that we faced.  There are several trees that have fallen into the river here.  While usually you can just get a bit of speed and slide right over such things, this spot is a bit tricky.  If your boat turns just a little bit right or left, then the river will twist you cross-ways.  As every experienced kayaker...and even inexperienced ones like yours truly....will tell you, that is the one condition you absolutely must avoid if you are to avoid getting dumped into the river.

My turn at the dead fall finally came.  I worked up a bit of speed hoping to slide right through.  Instead I slid atop the pile and the nose of my kayak turned to the right where it was wedged into the pile.  I tried every trick I knew but I couldn't go backwards without flipping over in front of the pile.  I couldn't go forward as I could not get the nose to swing back to the left.

I was stuck.  Had the river been any faster or deeper, I would have been quite a bit more worried.

As it was, I eventually used the dead fall to pull myself so that the nose of my kayak went deeper into the pile.  Eventually the ass end broke free, I pushed back out of the pile, and floated gracefully away downstream.

Backwards.  Lucille Ball would have been proud.

Just a couple of twists of the river before Reed Road, there is one more tricky little spot.  Someone has used an aluminum ladder to create a bridge across the river.  To the right there is plenty of room.  To the left, you had better not be very tall.  To complicate matters further, there is a noticeable change of elevation and the river runs quite swiftly.  Sending people down this stretch one at a time is preferable to getting all bunched up at the ladder.  Back-paddling is quite difficult here.

Shortly thereafter we drifted under Reed Road and began GREAT's Trip 3.  Of the four trips we completed that day, this is the shortest and probably the easiest.  The river meanders along through a couple of wooded areas, along the edge of a farm where we dared one another to reach out and touch the electric fence, and then out into another marshland.

It was the most uneventful portion of our trip.  Except for lunch.  The location for our luncheon is noted by the green marker.  We held on to one another's boats with one hand while munching on whatever we had brought along to sustain us on our journey. 

What a feast!  What great company!

Having restored a bit of energy, we paddled on and out of this easy stretch of the river.

And then the fun began.

Trip 4, as designated by GREAT, begins at US127 at a spot that is roughly 1.5 miles north of our starting point.  There is a road side picnic and parking area just south of where the river cuts under the highway.

I caution against taking this trip alone.  There are many obstacles to be circumvented or conquered.  This section of the river was just plain hard work for five us working together.  I can't imagine taking it on alone.

At least not in the current condition.

We noted that the home on the west side of US127 had a homemade zip line in their back yard.  A substantial cable and turnbuckle ran from high in a tree near the back of the house down to a tree that is much closer to the river. 

We thought that the rig looked like a recipe for broken bones.  Check the satellite view and you will see what we could not see from our boats.  I imagine that riding that zip line must be quite a bit of fun during the long hot days of summer!

The trees closed in as we left the zip line behind us.  Massive wooden pillars leaned ominously over the river begging the question of what exactly does one do if a tree should happen to fall while you are paddling beneath it.  I'm sure the you would hardly at all feel it if one of the big ones should they happen to fall.

Presently we found the river completely blocked by a series of massive trees.  We got our boats out of the river and walked through some ankle deep black mud until the river cleared.  The river was similarly blocked further downstream, but I was unable to identify the exact location.  I'm sure that you will know it when you find it.

We happened to have brought along two hand saws and a chainsaw on our expedition.  Denis is our river-master when obstacles approach.  He enjoys the challenge of finding a way through a dead-fall without having to cut it apart.  He has a knack for figuring out how to slip over, under, and through whatever is in the way.  There were several obstacles that even he had some trouble with. 

Where we could, we used the saws to remove some of the trees that had fallen across the river.  For the most part, all we needed to do was to cut them in one spot and they would sink below the water's surface leaving plenty of room for us to float on by.  In a couple of spots, we used the hand saws to remove some lesser branches that were more meddlesome and troublesome than true obstacles.

It was in the midst of one spot festooned with branches where I found myself once again wedged in with no place to go.  Fortunately, Brian had made it through before me.  We were able to hand the chainsaw up to him.  While we were using the hand saws to widen the path on each side, Brian was able to remove enough of the limbs to our front to permit our party's blockage....yours truly....to finally pass on by. 

A little while later we came across another tree that had fallen across the river.  There was really enough room to get through, but we thought we might help the next party of intrepid adventurers by clearing some of the smaller branches.  Denis and Jamie made short work of the water logged lumber after Brian and Jeff had gone through.  I was the first to attempt the newly cleared path.

Didn't make it.  Damned kayak twisted to the left on me and once again I was crosswise to the flow of the river.  Every time I tried to back up, I found myself getting tangled in the larger tree trunk that we had left unmolested.  Every time I went forward, the nose of my kayak would get tangled in the river bank.  When I tried to untwist myself, I could feel my kayak getting ready to dump me into the stream.

It was most embarrassing.  Eventually, I wriggled free and paddled quickly to catch up.

The woods contained a host of opportunities for mischief.  My third and final twist cross-ways to the stream came elsewhere in the woods.  I was passing along the length of a submerged tree trunk when a slight rise grabbed my kayak and held it firm while it twisted in the stream.  That was the spot where I finally got some real water in my kayak.  Not much, but enough to know that I was on a river.

At another spot, there was a tree down that was particularly hard to get over.  Jeff and I were the last two to try while Jamie waited on the other side with a bit of rope that we might use to pull ourselves the rest of the way across the dead fall.  As luck would have it, Jeff hit a spot that caused the rest of the tree to submerge just a bit.  I was able to ram up along side of him so that we both made it over, side by side.  Teamwork at its finest.

At one bend along the way there was a tree creaking noisily in spite of the lack of any wind.  Passing underneath its branches caused me to wonder exactly how lucky I thought I was.

We stopped to heed nature's call at yet another location.  One of our merry company attempted to disembark from his kayak into a thigh deep mud hole.  He managed to get out quickly enough, but he was in long enough to leave the impression that this particular mud hole might be deeper than is otherwise considered healthy.

He re-boarded his kayak a little further upstream where there was better footing.

While passing through an area with woods on one side and tall marsh grass looming on the other, we managed to rouse what sounded like a deer from his bed in a thicket.  For a few brief moments, it sounded as if he was everywhere on the right at the same time.  At any moment I fully expected to see him leap over the river and on through the woods.  He opted to follow a different course and as a result we never saw him.  Denis thinks he was at least a 40 point buck.  We will never know.

Having such a large beast moving so quickly and so close was an exciting experience.

Jamie posted something on my Facebook page that I thought was appropriate.

 I will comment 5 ordinary guys accomplished something incredible today on the Grand River. I'm vary proud to have been apart off a group that practices team work even after beating the crap out of there bodys for 7.5hrs walking through knee deep mud and climbing over dead trees and paddling countless miles into the wind. It was a great journey and fun company.

I could not agree more.  The very best parts of this trip were the parts where we were working together to find our way through or around or over or under some challenge of the river.  As we drift along under Loomis Road and on to GREAT Trip #5, I'd like to add yet another word of thanks to Denis, Jamie, Jeff, and Brian for having me along on such a fantastic adventure.

The character of the river changed once again after we passed under Loomis Road.  The dense woods gave way to open marshland and a little easier paddling.  I say a little easier as by this time both of my arms were prepared to fall off.  We had been paddling for quite a distance.

Coming into the marsh posed the additional challenge of dealing with the wind.  While the wind had been low throughout the day, it picked up a bit as the clouds that presaged the next day’s wet and dreary weather came rolling in.  The open marshland offered little protection from the wind.  We all got a little colder and we all had to fight quite a bit harder whenever the wind was in our faces.

Paddling downstream and with the wind was pleasant enough.  Who knew!  With the winding of the river, we had plenty of upwind and downwind opportunities.

This is perhaps as good a point as any to note that where you are in a kayaking party pretty well determines what you are going to see.  The first one or two paddlers will invariably see a cornucopia of wildlife.  Everyone after that point generally gets to see only those critters that fly away as the leaders approach their nests.

I believe our little group was the subject of very serious discussions of the United Brotherhood of Waterfowl and Other Winged Creatures meeting.  At least the way the ducks quacked and the geese honked, you would have thought that we would be first on the next meeting's agenda.  I hope they don't have any unpleasant surprises for us the next time we venture into the wild!

As we slid around the winding bends of the river, we had a chance to see a variety of birds.  Several sand hill cranes flew overhead.  A couple of hawks sat high up in the trees well removed from the river.  I think they were red tailed hawks, but could be wrong.  Brian spotted an owl sitting quietly at the top of one towering tree.

Brian is hooked on kayaking.  Each one of us had given him several spots where he could look for both new and used 'yaks.  The line in Vegas is that he'll have one of his own in a couple of weeks.

Eventually, the river emptied into Vandercook Lake.  We were one short paddle from dry land, dry clothes, car heaters, and not having to paddle anymore.

Until we get stuck on a mud bar.  My companions all managed to do the kayak boogie through the shallow water.  Your introspective narrator possesses a unique physique.  Round is a shape!  I ended up backing out and going around.

But eventually we managed to pull our boats at the public boat ramp.  We loaded up my kayak and Jamie's canoe and then drove everyone back to the starting point so they could pick up their trucks.

After such a long and satisfying paddle, I had something else that was long and satisfying.  A nap!

Thanks again to Denis, Jamie, Jeff, and Brian for making this expedition so memorable.  Until next time....

View Grand River 3-27-2010 in a larger map

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