Canoe Trip Journal — March 20-22

Mohican State Park to Mohawk Dam

Zappa loves it when I put a canoe on the roof of the car for him.

For the second time in his many cat lives — far more than nine — Zappa managed to delay the onset of a canoe trip.

The first time he did this, he set us back more than three hours. About seven years ago, my friends and I set up a base camp in my yard. It was a Memorial Day weekend and we planned to roll out Saturday morning to set up a shuttle so we could run from Mohicanville on Lake Fork of the Mohican River to Brinkhaven.

Zappa had recently frittered away still another of his nine-plus lives. He hitched a ride in a delivery truck — we believe it went to Bellville. Depending on how you go, it’s 8-10 miles from the house. After more than a week had passed, we all but gave him up for lost. Late one night, one of the other cats let out a horrific howl from the basement.

We ran down to find Zappa standing in the middle of the basement, emaciated and covered with burrs and dust. In fact, he was so full of burrs, his tail was stuck to his body. Long story short, we kept a close eye on him after that and locked him in the house when we weren’t around.

As we were getting ready to leave for the Memorial weekend trip, Zappa came up missing. My friends and I spent three hours combing the house, the yard, the barn, the woods and neighboring properties. It turned out that he had been sleeping on top of a refrigerator in the basement the whole time.

On this recent trip, Zappa hitched a ride with us on our shuttle. Luckily, he didn’t make it far.

He loves to climb up inside the canoe after I put it on the car. In this case, he got up there and fell asleep on the underside of the seat. About a mile from the house we pulled over for an equipment adjustment and heard Zappa’s distinct distress cry. That’s the anguished meow he generally reserves for trips to the vet.

I extricated him from under the canoe, we took him home and locked him inside the house.

Fast forward to base camp at Mohican State Park, the main campground. In order to get an early start, I opted to camp there. It was dark when I was dropped off with my gear. But it turned out to be a perfect put-in spot.

This sign, commemorating the 2006 flood, contains a few factual errors. The flooding did not end at State Route 3 but inundated campgrounds many miles downstream.

As I was breaking camp in the morning, a convoy or official-looking vehicles rolled by. It appeared to be a group of state government muckety-mucks headed to the back of the park. Apparently, they were headed for the cabins — undoubtedly to conspire against nature. Hey, this is Ohio and that’s their job.

(My fears might have been realized because, a week later, excessive clear-cutting of gas line rights of way began at Malabar State Park and Mohican State Memorial Forest.)

The water was up and the river was moving at a nice clip, but not dangerously so. About three or four miles downstream, the river widens considerably, so logjams and strainers aren’t an issue.

I was a little apprehensive about the first stretch and justifiably so. I came upon a logjam to the right of the last island before Spellacy. I got about 15 yards away from it before I saw there was a drop of more than two feet. No sweat for a kayak or an empty canoe, but a loaded one would nosedive right into the boil and go tits over teakettles.

I pulled into an eddy and portaged across the island to a safe put-in.

Logjam near Spellacy. When I encounter obstacles on the river, I notify Amy Smith, who is kind enough to pass the word along to canoe livery owners along the river.

Meanwhile, two women came through in kayaks. I warned them, but knew it would be too late. The first woman through realized how big a drop it was when she got within 10 feet of it and shouted, “Oh, shit!”

But she slipped right over, as did the second woman.

I had hoped to make it at least as far as Brinkhaven the first day. With the river up and moving, I made it well beyond that. I stopped for lunch upstream of Greer and took a break after Brinkhaven at what we call the tub spot. There’s a spring there that’s piped into an old bathtub. Other points of interest include a dog memorial, which I visit with reverence, and part of a bicycle/Amish buggy path at the back of the property.

I set up camp on the island past Cavallo. It had been a long time since I’d camped on the right side of the island. The passage had been blocked for a year or so by a monstrous logjam and I had gotten used to camping on the left side of the island. It’s a little harder to access from the river, but further away from civilization.

Across the river from the right side of the island is a popular hangout for the locals. It’s not unusual for them to stop and squeeze off a few shots or, at the very least, scowl at us. One night, while we were hunkered down in our tents, I was awakened by carloads of teenagers pulling up. Apparently it was some sort of rolling feud. The vehicles stopped, doors opened, words were exchanged and punches thrown. Then they piled back into their vehicles, hurling expletives at one another. Engines roared, mud flew and they disappeared into the night. They were totally oblivious to our campsite 150 feet away. They couldn’t even hear our snoring for all the noise they were making.

With little river to cover the final day of my trip, I had a leisurely breakfast. Chili omelets.

"With beans!" Thank God, I'm so tired of chili WITHOUT beans.

It was another beautiful day, with temperatures in the 80s and cloudless skies. I saw more soft-shelled turtles sunning themselves along the bank on that last day than I’ve seen in the past three years combined.

I was afraid that I wouldn’t see an eagle. In the past 15 years or so, I think I’ve been on one trip — two at the most — where I didn’t see one bald eagle.

As I approached the last bridge before the takeout, an immature eagle flew across the river and perched in the trees on a bluff.

I arrived at Mohawk to find that the landing had been improved. It has always been a challenge to land there because there is barely enough room to back a canoe in without the current grabbing the front of the boat and pulling it toward the dam intake. With the landing widened, you can get your boat in parallel to the bank and step out without the current grabbing it.

It’s not the ideal setup. But I’ve got to hand it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the widened landing and addition years ago of a gravel road on higher ground, takeout isn’t quite the adventure it used to be. And not nearly as muddy.

When I got home, Zappa was sitting in the driveway, waiting for his next adventure.

The last bridge (or bridges - there are two there) before Mohawk Dam.

Improved canoe landing at Mohawk Dam.

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