Honky tonk nights, selective inbreeding and flirting with death – the perfect canoe trip

Canoe Trip Journal — October 2012

Trees reflected in the river — from my Six Mile Dam campsite.

Trees reflected in the river — from my Six Mile Dam campsite.

COSHOCTON — My cab driver had some sort of heart-related medical crisis the night before. That’s what he told a woman he picked up from the motel where she worked. He had to drop her off at a trailer park in town before he could take me to Mohawk Dam, where I had left my canoe and camping gear.

“My boss keeps calling me every half-hour to make sure I’m all right,” he told her.

Great, I thought. This guy is going to go into full cardiac arrest while driving down U.S. 36, a winding two-lane with nothing but trees and ditches on either side. I’ve envisioned dying on a canoe trip, but not this way. I kind of had my heart set on being eaten by a bear or dismembered by a snapping turtle while skinny dipping.

But the cabby got me back to Mohawk Dam safely.

Bald eagle, just below the dam

Bald eagle, just below the dam

I was getting ready to crawl into my tent, which I pitched atop the old Wally Railroad bed, when a pickup truck pulled up to a nearby camper. The radio was blasting and one to the occupants — half-bear, half-man — was bellowing along with it. Some kind of Hiphop/Country song extolling the virtues of selective inbreeding. I kid you not.

I had to make a decision — shoot them all now or put in my earplugs and hope that would be enough to mask the noise. I realized that Plan A was not going to work. The river was too shallow to conceal the bodies.

Suddenly, they spotted me. It was too late.

“Hey, dude, come down and have a beer,” one of the men said.

Plan C. Why not?

There were three men, a woman and a friendly old black Lab. They turned out to be all right. Just middle-aged working folks from around Canton — seasonal campers at the Dam. We sat around the campfire and drank beer for a couple of hours and played fetch with the dog. He might have been old, but he had no lack of energy. Or slobber. I got a little worried when the woman said something about partying till 5 a.m., but they turned in shortly after I did, which was around midnight.

In the morning, I ate breakfast and broke camp. My neighbors slept through it all.

Walhonding Canal lock I discovered on the island

Walhonding Canal lock I discovered on the island

I’d made up my mind that I was going to camp on the island upstream of Six Mile Dam. Thirty-two years of canoeing that river and I’d never set foot on that island. I was glad I did. After pitching camp, I took a nap then set out to explore the island. I found the remains of an old canal lock in the middle of it.

Turned out to be a great campsite. The water rushing over the dam drowned out any sounds coming from Whispering Falls Campground on the downstream side of the dam as well as any traffic sounds from U.S. 36.

I will camp there again.

There was one other thing I wanted to accomplish on this trip — another first. I wanted to get out and take a closer look at an old Stroh’s Beer truck on the west bank of the river near Coshocton. I’ve been fascinated by this since seeing it on my very first canoe trip in 1980. But I’d never made the effort to stop and climb the bank to explore it.

A truck bed that's been calling out to me for 32 years

A truck bed that’s been calling out to me for 32 years

Mission accomplished, I continued downriver to my take-out at Lake Park.

Perfect trip. No rain, no bugs, nearly 80 degrees in the daytime, partying with some fun people — and my cab driver got me to Mohawk Dam in one piece.

Huge sycamore on the island. (Note Droid X in crotch for scale)

Huge sycamore on the island. (Note Droid X in crotch for scale)

Walhonding River waterpark

Walhonding River waterpark

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