Just me and the little voices in my head

Solo Canoe Trip, New Year’s 2009

I’m in the process of shutting down my website and am culling posts to archive on this blog. This is one of the canoe trip journal posts.

I managed to get on the river all 12 months of 2008. I had to “cheat” a couple of times, starting a trip at the end of one month and finishing it at the beginning of the next.

Such was the case in December. I put on at Brinkhaven on New Year’s Eve 2008 and took out three days later at Mohawk Dam. (The other time was Labor Day weekend, which covered August and September. I had sprained my ankle on the July trip and spent most of that month and the next recuperating.)

I went solo on New Year’s, which suited me fine. I was long overdue for a few days of solitude. It was the quietest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent. Except for that time in solitary confinement. It didn’t matter; I didn’t plan to stay up till midnight.

On New Year’s Eve, I camped on the Island past Cavallo. I originally planned to stay on what we’ve come to call Trash Island, the first big island past Brinkhaven, about five miles downstream. But the river was up and the island wasn’t high enough for my peace of mind. There were no water marks on the trees and bridges, which meant the river level wasn’t dropping.

I knew there hadn’t been enough rain to flood Cavallo island. However, there was a chance that, if the Corps of Engineers were to open the upstream dams and shut the gates at Mohawk, the river could have come up several feet overnight.

The high point of Cavallo island was about eight feet out of thewater. I planted a stick in the ground at the water’s edge when I pulled out. By the time I changed out of my wet suit and pitched my tent, the river had receded a little.

I checked my makeshift gauge before turning in for the night and the water was about six inches from the stick. It takes just one night of having the river crawl into your tent to make you leery. With temperatures slipping close to single-digits that night, it would have been more than an inconvenience.

I crawled into my tent at around 10:30, resigned to being awakened by distant gunshots at midnight. I told myself I’d roll over, acknowledge the New Year and drift back to sleep. Which is exactly what happened.

Around 1 or 2 in the morning, I started getting cold. The zipper on my winter bag wouldn’t stay up. There is a piece of Velcro that’s supposed to hold the zipper together, but the coarse part of it is worn and no longer holds. I put on a heavy wool sweater and was goodfor the rest of the night.

Breakfast was delightful. Chili omelet, warm coffee and no signs of humanity.

There were plenty of eagles, hawks and a big flock of turkeys to keep me company. I didn’t see another human being until late in the afternoon. Two guys were sitting by a fire at the confluence of the Mohican and Kokosing rivers. I don’t think they noticed me.

There was a spot not far downstream where we often stop for lunch. I’d often thought it would make a good campsite. It did. There was level ground for a tent and plenty of firewood.

There had been heavy rain leading up to New Year’s and the wood was saturated and frozen. It took tons of kindling to get it going. I had hopes of eating a traditional meal of sauerkraut and pork in daylight, but that didn’t happen.

There was a possibility of precipitation that night. It felt warm, almost warm enough to rain. I checked the weather radio and was surprised to find the temperatures were in the low 20s. It had been 10-12 degrees the night before, so 22 felt more like 36 degrees.

I didn’t have the river entirely to myself on New Year’s Day. A couple of hunters floated by in a green plastic canoe while I was gathering firewood. If they saw me or noticed the campsite, they didn’t act like it. They passed within 60 feet of the campfire burning near the edge of the bank and didn’t turn their heads. Either they were awfully intent on spotting waterfowl or didn’t want to instigate an encounter with someone as crazy as they were.

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