Suffering for Joe’s art
One of the columns from my 50th birthday canoe trip
Note: Apparently the copy on this page became corrupted after I changed my blog design. I’m in the process of redoing the whole thing, so please bear with me.
All right, so not everyone enjoys canoeing or reading about it. So, I’ve set up a separate page for older canoe trip journal posts from this blog, my website and elsewhere.
They won’t be in chronological order because I’m posting them as I find them.
|Canoe trip journal – January 3-5 (2008)
Brinkhaven to Mohawk Dam
Perrysville to Mohican WildernessThe contractor was delivering a load of lumber, so I had to go out to the barn and move my canoe out of the way.It was a crisp morning, with a few inches of snow on the ground and sunlight glistening on the plants in the pasture.
As I dragged my canoe out of the barn, one of the guys asked, “Goin’ canoeing?”
I hadn’t planned on it, but he talked me into it.
I strapped my canoe to top of the car and called the newspaper to tell them I wouldn’t be in that day. Or the next.
I explained to my editor that a window of opportunity had opened and I needed to go canoeing right away. The weather forecast called for a few more days of cold weather before a winter thaw with 40-degree temperatures and rain.
My window of opportunity narrowed considerably by Friday morning. I camped across the river from Brinkhaven Thursday night. Temperatures dropped into the single digits, but I slept comfortably – curled up in a ball at the foot of my sleeping bag.
I got up before daylight and made breakfast. It was still dark as I walked along the bank drinking my coffee. When I came to the spot where I planned to put in, I noticed the reflection of the lights from the village across the river stopped abruptly about 15 feet from the bank in front of me. Which meant one of two things: The river had gone down tremendously overnight, or an ice shelf had formed.
I had hoped to paddle from Brinkhaven to Mohawk Dam. Not a likely scenario when ice shelves are forming that far upstream. There are too many long, lazy stretches between there and the dam where ice floes congregate and gang up on unsuspecting paddlers. Even if you had an inkling of what you were about to get into, it wouldn’t do you any good. You’d just have to sit in your canoe till the river froze over completely and walk out.
That would mean leaving your canoe behind. And, after the ice around it got done expanding and contracting for a three or four weeks, you’d probably end up with what looked like a 17-foot origami banana made out of aluminum foil.
With that in mind, I decided to go upstream and canoe a stretch of the Black Fork that rarely freezes. No one seems to know why this is. My guess would be there’s so much automotive runoff in the water that it’s 40 percent antifreeze.
I put in just outside of Perrysville, which was named in honor of Oliver Hazard Perry’s heroic naval victory on Lake Erie in 1812. It must have made quite an impression on the locals at the time because Perrysville is about 90 miles inland from Lake Erie. But then the capital of Ohio is named after a guy whose ship landed so far away that the distance might as well be measured in light years.
I paddled through Loudonville and set up camp just outside the village on land that belongs to some people I know. Moxie Augustine, the guy whose family owns it, died last year. I set up a shrine to him when I camped there in May, spelling his name in river stones at the base of a tree.
I camped there again in October with my buddy Joe and found the shrine had been obliterated by ATVs. Whoever had been there left a shrine of their own — tire ruts.
As I was gathering firewood about 50 yards downstream of the campsite, I stumbled upon something horrific. Apparently, about a dozen deer, a few geese and a possum had committed mass suicide. Worse yet, the deer had eviscerated themselves. That or the geese and possum attacked them, ate their guts and died of indigestion on the spot. We may never know what happened. I doubt that even CSI could have sorted this one out.
Fortunately, the carnage was frozen and downwind of my campsite.
That night, I lit a candle for Peggy Edwards, who died last year.
She and her husband John owned Nardini’s, a little eatery in downtown Ashland. John usually cooked breakfast. His specialty was hard-boiled insults with extra crispy bacon. If you complained about the bacon, you got a second helping of insults at no extra charge.
Peggy came in at lunchtime. She would serve cheeseburgers, out-of-this-world chili and John’s cookies. (If there were only a few left, John claimed them for himself. Sometimes, Peggy would snatch one from the kitchen, hide it inside a folded napkin and leave it at my table.)
In Peggy’s honor, I left the eggshells from my breakfast at the base of a pine tree and sent her a message: “In the next life, I’ll serve you lunch.”
It had warmed up overnight and a few raindrops fell as I was getting breakfast. I broke camp in the rain and headed downstream.
It drizzled the rest of the morning and into the afternoon but not enough to soak through my rain jacket. It didn’t start to rain in earnest until after I pulled out at Mohican Wilderness.
|CANOE TRIP ARCHIVES 2007October 2007 — Perrysville to Dresden
Labor Day 2007 — God knows where to god knows where (bear with me on this, I’m tweaking the links)
|October 2007 Weeklong Birthday Trip|
|Joe Hughes shows his approval of an inscription posted at what we commonly call the “tub landing” just downstream of Brinkhaven. (You don’t want to be around when he’s showing his disapproval.)Joe and I paddled from Perrysville to Dresden on the Mohican, Walhonding and Muskingum rivers in mid October on the week of my 56th birthday.I didn’t get around to writing about this trip and I’ve misplaced the notebook with my journal entries. And the dog ate my homework.The best night of the trip was the last one, spent on an island between Conesville and Dresden on the Muskingum. There was a sunset that seemed to last for hours, evolving from cotton candy pink to deep purple. Or maybe we were having flashbacks. We were awakened in the morning by a helicopter hauling a huge I-beam to the Conesville power plant, where a new smokestack was in the works.
Special thanks to Amy Smith of Smith Camping and Cabins for allowing us to leave a vehicle on their property in Perrysville for a week.
|Labor Day Weekend 2007, Walhonding & Muskingum rivers
Aug. 31 – Sept. 3
The water was still high at Six Mile Dam when I arrived at our base camp Friday night. Like the Mohican River upstream, the Walhonding was receding from flooding two weeks ago in Shelby and Mansfield.
It had dropped about four feet, but was still moving with a vengeance.
Jim, who with his wife Glenna are the caretakers at Six Mile Dam, showed off some improvements they had made at the dam. A friend of his had come in with a bulldozer during low water, pulled the debris away from the dam and graded the boat ramp. That should be welcome news for paddlers. For decades, we’ve had to navigate the rocky terrain when launching our canoes or kayaks.
I camped alone Friday night, sleeping in my car. I dreamed that I was looking out my back door and saw a monkey pick up the cat and kiss her on top of her head. No more Kroger hot Italian sausage before bed.
In the morning, I showered, made breakfast and staged my canoe and gear near the new boat ramp. Chainsaw Mike pulled up as I was finishing. Army Mike (we don’t use last names to differentiate people with the same first name) and his girlfriend Irene pulled in as Mike finished unloading.
I ran into a problem with the ridgepole for my tent. A coupling broke, which meant the tent was worthless. Fortunately, there was no rain in the forecast and not many mosquitoes because I ended up sleeping on the ground Saturday and Sunday nights.
July 20-22, 2007
This wasn’t a through trip, but I did more paddling than I have on some of our winter trips. And a few summer trips I can think of.In desperate need of a retreat, I planned to paddle solo and camp alone. I had hoped to put in upstream of Grand River Canoe Livery, camp there and press on for Harpersfield the next day.But, I couldn’t persuade Bob Three-Spirits, the livery owner, to put me in upstream. Too shallow. Too many obstructions. He probably was right. We bushwhacked that section last summer, when the water was higher, and it was a lot of work.Not that I’m adverse to work. But I’m not drawn to it, either. Especially when it’s 80 or 90 degrees out.I put on the river at the livery about 11 a.m. Saturday. Bob told me to call him when I got to Harpersfield and he’d pick me up.As I made my way downstream, first through the narrower section then through the wider and more civilized stretch, I noticed there was no current. I paddled alone until I got past the Sweitzer Road Bridge. From there I was joined by a persistent headwind that stayed with me all the way to Harpersfield. I was itching for a workout and I got it.
It was a 4- or 5-hour trip. I decided, since there was no current, I’d make it an 8- 10-hour trip and paddle back to the livery. I called Bob when I got to Harpersfield and told him not to bother picking me up, that I’d be back around 8.
I figured it would be much easier paddling upstream with the wind at my back. But the wind overstayed its welcome, shifting just as I started to paddle back upstream.
Once again, I was paddling into the wind. I began to question my decision. I wasn’t concerned about getting back after dark, but I didn’t want Bob to worry about me.
I was concerned that I might have ended up going to the hospital to have the paddle surgically removed from my hands at the end of the trip. Over the years, I’ve become conditioned to paddling long distances without stopping. It’s not as hard on the muscles as it is on the joints, particularly the hands.
Luckily, the wind had died down after I covered a couple miles.
I pulled into the livery at exactly 8 p.m. My punctuality was a combination of precise calculation and dumb luck. I would have been happy to get there while there was still enough daylight to see the bow of my canoe.
I already had my camp set up. I started a fire and put a pork chop on the grill.
Bob approached and asked permission to come into the camp.
This is his way. Even though it’s his land, he asks permission to enter the camp.
This is how my friends Ricky and Joe came to know him. They were paddling the Grand River many years ago and pulled out at the very spot where I had set my camp set up. They didn’t know whose land it was. It seemed isolated enough and had all the elements of a good river campsite: easy landing, level ground for tents and plenty of deadfall around for firewood.
Bob approached and asked permission to enter their campsite. They talked for a while and one of them finally asked, “Whose land is this?”
“Mine,” Bob told them.
I felt bad that I didn’t have any extra food to offer Bob. I would have gladly traded the pork chop for anything with carbohydrates. I desperately needed them after that paddle. And that was the one thing lacking in my food cache.
He did bring a bottle of Crown Royal.
As my pork chops cooked, we sat around the campfire telling stories, including one about how he came by the Crown Royal.
A guy who once worked at his livery called and asked if he and some friends could go canoeing. Bob told him he could canoe for free, but he would have to charge half-price for his friends. Bob gave him another option; bring along a bottle of Crown Royal in lieu of payment.
And so they did. A very large bottle. About $50 worth by Bob’s estimate.
I’m not much of a whiskey drinker. I nursed about three shots, maybe four, while Bob drank his share.
We sat around telling stories till about midnight. Bob headed off into the darkness.
I sat around the campfire a little while longer, made my way to my tent and slept till 8.
I made breakfast, bathed in the river and meditated, Cherokee style, lying naked in the water. I remained naked for the rest of the morning.
“Premorial” Day Weekend Trip
After months of trying, I managed to schedule three days for a trip from Charles Mill Dam to Mohawk Dam.
Canoeing with The Ohio Hysterical Canoe Route Association
I hooked up with some folks from the Ohio Historical Canoe Route Association who wanted to try the Mohican River, particularly the part of the newly designated scenic stretch that starts at Clear Fork Gorge.
Eight of us met Friday night at Mohican Wilderness between Greer and Loudonville, set up camp and got down to some serious eating. By mid morning Sunday, we were done eating and those of us who could move, set out to do Clear Fork Gorge.
Only three of us had survived the “Mohican Wilderness gorge,” which included a Rueben casserole, crab legs and Tony’s leg of lamb. So, for us, the 770 cfs release at Pleasant Hill Dam and wave trains pushing 7 mph were a piece of cake.
I had scouted the river earlier that week and it was at three feet on the Pleasant Hill Dam gauge. The river was clear of major obstructions from the covered bridge down, but I recommended it only to those capable of handling Class II rapids.
The river had dropped during the week, but the Corps of Engineers opened the dam Sunday morning. I’m guessing from the USGS Web site, it had reached close to 3.5 feet on the gauge by the time we put on. It’s a good thing too; there was a big tree all the way across the river just before the confluence with the Black Fork. If it had been any lower, we wouldn’t have been able to slip over it.
Paddlers beware! That tree might still be there. (The stretch approaching it is long and open, however, so there should be plenty of time to pull off and portage.)
A few words about the Ohio Historical Canoe Route Association
The group was formed in 1983 to retrace historical canoe routes. For example, they might start on the Cuyahoga River and paddle upstream to the Tuscarawas, floating downstream on the Muskingum watershed to Marietta. (I am told that Native Americans generally didn’t paddle streams in these parts because they were too shallow. They poled them.)
I first heard about OHCRA about 20 years ago. I was intrigued with the idea of retracing the canoe routes, but found it hard to imagine anyone could paddle of pole all that distance upstream.
This weekend I found out how they did it. They would paddle sections a weekend at a time, then do bigger stretches going downstream.
I had contacted someone in the group back then, but I was told they weren’t very active at the time. However, they seemed to have survived and now do different rivers around the state and elsewhere on a regular basis.
They set up a base camp on Friday night and paddle different stretches Saturday and Sunday. Not my cup of tea, really. I prefer to put on at point A, disappear from civilization for two or three days, and end up at point B (ideally just as it’s getting dark, if not later).
But, their way does offer an opportunity to try different rivers, come out and paddle for a day two and put on three or four pounds!
I plan to hook up with them from time to time. And, of course, they have a standing invitation to come back to the Mohican anytime for a quick paddle or a weekend excursion. I’ll supply the crab legs.