Canoe Trip Journal Archives

Suffering for Joe’s art

One of the columns from my 50th birthday canoe trip



Joe’s painting now occupies a place of honor on the wall in the cabin near Pine Run. Such sweet memories in a place of refuge.




Drawing by Joe Hughes

Drawing by Joe Hughes

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.

It was a short, but enjoyable trip. Along the way I saw a half dozen bald eagles, a flock of sand hill cranes and plenty of deer. Even a few live ones. 


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 at "the tub landing"
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 gave Irene a bottle of scotch for her 50th birthday. I got a hug and a kiss in exchange. Which is a lot more than I got from the last woman I gave a bottle of booze. That one puked on my feet.

Irene stayed behind with the boats and gear while we set up our shuttle to Ellis Dam. 
On the way back, we picked up ice and other last-minute things at Shop Wise, a little grocery store in Warsaw. By 1 p.m., we were on the river.

We stopped to stretch our legs at White Woman Rock upstream of Coshocton and interrupted a couple engaged in some sort of ritual. Must be a local thing.

Lake Park in Coshocton is the best place to replenish your water supply, so I took stock. I had nearly four gallons. Army Mike had slightly more than a gallon and Chainsaw Mike even less. Seemed reasonable for a three-day trip in 80- to 90-degree heat.

I refilled my water jugs just in case. Just in case two of us didn’t get run over by a bus before the trip was over and we’d actually need enough water for four people to survive.

On Saturday night, we found an island to camp on between Coshocton and Conesville. We had crab legs, frog legs and sweet corn for dinner. Chainsaw Mike decided to save the pheasant and trout for Sunday’s dinner.

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.

The river level was dropping about a foot a day, but it was still up and moving pretty good. We stopped to cook some burgers on an island past Conesville. Joe, Katrina and I had camped there Memorial Day weekend.

While the coals were burning down, Chainsaw Mike amused himself by putting on a life vest, hiking up to the head of the island and riding the swift current back to our cookout spot. The current was extremely strong in a riffle at the foot of the island, so he was careful to swim back to the bank far enough upstream that he didn’t get pulled into it.

Army Mike tried his hand at riding the current. He wasn’t quite so lucky. He got pulled into the fast water and shot downstream. He tried to wade back up and cross the chute, but got sucked out again.

This time, he got out on the opposite bank, hiked back to the head of the island and found a spot to cross over. I had taken his canoe into the passage between the island and the mainland just in case. But the current was too strong to move a boat full of gear into the chute at the head of the island.

I managed to position the boat where he was trying to get across. He made it and we paddled back to the foot of the island and finished cooking our burgers.

We were hoping the water was high enough that we could paddle back into the old gravel pits near Dresden. There are pristine ponds back in there and great spots for camping. (Strictly low-impact.)

You can access the ponds by boat only when the river is extremely high. The water level had dropped more than five feet by Sunday night, enough to make it inaccessible.

But recent flash flooding washed sand into the channel leading into the pits. It left a level area suitable for camping.

I hate camping in sand. It seems to get into everything, even bags that are sealed. But the alternative was to paddle up Wakatmika Creek near Dresden and hope to find an island.

In the morning, I hiked back and bathed in one of the ponds. I could hear beaver tails slapping the surface of the water, perhaps in the adjoining pond.

Monday was almost unbearably hot. We swam and paddled close to the bank to get as much shade as we could in the mid day sun. We ran into a group of Kayakers under the Dresden bridge.

We stopped for lunch at Hag Island. I named it that because a remarkably unattractive old woman at the campground on the opposite bank once tried to lure my canoeing buddies Curt and Joe to her trailer. They were camped on the island that particular night and she yelled across the river, “You boys like beer?”

Even though she’s gone and the trailer burned out, we can still hear her voice every time we paddle by. Or maybe that’s one of us retelling the story.

By the way, it occurred to me as we pulled away from the island after our lunch break that this was the place where I turned 50. I had camped there with Joe the night before my birthday. It was a blustery October night. Joe spent most of it cursing his rain tarp, which was being shredded by 45 mph winds.

If the beer hag had been there that night, Joe might have taken her up on her offer. Come to think of it, with all of Joe’s ranting and raving and cursing his tarp, I might have been tempted to paddle over there myself.


Labor Day '07 Canoe Trip
Chain Saw Mike (left), Army Mike and Irene paddling like there’s no tomorrow.

Grand River
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
May 4-6, 2007

After months of trying, I managed to schedule three days for a trip from Charles Mill Dam to Mohawk Dam.

It ended up being a solo trip. Which was fine with me. The tourists hadn’t arrived in earnest, so I had the river to myself. Except for a group of guys with what appeared to be livery canoes. They were camped past Cavallo Saturday night.

I put in at 10:35 a.m. Friday at Charles Mill and saw a Baltimore oriole  shortly after launching. It would be a recurring theme throughout the weekend. I saw one first thing after putting on Saturday morning and, on Sunday morning, I watched a pair primping in a maple tree above me as I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the big island past Cavallo. Which is one of the few we haven’t named. Which is probably just as well. Names like Chicken Head, Trash and Goose Shit aren’t very flattering. Each has a story behind it, of course.

Black Fork was mostly clear of logjams. There was total blockage at one spot between the dam and State Route 603. (We had to portage that one on the New Year’s Eve Float with the Mohican Waters Paddle Club.)

It was easily lined over. One advantage “beer boats” (canoes) have over kayaks. (So there!)

The trillium were out in force, dotting hillsides along the banks with white flowers. There was good current and, with minimal paddling, I made it to the confluence of Rocky Fork before 12:30 p.m.

I stopped for lunch at 2:20 p.m. at Greentown, upstream of Perrysville. Canned smoked herring, a Cliff Bar and jewel weed primary leaves. They were at their peak and I snacked on them all weekend.

It took 20 minutes to paddle through Perrysville. Between State Route 95 and Bridge Street I saw two big snapping turtles, one with a shell a foot-and-a-half from front to back.

I made it to Loudonville around 4 p.m. and set up camp on Moxie and Becky Augustine’s property on river left, which is outside the village limits. Moxie died this spring, and Becky gave me her blessings to camp on the land.

I had arranged to meet with friends for dinner at the Pizza Hut on State Route 3. They were mountain biking at Mohican-Memorial State Forest and had finished about the same time I was settling into my campsite. We hooked up by cell phone and they were already there and had ordered. I ferried across the river, ditched my canoe in the weeds, hiked through the woods and joined them at Pizza Hut.

In the morning, I made a shrine to Moxie, spelling his name in stones at the base of a tree. I finished breakfast before the rain started and got on the river by 9:30. It rained all morning, but not too hard. I pressed on, getting to Mohican Wilderness before noon and to Brinkhaven by 2 p.m.

I saw an eagles’ nest between Hunter Road and Cavallo. I thought I had seen an eagle when approaching the spot. But it disappeared until I was past the nest. I looked back to see it land on a branch behind me and it sat there watching as I drifted downstream.

I arrived at Cavallo island at 4:15 p.m. and set up camp.

Stars began to come out as it got dark and I saw fireflies at the top of the canopy and about halfway down. Unusual for this time of year.

It was a pleasant float from the island to Mohawk. Except for 20-30 mph winds. By conservative estimate. It made for a good workout, but lousy fishing.

Can’t wait for the Memorial Day weekend trip. Not expecting much in the way of turnout, but I don’t care. As long as I’m on the river.

Canoeing with The Ohio Hysterical Canoe Route Association
March 23-25

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.

RR Trestle - Muskingum River
Canoeing can give you a whole new perspective on life.

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