I sold my soul for a hot shower

Grand River to Lake Erie Canoe Trip — Part 2

If it weren’t for the rubber bungees this tarp would have been long gone.

If it hadn’t been for the rubber bungees this tarp would have been long gone.

LAKE ERIE BLUFFS CAMPSITE — By morning, the rain let up. The wind didn’t. It wasn’t as intense as the 35-mph winds that forced me to lie in my tent the night before to keep it from blowing off the cliff and into the lake. But it was strong enough to keep my rain tarp snapping violently in the breeze.

If I hadn’t secured the tarp with rubber bungees, the grommets would have popped and it probably would have sailed over to the Perry nuke plant.

Perry nuke plant, east of Lake Erie Bluffs and, thankfully, downwind.

Perry nuke plant, east of Lake Erie Bluffs and, thankfully, downwind.

Headwinds would be my constant companion for the first half of the 40-mile canoe trip. Low water would also be an issue.

Brian Fowler, who is in charge of educational programs for Lake MetroParks, had advised me that it’s best to run the lower Grand River between 2 and 5 feet on the USGS gauge. It had been a dry month and the depth teetered on the low end of the scale. Monday night’s rain, which measured nearly an inch, was enough to bring the level above 2 feet. By midweek it dropped to around 1.8 feet. A thunderstorm on Friday night brought it back to about 2.3 feet.

Despite the strong headwinds, it was a pleasant day on the river with plenty of wildlife along the way.

Despite the strong headwinds, it was a pleasant day on the river with plenty of wildlife along the way.

I’ve paddled plenty of shallow water and can follow a channel (the deep part) with the best of them. But Brian was right; the lower Grand can be 20 miles of pure torture when it’s shallow. Navigating its boulder-strewn riffles is rough on paddlers and boat hulls.

On the first leg of the trip, upstream of Harpersfield Dam, low water was not an issue. The wind was. I had hoped to make it past the dam, but paddling against a constant headwind wore me down.

I opted to stay at the Kenissee Grand River Campground near Geneva.

I had not been inclined to stop there, not after learning that the only tent sites available were about a quarter-mile hike from the river. Plus, being a hardcore primitive camper, I’m not keen on staying at overly civilized campgrounds. But the lure of a hot shower was enough to compel me to sell my soul.

The Mechanicsville Road Bridge — one of two covered bridges on the lower Grand River.

The Mechanicsville Road Bridge — one of two covered bridges on the lower Grand River.

The folks working there proved to be very welcoming and helpful. Especially Eric, who offered to schlep me and my gear to the campsite in his utility vehicle. He was kind enough to point out that the tent site behind the maintenance shed — though not aesthetically appealing — provided shelter from the wind.

Aesthetics weren’t an issue. I needed a break from the wind. And a hot shower.

Next: Lake MetroParks canoe-in campsites

 

I have to admit that I do like the whimsical touches to be found at private campgrounds.

I have to admit that I do like the whimsical touches to be found at private campgrounds.

I didn't have a car, so I had to put my camping permit on the tent.

I didn’t have a car, so I had to put my camping permit on the tent.

My campsite. Not pristine, but out of the wind and not too far from the shower.

My campsite. Not pristine, but out of the wind and not too far from the shower.

 

 

 

 

 

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How I almost managed not to get to Lake Erie by car or canoe

Grand River to Lake Erie Canoe Trip — Part 1

Paddling the last stretch of the Grand River has been on my bucket list for years. I’d paddled the upper stretches many times. On one occasion my friends and I made it past the Paine Creek confluence, but that was by accident. We had parked our shuttle vehicle along the wrong stream. After we realized our mistake, we pulled off the river and hitched a ride back to the vehicle.

Alcohol might have been involved. That was when we were young, irresponsible and in our “cabrewing” days. As I recall, that trip was fueled by Old Frothingslosh, the beer with the foam on the bottom.

Now that I’m older and wiser — and you can no longer buy Old Frothingslosh — I set out to canoe the last stretch of the Grand River into Lake Erie. This was an exploratory trip. I wanted to try out LakeMetroparks canoe-in campsites along the way and recommend potential overnight excursions for other paddlers.

My plan was to set up a base camp the first night at Lake Erie Bluffs, about six miles east of Fairport Harbor. The next day I would put on the river at Grand River Canoe Livery in Ashtabula County, then spend five days paddling to Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park, where I’d land on the beach.

Ultimately, I’d like to set up a trip where you could paddle along the shoreline from the mouth of the Grand River to Lake Erie Bluffs and camp there on the final night. But that would require cooperation from Lake Erie, which can be hard to come by.

My main objectives for this trip were to explore the river, check out the campsites and survive to tell about it. The road gods and the river gods conspired against me.

I set out early Monday morning and the Canoebaru seemed pretty happy, humming along 110 miles of interstate and controlled-access highways. I got off the freeway to scout out Fairport Harbor. Driving down Water Street, I was cursing the old man in front of me, who was creeping along a few miles an hour under the speed limit.

The Canoebaru awaiting a tow truck in Fairport Harbor.

The Canoebaru awaiting a tow truck in Fairport Harbor.

Actually, he was doing me a big favor. I felt a jolt in the front of the car and it pulled sharply to the right. I managed to ease it to the curb, got out and inspected the damage. The left front wheel was pointed to the right and the right front wheel was pointed straight ahead. Not good.

It could have been worse. The lower control arm could have broken on the interstate and my friends would be fighting over who got to inherit my canoe and camping gear.

Apparently the only other vehicles that use that section of Water Street are huge trucks going to and from the gravel pits on the lake shore. Several of them came close to running over the Canoebaru, which might have been a blessing in disguise. Especially since I had taken the canoe off of the roof.

While I was stacking my gear along the road I noticed a woman in an adjacent back yard watching me and talking on the phone. I walked over to her to explain the situation. She told me she was afraid one of the gravel trucks would hit my car and she called the police to assist me. Part of me wondered if she wasn’t more afraid that I was going to set up camp there.

A Fairport Harbor Police officer arrived on the scene within seconds. He told me his main concern was getting the car out of there as quickly as possible, so it didn’t get run over. He was more concerned about that than I was.

He proved to be quite helpful, finding the phone numbers for a tow truck and — aptly named — Adventure Subaru in Painesville. Why not? They would become part of the great adventure.

The sunset from Lake Erie Bluffs — before the tornado watch was announced.

The sunset from Lake Erie Bluffs — before the tornado watch.

As would my friend, Becky Raubenolt, who came to my rescue. Becky lives in Lake County and does a lot of volunteering with Lake MetroParks. She carted me and my gear to Lake Erie Bluffs and would help with the logistics during the week. Her grandson, Cooper, served as copilot on one leg of the shuttle.

I eventually made it to Lake Erie Bluffs, where I enjoyed a beautiful sunset. As darkness set in, the winds began to howl and the NOAA weather app on my phone advised of a tornado watch. I had just put some brats on the charcoal grill when the storm arrived in earnest and I dove into my tent.

With winds gusting up to at least 35 mph, I’m convinced that the only thing that kept the tent from blowing into Lake Erie was me. As I lay there, wishing that I weighed more, my cellphone squeaked. (My ringtone makes a squeaky toy sound.) It was a MetroParks ranger advising me that I was in for some bad weather. You’ve got to love that kind of attention to detail.

The only thing that kept the tent from blowing into Lake Erie was my body weight.

My body weight prevented the tent from blowing into the lake.

I was relieved when he told me that he was west of me and the wind was letting up where he was.

After the storm passed, I got out and surveyed the damage. Nothing had blown away and the coals beneath the brats were still glowing. Except for being black on one side, they were edible.

Next: Camping next to a maintenance shed — and loving it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Possum Lodge van runs out of gas and I’m nearly run out of Ashtabula County

A winter canoe trip adventure

The Schwietzer Road bridge over the Grand River. Last I heard, it hadn’t tumbled into the river.

The Schwietzer Road bridge over the Grand River. The last I heard, it hadn’t tumbled into the river.

For canoeists, the most frequently asked question is, “Where do you go canoeing?”

For me, the answer is simple. I generally don’t know until the last minute.

That’s because water levels and weather conditions dictate where I go.

Being retired gives me a little more leeway, but I didn’t make the decision for my last trip until the morning of. It came down to heading south and paddling the Walhonding and Muskingum rivers from Six Mile Dam to Dresden, or heading north to the Grand River. Earlier weather forecasts called for rain and 37 degrees in both places on Tuesday. Not fun.

But, on Sunday morning, the northern forecast had changed to colder temperatures and all snow Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The clincher was three inches of snow early Sunday afternoon.

When I pulled into the Grand River Canoe Livery, Bob Three Spirits and his family had two log splitters going and were working their way through a huge pile of wood. I didn’t want to distract them, so I just slipped on down the hill to the canoe landing and set up a base camp.

On Monday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I drove up the hill to the livery and made arrangements to take my Canubaru downstream.

Bob started his Ranger pickup truck, but couldn’t get the four-wheel drive to work.

He tried to start his Chevy Blazer, but it wouldn’t turn over.

“You’re jinxing me,” Bob said.

Fortunately — or not — he managed to get one of his old canoe livery vans started. It was mid ’80s model Dodge that bore a striking resemblance to the Possum Lodge van on the Red Green Show.

We dropped off my Canubaru at the Tote Road landing. Bob pointed to a house across the river and said, “Just remember to look for the house with three dormers, and that will tell you you’re coming up to the landing.”

It was kind of a unique house with three dormers on the side facing the river. There was a small window in the middle one and large windows on the left and right dormers.

Bob said he needed to gas up before heading back to the livery. What he didn’t say is he was running on fumes. Apparently, we ran out of gas as the van rolled up to the pumps. After gassing it up, Bob couldn’t get it started.

We went inside the gas station and got a cup of coffee, hoping the van might start if it sat for awhile. The main topic of conversation was whether I was a jinx in general, or just Bob’s private jinx.

After coffee, and spraying half a can of ether down the carburetor, the van started.

When we got back to the livery, I asked Bob how much he wanted for helping set up my shuttle.

“Nothing,” he responded. “Just don’t jinx me anymore.”

I’m not superstitious, but as I paddled slowly down the Grand — enjoying the wildlife and solitude — I began to wonder if Bob wasn’t right about me being a jinx.

When I arrived at the canoe landing, firefighters from the Austinburg Volunteer Fire Department were hosing down the smoldering ruins of the three-dormer house.

I drove back to base camp, where I spent a sleepless night listening for a mob of vigilantes bent on tar-and-feathering me.

On Tuesday morning, I slipped out of Ashtabula County — just before the big snowstorm hit.