Wildside: Seeking refuge by paddlingThe recent extremely hot weather has driven many of us to seek refuge on the cool water. The Lower St. Croix River and most northern Wisconsin lakes swarm with big motor boats, water skiers and jet skis on the weekends. Many of us seek quieter surroundings; floating on a remote lake listening to loons, drifting down a river watching the islands slide by, or navigating through rapids when paddling a canoe or a kayak. Paddling is a sport that can carry you to beautiful places away from the crowds and put you in touch with the pulse of the earth.
The recent extremely hot weather has driven many of us to seek refuge on the cool water. The Lower St. Croix River and most northern Wisconsin lakes swarm with big motor boats, water skiers and jet skis on the weekends. Many of us seek quieter surroundings; floating on a remote lake listening to loons, drifting down a river watching the islands slide by, or navigating through rapids when paddling a canoe or a kayak. Paddling is a sport that can carry you to beautiful places away from the crowds and put you in touch with the pulse of the earth.
Each river has its own personality. Eddies, waves and currents change with the season and from moment to moment. Some rivers are steep and busy with plenty of action to keep the adrenaline flowing. Other rivers are easy to navigate, small, scenic and intimate. We’re lucky to live here where we can visit so many rivers within a day’s drive.
I met a bunch of Wisconsin Canoe Militia friends (a disorganization of avid canoeists and kayakers from around here) at the Bois Brule River on Saturday morning July 16th at the beginning of the recent humid hot spell. We shuttled vehicles downstream to the takeout at Highway 13 and launched our boats at Pine Tree Landing.
The Bois Brule River starts at a short portage from the headwaters of the St. Croix near Solon Springs. Flowing in the opposite direction than it did in glacial times, the upper Brule flows placidly north through several bog-rimmed lakes. The middle Brule runs faster past the grand old summer places near Winnebijou, cascades through busy winding rapids, crashes over Lenroot and Maye’s ledges, then becomes a quick slide through the red clay as it approaches Lake Superior.
The river was flowing 145 cubic feet per second at the gage in Brule. That gave us plenty of water (about 18 refrigerators-full per second) that covered a lot of the rocks and made maneuvering through the rapids a workout. I brought Badger along as river inspector. He hasn’t learned to paddle yet so I had 75 pounds of moving ballast in the bow of the boat. The middle Brule rapids are busy and a bit strenuous so we stopped a number of times in the shade to cool down.
We shipped some water going down through Lenroot Ledges so I eddied out and sponged out some water to lighten the boat. Facing upstream I had a good view of Bill Smith of River Falls coming down over the ledges. He missed the middle chute, hit the ledge, pirouetted his Mohawk whitewater canoe 180 degrees and came down through the chute backward without shipping a drop. I thought Bill was just doing an intentional hot-dog maneuver, but he admitted embarrassment as he floated by. After many years of practice, Bill is now a good canoeist who rarely capsizes.
I let Badger off on shore to lighten the boat and paddled down through Mayes Ledges, executing an elegant turn-out into the eddy at the bottom to my great satisfaction. We cooled down and watched others float through and crash in the boulder garden downstream. Greg and Amy Bjornson of Spring Valley swam in the rapids like grizzly bears.
After loading the boats at the landing we adjourned to the Town of Brule for the evening. I slept in my tent next to the Little Brule River. The sound of the flowing stream put me to sleep and woke me early the next morning. We drove home through the north woods in a thick haze and growing heat with almost nobody on the roads.
Paddle sports have grown enormously in popularity in recent years. Now you can rent, buy or build any of a number of different kinds of canoes, kayaks, or paddle boards. There’s a wealth of information available to learn about canoeing and kayaking.
The Minnesota Canoe Association is a long-standing proponent of paddling in this region. Their web site http://www.canoe-kayak.org/ offers much information about canoeing, kayaking, exploring, racing, flatwater and whitewater paddling and building boats.
Cliff Jacobson of River Falls is an expert wilderness canoe guide and outdoor writer, publisher of many books on canoeing and camping.
There are few better places to learn how to paddle than the Kinnickinnic River. You can rent kayaks from Paige Olson at Kinni Creek Lodge and Outfitters on North Main Street in River Falls http://www.kinnicreek.com/index.htm
This hot summer is a great time to get out on whatever floats your boat.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.