Monday, August 31, 2009

The Onion River at Last

Day 20 (8/31/09)
After all summer of waiting I finally was on the Onion. I had been putting it off because everybody said it was to low to navigate. I kept hoping for some rain but school was about to start and I could wait no longer. I talked my friend Roger into giving me a ride from my “Yak Hauler”, which I left at the end of my journey, to my starting point. I had planned on going farther but fortunately, at the last moment, decided to shorten my trip by a couple of miles. I had never actually kayaked the onion river, where I was going downstream from one spot to another, so I had no idea of how long it would take. I found out it was much slower than the Buffalo River had been. In fact, in many ways it was in direct contrast to the Buffalo. It took almost twice as long to travel the same distance on the Onion. I passed under the bridge to start my journey at almost exactly ten o’clock. I had spent a little time going up river just to see what was there. It was here that I realized that my camera battery was dangerously low and I would have to conserve energy. Never again will I set out with out charging the battery and taking a backup camera. It actually did pretty well and didn’t fail completely until I was almost done. As I was saying, in many ways it was the opposite of the Buffalo River. There were no sand bars and the bottom was very rocky. If you are the type of person who is concerned about scratching the bottom of your kayak stay off the Onion. Also unlike the Buffalo, which was up to the top of its banks, the water in the onion was low and I often dragged on the bottom. There is a certain skill to shallow water kayaking and you learn with practice to read where the deepest channels run. There were actually very few places where I had to get out and most of those were man made. Rocks have been dumped in the river to serve as bridges to get across with tractors and machinery. I found these actually kind of nice because they provided an area to get out and build cairns. At one of these sites I found a little mowed area complete with a picnic table on which to have my lunch. I have often been asked why I would want to kayak the Onion. It is certainly not a clear mountain stream and is actually quite muddy. That being said, it has its own kind of beauty and certainly an abundance of wildlife. My favorites are always the birds of prey and it did not disappoint. Along with countless hawks I saw an immature eagle and what I think was a barred owl. I had a couple of deer scamper away and one ran up the river in front of me. The herons and cranes were constant companions along with wood ducks and an assortment of shore birds. The biggest surprise for me was the number and size of clams I cam across. They must have been a favorite food of raccoons because the shells were scattered everywhere. My one concern was the vast number of pipes running out of the banks. I am not sure what flowed out of them but probably don’t want to know. I did come across a couple of impasses where I had to get out and help the kayak through or over a downed tree but I never actually had to leave the river. As these things go, the largest of the impasses was almost at the end of my run. It took a little finagling to get from beginning to end but ultimately I was through. The biggest difference from the trip down the Buffalo was the weather. Where the day on the Buffalo was constantly threatened by rain the day on the Onion was as beautiful as a day can be. It left me wanting more and wondering when I can get out again.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gerber yet again.

Day 19 (8/28/09)
It was Friday, the last Friday off before going back to school. It looked like rain but the forecasters’ had promised sun in the early part of the day and rain later. It would not be the first time we got caught in the rain so we decided to go for it and return once again to Gerber Lake. Gerber has become a favorite due to its abundance of eye candy. When we got there we had the lake to ourselves. As promised, soon after getting to the lake the sun came out. The lake provided many photo opportunities for Eileen and once again she spent her time stalking wildlife. She got some great shots of a Green Heron. She also tried out the camera’s underwater feature for the first time. As much as we do not want summer to end we are looking forward to photographing Gerber in autumn. The fishing on the other hand was not great. I did manage to get a couple of bass and a northern but nothing like on my first trip to the lake.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Buffalo River

Day 18 (8/19/09)
It was finally time to take my expedition down the Buffalo River. Do to bad planning on my part, or possibly a subconscious desire to do it alone, I found myself preparing for a solo journey down the Buffalo. Neither of the two friends that had shown interest in going with me was available because I had a problem committing to an exact date to start the journey. I am not sure that I didn’t harbor a secret desire to do it alone the first time. I have done many adventurous things in my life but I have always been accompanied by a friend or two. Because of that, and the fact that I had no idea what I was up against I really didn’t want to submit somebody else to what might be a bummer of a trip. The day before I was going to take off to drive over to the river I received a phone call from my mother advising me that I may want to call off the trip. They had got over six inches of rain in the last week with reports of over five inches in one night. Needless to say, the river had been over its banks and was still running very high. My brothers and everybody she talked to thought it would be crazy to make the attempt right now. I had spent the summer planning for this, however, and was not about to back down so easily. I knew by the time I drove over there and spent the night at my moms it would have had some time to subside. I must admit that when I got to Mondovi and looked at the River, at the point I was planning on starting the trip, I was a bit apprehensive. I had counted on the many sandbars as sort of a safety net to get off at if things got to rough. Since the river was up to its edges it looked like those sandbars would be far and few between. The river also had a bit of an angry boil that made me think it wasn’t going to be the slow leisurely trip, down the river I had intended. I had spent hours mapping my route though and had included several places along the way to get off if I had to. I decided to go for it.
After a bit of a restless nights sleep I was at the river before seven and getting all my gear loaded on to my kayak. The mosquitoes were quite nasty so I rubbed down with repellent, took some pictures and pushed off into the river shortly after seven. I wanted to see how hard it would be to paddle back up stream if I needed to and found it nearly impossible. So much for coming back to the starting point, I was committed. Although beautiful, the first four miles gave me little time to reflect on scenery. It was a lot like being in a giant video game, once you cleared one obstacle you better be looking and planning for the next. I found preparation to be the key to success. Most of the obstacles were trees lying across and debris in the river. I actually got into a rhythm where most of the time if the “out”, which I started calling the way through the obstacles, was on the right side one for obstruction it would be on the left for the next. It left little time for taking pictures so even though I saw two eagles in the first four miles I was never able to get photos of them. The first one I saw was an immature which I chased up several times right outside of Mondovi. Not much farther down the river I scared up a mature one. As many times as I have seen eagles, I never fail to be impressed by the shear size of them. In all I saw at least four eagles along the trip, two of which I got photos of but to far off to be really exciting. In the first four miles I took one short break. I had come up on an obstacle that had a sand bar blocking the only “out” so I decided to pull up on it, have a drink of water and collect my thoughts. By eight thirty I was at the first bridge crossing over the river at Highway 88, four miles south west of Mondovi. This was my first chance to get off if needed. At this point the trip had been totally exhilarating and there was no chance of quitting. Now things started settling down a little. I started moving into a more agricultural area and the frequency of trees across the river started to decrease. I had been warned about fences spanning the river so I kept a watchful eye for any sign of one running down from the edge. Possibly because of the high water I never encountered any. I came upon a couple of permanent campsites along that stretch, one with a slide shooting out into the river. That pleasantly surprised me to see other people using the river for recreational purposes. Since getting on the river I hadn’t been bothered at all by mosquitoes but I am guessing those campsites were probably pretty infested. I also started running along Highway 37 occasionally at this point. I had several passersby wave to me as I continued downriver. I found the sight of others comforting even though it wasn’t like I had been gone for days. I kind of marveled at that. At about ten o’clock I passed under the bridge going to Gilmanton on highway RR. As I moved closer to where I grew up, things continued to get swampier and the frequency of slough holes increased. At one of these slough holes, in a very remote area, I decided to pull in and have a look around. Almost immediately I noticed the smell of fish, like I had just taken one off a hook. It looked quite deep and I am guessing that if I would have brought my pole I could have probably snagged some northern pike. Since it was pretty much inaccessible, I doubt it had ever been fished. That will be something to remember for next year. A little further down river I came across a man on a bulldozer doing some landscaping, I am guessing for a house or cabin. Again I was amazed at how nice it was to see people. I must just be a social person even though I never really considered myself as one. Not far from there I stopped for lunch. It was only about eleven thirty but I was getting hungry and the opportunity presented itself. It is amazing how good simple food can taste when you are really hungry and outside. After lunch I took some time to throw together a quick sculpture of found objects and was back underway. I had been watching for rocks to build with but never really even saw any in the river. It wasn’t long after that I came to the bridge to cross under Highway 37. I was now on the side of the highway that the family farm lay on but still had many miles to go. There was finally got a chance to photograph an eagle but it was still not a good photo. Whether it was because I was starting to get tired or overconfident I am not sure but I had two incidences at that point. The first one I was watching a beaver swim down river and made my choice of an “out” too late. It caused me to miss the opening and end up sideways against a tree trunk lying across the river. I was lucky though and kept the kayak from turning over. As the boat turned sideways against the tree I looked over just in time to see the beaver staring at me with what might as well have been a smirk. I managed to climb out on the tree and horse the kayak across. I was not as lucky the second time. Not much farther down the river I came upon another tree across the river. This time the “out” was obvious but what I didn’t see was that immediately after it a second limb came out from the other direction. Had I been prepared I possibly could have powered my way around the second one but it caught me by surprise and before I knew it my kayak was upside down and I was struggling to stand up. Again in a way I was lucky. The water was only chest deep and the only thing I lost was my poncho, which didn’t really matter now because I was wet anyway. I must admit that along with dampening my clothes it did dampen my spirits. I was so close to the end and I had just gotten careless. I floated the kayak to the next sand bar and got back in. Shortly after this, I started to notice the familiar scenery that meant the end of our farm and the end of my journey. My plan had been to camp there for the night and continue on down the river to the Mississippi the next day. It had started to sprinkle on the river but by the time I started to set up the tent it had changed to a downpour. With no end of the rain in sight I decided to stay the night at my mothers and see what the next day would bring. It brought more rain and cold. When we checked the rain gauge the next day it had an inch and half of rain since I had got off the river. It was a bit disappointing not to get to finish the journey but there is always next year.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mauthe Lake Camping Trip

Day 16 & 17 (8/5&6/09)
I put these two days together because they are our first tent camping trip in more then twenty years. I will cover the Bicycle part of the trip more completely in the “Dolmen Project Blog”. Our first night at Mauthe Lake we went for a short kayak trip but we had already biked over twenty miles earlier. The almost setting sun was also kind of hard on the eyes and the fish didn’t seem to be biting so we only stayed out for an hour or so. We decided we would go to bed early and get out early the next morning. Well, we went to bed early and we didn’t get up real late but by the time we made breakfast and coffee, especially coffee, it was starting to get late. We didn’t sleep all that well. Apparently in twenty years we had become accustom to softer sleeping accommodations, especially after a long bike trip. Maybe it was the raccoons trying to get our food that kept us up all night. We were glad we didn’t store anything with food in it under our rain fly wings like we had first intended. We woke up to another beautiful day and after a breakfast of egg sandwiches grilled over an open fire we set out with our kayaks to explore the lake and the north branch of the Milwaukee River. We started by crossing the lake and going up the river. We had started the night before but the sun had been in our eyes so we decided to wait until morning. The trip up river was all very cool but the highlight had to be our run-in with a baby deer. As we came around a corner Eileen spotted a fawn standing on the edge of the river eating water lily leaves. To a fawn they must be the ultimate in good eating because it wasn’t going to leave for anything. We probably spent ten minutes or more paddling around watching it before it kind of hid in the weeds and ate its leaf. Even then you could see the leaf bobbing up and down as the baby chewed on it. We then moved upstream. You could go quite far up stream before you ran into obstructions. About the time we were going to turn around we heard a couple of very noisy paddlers making there way up stream. We figured that would ruin any chance of seeing more wildlife on our way back down but when we got to the spot with the fawn it was still there. A couple of young girls in a canoe had been watching it to. This time he ducked into the weeds a little quicker. I had tried a little fishing on the river but it was pretty weedy for the one lure I had taken along (minimalist fishing). When we got back to lake however I snagged three fish in a half hour. Two were small Northern Pike and the last one was kind of a nice Large Mouth Bass. By then we only had an hour to tear down camp so we thought we had better head on back to Bowlegs.