Sunday, October 22, 2017

October paddle extends the season

By David Horst

A day in mid-October with a forecast of sun and temperatures in the low 70s. Not something you pass up. It needed to be a paddle weekend.

I emailed paddle buddy Jeff Mazanec and made plans for a short trip.
We settled on the Waupaca River from Weyauwega to Decker Park.

Coincidentally, this is one of our routes for the 2018 North East Wisconsin Paddlers public paddles. We needed a location, so why not pick one that we could scout for the group. Jeff, of Grand Chute, has an even stronger sense of responsibility (and so does the third main planner of this series, Tom Young of Fox Crossing) than I do, so he was fine with that.

The launch area is just below the dam that forms Lake Weyauwega. It’s on the north side of the river, at the foot of the grain tower that is painted with symbols of the area’s history.

A narrow path, maybe five yards long, leads down to a small pier about the right height for launching a canoe, but on the treacherous side for dropping down into a kayak. The flow is swift and the rocks slippery, but we managed to launch without contributing to the blooper reel.

Paddling the Waupaca
The route out of town takes you past the bread and butter of Weyauwega – Agropur cheese and Presto Products. Also Weyauwega-Fremont High School. Then on to rural beauty.

The first section of river has some ripples. They’d have to grow up quite a bit to be rapids, but they do signal underwater rocks best avoided. Other sections turn suddenly shallow with mucky sand slippery enough to glide through, until you push it too far and have to step out into the quicksand. We didn’t push it that far, but almost.

Jeff always takes sweep on our group paddles. He’s the last guy, making sure no one gets left behind and offering a tow to anyone who is struggling.

Today, he alternates between lead and sweep. There are only the two of us.
As fun as it is to fill a river with paddlers, sharing a river with just us is a refreshing change. We have time to talk – not just about who needs help or a paddler slipping off his PFD in violation of our rules. Today our conversation is about our families, our memories, our aspirations. 
I didn’t even bring a camera.

Jeff observes the river is wide enough that we aren’t likely to have downed trees block our way. The thought has hardly slipped off of his tongue when we swing around a bend to see tree trunk stretching across the channel.

Far river right there is a passage about twice the width of a kayak.

Time and time again we would encounter a tree and see the passage reveal itself.

Even with fall getting ready to entrench itself, signs of wildlife were everywhere. Pointy beaver sticks littered the shoreline. Patches of mud were scribed with a mosaic of footprints from beavers, muskrats and deer.

Great blue herons took the point for the first half our trip. I can confidently say herons, plural, but could not venture what part of the count should be credited to great blues who flew ahead and emerged again.

We never saw the bald eagle that usually graces our group trips. Instead, an osprey cruises the wind currents.

“An osprey is worth two eagles,” Jeff pronounces. Definitely in a bar fight, I was thinking. This osprey is pushing the migration window. Most would have headed toward Mexico and points further south by now, but a few linger through October.

We twist and turn through the final length of the Waupaca before it anonymously slips into the Wolf River.

The first inlet is populated with campers. Around a peninsula stands Gill’s Landing, a bar and restaurant. We land there. Many of the patrons have taken to the deck to soak in this extra summer day in October.

We join them to toast a day that cheated the end of paddle season.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Water, water everywhere

By David Horst

We set out knowing we would be rained on.

One of the glories of kayaking is it doesn't matter if it rains. Your boat and your sprayskirt cover the bottom half of you and your raincoat and hat shelter the rest.

We were paddling the Caldron Falls pool of the Peshtigo Flowage -- one of eight days of paddling organized by North East Wisconsin Paddlers this season.

Camping at Gov. Thompson State Park, we are paddling an 8-mile out-and-back route Saturday and the High Falls pool on Sunday. Today's route is landing #13 to landing #12 and back.

The clouds were gathering and the forecast has made thunderstorms a certainty. But, remember, I no longer trust weather forecasters.

On the way back the rain started. It got harder. An

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Consty's story ends

By David Horst 

An experience can be difficult, end badly and still be worth it. So it is with the last chapter of Consty’s story.

Constellatione has been with us for 17 years. Toward the end of last year, he started having difficulty walking. His feet would go every which way when he took a step. In early March, he went down and was unable to get himself back up.

After desperate day of him being outside in high winds, we were able to help him walk into the barn with the assistance of our vet and a young intern. 

At first, the diagnosis was that Consty had a parasite that attacks the spine. Later, it was determined that a cancerous tumor was pressing on his spine. Either way, he couldn’t stand.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Turning a cold shoulder to forecasters

By David Horst

We had a very nice paddle Sunday — a small, intimate group, strong flow in the river and the wind at our backs.

More on that, but first, I have to let loose of some rage.

Last Thursday — 48 hours before a weekend with two paddles scheduled on the Upper Fox River — the forecast for the Princeton area was unequivocal. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, between 70% and 90% chance of thunderstorms. I’d never seen such a dramatically certain forecast telling padders to stay off of the water.

As organizers of the North East Wisconsin Paddlers public paddle series, our course was clear. We needed to call off Saturday’s trip for the safety of the participants and to give ample notice to people traveling from farther away. You don’t argue with 90% certainty of thunder and lightning. We posted the messages on web and Facebook and sent emails to everyone we expected to come.

I joked with fellow trip organizer Jeff Mazanec that by canceling the trip we probably guaranteed Princeton would see no thunderstorms Saturday.

My prediction turned out to be the only one that was correct.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Horicon Marsh holds bird life and history

Horicon Marsh is a huge pool among the nation’s fresh water marshes – the largest, in fact. But it also holds a tremendous volume of history.

See more photos.
Few are better equipped to recite that history than Bill Volkert, who retired after 27 years as a naturalist in the state portion of the marsh. Why there is state and federal sections is part of the difficult history of the place.

We retained Volkert to talk about Horicon’s twisted history and lead North East Wisconsin Paddlers’ first public paddle of the 2017 schedule on May 6. The trip drew 67 paddlers, many on their first NEWP paddle.

Volkert told of a visitor to the marsh who remarked on how wonderful it was that we – the royal WE – had preserved all of this wonderful wetland. That’s when Volkert recited the list of attempts by WE to make the marsh knuckle under.
Known now for its Canada goose population, Horicon of the early 1800s was prime duck territory. The first assault on the marsh was hunting clubs with shotguns of such a low gauge that a single shot could bring down as many as 50 birds. Understand, this was after centuries of Native American habitation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

2017 paddle season set

The 2017 Heritage Paddle schedule is now available. New paddles for the upcoming season include a naturalist-led tour of Horicon Marsh May 6 and two days on the Upper Fox River May 20-21 that we're calling -- to please the censors -- the Three Good Dams Paddle. It will take us from the Princeton Dam to the White River Dam one day, and White River to the Berlin Dam the next. Old favorites will be back -- including two days in the Peshtigo Flowage June 24-25, the 16th annual Park to Park Paddle July 22, a Moonlight Paddle from De Pere to Green Bay Aug. 4 and the Appleton Locks Paddle on Appleton's Octoberfest Saturday, Sept. 30.  See times and other details at

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hope gives way to compassion

By David Horst

Hope gave way to compassion last Thursday.

We were barely into the barn when the vet pronounced hope was gone.

"We're in hospice mode now," she concluded.

Our 17-year-old llama, Constellatione, has not been able to stand on his own for several weeks now. In the world of a natural prey animal like a llama, that's a fatal flaw.

We've been holding out hope that lifting him daily with a cattle sling and an electric winch would get the strength back into his legs so we could see him grazing in the pasture once again.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Neighbor helps keep hope alive

By David Horst

Hope came rolling up our driveway in the form of a really big pickup truck on Monday.

Our hay guy, neighbor Randy who cuts and bales our hay with his brothers in exchange for half the take, came to help us get Constellation to his feet after about 72 hours of the llama being down. We're not close friends. Really, our only relationship is the business connection of haymaking. But when we asked, he came.

"That's what neighbors do," Randy said. It's the code of the country.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Llama needs hope to remain faithful

By David Horst

Today I was pretty convinced that Hope is just a city in Arkansas -- a sucker bet for people who can't see the reality in front of their noses.

I had seized onto hope on Friday, when our llama Constellatione had shown signs of improvement after 14 hours of not having the strength to stand up on his own. And the last place he had gone down was out in the pasture, in the wind.

Cobbling together a hay manger, a few hay bales, my compact tractor and a pontoon boat-sized tarp, I erected a quick wind break around him, but he had to walk on his own.

Our llama vet -- actually our llama vet's daughter -- discovered an infection caused by an abscess tooth. She was instructing her intern about how llamas can develop abscesses, "Like this one," she said, as she felt along the llama's jaw. She gave him a shot of antibiotic that she said could turn his situation around in 24 hours.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

John speaks loudly with few words

By David Horst

How do I describe my friend John?

He is unlike anyone else I know — a mountain man born to the wrong time and place, but comfortable at any time and in any place.

John Behnke is, above all, nonjudgmental. That’s a quality I value in a friend.

We met through a mutual friend and a mutual interest in kayaking. We’ve done more than a dozen multi-day trips together, including at least 10 wilderness paddle-camping trips to the Apostle Islands. If you can come through that kind of potential for getting on each other’s nerves, you’ve got yourself a friend.