Sunday, May 26, 2013

Wind and river give paddlers a push

By David Horst

SPRING GREEN -- Take majestic bluffs and a wide, tree-lined river. Add to that 80-degree temperatures, a 4 mph current and a strong tailwind and you’ve got the makings of a good day of paddling.

Better yet if you are with 20 friendly and interesting people.

That describes the second day of Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Paddle 2013. The first day wasn’t bad either.

May 18 we paddled the 11 miles from Arena to Spring Green on the Wisconsin River. The next day covered the 12.5 miles from Spring Green to Gotham.

The Arena landing is tucked down River Road off State 14 about 30 miles and a couple decades west of Madison. Fifteen kayaks and four canoes
lined the south bank of the Wisconsin. A group of mostly strangers busied themselves unloading gear and checking out a bag of danish at the registration table, as the newly hatched mosquitos feasted on our ankles.

It didn’t take long for the strangers to be helping each other lift boats down from an assortment of roof racks. That’s the way these Heritage Paddles go. Everyone is about enjoying the group activity and that means making it more enjoyable for the next guy or woman.

The flotilla stretched and shrank like some huge, brightly colored amoeba as the faster paddlers surged ahead and then waited for the rest.

Not two miles in, an immature eagle rose to keep our record in tact. At least one bald eagle sighted at every paddle event since April 2010.

High water kept us moving right along, but the shifting sandbars can still snag you if you don’t read the shadows on the water correctly. I was among the victims, on my way to help someone else who got stuck. Poling with my paddle wasn’t working so I dipped both hands into the still-chilled water and did the frog paddle, slightly lifting the boat and pushing forward. Only after I was free of the sand did I remember I was wearing a watch. Timex “water resistant” turned out to be good enough for the first 6 inches of depth.

We beached intentionally for lunch at about the two-thirds mark of our route. That’s when the latest FWHP innovation was unveiled.

Our lunch stops -- and even some of our launches and landings -- often lack even a pit toilet. For the guys, it’s a chance to water the greenery. The women are not so liberated by that prospect.
Tom Young, like me, one of the organizers of the trips, had the answer. He packed along a small portable toilet and a roofless tent just big enough to provide privacy. He called it his European water closet. (That’s Yur-a-Peein’ for those of you among the vast majority who don’t catch onto Tom’s humor.)

But was he ever a hero to the ladies. Chivalry lives if a man is willing to carry the water, so to speak, for them.

While this was on the short side for our trips, no one begged for more when we reached our take-out at Wisconsin Riverside Resort. We scattered for dinner and then reassembled at the campfire for cold beer and warmed-over stories of past paddles.

Day 2 started and ended under threatening skies, but our perfect record of no rainouts also survived.
At times, this day of paddling was shamelessly easy. When the wind gusted, I could hold up my paddle blades like twin sails and move along as fast as if I were paddling.

The sun shone during the middle of the trip. For our lunch stop at Otter Creek landing, I alternated between standing in the sun to avoid the mosquitos and enduring the bites to escape the heat.

The turtles were enjoying a little sun in their cold-blooded world. A dozen at a time would line a log, seemingly arranged by size from smallest to largest and back to small again. As with many of nature’s gifts, the scene was ephemeral. Get too close and the turtles disappear with a plop, plop, plop.

We enjoyed another show in the air. A young eagle, its head and tail not yet fully converted to white, flew loops across the river ahead of us. It played in the wind, swooped up near a tree branch and then took another lap before finding its perch.

Further down river, the tall, thin figures of a pair of sandhill cranes appeared on a sandbar. Their synchronized takeoff and slow, elegant wingbeats confirmed the identification. A cormorant added to the bird count.

Our trip ended at the Buena Vista Landing in Gotham. Paddlers stabilized the boat of the next person to land, as they tried to recover their land legs after nearly four hours on the water.

Some lingered in conversation, others packed up and hurried back to their remaining weekend duties. Many of both promised they would return for another paddle.

UP NEXT: June 1 Pardeeville Paddle launching at 11 a.m. from Indian Trails Campground in Pardeeville to the wayside across from the Surgeon’s Quarters in Portage. After the paddle, everyone is invited to join a walk retracing the “2,700 paces” Fr. Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet took in portaging from the Fox to the Wisconsin rivers on their way to the Mississippi. Also enjoy Portage’s Canal Days festival. More information is at

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