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.


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