|The Waupaca River delivers one more class 1 rapids at the end.|
By David Horst
It has to be said. We got some people wet.
The kickoff to the North East Wisconsin Paddlers 2018 Public Paddle series on May 5 was a little more challenging than our usual afternoon outings on a lazy river.
We opened the season with a segment of the Waupaca River from County Q to Brainard's Bridge Park, just upstream of the City of Waupaca. It includes a few sections classified as class 1 rapids, the lowest category in the whitewater rating scale.
|Ken plays in the segment's final rapids|
My trusty old Perception Carolina took a hard smack from rocks on both sides. The acrylic-covered plastic that it's made of absorbed the punishment without damage. I also got hung up on a rock at one point and trapped by a downed tree at another. But I stayed dry.
It's amazing how quickly your muscle memory can forget a lesson your brain knows so well.
I know that when you get caught on something in the current, you lean downstream into the obstruction. To lean upstream is to invite the river into your cockpit.
But when the fallen tree snagged me, my instinct was to lean away from it to try to get free. One of our NEWP instructors was nearby and shouted a reminder that kept the water on the outside, where it belonged.
|There was plenty to talk about on this trip.|
No one was injured among the half-dozen or so kayak flippers. The worst of it was a couple gulps of prime trout stream. They had some experience. They had some people to help them. And they were all wearing PFDs (lifejackets) as we require on all our trips.
Any one of those three factors lacking can spell tragedy.
When someone did go over, others came to calm the paddler, secure and empty the boat and get the paddler back in the boat and on his or her way. Wading to shore and giving up on the trip was not an option we offered.
|Portaging around the covered bridge|
When I scouted the route immediately before the launch, I found 8-10 inches of clearance under the covered bridge and warned everyone we would have to portage around it.
But the Waupaca drains a fairly modest watershed and three hours later, the clearance was j-u-s-t about the height of a head pressed against the deck of a kayak.
The first to arrive at the covered bridge was Tom Young, who with wife Jeanne paddled the lone canoe on this trip. In a rare show of gallantry, he took Jeanne to shore before attempting to run the rapids under the bridge. Though he did suggest she would be valuable as ballast.
|Making it through was reason for celebration.|
About half of the kayakers followed his lead. I was watching from the left bank, where I had portaged.
We had one more class 1 rapids, probably the most challenging, immediately before the takeout. A few weary paddlers took out and dragged their boats along shore. Most shot the rapids. One concluded the final class 1 passage without the benefit of his boat.
Afterwards, I heard from formerly soggy participants that they enjoyed the trip anyway. They said they learned an important lesson -- they can flip their kayak, perform a wet exit and get back in to finish a trip.
You probably won't see this stretch of the Waupaca on the club schedule again. It would be challenging for many of those who join our public paddles. But it certainly will be on our personal lists of spring adventures.
See the full list of this season's public paddles at wisconsinpaddlers.org.