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THE INFAMOUS CANOE TRIP
True story, Freshman year, Michigan State University, 1982-1983, originally written summer 1983

Jim planned it. That, right there, was an inauspicious beginning. But at first everything seemed fine. We were told the Pine River was one of the best rivers for canoeing, but we were neglected to be told that meant people who knew what they were doing. So, we all trooped out cheerfully with no real idea of what we were getting into.

The first foreshadowing of what was going to happen came right at the very beginning of the trip. Julie and I rode with Link and Burge—not bad but everyone else rode in Brant's van and they were supposed to stop and pick up Jenni's 8-man tent for us girls. Even before we left things were going wrong. Julie and I couldn't find anyone to work for us until the last minute and then we got lost trying to find the campground.

Finally we arrived but the van wasn't there—no tent. And when they did arrive, they were all drunk and all for sleeping under the stars and not bothering with the tent. No way. Well, Jenni didn't know to put the tent up so I said, "Let me see it." We'd figure it out somehow. It turned out to be exactly like my father's tent at home so I had it up in five minutes—easy, as all I had to do was put swaying people by the poles and tell them when to hold 'em.

We crammed 6 girls into the tent with all our stuff. During the night it began to rain and it rained the rest of the weekend. It also got rather cold. The worst was yet to come...we werent' even on the river yet!

The next morning we got up—wet, cold and stiff, to find all the guys playing boy scout with the fire and cooking French toast and hot dogs. Then we found out that it cost 3 dollars per person a night at the campground. Most of us didn't have any money. Ann finally wrote a check for $87 and we had to decide what were going to do for the following night.

We got to the place where we were supposed to launch our canoes. After a short wait we were on our way, getting our canoes into the river and getting ourselves into the canoes. Julie and I were in one, Ann went with Burge and Jenni got stuck with Link. We had thought we would be on the river for about 3 hours, but after seeing a sign, we discovered that Peterson Bridge, our destination, was 5 hours downstream.

We had barely gotten on the river when we discovered how fast the Pine was—one of the fastest in Michigan, but no one had told US that. After spinning around and bumping into everything in sight, Julie and I managed to get a little more control over our boat. At least we weren't the first to flip! Here is where the second and most famous of the Famous Last Words happened. All along we had been saying "We won't flip." There just wasn't any question about it. But someone forgot to tell the river.

Julie and I hadn't been out an hour when we first flipped. We had been swept up against a low tree that was lying out in the river and the current swept our canoe right under it. Julie and I went into the river—SHOCK! It was freezing!

On top of that we were already wet from the constant drizzle. Believe me, floundering about in a fast river with wet jeans and sweatshirt, trying to hang on to our canoe wasn't easy. And our canoe was half full of water. We clambered back in only to find that the canoe couldn't hold us and all that water at once. Back in the river we went!

We managed to pull the canoe over to the side, but we had no idea how we were going to get all the water out. Finally, Mark came back overland and helped us tip our canoe and empty it. Soon we were on our way again. Somewhere in here, the end of Julie's paddle had broken off as well.

Everything was finally back together and we set off on the river, but it wasn't long before the ordeal of the birch trees. It was very sudden. We rounded a corner and there were 2 birch trees stretched across the water—only a small area to get through. And there were already 2 canoes up against them. We tried, but the current was too much—wham! We were up against the trees, the canoe was sucked under and Julie and I found ourselves in the river again. Here, the current was VERY fast and we were trying to save our paddles and cushions and still hang on to our canoe. And we couldn't touch bottom here at all. Thank goodness for Mike and Craig. They were up on the far bank, after realizing that no one was going to make it through the birches; they became our rescue squad.

I was almost swept by them altogether by the current until Craig got hold of me. Thoroughly waterlogged and shivering we sat on the bank until the last of our canoes came through. Only 4 of them didn't flip. When Jenni and Link came through, they hadn't yet flipped once, so Mike waded out and tipped them over.

That whole episode was the worst. We set off again. After a while my arms were so sore, and the only thing keeping me going was Julie behind me saying "other side, other side". We finally came close to where our campground canoe launch was and about 8 of our canoes were stopped there. Relief! There was no way I was going to paddle another 2 hours to get to Peterson Bridge.

Then we had to carry our canoes up a steep hill, with stairs and those things weigh a ton. Five girls carrying a canoe above our heads. All this time it was still raining. The next day we were supposed to continue canoeing on the rapids, white water. But all the girls put their foot down—we went home that night and dried out and had a party on the dorm floor instead.

Snapshot memories

Burge yelling, "Link, man, we're gonna die!"

Singing Old Man River, Way Down Upon the Swanee River, Singing in the Rain, Row Row Row Your Boat with Terri and Kris at the top of our lungs near the end.

Julie exclaiming, "I'd rather SWIM than paddle anymore!"

Heading smack up on a rock in the middle of the river... "don't tip, just let the current carry us off!" (it worked!)

"Whaddaya mean, the Pine is the fastest river in Michigan?!"

"Are we there yet?!
 nostalgic
mood: nostalgic
music: howling winds around the house


Comments
From Megsie

Oh my gosh! How scary! Good thing you were young enough not to know how dangerous that really was!

We went canoeing this summer and I am the one who tipped the canoe over. Never to be lived down you can wager. But it was really fun!

Re: From Megsie

It was dangerous but it didn't feel scary at the time. Just MISERABLE and COLD and full of flash-terror and endless tedium :D

But there must have been something in it, because we planned canoeing trips, albeit to OTHER SLOWER CALMER WIDER rivers for several years afterwards.

"we all trooped out cheerfully with no real idea of what we were getting into." Ahh... the voice of youth speaking there. :)

What an adventure - something I guess you look back at now and laugh about, but I bet it was white knuckle terrifying at the time. I don't think I'd have gone as I'm a chicken when it comes to doing things outside of my comfort zone - and I'm too much of a control freak to trust the combination of a rapidly flowing river and a flimsy canoe to end happily.

It was fun AND scary and boring all at once. I like canoeing though, on rivers. Not on lakes. Now THAT is boring.

(Anonymous)

And how many more years did you go canoeing? LOve, Lizardmom

Haha! At least 4! :D

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