My favorite type of canoe trip is a circle route, where we park the vehicle in one spot, unload the canoe and gear, paddle for a few hours or several days, and then return to the same spot. Last winter when going through old photographs with my mother, I found a picture of my father taking my brother, Tim, and me out on a canoe trip many years ago. That photo made me realize my life with a canoe has come full circle.
In high school, my best friend, Mark, and I often canoed the Kickapoo River near Ontario, Wisconsin. On one trip, after work, we raced to the river, however, night had closed in before we got to the first river camp site. Thus, we set up our small tent along the river in the only clearing we could find. During the night, we awoke to what sounded like a large animal outside the tent, and grabbed our box cutters (from our work at a grocery store) to fend off the impending attack. The animal moved on without incident and in the morning, we realized we were camped near a pasture – with the cows safely behind the fence.
I have always loved to introduce new people to canoeing. I once invited a friend who had never been in a canoe before to join me in a canoe derby. While roughhousing with some high school classmates near the start, I lost my eyeglasses in the river. Being terribly nearsighted, I completely relied upon my friend to tell me what he saw ahead so I could navigate the river safely to the end.
In 1977, after graduating from technical school, I bought my first canoe – an aluminum Michicraft. It’s had some hard miles but it’s still with me today. One of my first trips in the new canoe to the Bois Brule River that flows north into Lake Superior was a lesson in hull design. With a deep keel, it’s designed to track straight on flat water lakes, not the fast current and rapids of the Bois Brule River in early May. My friend and I learned this lesson by dumping the canoe on the very first turn. We could still see our car back in the parking lot! Needless to say, we overturned the canoe several times before making it back to camp, cold and wet. Our friends with flat bottomed canoes had a wonderful (and dry) day on the river, and had a nice camp fire going when we arrived. As I was warming my hands and drying my soaking wet jersey gloves over the fire, a friend told me to clap. I didn’t understand, so he told me again to clap. Why? Because my gloves were on fire!
Brianna, our 16-year-old granddaughter, has been canoeing and learning outdoor skills at YMCA Camp U-NAH-LI-YA near Suring for many years. She said that as part of her training to be a camp counselor, she would be taking a nine-day trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I asked her, “have you ever done an overnight canoe camping trip?” Since she said no, I thought it best that she have a brief introduction before going on an extended trip. After looking at maps of several great canoeing trips in Wisconsin, we decided to make a circle trip to the Turtle Flambeau Flowage near Mercer.
Brianna and I paddled the fully loaded canoe while her mother and our daughter, Kara, kayaked alongside us.
To also prepare her for the BWCA, we camped on an island. Brianna was a trooper, handling heat, bugs, and rain, without complaint! She will do just fine in the BWCA.
As my wife, Linda, and I enjoy quiet canoe trips near our home on the Big Eau Pleine Flowage near Mosinee, I realize that my life with the canoe has come full circle – passing my passion for canoeing from my father, to our children, and now to our grandchildren.