Monday, August 22, 2005

Row, row, row my boat…

Actually: Paddle, paddle, paddle my canoe.

More accurately: Paddle, paddle the rental canoe gently down the Wisconsin River.

A group of thirteen of us went to Wisconsin for a canoeing/camping weekend that involved 21 miles of paddling between Sauk City and Spring Green.

Six canoes
Five single people
Four couples
Three days
Two guitars (two mandelines, too!)
One keg (5 gallons).

Lots of fun. The canoeing ended up being more strenuous than expected, because there was a pretty fierce headwind.

Paul and I definitely bike better together than we canoe. Our canoe zigzagged down the river in a drunken, fishtailing manner. We certainly improved over the weekend, but we were not synched up very well. I prefer to paddle on my left side (I’m right-handed, so I don’t know that this makes sense) and stroke faster than he does. He was very slow to understand that the canoe is very responsive, but latent when you steer it. This caused a lot of over-correcting, wiggling when he was in the rear (plus he often took breaks when my back was to him). When I was in back he also tried to steer—which made the over-correcting even worse.

A group of people went up to camp at Devil’s Lake on Friday night, but we left early on Saturday morning. John B. picked us up and we had a greasy, diner breakfast near the Wisconsin border. Paul normally eats very healthily, but loves breakfast buffets, ‘bacon & syrup, tater tots & gravy, pancakes & cheese – you can’t get this stuff on any menu!’ he exclaimed excitedly. So with a belly full of eggs and grease we met the others at the canoe outfitter. It took us forever to get going.

Our group was definitely a party group. John G. and Josh rowed the canoe with the keg (completely visible for all passer-bys to laugh at). Another canoe contained three guys: the middle guy’s responsibility was to play guitar and sing while the other two paddled. We often clumped up to share snacks or just be silly. Plus there was a lot of ‘mid-river re-fueling’ from the keg canoe. There are a lot of small islands & sand bars in this river – and many small sandy beaches along shore. We could camp anywhere we wanted to on the route.

Progress was slow and we stopped at an alcove for swimming & hiking. I don’t have much river-swimming experience. It is sort of freaky. The current was pretty strong in some random parts. Plus there were steep drop offs where it was very easy to lose footing in the shifting sand. Suddenly not being able to touch the bottom while getting caught in a current isn’t very fun, so I rejoined Paul on the shallower sandbar area before we all went for a hike. There were some very cool looking mushrooms on the path to the top. At the top of the bluff I began sneezing—apparently there was some sort of pollen that I was allergic to. Paul and I quickly descended and were bothered by bugs, “when nature attacks.’ My nose cleared up in just a few minutes.

Someone said there was a nude beach up ahead, which turned out to be true. Paul and I were the lead canoe at this point and kept going since we had stopped a short while ago, and didn’t expect others to stop. We were wrong—several of the other canoes stopped to swim/sun naked for a bit. Damnit. Swimming naked feels so damn good. When we met up with the others, Lisa was canoeing topless. Later at camp, people changed clothes without much concern for modesty. I very much dig this idea of being pretty comfortable with nudity. It sure beats trying to change clothes in a tent.

The sun was directly in our faces and the reflection off of the water was blinding. Paul was in front, and his poor little belly is all pink and sunburnt. The river seemed full of canoes as everyone started looking for a beach to camp on. We had hoped for a whole island to ourselves, but ended up sharing it with other groups. It was big enough that we didn’t disturb each other, though.

After we pitched our tents, a campfire was lit and dinner prepared. The keg was finished, wine was opened and 1.5 bottles of bourbon was drunk. Several of the guys in the group are musicians, so there was a lot of singing & guitar-playing around the campfire. Hui Hwa organized s’mores making and everything was good and cozy. The couples used the cold air as an excuse to cuddle for warmth and the bourbon was passed to help warm everyone’s blood. When Paul and I snuck away to our tent there were several people sleeping around the fire.

I was concerned about being cold and put on a wool shirt and socks for sleeping. I was actually a little too warm at points in the night. Paul steals covers shamelessly in his sleep, so my woolen clothes were helpful. He also crowds me. No matter how much room we have to sleep, he crowds me. It is rather cute, because he does it unknowingly in his sleep and is always apologetic and embarrassed in the morning. He sleeps with his arms around me, so whenever I roll away, he rolls closer, until I reach the edge of a bed or the wall of a tent and have nowhere left to go. Our 1.5 person tent could easily have slept at least one more person.

Our group woke up and immediately began making coffee & pancakes. If on my own, I’d eat granola and apples on camping trips, but these friends are all about eating real food on trips. I actually suspect that some of them use ‘active’ trips like canoeing and bike-packing as excuses to be gluttons, because food seems to be such a priority to them at camp.

Paul is more modest than I am, but even he seemed pretty relaxed by the end of the trip. He’s never swam nekkid, and now regrets missing the nude beach, too. In the morning he didn’t even blink when I changed out of the clothes I slept in public. On Saturday he had seemed a little uncomfortable by my public clothes-changing, so I planned to go behind our tent to change my top. He instead shrugged and said, ‘we saw Lisa topless for half of yesterday, why bother?’ It’s pretty cool that after just a few hours of being with immodest people, he also is more comfortable. Although he still changed his clothes in the tent and later the car.

Paul and I walked around the island for a while looking at the rock fragments in the sand—and I found him a pretty clamshell. We found two burrowed ‘trails’ under the surface of the sand and tried to figure out what made them. The felt good to walk on the sand squished pleasantly as the tunnel collapsed under my feet. After we broke camp, combed for pieces of trash and divided the remaining gear/food/garbage between the canoes, I sat in the shallow water for a while trying to trap one of the tiny minnows in my hand, but never succeeded. Finally our group was ready and down the river we went. Most of the other camps had already left, but there were a few tents still standing as the shoreline changed.

In one spot there were several bales of turtles sunning themselves on logs. Even though I warned him that the turtles would simply slide into the water when we approached, we tried to get close to one of the logs. The turtles eyed us warily and then scampered into the water when we were too close for their comfort. Paul believed me and we didn’t try to get closer to any other turtles.

The drunk canoe (three guys, one guitar) came by us and soon there was a clot of our canoes sharing snacks and beer. Jake, the main organizer, believed that we had miscalculated yesterday, and hadn’t covered nearly as many miles as we needed to. His recalculations revealed that we had 10 miles to travel in three hours to reach our pick-up with the outfitters. This meant that it had taken us at least 8 hours to travel the first 11 miles. I didn’t think that the necessary pace would be possible. But we all agreed to paddle quicker. Shortly after this meeting, we looked back and saw the drunk canoe stuck on one of the numerous sandbars, while the guys were screwing off.

After more paddling we saw a bridge up ahead and then after we went under it, there was another bridge. Paul remembered that on the map there were three bridges pretty close to each other, and the third bridge was the pick-up spot. We felt relief that we wouldn’t be late. Shortly afterwards we reached the rest of the group at an island stopped for lunch/swimming/shenanigans. I busted out my Asian cabbage slaw, and chopped cucumbers for salad. Kyrie opened her fantastic curried chicken salad and we all dug in.

We all ate heartily and alternated lazing around with swimming. Jake took this opportunity to hug his bottle of scotch and demonstrate how fucked-up he was. Many photos were taken of his sprawled form and Kyrie joked that she was on ‘death watch.’ Jake is a doctor and we kiddingly fretted that just as we possibly needed a doctor, he was the potential passed-out patient. We poured water on him to wake him up and headed back down river. When we passed his canoe, he was the ‘middle man’ drunkenly playing guitar and singing while being paddled downstream.

In this short leg of paddling, I got massive sunburn on my legs, about two inches below my bikini bottom, where I had my dress hitched up to. My poor legs are bright pink and very hot to the touch.

We arrived at the pick-up point just as the outfitters school-bus pulled up. It took very little time to load the canoes and our gear. All through the trip several people were excited about smoking and drinking on the school bus. The last of the beers were cracked and Jake asked the outfitter if they could smoke on the bus. He said he didn’t care, but when the pot smoke wafted up to him he directed us to put it out. Jake drunkenly apologized, and claimed that there was a misunderstanding. Then we started singing “The wheels on the bus” and adding verses like, “the bus driver said ‘put that out, put that out, put that out’. He was wearing very dark glasses, but he looked on the verge of giggling at us a few times.

I don’t smoke pot, and it is somewhat weird to see so many of these older friends using any opportunity to get high. All of them are generally responsible and are in a good place in their lives, some are married and one has two babies. Even though I have known lots of pot-heads with their shit together, it still strikes me as a little weird to see so many of these friends eagerly toke up. They definitely defy the stereotype of pot smoking as either a phase of youth or a middle-aged activity confined to losers.

Paul and John were having some pretty dorky conversations on the way home, so I curled up in the back sleep and napped for most of the ride back to Chicago. Back at Paul’s place, we showered to try to get the sand out of our hair and skin. Several stalks of aloe were snapped and we slathered each others’ sunburn with the aloe juice. Still, my legs are pink and warm today. My butt also somewhat hurts on my bicycle seat—apparently 10 hours on an aluminum canoe seat isn’t the best thing for the sitbones.


At 6:58 AM, Blogger George said...

I dunno, from where I'm sittin' it sounds like ya'll had a pretty good time.

I'm 45 and my wife and I have 2 kids (ages 18 and 12) so I'm not too sure about the buck naked thing (45 year old skin isn't always pretty) but I mighta had me a toke or two:-)


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