WI River 2018 Part 1

Friday, June 15

We’ve decided upon an easy 10 mile section – putting in at the Arena public landing and taking out at Tower Hill State Park. During the week prior to our trip our region had been in the midst of an early season heat wave, with daytime temps above 90 and heat indices pushing 105. The recent heat and lack of rainfall has caused the Wisconsin to drop into the sandbar sweet spot for current and depth. We could do without the oppressive heat, but other than that conditions look to be about perfect for river camping.

We have 18 people in our group that we plan on seeing at some point this weekend. There’s 14 people with us to start the weekend and the rest we’re expecting to join us tomorrow. We all get to the Arena landing around the designated time and proceed to eat lunch and repack items into coolers, dry bags, and load up the canoes. We have 7 canoes in our party and a kayak, and getting all that organized takes some effort. Another group comes to the landing, loads, and departs before we’re ready to go. We watch them paddle away towards the left, only a few minutes later they’re back and going the other direction. Apparently the channel is too low in that direction. We watch them go around the bend to the right and out of sight. Shortly after we launched the first of our canoes did we discover that the path was blocked to the right as well, and we would need to carry all our stuff over a 100 yard stretch of sandbar to get to the river. Ugh! We ended up partially unloading the canoes and group carrying them to the other side. Initially we tried dragging/pushing them across the sand and it was soon evident we wouldn’t be able to exert ourselves that much 4 or 5 additional times.

Finally all the boats are at the actual river and we are able to start our paddle down the river. Because of the carry and having to reload canoes again, our group gets pretty spread out. Larry’s in one of the lead canoes & sees this, and a couple miles down river he gets the group to pull off at a sand bar and wait for the people in the back of the group, including my canoe. Everyone gets out for a few minutes and stretches, takes a drink of water as it’s really out out today, and the kids play nearby. We all get back into the boats and get on our way. We want to have time to be able to get a good sized sandbar for our group, and figuring it’s father’s day weekend there might be other groups on the river.

A little while after we were going again Leith and Gavin catch up to me and Devin and tells me he can’t find his phone. I have him check his backpack and it’s not in there. He remembers it was in his pocket and remembers for sure he looked at it back at the rally point. When he’s sitting in the canoe we realize his pockets are about even with the gunwale – it could have easily fallen out at any point in the previous three miles! We head back to the spot Gavin remembered having it. Against the current, it takes us three times longer to get back to where we were just 30 minutes ago. We all beach the canoes and start looking. Gavin retraces his steps and no sign of the phone. We look all around the shallows where he got back into the canoe when we got on our way before – nothing. In reality we have no idea where his phone is. To make matters worse, he had turned it off and had it in airplane mode so even if we tried to track it we wouldn’t be able to. He did have it in a ziploc I gave him, so there’s a reasonable assumption that it might not be waterlogged yet. It doesn’t matter though, it’s accepted pretty quickly that the phone is gone. We launch the canoes and point them back downriver.

Thankfully, Larry figured that we would be spent from the extra distance and effort paddling against the current and stopped the group at one of the first suitable sandbars he came to.  It’s gigantic and perfect. The river has dropped so much recently that the sandbar is almost more like a round sandy peninsula coming from the shore. On the upstream side of the sandbar, several hundred yards away, the sand just fades into the river and with the heat its hard to tell the exact point where land and water meet. Where we’ve set up camp, however, is the downstream side of the sandbar, which has a 20 yard wide channel of the river passing between us and another sandbar island. This side is several feet above the level of the river. We set up our tents on the dry, hot sand plateau above and establish a campfire area on the lower shelf closer to the river’s edge.

The rest of the day is spent lazing under the sun. The kids entertain themselves in the river, splashing and playing while the adults keep a watchful eye on them sitting in the river nearby to stay cool. There’s a decent breeze blowing as well. Thunder storms to our North and West are sucking in the hot air for fuel. Once or twice earlier, before they get weighed down with gear, some of the tents threaten to collapse or blow away. Most of us have chosen to pitch our tents without a rainfly as the forecast maintains minimal chances for rain overnight.

Dinner tonight is a quick and easy meal we’ve had plenty of times in Scouts – foil packs! We take care of setting up the kids’ meals first. The fire isn’t big enough to do 14 or more at the same time. Once the kids’ are cooking, the adults assemble theirs. I’ve been busy tending to other things so mine ends up being one of the last to get made. With how hot today has been, being by the fire is like sitting next to a blowtorch.

Not long after dinner is done when all the dishes are cleaned up, the mosquitoes come out. It’s not too hot for them, and they are thick this evening. No one wants to hang out by the fire to try to wait out the skeeters except for Larry. We dive into our tent and I commence to read some Harry Potter to Devin. It’s a hot and muggy evening and we are hearing some distant rumbles of thunder. To our North around the WI Dells area there are severe storms that have been more or less parked for much of the afternoon into evening.

I’m having a hard time falling asleep. The rumbles of thunder seem like they’re creeping closer to us and the lightning show to our NW is incredible. The thunder is definitely getting closer now. Suddenly, I hear voices that don’t sound like anyone I know is with us, and there’s a spotlight shining around. There’s a couple guys in kayaks apparently doing some night paddling and looking for a campsite. I had nearly drifted off to sleep before their intrusion on our otherwise rumbly evening and I decide to get up to try to scope them out and maybe check the weather. We seem to have picked the perfect spot where Verizon gets almost no service. I’m lucky this time, however, and get 1 bar of 4G. I hop on to the NWS’ mobile site and pull up a radar loop. It seems like in the last slide, just off to our West there is a cell forming. I make a quick call to home to check in before I lose signal. I think I’m going to put the rain fly on the tent now. The lightning is more intense and there’s no mistaking that the thunder is closer and louder. The guys in kayaks are still talking loudly. They seem to have landed on the neighboring island across the narrow channel. The little bit of distance helps to diminish but not eliminate their sounds.

The first drops start to fall as Gavin and I fight the breeze to pull the fly over the tent. By the time we’re finishing up I see Larry is doing the same for his tent. Everyone else seems to have buttoned up before settling in. I try to dodge raindrops for a few more minutes and make sure nothing is out that shouldn’t get wet. I get back in the tent as the rain is really coming down hard now, and Gavin and I chat for a little bit. The rain has helped drop temperatures a little, and after writing in my journal for a while I feel sleep tugging on my eyelids and I go to sleep.

Continue to part 2

Nippersink Creek May 2018

My buddy Matt and I were supposed to be partners again for this year’s 61st running of the Des Plaines Canoe and Kayak Marathon. Sadly, in the 10 days before the marathon was supposed to happen record rainfall occurred within the Des Plaines River’s watershed, causing the river to leave its banks. There are a few low bridges on the marathon route, not a problem for canoeists or SUP’ers on a typical day, but those bridges plus the swifter-than-normal current spell danger for anybody on the river.

As it happens, just to our West they didn’t get nearly the amount of rain as we did. The Nippersink was running just above average for this time of year, both current and depth, according to the USGS gauge outside Spring Grove.

The marathon is an 18.5 mile course, the best we can manage on the Nippersink from Keystone Landing to the Canoe Base will be a little under 14 miles. Earlier in the week we’d see some of the nicest weather of the spring to date… Sadly we won’t get that nice weather. The forecast is for highs in the upper 40s or low 50s, overcast skies, and occasional showers. Given the choice between this an no paddling, we choose paddling. Our wives think we’re crazy.

The marathon was supposed to be the first real use of a canoe I brought back to life over the winter, a Bell Canoe Works NorthStar in Blackgold layup. Compared to the Nip’, the Des Plaines is a snooze – the Nippersink is a somewhat wild creek which has oodles upon oodles of switchbacks, oxbows, and in the first section from Keystone Landing to Pioneer Landing, about a dozen or so riffles. One really just has to pay attention a lot more and your mind can’t wander as much.

I pick Matt up at the Canoe Base and we make the 10 minute drive to Keystone. After a few minutes of outfitting the canoe we’re ready to go.

There’s a little bit of current right at the landing, so once the canoe is in the water someone needs to hang on because it’ll break loose and float away. After ensuring all our items are safely stowed, we shove off just after 8AM.

It’s a lively paddle. The river is moving at a decent clip and we see a fair number of birds, including some sandhill cranes who have recently reappeared after wintering further south. At one point when passing under a bridge, the wind gets focused and tears my hat from my head. The rim is foam so it floats, and after pulling a U-turn and passing back under the bridge, my now dampened hat has been recovered and we turn around again and keep going.

A few minutes later we can’t see it yet, but there’s the unmistakable sound of moving water up ahead. As we round another bend in the river we see our first riffle of the day in front of us. We don’t have much time to strategize our route through the riffle and other than a generic “to the right of the center” we’re committed.

We make it nearly all the way cleanly through the riffle until we hit a big rock dead on, which causes the boat to dish me and Matt into the deeper water immediately following the rapid. The GoPro, mounted on a pole at the back of the canoe and taking frames in time lapse mode, catches all the action including the “oh crap!” moment when we know we’re going swimming.

Surprisingly, the water actually feels warm… it probably IS warmer than the air, due to the rains & today’s high will only top out at 50. Matt and I are both dressed head to toe in synthetics and layers, so other than the initial shock of getting wet neither of us are too cold at the moment. I nearly didn’t take the red fleece, but man am I glad I did! We pull off to the side where the current isn’t quite as strong and we’re able to stand on the bed enough to dump most of the water out of the canoe.

Back on our way, eventually rain starts to fall and so raingear is donned. It gives an added benefit of being another layer to help stay warm. After the first capsize the GoPro stayed put, however the tape I used apparently didn’t like getting wet because when we capsized again, this time within sight of Pioneer Landing, the GoPro nearly let completely loose. We’ll take a 30 minute break at Pioneer to shelter within the bathroom for a little while to dry out, warm up, and have a snack. Also, we question our sanity for being out on a day like this….

On our way back to get going again we run into a couple groups including a guy soloing in an aluminum with his dog. We apologize to the groups for being all spread out on the landing (didn’t really expect others to be as crazy as us) and get out of their way.

All in all we’ll capsize a 3rd time on the trip, not too long before Lyle C. Thomas park outside of Spring Grove. We were finally getting into a rhythm, even seeing clothing get dry patches, and enjoying the fact we were apparently paddling through a town unbeknownst to anyone as the river is very deep in its banks around here. Suddenly from out of nowhere, church bells ring out and shock us from our canoe-induced stupor. I still don’t know how or why, but it was at the exact moment the bells rang out when the canoe rolled the third time. We were at a confluence of sorts around an island, but we didn’t hit anything and there wasn’t a rapid. The boat just…. turtled on us.

We get out at Thomas park and warm up for a little bit and eat another snack. Only 4 miles to go. The sun’s out now and we take advantage of that to try to dry off some.

The remaining mileage goes quickly as we do not encounter any deadfall or objects blocking the channel, and the end is reached about an hour later. My “new” canoe is now properly broken in, with several white scratches adorning it’s recently epoxied bottom. More time is needed with this boat to get used to how it handles differently than my Spirit II.

We vow to re-attack the Nippersink some time in the future, maybe not with a Kevlar/fiberglass wilderness tripping boat but maybe in an Alumacraft which will take the blows from rocks or scraping a shallow gravelly bottom. The creek would collect a toll for our run today, namely a half dollar sized chunk of gelcoat from the bow stem. Nothing a few layers of epoxy and some saran wrap can’t fix.

A hot shower at home never felt so good!


Got over to the shop Sunday night to work on the boat a little. Biggest goals of the evening were to remove the plastic sheeting covering the epoxy patches on the hull exterior, assess & sand the ends of the gunwales where I have been filling with epoxy, and if they are ready, to oil the gunwale ends at the same time as putting on another coat of oil on the rails.

Well, the patches turned out pretty good. Using the popsicle stick as a squeegee of sorts worked well, the patches don’t have as much of a noticeable transition between hull and patch. The biggest patch will need a little more work, but that’s mostly due to my using multiple sheets of plastic to get the job done. The gunwale ends look good too. They required a fair amount of sanding to get the gunwales out from the epoxy, however. I wanted to leave the shop about 10:30 but because of what I was doing I didn’t get away until closer to 11PM. The gunwales got their first wet sand using the oil… I lightly sanded the whole undersides & sides with 180 grit then after dry wiping I brushed on a coat of oil, taking the time to go over the gunwale ends a couple times. The end grain didn’t wick up the oil as much as I thought it might, perhaps this is due to the epoxy work & the grain sucking up resin? After the undersides were oiled I flipped the boat over & put into the cradles so I could apply a coat of oil to the topsides. After going around the whole boat a couple times I came back with a clean piece of 180 grit and after applying a little bit of oil to the paper I rubbed the wet visible surfaces with the paper. Without wiping off the oil I went through and brushed on another coat of oil all around.

I also remembered to bring pipe cleaners this time so I could go around and really coat the interior of all the thwart & seat hanger holes.

Next up – Lightly sand the big interior kevlar patch to remove high spots and remove gloss, fair the hull exterior, keep the project moving forward.

Won’t get another chance to work on it until April.


Got over to the shop for a quick couple hours tonight. Took the opportunity to do all the epoxy fill patches on the boat. 6 spots in total where I sanded spider web cracks and filled with neat epoxy and then covered with plastic wrap. We’ll see maybe this weekend how they turned out. Also used the leftover to finish filling the bow and stern stems where the gunwales come together. As I write this I’m waiting for the epoxy to start to gel so I can remove the tape around the bow and stern stems so it doesn’t get embedded in the epoxy. Can’t take any photos at the moment since the phone is playing music.

I still need to fair the exterior patches, sand and smooth the patch on the inside so it doesn’t have ragged little peaks from the plastic, sand the ends of the gunwales, apply more oil everywhere on the gunwales – but especially the stems, and go over the exterior with the random orbital to prep for the clear coats.

I want this boat ready for the marathon in May, I should be able to make that deadline but will need to budget time smartly in order to make it.

Looks like I’m going to the bwca with E and D this August. Need to decide on an EP, although I’m considering the Kawishiwi Triangle. I should research blueberry reports for that area.

Still got a few more minutes before I can pull the tape…..


Another couple hours at the shop working on the boat tonight. Focus was on sanding the ends on the gunwales where I did the epoxy filling the other day. I think the filling mostly turned out ok, and am glad I did it.

Also sanded the rails in anticipation of another coat of oil, maybe I can get over for an hour later this week.

Thinking I may need to do a circular Kevlar patch on the starboard side too. There’s a couple whitish patches I overlooked before and they correspond to spots on the outside that I want to sand and fill.

More hull repairs

Got over to the shop for a 4+ hour session Saturday night. I taped off the hull under the gunwales and sanded then oiled the rails except for the very top on both ends. At the stems I made a dam and worked  neat epoxy with sawdust mixed in into the gaps to fill. Came back today to remove the plastic and any embedded tape while the resin was still soft. I may want to do a little more filling but generally I’m happy with the result.

I also got the remainder of the damaged gelcoat taped off and will sand and possibly epoxy next visit. We shall see .

Want to maybe come by for an hour this week to get another coat of oil applied and maybe wet sanded.

Hull repairs

I stopped by the shop the evening after I laid up the glass and resin to take off the peel ply. Had one spot about the middle of the patch which came off…. Thought the smart thing was to try to chip it off, which only made it get bigger. Sandpaper, dumbass. I came back the next night and sanded off the bad spot. Thankfully it only just barely exposed some glass and I was going to apply a fill coat anyhow. Think I did a better job with it this time around.

Forgot to get a photo of the sanded spot as well as before the peel ply. Ah well. Leaving the ply on until the weekend to allow extra time for curing. There’s still a couple other places on the outside that need attention but they’re all not on the same plane as the current repair, so I wouldn’t be able to epoxy and glass (if needed) without sags. Also, I really need to finish the wales. It’s starting to bother me. Maybe that’ll be the focus next time I’m there.

Anyhow, here’s a couple pictures of the side after putting ply on it.

I also glued the chipped out ends of the inwales that came out of the bow. I’ve been thinking I’ll use epoxy to fill both the bow and stern under the gunwales where the inner and outer pieces meet.

Outside hull repairs started!

Got over to the shop tonight and even though it was a late start I still got the fiberglass cut and laid out on the hull! 3 pumps of resin and hardener was just enough and I think I did a good job with the peel ply. I’ll find out in a couple days.

After the side is done I’m going to pay attention to the bow and stern ends and see about filling them with thickened colored epoxy. I also chipped off a fair amount of loose gel coat from the bow stem.

Apparently I didn’t take any after photos before I left the shop. Oops….

Sigurd F. Olson

While reading Ted Moores’ excellent book Canoecraft recently, a quote by Sig Olson practically jumped off the page and slapped me in the face. I was struck by it so much that I searched out the surrounding text & posted the whole thing on Facebook that night. It was true in 1956 when he published it inside his excellent book The Singing Wilderness Searching for it today so I could post it here, I discovered that the quote I put on Facebook wasn’t even exactly complete. The first sentences which were left off absolutely ties it together.

“The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores….There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.”

And that is why I love canoeing & the wilderness.