Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wednesday - September 30th: Sandbar to Wyalusing State Park on the Mississippi River

You know I am not cut out for this stopping early. Last evening I found myself just sitting on a log looking out over the water and thinking way too much. I like it better when I push all day long. Maybe it’s because I’m by myself. Last spring when I paddled with Dan, Mark and Toby the last few days on Lake Michigan, I looked forward to stopping early.

I made my turn onto the Mississippi River at around 1:00 PM. Another great trip almost finished. A trip with perfect conditions. With all the big water I had to cross this could have been a bear. Would I do this river again? No. Would I do any part of it again? Yes.

If one threw out the industrial part with all the dams and big flowages this would be a great river to paddle. The first 35 miles was beautiful and I recommend it to anyone for a day or two of paddling. The river sections between dams and flowages were also great to paddle but the problem is they are short. I definitely would do the Dells area again. It’s very scenic and there’s excellent camping all the way to Portage, WI. One could make it a short trip or week trip just depending how you’d like to do it. The same is true for this last 90 miles, lots of wilderness and you have a choice of camping on sandbars or at designated campsites with facilities.

It took a little while to find the channel off the Mississippi River to Wyalusing Park, but eventually I made. As I pulled into the landing, a guy, a little older than I, was just getting out of his kayak. Being a little proud of finishing I told him what I just did. He said, “Really, that must have been fun” and went on his way to load up his kayak. We did have a nice talk, but I mentioned that statement simply because once a trip is over, it is over. You realize it’s your adventure and now it’s time to get on to something else. So, I think I will stop at the casino on my way home and win back the $40.00 I lost on the Branson trip! (I will not report on how that turned out).

At the overlook where the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers come together

Tuesday - September 29th: Minneapolis to Sandbar south of Muscoda

I’m back. We had a great trip to Branson. Played some golf and saw some very good shows with the Oakridge Boys being the best. Only down side was the $200.00 LuAnn and I lost at Terrible’s Casino on the way. Good thing is Lu got $170.00 of it back on the way home. Although I lost $30.00. Not good.
Well, we got back to Minneapolis last night. I stayed at my sisters and left this morning for Muscoda. This time rather than leaving my car in Muscoda and coming back I did the opposite. I left my gear in Muscoda and drove down to my finishing point and left my car at Wyalusing State Park. Again, in two rides I was back in Muscoda and still had time to do a little paddling.

This section of the river, the 90 plus miles from Prairie du Sac to Wyalusing has been designated a wilderness river. There are no dams and much of the shoreline away from towns is public land. The river itself is very wide, many places close to a quarter of a mile with a current estimated at 3 plus miles an hour. Everything makes for good paddling except for one thing. The water level is very low and you must stay in the main channel or you eventually will be stuck on a sandbar. Most times I could do this although the channel keeps winding back and forth across the river and on more than one occasion I found myself turning too late and ending up stuck and dragging my canoe.

I only went about 5 miles today and set up camp early on a sandbar. I figure with the current I can easily make it to Wyalusing by early afternoon.

So I will take it easy and lay back and do a little reminiscing.

Monday - September 21st: Prairie du Sac, WI to Muscoda, WI

Even though the Packers lost I had a great time at the game yesterday with two great friends. (See Photos) I got back to Prairie du Sac last evening and got a motel room.

I now have 90 plus miles to go, which means I should be done in two days. Problem is I have less than two days to finish, because tomorrow afternoon I must meet my wife, LuAnn and our friends, Charlie and Joanne Wright in Minneapolis for our vacation trip to Branson, Mo. Not sure I can make it for I will need to leave my car here in Prairie du Sac, then when I finish I will need to find a ride back to my car, go back to Wyalusing to get my gear and still drive three plus hours to Minneapolis.

I did not make it. I made it as far as Muscoda and decided to stop around 6:00. Reason being there’s a nice park to camp at and gives me a safe place to leave my gear while I go back and get my car. I tried to get a hold of LuAnn a number of times to tell her I was stopping and would be in Minneapolis tomorrow, but could not reach her so just left a message.

It’s supposed to rain tonight so for only the second time I set up my tent. I was real cozy until around 4:00 in the morning when I was awakened by a nice pounding rain on my tent. Only one slight problem, the pounding rain on my tent was also pounding on my sleeping bag! Before I left for this trip I re-did my tent fly with water repellent spray. It was obvious the product was no good, I did not do it correctly or both. In any case I gathered my gear together and headed over to a shelter. Man, I’ve been lucky with so many things on this trip and here again with this being the only day of rain. One needs a little luck once in awhile. In my case maybe more often than not!

The rain let up a little around 5:30 so I put all my gear in my canoe and hid it in bushes then walked over to the local gas station to see if I could find a ride back to Prairie du Sac. Normally when people find out what I’m doing they are more than willing to help out. This was no different for I the first person I talked to took me about 15 miles down the road and said if he did not have to get to work he’d take me all the way. It took me two more rides and I was back to my car and back to my gear before 9:00AM.

I quickly packed up for it was still raining and headed for Minneapolis. About an hour down I decided to call LuAnn to tell her I was on my way. I did not call earlier for this morning she is at our daughter’s - she lives just down the road. Two days a week Lu helps with babysitting and this is one of the days. By now the twins, Devin and Drake are off to school and little Ryah should be awake.

I was about to dial when I realized I had a message from Lu from yesterday. This is what it said, “Larry, we are not leaving until Wednesday the 23rd!” Damn! I looked at the date on my watch, sure enough it showed Tuesday, Sept. 22nd. All this time I thought the 23rd was Tuesday! I could have easily finished! I could have not pushed so hard! I could have …. Oh, well as my friends would say, “Just another Hoff story!”

Thought about going back, but it’s still raining, my gear is wet and I’m too far down the road. Also, there’s my rule, never go backwards unless absolutely necessary. Plus, I will make some points by going all the way home and getting the yard mowed before we leave tomorrow. Good thinking on my part!

I will finish when we get back from Branson.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Saturday - September 19th: Portage, WI to Prairie du Sac, WI

Up and at ‘em early and had a very easy paddle through the Portage area and made it to the I-94 bridge by around 9:00 AM. I mention the I-94 bridge for that is the freeway we take whenever going south and I’ve looked down on this river many times. From above, it looks a little intimidating for a canoe -down here not so.

From here the little info I have tells me it will take about 8 hours of paddling to get to Prairie du Sac. That means I’d arrive around five o’clock. Fortunately these estimated paddling times are way off for I’ve found all along I usually do each section in about half the time, maybe a little more than half depending on obstacles. So I figured I’d be there early afternoon and on my way to Green Bay by 3:00.

Basically there was not much to this paddle for after the I - 94 bridge I was soon on Lake Wisconsin which again is a huge flowage of over 9,500 acres and takes me all the way to my “LAST” dam at Prairie du Sac.

Again the weather was perfect so it was an easy lake paddle. I’m getting close to the end now for once I get below the Prairie du Sac Dam the last 94 miles is designated as a wilderness river. I will begin that section next Monday when I get back from the Packers game. As much as I’ve enjoyed the journey I do not like the lake/flowage paddling so I’m glad this is now over.

Fittingly when I got to the dam I took out just before the dam at a golf course. When I left for this journey I’d just finishing playing in a golf tournament so I guess this was the perfect place. Besides, once again the take-out at the dam did not look that good.

I’m not sure what golf hole I was at but I got many stares as I put my bike trailer together and towed my canoe away. By the way I made it there by 2:00PM.

As expected (maybe I worried a little) I found my car, packed up and was on my way to Green Bay by 3:00. Actually I will meet Jim and Newt in New London, WI. Motels are cheaper there and we are cheap!

Note: Check out my Photos album for a few photos of the crazy tailgaters at the game.

Friday - September 18th: Petenwell Dam to Portage, WI

Great night’s sleep and again it looks like another beautiful day for paddling.

Again the portage at the Petenwell Dam looked like it would be a tough one. So I took out at a boat landing short of the dam and pedaled around to the boat landing on the other side of State Hwy 21.

I was not on the water long for as I got into the Castle Rock flowage, I again was starting to be confronted with the green algae I had on the Petenwell flowage. Last night my canoe was covered with the stuff and it made for a messy unloading of the canoe. Plus no way could I use the water for washing. So rather than chance paddling through such a mess again, I made the decision to bike around this flowage.

Where I re-entered the water at a boat landing below the Castle Rock Dam I found a big yellow sign saying “Boat launch $3.00”. First one of these I’ve come across. As I thought, “Do they really charge canoeists portaging around the dam $3.00?” I noticed another sign saying, “Canoeists re-enter here”. Made me feel a little better.

I’ve been looking forward to this section. Soon I will be entering the Wisconsin Dells area which is one, if not the number one, tourist area in all of Wisconsin. Through this section both above and below the Dells Dam the river is lined with numerous sandstone high bluffs and rock formations.

Just past State Hwy 82 the bluffs began. Just gorgeous. Only one problem, I could not find my camera. Normally I have it and my cell phone in the small food container I have just in front of me, but neither the camera or phone was there. I was sure I did not leave anything at my campsite last night for I’ve been checking twice everything around me before I leave. (Never used to do that) Then I realized I set my tent up last night for the first time and before I went to sleep I put the phone and camera in one of screen pockets in my tent which is packed away. So I have no pictures of this area.

I will say that if you ever are in this area it’s a must-see either by canoe, boat or one of the many Wisconsin tourist boats. The high sandstone cliffs and numerous rock formations are unbelievable.

I took out at a private landing on the west side of the river short of downtown and the Kilbourn Dam. Glad I did for there was a huge sidewalk sale going on in downtown Wisconsin Dells and if I’d gone all the way to the dam I’d have been right in the middle of it. I got around all of this and was able to find an easy access to the water below the dam on the right.

Now with camera in hand I will take as many pictures of the lower dells as I can. Other than to restate that’s a must-see area I will let my pictures do the talking. (Please check photo album)

The rest of the day’s paddle was an interesting one. Once past the Dells area the river became very shallow. It was wide, but you had to continually move from one side of the river to the other to stay in the channel. If not you would find yourself getting out of your canoe and pulling across a sandbar. Of course on more than one occasion I found myself doing so, thinking I could take a shortcut.

Because of the sandy shore line and the many sandbars it’s a popular canoeing area and probably party area evidenced by the numerous places I saw remnants of campfires. Oh, to be young again! I did encounter four guys paddling this area. They were either getting in or out of their kayaks when I came by. I said “hi” and keep going only to hear, “That old dude is really booking!” Can’t say that that made my day.

It was getting dark as I approached Portage, Wi. I could hear the traffic from the I-39 freeway as I was continually getting in and out of my canoe to pull myself free of a sandbar for now it was difficult to find the channel.

Just short of I-39 I found a fairly isolated place and made camp. Another long day, but by far the most scenic. Need to get some sleep. For tomorrow I hope to be on the water early for I must get to Prairie du Sac hopefully by early afternoon. Tomorrow is Saturday and I will be driving to Green Bay to meet Jim and Newt for the Green Bay Packers game on Sunday. Hopefully I have a car waiting for me.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Thursday - September 17th: Stevens Point to Near Petenwell Dam

I awoke this morning to a very damp sleeping bag and a dense fog. I could hardly make out the sign that I was camped by. It said, “ No Camping in the Park!” Well, how was I to know, I am from out of town.

Anyway, I thought maybe I should not push my luck so I quickly put together my bike trailer and was off. I made a quick stop at a McDonalds and looked over my info on the portage around this dam. Yesterday I did not realize I had two dams within a couple of miles of each other and both with descriptions of difficult portages. So, I bike about 3 miles around both dams and entered at Al Tech Park.

Finally back on the water. The fog had not lifted yet (see picture) so I stayed close to shore for a few miles. By about 7:30 it was going and I was in store for another beautiful day.

In ten miles I came to the my third dam, the Biron Dam. Because again it would have been a difficult portage at the dam, (portage notes: Take-out on the steep rip rapped bank and proceed down the dike to a trail for a ¼ mile portage into the right channel.) I took out at a boat landing about a mile before the dam and re entered at another boat landing about a ½ mile below the dam. Three dams and it’s not even 10:00 in the morning and in four miles I have three more dams to get around in the Wisconsin Rapids area. Going to be one of those days again.

As I approached Wisconsin Rapids I gave a call to my long time friend Ken McGrath. Ken and his wife Sue have lived in Wisconsin Rapids for years. He’s also a retired teacher, but still does a lot of substitute teaching. Sue still works as a Registered Nurse. Ken and I, “Newt” as I call him, have been friends as long as Jim McIntyre and I have. The three of us grew up together in Barron, WI. Jim stayed in Barron while in seventh grade, Ken and family moved to New York and I to the Minneapolis area. Even though that happened we still have stayed very close for all these years. In fact, as I mentioned at the beginning, on Saturday I will be leaving the river and meeting Ken and Jim for our annual Packers game trip. Also, our wives knew each other before we knew them for they went to the same nursing school in Minneapolis. Small world.

Newt was able to come down and say a quick hello as I was getting ready for my next bike portage. He was on his way to Madison to help one of his sons.

I asked him about the dams and he thought it would be best to go around all three for they were not that far apart and find a place to get in after the Port Edwards dam. Glad he said that for I’d already decided to do that figuring I could get to a little side lake outside Wisconsin Rapids. My road map showed a small river leading from the lake back to the Wisconsin River. By doing this I would not have to cross the Bridge to Port Edwards on the other side of river and fight traffic. So, after taking a picture of Newt, I was on my way. It did not take long to get to my little lake and I felt good about now only having one more dam to go around in Nekoosa.

As I was getting ready to put back into the water at the landing an older fellow was there (well, older than me) and came over to see what I was up to. After a few minutes of conversation with me explaining my adventure to him, I was about to put in and shove off when he said, “Coach, if you are canoeing the length of the Wisconsin River, why are you putting in here?”

I stopped and looked at him and explain my reasoning, which I quickly found out was wrong. Reason being that little river I was going to paddle back to the Wisconsin on had a dam at the end of this lake and no water below it to paddle in.

Okay, now what. As you know one of my few rules is not to go backwards unless absolutely necessary. So it was off to Nekoosa - another 9 to 10 miles down the road.

I put my bike trailer back together, thanked the man and headed on my way. As I turned back onto the road I took a quick look back at the older gentlemen and he had this look on his face as to whether this nut really knew what he’s doing. Sometimes I wonder the same about myself.

Anyway when I finally did get back into the water I met another guy, Kerry. Another nice person that gave me some very good advice about the algae on Petenwell Flowage.

He told me it was very thick and very toxic. Last year they even closed the flowage for awhile because dogs and cats were dying from it. After some nice conversation with Kerry I was finally on my way. It was now about 1:00 or so and I probably had paddled for less than an hour and half and I’ve covered 30 miles of river by my portaging. Maybe for the first time it will be an early stop.

Once on the water it did not take long to get to the Petenwell Flowage. The following is a description from my internet notes: “The 23,040 acre Petenwell Flowage is the second largest inland body of water in Wisconsin. Rough water from wind and large boats can be hazardous to canoeists. Individuals must use extreme caution because of the size, complexity, and constantly changing conditions.”

I had none of the above problems. I crossed it with again a slight breeze to my back and no more than a ripple of wave action. Toughest part was working through the thick green algae Kerry had warned me about. (See pictures)

Yes, for the first time it was an early stop. Well, at least it was not dark. Very good day and five more dams are behind me thanks to my bike trailer system. If I may say so myself, I really like my set up. My bike - trailer system (My friend Jim Woodruff refers to it as my “junk yard”) not only comes in handy for the difficult portages, but it really helps in working my leg muscles that get little exercise in 12 or more hours of paddling.

Heck, it’s still light out and I’m sitting on shore just staring out over the water. Maybe I should keep going??? (I DIDN”T)

Wednesday - September 16th: North of Wausau to Stevens Point

Again just a very nice night and it looks like another great day.

It did not take long to get to the Wausau Dam and the Rothschild Dam was in three miles with what looked like a difficult portage so I decided to bike portage around both dams. I entered at the Domtar boat landing below the Rothschild Dam making for about a six to seven mile portage.

Once back in the water I had a nice current to paddle for about 3 or 4 miles. Nice way to start the day.

It was about 10 miles to the Mosinee Dam and what looks like the most difficult portage. Description from internet notes: “A telephone is provided attached to an informational sign at the portage for assistance provided by Mosinee Paper. Be prepared for about a 45 minute to one hour wait. To call ahead from any phone dial, 715 692-3304.” You know I’m not going to do this!

This was not the only obstacle. Before I got to the dam I had to weave my way through a number of islands in the flowage before the dam. I did make one small mistake, but quickly got back on course. Once I saw the dam, I looked for another way to get around it. On the right I saw some homes and a road very close to the water. Looked like the answer to my problem except when I paddled over to it, there was this big sign saying “Private property. Absolutely no trespassing.” Darn, all I had to do was pull my gear about 20’ and I’d be on the road.

No one was around to ask permission so I paddled a little more to my right and noticed a park in the distance. There had to be a landing there so off I went and did find a landing.

Got my gear packed up and started into town and was told the best place to get back into the water was about a mile or so downstream. It did not take long to get to this very nice boat landing below the Mosinee Dam. So what I thought would be the biggest problem of the day turned out to be much easier than I thought. Unaware though that a mistake will soon be made.

Back on the water I had a beautiful paddle for about 10 miles before I needed to make a sharp turn into Eau Pleine Reservoir which eventually leads to the bigger Du Bay Flowage. Not quite sure if I was going in the right direction, I went over to guy and gal that were fishing near what I thought could be a shortcut to my left around this big hook in the river. They told me it was not the way to go and that I should follow the main channel to the right and go all the way around. So that is what I did.

As I paddled on I notice a couple of more fishermen on my left. They looked pretty serious about their fishing so I did not stop to talk to them and on I went. I’d been paddling for well over 45 minutes and still had not come to Eau Pleine Reservoir. Figuring I may have made a mistake I was about to check my road map to see if I could figure out where I was, when I spotted a fishing boat in front of me. Realizing my map would do me no good I quickly paddled toward the fisherman. As I got closer something looked familiar about this boat. Then I realized it was the same two guys I passed 45 minutes earlier. Yep,, I paddled in a circle around an island!

Back on course I now realized to make it to Stevens Point it would require another full day plus of paddling. My motel stay was out the window. Oh well, I will save a dollar or two!

Soon I was to Lake Du Bay which spreads across 6,800 plus acres. Once again I had no wind so it made for an easy paddle. I’ve been very, very lucky on all these huge flowage lakes. With wind they could be almost impossible to cross. I still have the biggest flowage, Petenwell in front of me. Hopefully my luck holds for that one. Petenwell is the second biggest open body of water in Wisconsin.

Most of the afternoon was spent crossing Lake Du Bay. It was getting late when I went around the Du Bay Dam and I knew now I would not make it to Stevens Point before dark. Because of my screw-up earlier I was still about 10 miles away.

It was dark when I did enter the Stevens Point Flowage. I had a choice, find a place now or go across the flowage in the dark. Of course I chose the latter and kept going. I felt like I was in a small plane trying to make a landing on a huge runway guided only by faint lights in the distance.

Eventually I did make it across and found a nice little park on my right. I paddled over and found a place next to a building that I could tuck in for the night.

It did not take long to fall asleep for this was the toughest day I’ve had so far. Maybe it’s just been too many long days. Tomorrow I’ve got to slow down!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tuesday - September 15th: Kings Dam to North of Wausau

Another beautiful evening and good start to the day. Easily got around Kings Dam and it was a short paddle to Hwy U S 51 just outside Tomahawk, WI and the start of another flowage, Lake Mohawksin. Many homes along this lake.

Goal is to get as close to Wausau as possible. To do so I will have five more dams to work around which is getting annoying. I was hoping for a shorter day, but as my friend Jim McIntyre would say to me, “Always got to get those miles, always got to get those miles!” The dams and flowages really slow one down so to get my 50 miles it could be another long day. We will see.


The Tomahawk Dam was not bad to get around, maybe because it was early in the morning. Then it was about seven miles to Grandmother Dam which was an easy paddle with decent river current with a small flowage to cross just before the dam. This was a little more difficult to get around because I needed to work my way down some wooden steps below the power plant.

Next came Grandfather Dam which was interesting. Just before the dam you took a channel on the left that went around the main dam to a smaller dam. Here I needed to hook up my bike trail and go about a half mile along a trail before I could re-enter the water.

Once on the water I again had some decent current and encountered a number of easy rapids to paddle through before entry to the Alexander Flowage. Again, every flowage I cross today was easy for I still had no wind or waves to contend with. Just the darn dams!

Alexander Dam was another bike and trailer trip through a state park and down a trail. Then it was a long steep descent to the river over broken concrete.

Once on the river I again had decent river current until I approached Merrill, WI.

I was thinking of stopping here for I was tired, but I was only at the about the 140 mile mark so I need another 10 to maintain my 50 mile average. So on I went. Once again I hooked up my bike trailer and worked my way around the Merrill Dam to Riverside Park just below the dam.

Here again I had some decent current which made the 10 or so miles to the outskirts of Wausau a quicker paddle than I figured. Which was good because when I found a little spot where I could throw my tarp and sleeping bag down for the night, it was once again dark!

All in all it was a very good day. Each dam had its challenges, but the paddle between each was very enjoyable. Excellent scenery on the river sections and many beautiful homes along the many flowages.

Tomorrow the goal is to get to Stevens Point and take a motel and maybe a little earlier stop. For now it’s time to find the Big Dipper.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Monday - September 14th: Close to State Highway 70 to Lake Alice and Kings Dam

What a great start to this trip. Yesterday I got in more miles than I thought, close to 40. Able to do that because I had more river current than I expected and of course paddling into the night a little helped.

Very peaceful evening last night. There were no visitors so I did not get caught for trespassing and I’m leaving right at daybreak before anyone does show up. Sleeping bag is a little damp so I strapped it to the front hull of the canoe until it dries out. Looks like another beautiful day.

It did not take long to get to State Highway 70 and my first dam, Otter Rapids. The paddle across my first flowage, Watersmeet Lake was easy - not hardly a ripple. Also it was just a short easy 500’ portage around Otter Rapids. Sure hope the rest are this easy, but I know better.

Once around Otter Rapids Dam I once again had some current . Lots of boulders in this section of the river as it parallels State Highway 70.

From Otter Rapids Dam to Rainbow Dam is only 7 miles so my river paddling was short lived as I was soon into the 4,165 acre Rainbow Reservoir. Once again it was a piece of cake crossing this body of water with only a slight breeze and that was at my back. Also, another easy portage around the dam.

I now have 20 miles to Rhinelander and the Rhinelander Dam. The first 10 was a very nice river paddle with the river being bordered on both sides by a nice mix of hardwoods with their leaves beginning to turn and the green of fir trees. Just a great setting.

As I got closer to Rhinelander I first had to work my way through seven or so miles of wild rice fields and then across the Rhinelander Flowage. All went without a hitch as the slight breeze was still at my back. I again was making better time than expected and felt I had a chance to get well past Rhinelander today with the goal being Kings Dam which is at the 104 mile mark and would make for a 60-plus mile day. If I could do that I would be on schedule for my 50 mile daily average. Conditions are good and I feel good so we will try.

Portage around the Rhinelander Dam was not so easy and I was glad I had my bike trailer system. Here’s the description of how to do it from the info I got off the internet. “Access to the shorter portage route (about 1/3 mile) is gated but typically open during normal business hours (call 715 369-4241) ahead for access anytime) or about a mile long route goes along city streets (take out on left, put-in on right).

My route: Gate was closed, no answer when I called. So I put my bike together and as I was doing so, a person told me to go around the left rather than the right and put in below Trigs Grocery Store. Long story short, I did not find any place to put in below the grocery store so ended up biking to US Highway 8 and putting in behind a motel.

Off again and within 5 miles I was again at a damn - dam, the Hat Rapids Dam. This was an easy portage of 500’. Once around I had about 7 miles of a very scenic and quick paddle through light rapids to Whirlpool Rapids which was considered Class Two rapids, but was more like Class One, although fun.

Soon past the rapids the water began to slow as I approached Lake Alice and Kings Dam. It was getting late, but once again I’d made some great time, even with the damn - dam portages! At about 8:00 I called it a day not far from the dam and found a nice cozy spot for my tarp and crawled in my sleeping bag. Another great day under perfect conditions, although I am a little tired! Tomorrow…. we will slow down.

Sunday September 13th: Headwaters of the Wisconsin River - Lac View Desert to near Eagle River, Wisconsin

Rory’s birthday party was great.  The golf tournament - well, I could have played a whole lot better.

I did not get started to Eagle River until around 6:30 last evening and got as far as Ladysmith, Wisconsin and found a nice cheap motel. I was on the road by 6:00 AM and made it to Eagle River by mid-morning.

I stopped at McDonalds for breakfast and got some local information on the river. Everyone I talked to felt the water would be too low to paddle at the headwaters. In the Eagle River area the water is down 6 to 8 feet and up at the headwaters the Wisconsin is only a small creek. The consensus was that I should go to the landing on Highway 20 about 5 miles from the headwaters and enter there, so I was off.

I got to the landing and found the water to be about a foot or so deep and maybe 10 feet wide, plenty good to paddle. I started to unload my gear only to notice a canoe coming from above. I asked the couple where they started and they said at the headwaters. They said they had to pull their canoe around some beaver dams only in a couple of places and that the water was high enough to paddle because they were letting water out at the dam.

Okay, back went my gear in the car and I was off to the headwaters. On the way I made a quick call to let the guys I met at McDonalds know I was going start at the headwaters.

Remember earlier when I said I had few plans for this trip? Well, one thing not planned was how I was going to get back to my car or get my car down to the end. Back-up plan is to call my old buddy, Jim McIntyre from Racine to help me out. If you’ve followed some of my Atlantic to Pacific journal and this spring’s Hugh Heward Challenge, Jim was the one doing a lot of shuttling me around on those two adventures.

Turns out I will not have to call him for the problem has already been taken care of. At McDonalds I met some guys who were on a week fishing trip in the area. They were from Wausau and Portage, Wisconsin and after talking with them and finding out I knew some of the same people they did through my coaching days, they offered to drive my car back. Plan was when they left they would drive it back home and eventually get it over to Prairie du Sac which wasn’t that far from them and leave it in the WalMart parking lot. Why Prairie du Sac rather than at the end? Well, that’s another part of the trip. Next Saturday I need to get over to Green Bay to meet my friend Jim and another long time friend, Ken McGrath. Each year the three of us get together for a Packers game and this happens to be the weekend. I figure I will be able to make it to Prairie du Sac by then. If not I should be close and should be able to find a ride.

All problems solved for now, time to get paddling!

I finally got paddling around 11:30 AM. At the headwaters there was a small parking lot and a trail leading over to the headwaters. The river was basically a small creek which crossed the road I came in on, through two small culverts that one could not paddle through. I followed the trail to the headwaters and found a nice camping area next to Lac View Desert and the small dam which was the Wisconsin River headwaters. I took a few pictures, then went back to the car and unloaded my gear. (Because it was only 100 yds to the culverts I decided to put in on the other side of them.)

I was off. Another adventure begins and what a beginning. Leaves are starting to change, weather is perfect and I’m doing what I like to do.

It is hard to imagine that eventually this small creek would become a major industrial river. Right now it reminds me of the Brule River back home. The Brule is a famous wilderness canoe river back home and the first 35 miles of this river is much the same.

I met a number of day paddlers as I wound my way down the river. There were a few nice camping areas in this stretch, but of course I came upon them well before I could stop. My goal was to get as close to Eagle River, WI and State Highway 70 as possible and that was 40 miles away.

By dark I was getting close, but now I was past the camping areas and more into private river homes. I kept paddling well past dark until I was tired of bumping into logs and such. Eventually I pulled over to a cabin. There was no one around so I decided to throw my tarp down next to the cabin's dock and call it a day. No need for a tent, I just grabbed my sleeping bag and crawled in. Stars were out and as I stared at the Big Dipper I thought, "What a start!" Also thought, “I hope if the owners of this cabin happen to show up that they are understanding!”

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Game Plan: early September 2009

It’s mid-September, the leaves are starting to turn and it’s time to canoe the Wisconsin River. This river begins near the border of Upper Michigan with its headwaters, Lac Vieux Desert, which is actually in Upper Michigan.

The 430-mile Wisconsin River is the longest river in Wisconsin. It begins as a small stream at the Lac Vieux Desert dam and flows diagonally southwest across Wisconsin to the Mississippi River just south of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

For more information on the river go to :

Canoe map information can be found at:

Also, Jim Woodruff will be following me on his blog. If you followed my Hugh Heward adventure you will remember Jim as the Topologist who did such a great job following all those that did this challenge. He’s become a good friend and I know you will enjoy his blog:

As usual there will not be much of a game plan other than I must be back on the 23rd of September because my wife LuAnn and I will be heading to Branson for a short vacation. So, once again there will be little time to smell the lily pads! I will need to average around 50 miles a day in order to finish on the 23rd. Normally 50 miles is not that tough to do under normal conditions, but the Wisconsin is basically an industrial hydro-power and paper mill river and I will encounter 26 dams I will need to portage around. Behind each of these dams will be backwater flowages. So basically for much of the river it will be like paddling on a lake with little current to help one along. Most likely I will be putting in some long paddling days to maintain a 50 mile average.

My gear is packed; I have my road map, some portage information and canoe on top of the car. I will head out tomorrow for Eagle River, Wisconsin and the headwaters of the Wisconsin River. Although it will be a late start tomorrow, for I have a golf tournament tomorrow morning and will need a quick trip in the opposite direction to Somerset, WI. It’s our grandson Rory’s 6th birthday tomorrow and no way will I miss it.

I do hope to be paddling on Sunday September 13.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May 4th - Hammond Marina to Chicago

Mark as usual was already up and had his tent down when I crawled out of mine. Normally Toby is up, but this morning he's still snug in his sleeping bag. Must be catching an extra wink because of the trains coming by every half hour last night. Dan likes his sleep and as usual was the last one up, but he's always ready to push off when it's time to go.

We took our time this morning for we had less than 12 miles to go. Again the water was relatively calm with only a slight breeze coming from the southeast which for one of the few times will helped while we've been on Lake Michigan.

For the last 2 1/2 days we've been able to see the skyline of Chicago. First with a dim veiw of the Sears building, then the beautiful sunset view of two days ago and now the whole city has jumped right out in front of us. Spectacular view from the water.

Again, not much conversation for I'm sure my fellow paddlers have many thoughts going through their heads as I do.

The last couple of days I've played back in my mind the many things that have transpired on this journey. All good. Even the bad weather days are good ones. What's jumped out most have been the people I've met. On all my journeys I've met so many nice people and this trip has been no exception. I think back to the beginning when Mel Herrera and Gloria Kelly treated us all to dinner the night before we pushed off. Then there was Ron Dean, Bryan Taylor and Chuck Amboy joining us for the first day of paddling. Bob Bradford, who'd I'd get to know better later was also there to see us off.

I think back to how we all started off together only to find myself paddling with Jon until about noon and then by myself until these last three days. I had a blast during that time, fighting the current of the Huron, meeting so many people wondering what I was doing as I bike-portaged parts of Ann Arbor. My cross country trip from Dexter to the Grand River - a view that reminded me a lot of the farm country of my home state of Wisconsin. The start down the flooded Grand River, twisting and turning through a mass of trees, but for the first time going with the current. All good thoughts.

Then came a very special meeting. I can still see Karen and Nancy escorting Karen's father, Jim Woodruff down to the water's edge when I was pulling into the Dimondale park. I've been looking forward to meeting Jim for it's been through his endless research of Hugh Heward's voyage in 1790 that we are retracing Heward's route from Detroit to Chicago. He'd been tracking all of us from the beginning with a running account of what we are doing and comparing it with the actual adventure of Hugh Heward. Just an amazing job . Now I had the honor of meeting the man. I remember introducing myself only to hear what sounded like my own father's direct way of talking telling me, "For gosh sakes man, what are you doing standing in that water with sandals on? Don't you realize you're in Michigan? Put some boots on!" (On my website at you can listen and see the entire conversation) That set the tone for a great evening and the beginning of friendships I will cherish from now on.

I continued to paddle towards Chicago thinking of the many other people I've met, especially during the Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge. Chuck Amboy graciously inviting all of us for lunch at the English Inn in Dimondale the day before the challenge. This allowed me the chance to reunite with Toby, Dan, Mark, Charlie and Jon for the first time since Detroit. Then there was Mike Lehrer who took his time to show me the town of Portland. I was able to met both he and his wife again at the challenge. Great people. Mike even thought I was a halfway decent paddler. I remember being in awe of Bob Bradford when I learned he was using the same canoe he and his partner used in setting the record for paddling the length of the Mississippi. Janet, Bob's wife, an awesome paddler in her own right, would paddle with him on this challenge. His son, Mike and nephew paddled one of, if not the fastest, racing canoes in the challenge. There were so many others. Nancy Anderson comes to mind. She seems to be everywhere helping in any way she can. Scott Smith, one of Dan's brothers comes to mind. What a great day I had visiting with him and seeing his Superior Canoe Shop.

For me, the 50-Mile Challenge was the number one highlight. For this was what the journey was all about - raising awareness and a few dollars for the Verlen Kruger Memorial. These group of people have worked hard at this project. Basically collecting a nickel at a time. No big sponsor, no big grants, no big money from the town treasury, just great people honoring a man that's meant so much to them. I never got to meet Verlen, but I feel I know him well. Anyone that enjoys the outdoors and dreams can truly appreciate a person like Verlen Kruger who lived his dream to the fullest. So I hope my little journal and blog may help in seeing the dream of Verlen's friends come true in the near future. Some out there may also like to see it come true, if so I hope you take the time to look at the Verlen Kruger Memorial website and possibly buy a brick.

You can go directly to the brick order form here:

We are now very close to the end of this adventure and I'd like to comment on the three men that allowed me to finish this trip with them.

Toby Nipper is 58 years old from Florida. He's only been paddling for two years. Back then he entered a canoe race on the gulf of Florida and promised himself if he finished the race he'd never go back to work. He finished and he's not been back to work since. In fact in a few days he will be off on another trip. By the way, he will give anyone a run for their money in a canoe. I believe we've become pretty good friends in the last few days and I hope to paddle with him again. Maybe some day in the Boundary Waters with a couple of my outlaw friends!

Mark Predwojewski is 39 years old from Irons, MI. As mentioneded before Mark has taken over Verlen's canoe business and is the person I bought my Kruger canoe from. He reminds me a lot of my son Eric. Eric is a talented artist who is very particular in what he does. Mark's craftmanship is very much the same. He also has a little of our son Dean in him. Dean is easy- going, nothing bothers him and that has been true with Mark. How he's put up with these three old men is beyond me. But, he's done an outstanding job babysitting us! Just a class act and world class paddler.

Dan Smith is also 58 years old from Portland, MI. The past three days he's shared a number of good times he and Verlen have had over the years. One being canoeing the Yukon River. I've come to believe no one misses Verlen more than Dan. Dan's a driving force behind the memorial and he will see it through. No one more than Dan wants to paddle the Grand River and look over and see the watchful eyes of Verlen. Dan, I know your efforts are sincerely appreciated by all.

Then there's Jim "The Topologist" Woodruff. If you have not read Jim's blog you are really missing something. He's a special man with a gift for writing, although his daughter and son must censor his pen once in awhile. Click on the following: It's a must read.

We've arrived. No fanfare other than Mike Smith and his girlfriend here to greet us. Mike will be shuttling Toby, Dan and Mark back to Michigan. My friend Jim McIntyre will be here soon to take me home. Can not thank Jim enough. He's been a trooper once again.

Before everyone packs up we will paddle a mile to the Chicago River. Dan, Mark, Toby, Mike Smith and his girlfriend will paddle down the river for a mile or two. I will not, for Jim will be here soon and I do not want him waiting around for another 2 or 3 hours. So I said my goodbyes to some very special friends and headed home.

Mr. Topoligist my friend, your "cat herding" is complete. Job well done!

The 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge Paddlers

Cat Herder Jim Woodruff Sr. A Very Special Friend!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 3rd - A Day and a Half From Chicago

Just a gorgeous morning. In the 60's and a slight breeze. We were on the water by 7:30 - actually 6:30 for we are now in the Central Time Zone. Mark and Dan still go by Eastern Time.

The suggestion was made, "Maybe we could cut straight across to Chicago. It's only 32 miles." This is what Jon Holmes did a couple of days ago. Jon is the paddler I started with on the Detroit River. When I left the lake a few days ago he moved ahead and was a couple of days in front of Mark, Dan and Toby when I joined them two days ago. A friend joined him for this 30 plus mile journey. From what we hear it was not the easiest of crossings. They fought winds and were quite dehydrated when they reach Chicago. Good news is they made it and are safe. Congrats Jon! Wish we could have spent more time together on this trip, You can follow Jon's journey at

At about 11:00 we came to a spot on the lake where we needed to make a decision to either continue to follow the shoreline to the left or cut the corner to Gary, IN. Cutting the corner saves a good 10 miles of paddling. Did not take long for a decision. We are on our way to Gary, IN. Our aiming point is a steel mill we see 12 miles away.

Crossing was very easy for the winds stayed calm. Only real excitement was when I was taking pictures of the many lake trout fishermen fishing these waters, Toby takes off. By the time I got back to paddling he was some distance in front. Dan must have been feeling a little spry this morning for he took off after him. I promised myself at the start it was going to be an easy day of paddling. Of course that went right out the window and off I went.

After sometime I could see Dan right behind Toby, but Toby did not let up. He just kept going. When I reached Dan, he said, "Enough of this", and backed off. Of course I had to continue. Finally I caught Toby and paddled about half a canoe length behind him for a few minutes, thinking he'd slow down. He didn't, he just kept it going. I'd came to my senses and decided to wait for Dan and Mark. Later Toby stopped and joined us. I think Mark said something like, "Are you kids done now?!"

For the rest of the day we all paddled together, reaching the steel mill in the early afternoon. We now had about 7 miles to go to Hammond, IN where we hoped to camp for the night. That would leave us about 12 miles to go to Chicago in the morning.

Mike Smith, Dan's brother, has been helping us out the last few days by googling earth and seeking out possible camping spots for us. Dan would keep in touch by cell phone. Each day we'd decided on a camp spot and then change it at least twice. This was no exception, we must have called Mike at least 4 times. Each time we asked him to find something further ahead.

Thanks, Mike for your patience and especially thanks for today's stopping point. We ended up at a state of the art marina in Hammond. Mike had made arrangements with the management telling them of our arrival. When we got there we were each handed a key that allowed us entry in and out of the marina, plus more important, the facility that had the nice warm showers! Great job, Mike. Nest to the marina was a hugh casino, which meant a huge buffet. Nothing could be better unless one could win a couple of bucks at the casino. Mark, Dan and Toby were smart enough not to play. This Norwegien could not resist. Fortunately I only played for about a half hour and even walked out a couple of bucks ahead.

That evening we set up camp on the marina's lawn. Not a lot of conversation this evening. I think all of us have thoughts on finishing tomorrow and what's transpired since the start. My thoughts are with my brother who'd be 63 today. We lost him in a car accident in 1963 at the age of 16. Happy birthday, Don.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saturday - May 2nd

Man, I was cold last night. I have a great sleeping bag (15 degree Feathered Friends) but I do not use a sleeping pad. Normally I have what's called a space blanket which is basically a small tarp with an aluminum coating on one side that does a good job blocking the cold of the ground from my sleeping bag. It fits perfectly inside my tent and on torrential rainy days keeps my tent totally waterproof. I've always put the tarp inside my tent. I found this to be better, for if you put it on the ground and then the tent on top, water can get between the tarp and the tent and you are one wet baby if that happens.

I mentioned being cold to the guys in the morning and Toby said, "Maybe you should carry more than a hanky in your pack!" Hmmm, the give and take has started!

To defend myself, I do travel light, which comes from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail where every ounce counts. Although my total pack weight, not counting food and water is about 20- 25 lbs I have all the essentials one needs. Although, I may rethink this after seeing all the comforts that Mark, Dan and Toby have. I wouldn't be surprised if they soon set up the TV satellite dish!

Can you tell I'm having a good time?

Anyway, the space blanket I forgot at home. It wouldn't feel right if I hadn't forgotten something. Just have to re-adjust this evening.

This morning the wind again was coming from the southwest directly into our face. It was a fairly strong wind causing for some rough water and if the wind stays we will not make many miles. Fortunately it died down by around 10 and by noon the lake was quite calm making for a very easy day of paddling.

Toby and I spent the day chasing each other. Not sure why, just two old guys pretending they were kids. Well at least one old guy and a supposedly one mature adult (Toby is only 58). Dan and Mark, by far the smarter, took their time and enjoyed the beautiful day. They didn't say anything to us, but I'm sure between the two of them there were some sly comments made about our actions.

Again we camped at about 6:30 just past Michigan City. Heck, I must be getting old, yesterday I was wondering why so early, today I was looking forward to it. Besides we'd made another 30 miles and if all goes well, we will be in Chicago in a day and a half. In fact we can see the skyline of Chicago from our campsite. Really a picturesque site as the sun sets directly over Chicago. I have some nice pictures of it which will be posted soon along with rest of the pictures I've taken on this journey.

Just another great day, paddling with 3 great guys. Time for bed. "Hey Toby, tomorrow I might let you pass me!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday - May 1st - I'm Back on the Water

Yes! Mark Przedwojewski called early yesterday morning, inviting me to join them. He assured me that they would love to have me join them. So, a quick call to Jim and I was off to Racine. And once again Jim would shuttle me back. Plan was to meet them this morning (Friday) at Van Buren State Park about 5 miles or so from where I left the lake.

We were at the Park at about 7:30 in the morning. I had everything ready. I figured that when they arrived they would not want to stop but just have me join them as they paddled by.

In about 45 minutes I could see them coming. I thanked Jim once again and told him I would see him in Chicago in three or four days.

I was right. It was too early for them to stop, so I quickly jumped into my canoe and joined them.

It felt good to be back on the water, especially knowing I'd be finishing with the group I started with.

We battled some rain and fairly strong winds in our faces all morning, which slowed our pace to about less than two miles an hour, according to Toby's GPS tracker.

Just after noon we arrived at St Joseph, MI. I was paddling a little ahead of Toby when I noticed he was heading to shore. Not quite sure what he was doing, I stayed where I was until I noticed Dan and Mark doing the same thing, so I paddled back.

Sail time! The wind had switched and now was slightly quartering us from the northwest. I had never seen a sail used on a canoe, yet alone done this, so I was all eyes. Mark and Toby would be sailing by themselves. Dan and I would catamaran together for I had no sail and would rely on Dan's. Very interesting set-up. Verlen Kruger designed this craft to allow for sailing. In order to do it you need to be catamaraned together or have outriggers when by yourself. Mark and Dan had the outrigger setup which is basically an aluminum pole that stretches out 5 or 6 feet on each side of the canoe with an inflatable outrigger on each side, giving the canoe the stability needed.

Once set up, off we went. Really cool! Right along with the wind pushing us we also paddled. Dan said with the right wind you could easily do 7 - 8 or more miles an hour and just sit back and relax. Our wind was not that strong or directly behind us, but with light paddling we were making 4 plus miles an hour.

Man, could I've used this system when I did my Atlantic to Pacific journey, especially on the big waters of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. I liken this to my bike portaging. Difference being, biking can be harder than paddling but you can cover more distance on a road than a winding river.

We sailed right until 5:30 when Dan mentioned we should start looking for a campsite. I thought to myself, "Campsite? - It's 5:30 - Campsite at 5:30?" I usually start looking about 15 minutes before the sun goes down and then keep paddling because I figure there's a better one around the corner, so this is new territory for me.

Dan pulled in at about 6:00 near Warren Dunes State Park. We'd come about 30 some miles which was a great day considering the wind we paddled against this morning. Although, I must admit as we each set up camp, I felt we should still be paddling. I could hear my dad now, "What are you doing stopping? You've only put in a half day's work!"

Soon I settled down and found myself really enjoying being off the water and just plain relaxing. After supper we even built a campfire. I've never done this! Although, our time around the fire was short lived because we all were tired.

As I lay in my tent I felt good. I was back on the water and paddling with three great guys. I was hoping in these last few days I'd learn a lot about paddling and these guys are as good as they come. In our first day together I've already learned a ton.

Stopping at 6:00 - in bed without having to set up camp in the dark - campfire - Man, as Dan would say, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Sorry Dad, but I agree!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sunday- April 26th - Day after the challenge

Yesterday my good friend Jim Mc Intyre again drove all the way from Racine, WI to pick me up after the 50-Mile Challenge and take me back to Saugatuck, MI. I called Pat Paquette and told him we were on our way. Pat gave us directions to Spectators Bar and Grill. Once there, Pat treated us to one of the best steak dinners I've every had. What a nice place! Lots of room both at the bar and for dinner, plus a beautiful outdoor patio. Very clean and a great atmosphere. If you are ever out this way I wholeheartedly suggest you stop. Plus, Saugatuck is a beautiful little community and worth visiting.

Not only could we not pay for dinner, Pat had a room reserved for us at the Best Western. Can not thank him enough, for a good shower and nice bed was just what the doctor ordered.

Pat met us in the morning for breakfast with his business partner Clair and his son Alex. After breakfast he gave us a tour of the town and showed us the new football complex which was state of the art with synthetic turf and track. Unbelievable facility for such a small community.

It was now time to get back in the water so we drove down to the beach. Took a bunch of pictures and said my goodbyes to Pat and Alex. Jim was going to find a semi-pro baseball game to watch and catch up with me in a day or so. I'd stay in contact by cell phone with him.

What was just great was to see Pat and his son Alex again. He's done well for himself and again has made an old coach feel very proud.

When I pushed off from shore it was just beginning to rain and rain it did. It poured off and on for most of the day. Although I was snug in my canoe with the canoe skirt around me so no water could get in, it still made it a miserable paddle. Once when I crossed a bay and was some distance from shore, fog set in (see picture) and made it difficult to see the shore. This could have been a problem if it had stayed for I had no compass. In fact as I was concentrating on the shoreline a rolling wave that I did not see hit me and I thought I was about to flip. Not a good situation, but a lesson learned.

I continued to paddle until about 3:00PM. The wind was picking up which with the rain continued to make things miserable. I've been in this situation many times and did not mind it. In fact I usually enjoyed the challenge, but today was different. My heart was not into it. Maybe it was the feeling that I'd had last evening as Jim and I drove back from Portland. I felt I'd accomplished what I wanted to and from here on it was all anticlimactic. Maybe I just did not like paddling big open water for all you see all day long is the same sight, water. Mostly I think it was my thought that I should be finishing this with the paddlers I'd started with, Dan Smith, Mark Prezdwojewski and Toby Nipper. They were still about 3 to 4 days behind me and if I continue there's no chance of them catching up, even if I did lollygag a little, which is hard for me to do.

Whatever it was I decided to paddle to shore about a few miles from South Haven and call Jim. There was no real place to pull out and get to a road so I just pulled over and walked up over a mountain of a sand dune. I knocked on a door to see if it was okay if I got out here and used their driveway to get to the highway. Now this was not just your little rambler home along the beach so I was preparing for the answer "no". Instead, when they heard about my journey, the couple (did not get names) was like everyone else - more than willing to help. So I pulled everything up and over the sand dune, put my bike trailer system together to the astonishment of the two and was on my way. I did get hold of Jim and he met me along the road in about an hour. I told him I needed to think about this. Used the excuse that it was too dangerous out there by myself and would make a decision in the morning.

Next morning I awoke at 5:00, went outside and walked around thinking about what I should do. Weather was good with no wind so I could easily go, but I just didn't want to. Later, after Jim awoke, we went to breakfast. I told him I would start out again and see how things go. That changed quickly for the winds picked up and the weather report called for hazardous lake winds with no lake travel advised. My decsion was made for me. We headed home.

Actually I felt good about this. I will be back. Hopefully I will have the chance to continue with Mark, Dan and Toby in a few days. For days I felt this challenge should be finished with all of us together. Now it's possible, but if they would like to continue on by themselves I would understand. Then I would come back at a later time and finish, which I must do one way or the other.

Time to get out of here before I change my mind again!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge - Saturday - April 25th

The day started with a group of us going to Mike's at 5:00 for breakfast. By 5:30 in the morning, Nancy Anderson and her crew of volunteers were beginning to set up their registration table. They will be handing out maps for the challenge and collecting the $10.00 fee that goes towards the Verlen Memorial. Last year they had over 80 participants and hope for a hundred or more this year.

The Heward Challenge began a number of years ago by another organization (forgot the name) with just a handful of paddlers. In recent years Jim Woodruff (I believe) approached the Kruger Foundation about taking it over and developing it into a fundraiser for their project. They jumped at the chance.

The challenge will began approximately at 7:00. There's really no offical start time for it's a challenge against oneself. We will paddle towards Lansing, MI where we will need to portage around two dams. Soon after we come upon Jim Woodruff's home. Jim will be there along with family and friends to greet paddlers as they come by. Many will stop as I will for a visit and thank him for all the effort he's put into this event and so many others. He's an amazing man of 87 and sharp as a tack.

As we continue on we will come to one more dam in Grand Ledge, the halfway point. Also, the starting point for canoeists doing the 25 mile challenge. (Some will also join as for the last 10 miles). After the Grand Ledge portage it's clear sailing to Portland where we will finish at the site of the Verlen Kruger Memorial. We will be greeted with three blasts from a horn and applause upon our approach and given much needed food and refeshments.

When we got back from breakfast at 6:30 there were people all over and still more coming in. I hustled to get my gear and canoe ready. Because there was no official start time, canoes were starting to enter the water about 10 minutes to seven.

Some participants were there to see how fast they could do the 50 miles. Most were there just to enjoy the day. Also, there were a handful of racing canoes, both doubles and singles. They were using this challenge as a warmup for a marathon race later in May. I was told most would be starting about 2 hours behind us and would still beat us to Portland. Hummm!

Racing canoes are very different than a Kruger Canoe. They are built for speed - long, narrow and light. A Kruger Canoe is built for expedition canoeing - rugged and stable. Although designed to move well in the water, they are no match for a racing canoe or a top of the line kayak for pure speed.

I entered the water at about 7:05 and soon found myself paddling with Dan Smith, Toby Nipper and Todd Ceaser. Dan and Toby are two of the canoeists I started with back in Detroit. Mark Przedwojewski is starting later and will be paddling alongside Marissa and Hannah. Brian Weber, Marissa's father, will also be paddling with the girls. Brian asked earlier if Mark would be willing to give advice and tips to the girls as they paddle. Mark, as always on this journey, was more than willing to help.

As the morning wore on I found myself mainly paddling with Toby Nipper. We were enjoying the morning at a very comfortable paddle speed when two young guys came by in a canoe and asked if we were going all the way to Portland. Toby said, "We are hoping we can make it." One of the guys said, " Well, you look like you are doing okay paddling and if you keep it up you should make it".

As they paddled away Toby looked at me and smiled. I did not say anything and we continued on our way enjoying each other's company. Then about a half hour later I could see the two guys that had passed us a couple hundred yards in front. I told Toby, "I think I will go up there and play with those guys for awhile." Off I went. Soon they saw me coming and started to paddle faster. I would get close and when they started paddling harder I would back off, then pick it up again. We did this until we were within sight of the first dam in Lansing, MI. Then I picked it up and got to the landing at the same time they did. I could see they were a little tired and struggling as they carried their canoe around the dam to the put-in spot. As I put my canoe in the water and about to push off I looked over at the two guys. They seemed to have a look that was saying, "who is this guy!" I did not say a word - just smiled and went on my way. Never did see them again. (You know, everyone once in a while you need to prove to yourself your not ready for the rocking chair!)

This set the tone for the rest of the day. What was going to be just an easy paddle to Portland quickly turned into...okay, let's see how fast I can get there.

Even though I was on a mission I did meet and chat with many people on my way. Just past Lansing, I stopped at Jim Woodruff''s home. He was sitting in a lawn chair next to the river, greeting everyone as they went by. Many stopped as I did. I signed Jim's guest book, chatted for awhile and went on my way.

Later I started to see more canoes and kayaks in front of me as some paddlers were doing the 25 mile challenge while others were paddling the last 10 miles. As I paddled by many asked who I was and I would answer, "They call me Coach."

"Coach", they would say, "You're the one with the fold-up bike! Glad to meet you Coach." Felt good to hear that.

At 3:38 I arrived in Portland at the site of the future Verlen Kruger Memorial. It's a beautiful spot along the river. Already they have a small pavillion up and the boulder in place where soon a bronze statue of Verlen Kruger will face the river.

There were people all over and lots of food to eat. As a paddler approached, someone would announce his or her arrival by blowing a horn with much clapping and lots of handshakes. All in all over 100 paddlers took part in this Challenge. Very impressive, for it was not the greatest of days - it rained hard most of the atfternoon. But nothing could take away from the pride everyone felt in not only accomplishing the challenge but more important - raising money for the memorial.

Later, Jim Woodfruff arrived with his son and daughter. He handed me a Hugh Heward shirt with a big smile while his daughter took our picture. I left very touched and honored.

Now I could finish what I'd set out to do. I'd just completed the Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge and still had the remainder of the Ultimate Challenge to go. But purchasing a brick that will be part of the Verlen Kruger Memorial was the main goal for this trip.

Our brick will read:

Note: By the way, not all the racing canoes beat me to Portland!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


My journal is behind by a number of days. Just so everyone knows, I left Lake Michigan last Monday because of high winds and unsafe conditions. I have no experience on big water and made the decision to go home with the hope of returning when Mark, Dan and Toby get to where I left off. They may want to continue by themselves and if that is the case I'd come back later in May when I was better prepared.

Brief review:

Last Sunday I ran into some fog when I was cutting across a bay on my way to South Haven. It came up quick and I was about a 1/4 mile from shore and I could barely see it. Also, as I concentrated on getting to shore, I did not see a rolling wave come which would have swamped me if it were not for the skirt covering my canoe. I left the lake at that time, called my friend Jim McIntyre who was still in the area and told him I was off the water and biking. We found a motel later in the day and I told him I'd make a decision in the morning on continuing or not.

The decision was made quickly as the following morning there was a strong wind making paddling all but impossible. (Wind got even stronger as the day went on.)

I have no patience in waiting nor did I want to bike portage, so we headed for home.

Today, Thursday, April 30th, Mark called early in the morning and invited me to join them. I quickly called my good friend Jim and told him I was heading back to the water. What a friend! Again, without hesitation, he said he'd take me over. So back to Racine, WI I went. Transferred my gear and canoe to his car and off we went.

As I write this, Thursday evening, Jim and I are in a motel just north of Michigan City. Tomorrow morning I will hook up with Dan, Mark and Toby and continue on to Chicago.
I sincerely am thankful they are allowing me to join them. Hopefully we finish this adventure as we started, all together. Just the way it should be.

I will not be posting entries until we get to Chicago which hopefully is within 3 days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Friday, April 24th

Up very early this morning and on the water well before sun up. Again the water was calm, just a slight breeze from the southeast. A very peaceful paddle all morning.

At about 8:30 I noticed what looked liked a park and figured I must be at Tunnel Park in Holland. I pulled over to shore to check it out. At Tunnel Park there's supposed to be a tunnel through the sand dunes and into the park. I saw no tunnel but decided to check it out anyway and walked up and over the sand dunes. Sure enough it was a park so I decided to get out and pulled my canoe and gear up and over the sand dunes. Once on the other side, I found out it was not Tunnel Park but Kirk Park. This meant I still had about 7 or 8 miles to go to Holland. I needed to get to Holland by 10:00 in order to get back to Eaton Rapids for the luncheon by noon. So I hooked up my bike and started pedaling on a very nice bike trail.

I arrived at Tunnel Park just before 10:00 and my former football player, Pat Paquette, arrived a short time later. We pack everything up and headed for Eaton Rapids.

Pat Paquette is one of the most talented athletes to come out of Superior, WI and that is saying a lot. For I believe Superior still has the most individuals inducted into national hall of fames than any other city. I'm sure that is correct for a town under 50,000 people. Pat played for us in the mid 70's. As a sophomore, he not only started, but was a main factor in us being the number one football team in the state until we stubbed our toe late in the season and lost two games in overtime. That happens in life. Big thing is one must pull themselves up and get after it again, which that team did.

Fortunately over the years I had very talented players and we were very successful. But success to me was what became of those players after football. In most cases they've became very successful young men making significant contributions to the communities they live in. Pat is no exception. He, along with his partner Clair, own Spectators University Bar and Grill in Saugatuck, MI. Pat tells me it's going well. More important was when he told all the ways they give back to the community. (Had a little tear in my eye and a heart full of pride as he spoke.)

We arrived in Eaton Rapids shortly after noon. There must have been 20 plus people at the luncheon including the five paddlers I started with, Toby, Mark, Dan, Charlie and Jon. Great reunion and lots of stories of our journey passed back and forth.

Chuck Ambroy was also there. Chuck and a friend (name I forgot) paddled the first day of this trip from Detroit and has some great pictures I hope to post when I finish. More important, Chuck picked up the tab! Another unbelievable paddle angel! Also there was Jim Woodruff, as stated in earlier journal entries, responsible for starting the Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge a few years back. Great to see he and his daughter Karen again. (He continues to call my canoe a junkyard! )

Because it was only about 2:00pm I decided to paddle to Dimondale with Toby, Mark, Dan and Charlie. I've done this section already and could ride over but I'd be there with nothing to do. Joining us for the paddle were Nancy Anderson who met me when she came to Dimondale with the Woodruffs, and shuttled me to Portland a few days ago. (There was one more person, who's name I've forgotten.) Just a nice relaxing paddle, sharing conversation with all.

At Dimondale we were met by other paddlers doing the 50 miler. Turned out to be a great evening meeting new people including Bob Bradford, his wife, son and nephew. Bob saw us off at the start of our journey back in Detroit. What I did not know then was he and his partner, Clark Eid hold the record for paddling the length of the Mississippi in a time of: 18 days 4 hours and 51 minutes. Unbelieveable! Check it out at: He and his wife will be paddling a Kruger Crusier tomorrow. They are good and will be the first Kruger Canoe to arrive in Portland. His son and nephew will be in a racing canoe and most likely will be the the first racing team to arrive in Portland. Very talented family.

I also met Brian Weber, his daughter, Marissa and her friend Hannah Grow. Brian is also blogging this trip for Kruger Canoes at: He's a great young man and works a lot with at-risk children. We shared lots of ideas which I hope to follow up on when I finish. His daughter, Marissa and friend Hannah will be the youngest paddlers tomorrow. They have paddled all over the USA for breast cancer, including doing a paddle from Kansas City to St. Louis. You must check out there website at:

I must also mention Pat Harrington and Robin Barfoot were there to help all us paddlers out in any way they could. Pat went beyond the call of duty. He works on bikes and took mine home with him and did a complete service job on it. What did I say about paddle angels, they are unbelievable! Thanks Pat and Robin.

A group of us had a great dinner at Mike', up town. Mike plans to open at 5:00 in the morning so whoever wants can have breakfast before we push off.

Time for bed. More great friends! Just another great day.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday April 23

Woke up today still cold but at least it's bright skies. I'm figuring approximately 40/45 miles to Grand Haven and the entry point to Lake Michigan. Also figure it's a 3-Advil day in order to do it.

Took my time today, sort of hoping for the weather to warm up and lay in my tent and didn't get in the water until well after 8:00. No wind at all today and still had excellent current and made great time. I paddled until noon when I saw on river right (this is a new term I've learned on this journey -"river right" or "river left" - I used to call it the left or right side of the river) a sandy beach with a nice grassy knoll above it. I thought "Heck, I haven't taken a real break except for portages. I think I'm going to stop for lunch", which I did. I spent a good 15 - 20 minutes, which is unusual but it felt good.

I continued paddling on to Grand Haven, with the thoughts that I not only need to get to Grand Haven but I need to get as close to Holland as possible. Pat Paquette, who played football for me back in the 70s, now lives in the Holland area and has offered to drive me back to Dimondale tomorrow for the 50 mile Challenge, which is being held on Saturday. This challenge is very important to me, which I will explain in a later post.

I continued on my way and at about 2:00 I thought I was getting real close to Grand Haven, which was hard to believe. I didn't think I could be here this quick. It seemed like I had only 5-6 more miles to go. After looking at my map for a change it turns out that I have more like 14 miles to go because of the twists and turns into Grand Haven.

Eventually I found myself paddling through the channel heading to the lighthouse at the entry to Lake Michigan and officially turned the corner onto Lake Michigan at 5:03.

My thoughts earlier were - will I actually be able to paddle into Lake Michigan? Living near Lake Superior I know how treacherous it can be coming out of a harbor entrance onto a big body of water like Lake Michigan. It doesn't take a lot of wind to make things difficult.

As it turned out, luck was on my side once again for there was barely a walleye chop on the water and I was able to make the entry and turn south toward Chicago with ease.

I spent some time along the city beach next to the entry taking pictures and checking my maps to see how far it was to Holland. I figured it was approximately 20 miles so I should be able to make Holland by noon tomorrow and decided to set up camp when I could find an isolated spot. Just then, Karen (Jim Woodruff's daughter) called. I told her I would be back for the 5:00PM luncheon, pause,,, she said it was at noon! Old age on my part had set in again! After our conversation I figure I must keep paddling, hoping to make at least another 6 to 8 miles.

I finally stopped well after dark, with hope of an early start tomorrow I'd have a chance to make it to Holland by 10:00AM! I believe this is the best mileage day I've had on this trip. Normally I'd feel good about such an effort, but tonight I'm thinking, WHY!

I'm now laying in my sleeping bag, looking at the Big Dipper and feeling good to be this far in 7 days. Chicago should be within reach by mid-week if conditions are anywhere like they are today.

As I gaze at the stars I'm thinking about the many people who've helped me out along the way. Yesterday for example, while portaging in Grand Rapids, two young ladies went out of their way to get me a sandwich. When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, hikers called such people Trail Angels. Now I call them Paddle Angels. THANKS TO ALL!

Damn, I'm tired!

Wednesday April 22

I believe this is the coldest night I've spent. I didn't jump in the river this morning. I camped somewhere below Lyons and got started as quickly as possible, if for no other reason than to get warmed up.

Basically today was just a non-eventful day of paddling until I got to Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids is a beautiful city and from the river it looks like a lot of building going on. Hard to believe in these times. I pulled out at Riverside Park and followed the bike trail around the dam in the center of the city. There was a small detour due to road construction in the middle but what a beautiful ride. Grand Rapids is a very pretty city and you could not tell we are in a recession for there's building construction going on everywhere

Just past the dam was an entry point that according to a guy I met is called the kayak slide. Basically it was just a newly built ramp to the water directly below the dam where there were still significant rapids. At first I wasn't sure if I should even enter, but then I said "What the heck". A little tricky getting back in the canoe but this canoe just doesn't tip. Once on my way I just sailed through the rapids with ease.

I continued down through Grand Rapids and about 8:30 made camp somewhere on the outskirts of the city. Good day of paddling but I sure hope it warms up tomorrow. I heard it is supposed to.

Time for bed. With thoughts of making it to Lake Michigan tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tuesday April 21

I woke and saw that it was light out. I thought to myself, "Man, I'm late. I gotta get going!". Then I realized I was in a motel room and didn't need to go anywhere. It was 8:30 and I was still in bed. I must have really needed this rest for normally I'm awake before sun-up.

I took my time getting everything together so it was still cold and raining out. By the way, I forgot to mention yesterday it was cold and rainy most of the trip. For the first time, I used the skirt on my canoe. The skirt is similar to what you see on a kayak. It surrounds my entire body and allows no water to get into the canoe. I felt like a bug snug in a rug. It also keeps my lower body warm and with a rain jacket it's like being in my own little home.

I paddled all the way across the country a couple of years ago and never took the time to see how this works. Now I sure wish I had for it would have kept me from bailing water out of my canoe day after day. Just like me - takes too much time to test things out. Oh well, the world is still spinning.

I was just getting ready to take things down to my canoe when the telephone rings. Chuck Amboy was one of the day paddlers that started out with us from Belle Isle. He and the other day paddlers went as far as the mouth of the Huron River. He called to tell me that he had some good pictures and wondered how he could get them to me. Also that Friday before the 50 Mile Heward Challenge there will be a dinner in Dimondale for the paddlers. He wanted me to know that if there was anything he could do for me, he was willing to help. I really felt this was a nice gesture. Thanks, Chuck. I will see you next Saturday.

Not long after, Mike Leyrer called. He is part of the Kruger Memorial Project and lives in Portland. Wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help me get started this morning. He offered to show me the options to get back in the water and give me a tour of the town of Portland. I took him up on his offer and the two of us took about a half hour just riding around. Very interesting man, and very helpful. The pride and respect he feels for Verlen and the memorial project comes through loud and clear.

Mike brought me back to the motel. He was amazed at how light I was traveling. Actually, I thought I was traveling pretty heavy. He also was very interested in my little 20" bike and my trailer set-up. I told him I was fortunate to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, where you had to go light and this has carried over to everything I have done since. I said the key for going light is never carry anything with you that you do not use every day, other than making sure you are prepared for the elements.

I said my goodbyes to Mike only to see him again at the first dam portage just outside Portland. For all his good intentions to show me the options I had to get in the water, as I rode my bike down the bike trail next to the Grand River, I missed every one of them and ended up on the outskirts of town. Stopping for a minute to figure out where I was, a man came by and asked me if I was looking for the river. I said "I think I missed the landing". He said "Yes, it's back in mid-town". Now knowing I don't turn around, I asked him "How do I get to the dam?" He gave me directions so off I went.

As I was unloading at the dam, Mike pulls up. I told him with all the great instructions you gave me, I still screwed up. He chuckled, helped me unload and I was on my way. He told me that Dan Smith's brother Scott would be down the river at the first bridge I came to and wanted me to say hello when I got there.

Before I left, I asked Mike how long it would take me to get to Scott. He said he wasn't sure but maybe an hour. I got there in just a little over half an hour for the river was fast. Scott was standing on a bank with a trailer filled with canoes and a big smile on his face. I pulled in. We introduced ourselves to each other and I asked if I could take a picture of him next to his canoes. He said yes and if I wanted to, I could come up and see his shop, which was less than a mile away. I jumped at the chance for I was very interested in seeing the step by step process of canoe building.

Scott continues building the most popular designs of the Sawyer Canoe plus his own version of Verlen's canoe. Very impressive. Anyone out there interested in canoeing definitely should look at Scott's website. He has something for everyone.

Scott took me back to the water. I said goodbye and look forward to seeing him again at the 50 mile challenge.

The rest of the day was spent paddling in and out of rain, sleet and snow. It was a lot like being in the Boundary Waters. Cold, miserable and enjoying every minute of it. I ended up somewhere past the dam at Lyons before I made camp. As I tucked in for the night I hoped that tomorrow brought a little bit more warmth and that the rain would be over.

Two and a half days of this is enough. Plus I miss seeing the Big Dipper.

By the way, a couple of times on this journey I've been asked what the Big Dipper represents on my website. Thought I'd take this time to explain. A few things have changed since I wrote the entry below for my Pacific Crest Trail journal back in 2003. My mother has passed away. I have two more grandchildren, Ryah and Avery. And of course, many more friends, including the ones I'm meeting on this journey.

The Big Dipper is made up of seven stars and each star has its own meaning to me while out on this trail. Starting from the handle the first star represents my wife, LuAnn, and I take a few minutes to remember all that she means to me and what a great person she is in her own right. She’s a very giving person and if you know her, well let's just say you’ve been blessed. Last night I was thinking about the time I came home a little late and figured I better make a big impression. So when I got to the bedroom door I hollered out, “Superman” and did a half turn in the air and landed on the floor rather than the bed! She’d rearranged the furniture! Can’t Win!The second star represents my sons Dean and Eric, and my daughter Heidi. I could not be prouder of them and their significant others. I told them a long time ago that all I wanted them to do is just grow up to be a little better than their father. Well, they’ve out done me 10 fold! The third star represents our grand children Liv and Rory (Dean and Erin), Devin and Drake (Heidi and Nate) and Lily (Heather). If you have grandchildren you know how special they are! The fourth star represents my mother, Ellen and father, Clarence. My mother is 90 years old and hanging in there. Short-term memory is shot but does not have an ache in her body. She lives with my sister, Clarice. My father has passed away, but I think of him often. I just simply owe them everything. The fifth star represents my sisters Clarice, Cheryl, Sonja, and my brother Don. If you’ve followed my journal you know we lost Don when he was sixteen, yet there is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think about him. My sisters are great and I wish we could see each other more than we do. I see Clarice the most and she and her husband, Ron have helped me a lot getting to and from airports on this hike. The sixth star represents all the people back home. I think about the people I grew up with, like Mac and Newt. My high school and college friends like Niles, Umland, Dorn, Leitzke, Casper, Phil, Cal, Warz, Zeke, Russ, and so many others. My high school coach, John Hansen and college coach, Edor Nelson that played such a part in my own coaching philosophy. My friends in Eau Claire, Diz, Tex, Mic, Browny, Daryl and Denny. They too played a big part in my teaching and coaching philosophy. Then there’s Charlie, Jim, Dean, John and Mike who are my hunting partners back home (Better get back, somebody needs to shoot their deer for them!). I’ve been fortunate to have been touched by so many people it’s impossible to mention all of them, specially all the wonderful people in our community of, Superior, Wisconsin. I’m proud to be a SPARTAN! Lastly, I think of my good coaching buddy, Ted. We’ve been friends for over 30 years, running around to coaching clinics together. Ted has brain cancer and he and his family are always in my prayers. I’ll see you when I get home Ted.Finally, the seventh star, which represents all the great people I’ve met on this trail. All are very special in there own right. It’s been an honor to hike and meet so many nice people. Geezer, Cupcake, Yucca, Kimber, Stretch, Walt, Billy Goat, Garlic Man, Frank, Just Jane, Tapeworm, Chuckie V, La De Da, Pel Mel, Birdie, Suge and Grave Digger are just a few that I had the pleasure to hike with. Phil (Donk), Chaz, Commodore, Yogi and Gottago are the five I know the best. I’ll never forget them. Heck, they did a great job taking care of me!!!Then, finally, I look for the first satellite to pass overhead. That satellite represents my son, Ryan, just simply telling me, “Dad everything is okay. I’m in good hands. Just remember and be strengthened by all the good times I had and not be weakened by my going home.”