A Homecoming

Well, I finally got out for a while on my home waters following a couple years of being laid up while recovering from a hip replacement and, the next year, a broken leg. It was a sunset paddle, short, only about four hours on the water, I guess, but that included some loitering time for a shore snack and contemplation of the river while waiting for a sunset that really never materialized. A silvery sheet of clouds settled to the west obscuring the sunset, but that’s OK. It was beautiful nevertheless. For me this may be the longest time off this stretch of water in 15 years or so, though I’ve been regularly paddling this stretch of river for over 30 years. It really felt like coming home. This time the trip was made with old friends as well – GuideboatGuy is known to some here and SisterRena brought along two Panamanian exchange students who had not paddled before. It’s always rewarding to see new folks introduced to a river and a sport.
Heraclitus had a point about never stepping into the same river twice, especially when one considers this particular river. It is a “sand river” which flows through sand deposited during the run off from the last glacier, about 12,000 years ago. (“The river is old. Old as few things are old; old like orbits and dust and gravity.” Justin Isherwood) We put in at a town named Lone Rock, so named because there’s so much sand out there that if there is a rock in this river, it’s a landmark worth naming a town after. (The namesake rock has since been chopped up to make building foundations.) Well drillers in the area often report having to drill hundreds of feet to get out of the sand from these deposits and down to bed rock. Through this the river flows for hundreds of miles. It’s a hundred mile beach with a river running through it. Where dry, the sand often squeaks underfoot like new-fallen snow. Like snow in the wind, islands and bars are constantly changing form in the current, running at about 16,000CFS when we were there. When you camp on these islands there is a flow of water under your feet that, I’m told, that flows at a rate of about one foot/hour.
An Island I used to camp on was missing completely as was a favorite beach that a friend and I regularly camped and took friends to over many years. The beach was greatly diminished two years ago, but now I couldn’t have identified it at all if I hadn’t frequented it so many many times. I didn’t check this time, but behind that beach there used to be springs where I’ve found bryozoan colonies. They might still be there – I’ll have to go back and check… An eagle’s nest that was a regular check point was gone, but GuideboatGuy, who has been paddling this section in my absence, knew of the new site to which the birds had relocated. It’s good to be brought up to date on the news.

I have a friend, long since moved away, who was the DNR manager of this section of the river. He once told me of a town that was once located on this part of the river. The man could spin a yarn, but I don’t think he was up to creating mythology. This town was called Richwood City and was built around a scheme to capture and mill logs from the north woods that had previously been floated down to the Mississippi for processing. This would have been a scheme to capture and sell the wood which contributed to the building of Chicago. (A lot of this earlier northern forest wood was then lost to the Chicago fire.) They built a large wing dam to create a huge eddy where the log rafts could be held until they could be milled. It was potentially quite a large enterprise for its day and the town was built around this industry. It was apparently thought by some to hold potential for the State capitol. But it was a castle built on sand. In a high-water spring the dam changed the course of the river and washed the town out. According to my friend, following spring high water fishermen using depth finders would sometimes detect geometric structures, the remains of building foundations of the sunken ghost town of Richwood City. It was looking out across this section of the river that we lunched and awaited a sunset that didn’t materialize. Nobody steps in the same river twice. Everything has changed.

And yet, the tranquility I recall remains. The eagles remain, and the swallows dipping and bobbing over the water in the gloaming remains. The feel of 16,000cfs flowing under the keel and the rhythm of the paddle strokes is the same. The peace and the friendship of others who know and love the flowing waters remains. Like orbits and dust and gravity. It’s good to come home again.

I mention all this because, as fellow paddlers, I know you understand as others can’t - having home waters of your own.


nice report, can imagine everything you described so well. Later today we will go on a four hour paddle too to a lake we have not visited for a couple of years. Changes I am sure there will be.

Welcome back to the paddling world!

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sometimes, you can’t go home again

My paddling days started in Rochester, MN.
Actually, from a home I owned on Lake Shady, Oronoco, MN (north of Rochester a few miles).
It is not there now (some maps refer it to as ‘(Formerly) Lake Shady’.
It was ‘reclaimed’ several years ago, the few houses that were there were removed.
When I was there, on ice out, I would paddle up one branch or the other of the Zumbro from my home.
Where I am now, I paddle up or down a section of the St Johns river from where I live.
Thankfully, no planned ‘reclaiming’ of this area (though future ‘monster’ hurricanes may have other plans).

We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
(Joni Mitchell, ‘The Circle Game’)


PJC, good to see you back on the water. I think ‘see’ is correct because you described it so well.
I missed 9 months on the water. Can’t do the distances or speeds I once did but sitting in a creek yesterday was soul refreshing.


Congratulations for getting back out there. It takes a lot of work to overcome injuries. Broke my femur in 2007 and it took 3 years before I could go backpacking again.

At 70 I am slower on the trail, but in a boat I am about as good as I have ever been.

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So beautifully written. Thanks for taking us through your journey.


Welcome home!

Ah, the remnants of the Wisconsin ice shield. The sands of time. The paddling hour glass of our lives. Wonderful report. (We have a few towns underwater here in upstate NY, but most are do to reservoirs not rivers. The submerged land having been acquired corruptly during the reign of Boss Tweed, to quench the Big Apple’s insatiable thirst.)

–And give my regards to the Guideboat Guy. His boat knowledge and banter are missed. (Although, I’ve taken long hiatus here from time to time meself;-

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Congrats on getting out again. I’d like to spend more time on your local river. I find the river in your area mesmerizing…broad and apparently shallow with surprising/deceptive current. Your put-in was right by my favorite canoe dealer. I used to spend a lot of time on the Huron in the Ann Arbor area and although I like the rivers around our new home better I’m still drawn to go back and paddle the Huron occasionally, kind of like seeing an old friend.

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Well, thanks for the kind replies all… and I’m feeling that a response is in order. Though this certainly was no “big deal” trip and I think I may be making a bigger deal out of it than it merits. This was just the kind of short paddle I used to try to sneak in after work or if I had other things to tend to on a weekend. But just getting out there again was a pretty big deal to me this time. Next time will be longer and with camping gear. Hunger makes the best sauce and there is more than one kind of hunger.
Kim, I never felt I left the paddling world. I visited landings throughout the year just to see the river flow, and I did make the fall 'vous on the Northfork and Current rivers. And I’ve been lurking here all the while just to see what youse guys are up to.

raisins, It must be strange to have a whole lake disappear. That happened to a rock quarry I used to sneak into as a kid - a local swimming hole. I stepped on a broken bottle there and still have the scar, and memories of getting caught in a storm there with childhood friends who are now gone. But the quarry is now buried under a housing development. It seems like a dream now. No sign of “the scene of the crime”. Just a scar on the bottom of my foot.

string, I’m looking forward to getting back to distances I used to do and, thankfully, I never really strove to be a fast paddler. I’ll, no doubt, soon be as fast as I ever was. Seeing it was more like these (really pretty poor) snapshots.
Put in on a Lone Rock slough

The group as we joined the right channel of the river proper

The view of where the sun should have set

Glad you got to the creek! You remind me of another favorite quote that seems appropriate to both of us just now…
“It is not hard to imagine that, when we stop to look into the sea or listen to a mountain creek, the attraction we feel is the water inside calling to the water outside, two ponds, perhaps, stopping by the road of time to trade the news.” - Peter Steinhart

ppine, Glad you are back to backpacking again. A broken femur is a “big deal” break. This is my before and after.

I’ve yet to hike past the six mile mark, but it’ll come. And I can straighten my ankle out enough to kneel, though it still gets painful after a while. It’ll be OK in time.

Rookie, thanks for the kind words and thanks for coming along on the journey.

spiritboat, I was remembering your Murder’s Creek history while I was writing the Richwood City bit. The stories and history of the places we paddle add a lot to a trip. Speaking of your reservoirs, (and there are lots on the Wisconsin too) have you heard about the mess on the Kickapoo? Land was bought for a reservoir, cities removed, people & graveyards displaced - and then they changed their minds and decided not to build the dam. And are still arguing about how to handle it. But its still a nice river to paddle.
GuideboatGuy is an essential worker and working a lot lately. Construction is roaring and the soil analysis he does is prerequisite to it. He’ll be back. He took his Merlin II, BTW.

Next time you come by your (and my) favorite canoe dealer, contact me. We can do a paddle if you like. It is mesmerizing. Big spaces tend to encourage bigger thinking, I like to believe.
Going back to old paddling haunts is satisfying. I should do as you do more often.

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Glad to hear you are back at it. I was hoping to see you again at the spring rendezvous, but it was not to be. Maybe next year.

The x-ray of my right ankle looks just about like yours - lots of hardware in there. I broke it 6 or 7 years ago and I can tell you that I have been OK with it. The ankle does not look as though it belongs with the other one cause it is bigger. I can kneel, but it does ask that I do just a little PT every couple of days or else it lets me know that I have not. For what it is worth, the thing breezes through airport security. I don’t know why, and I don’t ask.


I can’t imagine as I spent four months in a boot and brace this past year and thought that was terrible.
My foot doctor use to race motorcycles and said he broke 20 bones before he quit racing. :open_mouth:

Peter, your words are comforting. So when I saw you on the Current you must have been still a bit affected by your break? I never would have guessed it. Mine still looks a bit post-operative also but I was delighted to discover that there was no problem getting into my paddling boots.
Its a heck of a drive for you, I know, but maybe see you this fall?

grayhawk, almost everyone I know who rides motorcycles have broken bones at one time or another. Comes with the territory, I guess. But most get back on their pony and ride. Glad to hear you’re out of the boot as well. If anybody gets through life without getting dinged up somewhere along the line, I suspect they’re living a little too cautiously. :wink:

Right you are…
My biggest ding happened right before the draft board called (1964}. They took one look and sent me home…

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My former boss had a wicked scar from his ankle to his knee. He said with a motorcycle it wasn’t a question of IF only WHEN.

When I was young I lost several friends to motorcycle accidents (four that come to mind immediately). A fellow I used to work with got beat up pretty bad on one a about year ago now, I guess. The bright side is that if a biker gets to be our age, odds are they’ve taken their hits, learned from it, and gotten very good at what they do. Or gave it up.

Sometimes I get a little concerned when I keep hearing over and over again about all the things that can go wrong paddling, every accident, every near miss, the Darwin award talk. Its absolutely reasonable to look at accidents, near misses, dangerously risky practices, and to try to learn what we can from them. Still, sometimes I worry about how it makes our sport seem much more dangerous to the uninitiated than it really is. As an antidote to such concerns I sometimes think of those lost biker friends and remind myself of how much softer a paddler’s landing in water is to a biker’s long slide on pavement or abrupt stop on a phone pole, car grill, or something similar. There are lots more people motorcycling and most of them survive it, so why wouldn’t the odds be even more in our favor?

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My wife always be tells me to be careful when I go paddling. I sometimes remind her that I have to drive I-85 to get to most good spots.
NO comparison on the dangerous activity chart. Most paddling deaths are caused by lack of understanding on the “paddler’s” part or stoopidity.
On the road anyone can kill you.


String, your wife and you are reminding me of some old Bob Dylan song lyrics…

"So God says to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’
Abe says “God, You must be puttin’ me on
God says “No”, Abe says “What?”
God says “You can do what you want Abe but
Next time you see me you had better run”
Abe says “Where you want this killin’ done?”
Out on Highway 61”

Which is the main road to the Boundary Waters.


In my wife’s defense, her brother drowned in the lake I paddle when they were teenagers.
But, she has accepted who I am , mostly, and knows what paddling does for me.

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I always liked Arlo Guthrie’s motorcycle song.

Years ago I went over a guy’s trunk at 40 mph on a (very cool) Triumph Trident when he pulled out right in front of me. I had my fingers on my front brake lever and it happened so fast that the brake didn’t engage. I had quite a bruise on my thigh from his trunk and more abrasions than the hospital form could list. I can still remember the whole accident in slow motion including the sound of my headlight exploding. Turns out he was a lawyer. Good (lucky) thing I didn’t hit the middle of the car and come to a sudden stop. I’ve lost a couple of friends to bike accidents. But as my favorite canoe dealer once said, “if I can’t pick it up and put it on top of my car I don’t want it”. :grinning: