When to switch to Plan B?

Ever been out paddling and things don’t go as planned and you start to realize that continuing with your original plan might be a bad idea?

Last week I was extremely excited about trying a new-to-me rural put-in on the Black River (near South Haven MI). Forecast was dry and overcast and I packed for a long day. It poured on the way up but I decided to continue and ended up launching after the rain stopped. My first paddle strokes go “tink tink tink” as I hit rocks with my carbon paddle and realize I didn’t bring a rock-friendly paddle to a place I’ve never been, but I decided to continue. Then I soon run into downfall thick enough that I can’t get through first try and end up doing some pruning with a knife because I brilliantly brought 3 sandwiches and coffee but left my saws at home. I decide to continue and shortly thereafter come to a pretty clear decision point.

On one hand I really really really want to continue! But I’ve already used up a lot of my downfall tolerance in less than two miles. I’d have to cross both trees again coming back. The trees are tall and stuff will fall out of the boat when pulling it over if I don’t spend time trying to lock down everything. If I hurt myself I would be very hard to help. Continuing would be a guy thing and if I got in trouble women would mock me forever. So I was still deciding whether to continue until I felt how slippery the fallen tree was so I had to abort. Sad to have my dreams crushed but at least I knew that I had another new place that I planned to try soon.

Later in the week the weather is perfect and I’m super excited to try a section of the Paw Paw that I’ve never paddled. Launched in Lawrence at the same spot I went with tdaniel but went upstream since the low water let me fit under the bridge.

Then I hit the first significant obstacle before I was out of sight of the bridge and it turned out to be a tricky one.

I could not figure out how to get through. Tried one spot and after inching my butt across a tree trunk with knots in it and getting both ends of my 15 footer thoroughly trapped I decided to abort.

I was still optimistic knowing I could just go to the next-closest rural put-in and have unlimited upstream paddling since I had paddled that section before and had scouted the put-in and knew the parking was good…plus it’s even shown as one of the best launch spots on the Paw Paw River Trail maps with a little canoe icon.

So I get to the put-in and it looks like a spiral water slide at a kid’s pool. An effin penguin couldn’t launch there. I’d need an ice-climbing axe to have a chance at getting out.

So I went back to my normal put-in on the Paw Paw and had a nice little paddle.


I have “bagged” a number of trips. It goes with the territory of exploring. Usually too much wood is the reason. I’ve turned around when the flow was just too low. When attaining, I’ve turned backed when the current gets too fast and too shallow to get in a full paddle stroke. I’ve pulled the plug on some high water runs and walked off for safety reasons. I’ve gotten to road crossings and haven’t liked the put-in conditions and gone elsewhere. A few times the shuttle has gotten messed up, I’ve gotten lost on backroads, or there are vehicle or road/bridge problems. It is okay to change your plans. That doesn’t mean you failed. You just learned and experienced something different than what you had planned. That’s okay in my book. A little adventure is a good thing. Getting hurt isn’t a good thing. What was once a put-in is now a housing development. A bit of adisappointment but I will go back and try again. Sometimes things don’t work out and you have to drop the whole idea.

I once joined a group paddle in TN with a paddling club. It was on the south branch of the Holsten River. The trip was a bit of a disaster. The dam release never happened. We started paddling anyway. The original trip leader had a family emergency and passed the trip off to someone else before the trip had even begun. The new leader was unaware of the distances and routes involved for the paddle and the shuttle. Out of 15 or so people, I was the only one to make it to the take out. The rest had gotten out their cell phones and gotten picked up at various bridges. I didn’t bring my phone with me on the water, paddled ahead on my own and knew that eventually I would make it back to my vehicle. Despite the low water, having to get out and drag the boat some, and boating an extra 5 or 6 miles, I was laughing the whole way to myself. I kept thinking that someone else had organized the trip. I do my fair share of organizing with my local club but this wasn’t my cluster f###! It wasn’t my sh## show! The trip was advertised for beginners. If you were a rank beginner you would have made it your first and last and probably it would be your one and only river trip. It made for an “interesting” day. Embrace the adventure. Plan B can become plan C. Even a trip to the emergency room is acceptable if the outcome is positive. Lessons are learned. Stay safe and enjoy the Paw Paw TomL! You are just figuring out how to get it “dialed in”.


Yep, definitely have had to regroup while on the water. Most disappointing one was down in the Keys several years ago. I was heading out into the backcountry, wind was stronger than forecast (and would be a headwind on the return trip) and there was a small line of storms heading my way. Waffled for a while but then decided it wasn’t wise to continue. Storms ended up dissipating but the wind stayed strong all day. I’m heading down to the Keys again this weekend so hopefully I don’t have to make a similar decision - I don’t get down there as much as I would like so it’s disappointing to not be able to do the paddles you had hoped to do, but the backcountry is relatively remote and very unforgiving.

I had several smaller changes in plan during the EC (kind of goes with the territory). I got to the Sanibel causeway and was planning to just paddle straight over to Ft Myers beach but it was a long way, open water, rough and a lot of boat traffic (it was Sunday). So I headed down the causeway to the mainland, took a break for a bit and then crossed over to Ft Myers from there - a much easier crossing. Once I got out to the beach it was still rough and nasty but I wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere for 2+ hours surrounded by powerboats.


It happens often on rivers,. especially at high flows. Nearly all trips are for the first time. It is hard to get accurate information on many remote western rivers.

Sometimes we wait a few days for the water to recede. Sometimes we pull off a few days early and hitch hike to the take out. Sometimes we make many fewer miles than planned. Sometimes we put boats back together with duct tape. All of these things are acceptable as long as no one gets hurt.


I never tire of rivers because they are different every time you paddle in one. Never know what is around the next curve until you get there.

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My typical paddle is to head upstream and turn around but fallen trees can make the trip a lot shorter than I want. I bring a folding saw but using it from a kayak cockpit can be impossible. For example, timber interference with bow or stern wont let you get the cockpit close enough to reach the cut, or cutting would drop the timber on your front deck.

On a downriver run I have to do a black muck portage but that is… unpleasant. Fortunately changes in water level can let you scooch over or duck under last week’s blockage.

One year about 6 miles up there was a spot where two trees went down from one side and a third went down on top of them from the other. Some chainsaw angel finally cleared it after 8 months. Thank you!

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Great story…makes me smile too.

So I did make it out on the Black River today but had to use the urban launch site in the middle of condos and huge marina. Had one guy launch a powerboat right in front of me (and apologize) and got startled by an antique electric launch boat full of tourists moving right along in a no wake zone. It’s a pretty river and I need to poke around for better launch sites


I admire anyone that decides it’s a bad idea to go or continue. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in south FL and the paved part of the keys and for sure you have the potential for more serious consequences than me. Weather seems much sneakier and more deadly than fallen trees. I’ve had a handful of experiences with wind that I remember well.

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I could not agree with you more, and not only is every paddle different but it’s always different in many ways .

I found this around a bend in the river last week.

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I’m guessing hypothermia.


Yeah even without a deck to worry about I’ve sometimes found that dropping limbs directly on me and the boat isn’t the best idea even if it doesn’t hurt the boat. :smile:

It’s like climbing MT Everest. Even though the peak is right there dying to reach it is a bad idea

I had a HUGE snake fall out of a tree on top of the nose of my kayak just inches from the cockpit. Now THAT would have been exciting a 6 foot snake in the cockpit!!!:exploding_head:

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I went to forestry schooll with a guy from Miss. He had a cottonmouth fall into his canoe from a tree branch. It bit him several times and he had nightmares about it.

Paddling upstream first is not an option on most western rivers which have plenty of gradient.

If leading an open water group trip I check the weather the night before and the morning of. Even then, if the weather looks good, I’ll have a Plan B second location in a nearby but more protected spot. Predicted weather is often different from what you’d expect when you get to the launch.

We once had to move a paddle when there was no available parking at a launch site.

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Last weeks Flack Lake trip became plan B.5 & that was a good thing.

Planned the trip nearly a year ago. I’ve been in the area 4 times over the last 39 years and three of the four trips were the route that we planned for this one. After the first two trips I learned to run the route backwards from the map plan due to the initial portages. Initial plan ws to stage in Northern Michigan, get an early start & get to the Flack Lake launch site, sort out permits & gear, pAdsdle up Flake a bit, and then take an 1100, a 220, and a 110 meter portage to Samreid lake then paddle to camp. Solo from the Gaylord area I was in camp about 6 PM or so.

Plan B came up when L suggested that was a ‘bit’ overly ambitious & maybe we should do night 1 at the front country campground at Mississaigi PP and cut short the back country nights by one. That was a good idea especially considering how 5 canoes & 7 people would jam up landings & launches.

Plan B.5 came up when that 1100 M portage kinda wiped out most of the group plus a portage sign in the standing dead trees in Lost Canoe Lake sent us to the wrong ATV trail. Once we set up at Samreid we decided to stay there 2 nights, 2 nights at Callinan Lake and then back to Samreid.

Turned out to be a perfect trip!