Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tenth Annual Order of the Wisconsin River Lover's (OWL) Solo Canoe Trip

The Order gathered once again this year, and it was an interesting session. With 13 we had quorum so we talked about OWL 2.0. More on that later.

If you're not familiar with the way the OWL works, there are a few simple rules.
  • No kayaks.
  • Solo canoes only.
  • No booze.
  • No women (sorry).

The OWL started out as small overnight trip with four people, Canoelover Jr. included, who was six at the time (see above -- from the first OWL). It was a delight, and over the years, it has grown. People move in and out as their schedule commands, but I always feel like there's someone who can't come who should be there. I don't like that feeling.

We do a section of the Lower Wisconsin from Mazomanie to Spring Green. Normally. Again, I'm getting ahead of myself. We ran the shuttle and found that lo and behold, it was beautiful as you can see. Tamaracks still verdant and deciduous trees attempting to turn a little, but nowhere peak, but always there are the sandstone cliffs, a few brave swallows still hunting for insects a few inches above the surface of the river.

The launch is less than optimal, but we manage just fine. It's more suitable for power boats but they're nice if we get in and out quickly. It does take a fair amount of time to load 13 boats into the river. It took a little longer because we were trying to help each other, trying not to step in the water though we were wearing rubber boots. It's a bad way to start the night getting a schloop of water over your boot tops.

I was close to last on the water so I stood on the dock and shot some pictures of the milling canoes. No one was trying to take off (except Canoelover Jr., who takes off as soon as he hits the water), and they formed small clusters while they waited for the last few boats.

Soon enough all thirteen boats plus two dogs were on the water. Canoelover Jr. is visible in the far left hand side of the picture, just a little dot in the reflection. That's how he rolls.

The OWL was two weeks later this year so despite meeting at 3:00 at Chez Canoelover, we barely made it on the water in time for it to go pretty dark. Gracie, being a sweet yet shortsighted Black Lab, went wading in the water like a hippopotamus while I was running the shuttle with four other drivers. So of course once it got dark, she started to get cold. When her shivering became noticeable I put my Mountain Hardware Monkey Fur fleece around her and tied the sleeves together in the front like a frat boy. She seemed to tolerate it. However, I gotta say it looks very weird.

We usually paddle a couple of hours, and so we did, arriving at the usual OWL campsite. There was no competition, which surprised no one. It was approaching freezing, and we started adding layers as time passed. In the end I had two long sleeve merino tops, a canvas shirt, and fleece vest and a fleece jacket (reclaimed from Gracie). And two stocking caps. I am a little light on the top there in terms of insulation. The good news is that a really short hair cut (like shaved plus 5 days) is like having Velcro on your head in terms of holding hats in place.

The wood situation on the River is pretty grim this far up as it is overused and downed wood is rare and hard to come by. We hauled in a giant Rubbermaid container of hickory (hot stuff), and Bill and Dave brought two big bags of firewood, which were perfect too. We we had no shortage of fires.

The companion ship of a group of friends around the campfire is one of the sweetest things about camping out. Even without the schnapps we conversed easily and shared stories and jokes. Ask Jim about the man who stuffed a cow udder in his pants. Or don't. Your call. All you need is the punch line: "Ma'am, don't worry, there's three more where that came from."


That was about as risqué as it got. It's also nice to share companionship without the need for profanity. These are not all religious people, but they're all good, moral people who love and respect each other. And with a group of 13, that ain't bad.

Well, we knew it would be cold, but personally I was thinking 35-40. It was not. Our water bottles froze. The new batteries in my GPS died before it could acquire satellites. People were piling on the layers and jumping around, trying to get some blood in their feet. It was not just cold, it was colder than a cast-iron witch's teat.*

The fog was beautiful and coated everything that was horizontal with jewelry-like hoarfrost.

And as the saying goes:
Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Or as I said, "Guys, we're doing a stuff and run." What that means is everything we own is unceremoniously stuffed into our packs and canoes and we get on the water as quickly as possible. Of course, Horseman had to make coffee or we'd be forced to drag his caffeine-addicted sorry arse behind me with a towline. But he get his fix and we were on the water, just as the wind got a little frisky. Frisky is a technical term for 15 knots gusting to 25.

Of course, we all had to line up for the annual group photo. Don't worry, we put the fire out.

Respectfully and frigidly submitted,



*This is a real saying in Southwestern Wisconsin. I've heard the more common variant but the cast iron part sorta brings it all home for me. If you're offended by the term witch because you're a Wiccan, better leave town for Hallowe'en.


David Morlock said...

Lovely trip report. Sounds like it was a blast, and I love your rules...all 4 of 'em.

Nice photos too.

canoelover said...

Coming from you that means a lot. Not bad for a point and shoot Olympus. Next year I want to bring the D200 body. It will hopefully be my spare when I get D300. Maybe.