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Manistee River Trip 1

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Allisons River Journal 1

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Journals from other participants


Here are some articles from the rest of the crew...

more pictures of the trip will show up soon,
Around the Next Bend
By Jim Sluyter

When I look back on our little expedition down the Manistee River there is plenty to think about. The fall colors, the evolution from a shallow stream with a distinctly North Woods look to a big meandering river lined by Maples, the new friends met on the river and confirmed around campfires, the rain. But two impressions are the focus of my memory: the endless bends in the River and nonstop paddling. How many bends can there be in 185 miles of river? Well, lots. Endless. Every one prettier than the last.

Nonstop paddling is another part of the 185 miles. With some experts and other observers predicting that we couldn't make the trip in the allotted 9 days, we set a pace that never let up, even after it became clear that we were making enough miles every day to finish comfortably.

Paddling long and hard every day turned into something not exactly fun (though it often was) and not quite grueling (though it occasionally tilted in that direction). I can best describe the bulk of the hours as meditative. We would set a paddling pattern, Jo and I, that we could maintain with little thought and a minimum of excess effort (one of the mantras, thanks to Frank, was 'move the canoe, not the water,' which we never really understood but always strived for). As those most ancient looking of birds, the Great Blue Heron, led us down river, I would go into what we called our 'zone,' a sort of heedless alertness. We had to be alert for shallows, logjams, rocks, and eddies but maintained a state of inattention to the unrelenting pace.

When I was a boy I would go down (a different) river with my dad in a rented flat-bottomed boat and fish. When I got restless and ready for the trip to end, he would start saying that the take-out spot was 'around the next bend.' Of course, there might be an hour of bends left, but he kept up the fiction until, finally, it became true.

On this adventure, with days on the river and goals only to make as many miles as we could, the next bend was only prelude to another in the series. But on those couple of occasions that we had a firm goal in mind, most especially the last, long day as we looked for the M-55 Bridge that would signal the final mile or so, my 'move the canoe' mantra changed to 'around the next bend.' With that change from the presence of 'move the canoe' to the future of 'around the next bend' it was interesting (and a little disconcerting) to notice that the zone was no longer achievable, that alertness and heedlessness became anticipation and weariness. But the final emotion of the trip, as we paddled through Manistee and saw Lake Michigan (after just 6 and a half days) was elation: We Did It!

The Flash
By Jo Meller
Feeling comfortable with and in nature is something that comes naturally to me. That is why I was excited and ready to go when asked to canoe an unknown number of miles on the Manistee River for who-knew-how-many days in the unpredictable weather of early fall. I took it on as personal challenge to see what a person of my great age (well, 47) could attain on such an adventure.

As we got on the river we were hit instantly by both the beauty and wildness this trip would offer us but also with some of the worst weather I had experienced in a long time. Driving rain soaked us completely through by 4 Pm when we stopped for the night. But rain turned into sunshine (eventually), minutes turned into hours and days turned into nights as we continued on this river odyssey. The scenery was breathtaking and we experienced it 'in the moment' as that is all the time we had as we hurried along. Later we learned that we went 185 miles in 6 and a half days at the speed of over 4 miles per hour. Booking.

Monday morning was particularly cold and we had a destination today, which was unusual for us. Most mornings we would set a goal just to see if we could get there. We made it into sort of a game. But today we were to meet Susan and Molly at Chippewa Landing by lunch.

To move quickly down the river we used many strategies including not dressing appropriately for the weather. We tended to dress just slightly on the cool side so the heat of our physically active body kept us warm if we kept moving along at a steady pace. But this was an unusually cold morning and we were seriously underdressed and freezing.

It started at the top of my head as always, rushing down to fill my torso with warmth. I knew that my face was flushed as I pulled off my wool hat. Then the gloves and jacket came off just as the heat raced into my very toes. A hot flash. 'Divine intervention,' I thought. But, no just being one with nature again. This much-needed warmth came from the most natural sources for a woman of my great and wonderful age.
I Have a Lot to Learn about Paddling

By Frank Beaver
I am not a master canoeist. Let me be even clearer: I am a novice in a canoe. Before setting out on the weeklong trip to canoe the Manistee River, I had never been in a canoe for more than six hours at a stretch. And I had certainly never camped after a day on the river, only to get up and start paddling again. This would be by far the longest trip I had ever taken.

However, I have been on a lot of trips before. They were always day trips, but I had spent my fair share of hours in the back end of a canoe. I think I know some things about steering a canoe down a river. Or at least I thought I knew those things. Now, after spending a week on the Manistee River, I'm not so sure.

Let me give you a for-instance. On each of my canoe trips, I had always been the paddler in the rear of the canoe. I am very comfortable being in the back, because that's steering. Or, that's what I thought I knew.

We were paddling alongside Jim and Jo, a pair of very experienced canoeists who just happen to be married to each other. On the morning of Day Two, after we had slogged through four hours of driving rain and wind, I approached Jim to ask for some advice on how to steer the canoe better. Jim has been paddling for longer than I've been driving, and I wanted to take advantage of his experience. Jim was only too happy to give me some pointers on some basic paddling strokes. During our discussion, the two front-paddlers started to have a similar talk. Jo, who was in the front of the canoe with Jim, started telling my paddling buddy, Allison, how she could point the nose of the canoe and help steer. I stopped paying attention to Jim and started listening to Jo. This was completely new to me, that the guy in the front could help the guy in the rear with the steering. So I paid attention to what Jo was telling Allison.

I climbed in the canoe that day with a disbelieving attitude. The guy in the back does the steering; the guy in the front adds power. I knew this the way I knew that the sun would rise in the east. So I didn't really believe that Allison could change the course of the canoe in any significant way. Day Two would be just like Day One. I would steer us just like I have always steered the canoe down the river.

Well, Day Two was not like Day One. Allison quickly became very adept at pointing the nose where she wanted it to go. The strokes that Jo taught were simple and effective. Allison had learned a new skill, a new way of paddling.

But she wasn't the only person who learned something with those strokes. I learned a whole new way for the canoe to go down the river. As I said, I'm a novice, and I know I have a lot to learn about paddling. But I was sure that I knew the basics. By the middle of Day Two, I realized how wrong I had been.

I felt like I'd just been speaking with Copernicus, and realized that the Earth was not the center of the universe after all. I had to unlearn some things that I had been certain of only a day before. This unlearning didn't come quickly, and not without some bruises.

Some of those bruises were physical; some were only to my ego. But unlearn I did, so that I could
learn to do things properly -- the way I should have learned them originally.

I had many things that I knew to be true shown to be untrue while on the river. I had to unlearn a lot of things on that trip so that I could learn them a second time, correctly. By the end of the week, I got to be pretty good at approaching things with an open mind. I only hope that this is a skill that I'll be able to keep with me now that the trip is over.
And maybe I will remember a better way to steer a canoe, too.

Call Me Irresponsible
(This appeared in the Fall 2002 issue of The Community Farm Newsletter)
By Jim Sluyter and Jo Meller
Late in September one of our farm members, a reporter for the local newspaper, mentioned in passing that she hoped to do a series of articles based on a canoe trip down the Manistee River, all 185 miles of it. This is a trip that we have been interested in since shortly after moving to the area, and after a day or two of thought and figuring out the logistics, we invited ourselves along. We often take a week off harvests for our CSA in early October to let things grow and mature in the shorter, colder days of this month. But it is always a decision based on the crop's needs, and this year there seemed to be no need. The float trip would create the need for a week off, though. So as I picked beans the day before we left, and worried that by the next picking they would have over-grown, I started humming that old Sinatra song to myself. After all, 'Rainbows I'm inclined to pursue' shows up in there, too. And Jo was off in another part of the garden singing 'On the Road Again.'
We had a great trip, nearly 7 days on the river. Our farm members were enthusiastic about the adventure. Many fretted about the weather we were experiencing (which could have been better). For our part, we wondered if the deer would find their way through our defenses while we were away.
But mostly we paddled.
We came back exhausted and at the same time refreshed. The deer did no damage, the beans didn't grow too much (mostly) and our final harvests are better for the delay. We may have started a farm tradition!

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