On Friday, April 23rd, I drove to New Haven, Indiana for a weekend of camping and paddling. This rural town is just a few miles outside of Ft. Wayne, and the home of my aunt and uncle. They have a farm, and the woodlot behind the fields was where I was to set up my tent for the weekend. The forecast was for a wet weekend, and we almost called off the whole trip. But we had camped through rain before, so we decided to hope for lighter rain than what was predicted.
I drove down with my mother, who wished to visit her sister. My uncle drove me out to the woodlot, suggested a patch of high ground for my tent, and helped me put it up. We then returned to the house for some supper, and I waited there for my cousin to arrive. Brent brought his two kids, Samantha and Harry. Brent's brother-in-law and nephew joined us as well. They had set up two campers in the woodlot earlier in the day, and we lounged in one of them for several hours, talking late into the night. Around 11:30, the adults found their beds, mine being a sleeping bag and air mattress inside a Eureka tent.
That was a chilly night! One of those nights where you wake up with a cold nose in the morning, and the last thing you want to do is unzip the sleeping bag. I had wisely packed my heavier bag instead of the one I typically use in the summer. It kept everything but my face comfortable. I quickly dressed for the day and headed over to the camper for breakfast. As we were eating, my cousin Scott arrived with two of his daughters and one of their friends. We finished breakfast, loaded up all the gear we would need, and headed out in two trucks for the put-in on the St. Joseph River.
I don't know the area well enough, but I believe we started at Cedarville, on the far end of the reservoir. During the first part of the trip the river was very wide, with houses lining the shore. We came to some islands that housed several types of birds, including geese, ducks, and herons. The kids enjoyed looking for wildlife, and were delighted to view a group of ducklings waddling behind their mother along the shoreline. Past the islands we approached the dam, and we had to portage around it. There was no set landing to be seen, and the shore was very rocky and difficult to traverse. It took some effort from the four men in our party to haul the two aluminum canoes up and over the hill next to the dam. The two kayaks were easier to carry. After a few minutes, everyone was back on the water on the other side. The river here was narrower and shallower. The canoes became stuck on rocks, so Brent and I paddled over to them to dislodge them.
Yes, this was the first time ever that I had paddled a kayak. Definitely different than a canoe. In the future, I would wish for a longer, narrower kayak. I found the short, flat-bottomed craft to be slow yet maneuverable. There were many times I would have given up the ability to turn quickly for some extra speed. This experience helped to affirm my love of canoeing. I miss the Swift Shearwater I rented last summer!
The scenery was pleasant the rest of the way, even though some parts were lined with houses. It was great to be on the water again after several months straight on dry land. The river twisted and turned through woods, farm fields, and suburban neighborhoods. It rained about half of the time, but never so heavy that we considered ending the trip early. After about 5-1/2 hours of paddling, we arrived at the takeout. My uncle and sister-in-law had moved the trucks for us so that we could load up the boats and head out right away. Everyone was wet and a little chilly, so we headed over to Brent's house for hot showers before returning to camp.
We ate a nice meal that included hot dogs cooked over a fire. When the rain showed up again, we retreated into one of the campers to snack, talk, and drink. The kids watched a movie while the dads recounted the day's events. Scott brought out a bottle of Evan Williams whiskey and mixed me a whiskey and Coke. After a second and a few beers, I was ready to find my bed. The other guys joked about me knocking on the door of one of their campers in the middle of the night, for it was pouring rain when I left for my tent. But I was just as dry as them in my tent. Saturday night was much warmer, and I slept with my sleeping bag half-zipped. There was speculation the next morning that perhaps the whiskey had warmed me up considerably!
It was comfortably warm in my tent when I awoke, noticeably warmer than the outside air. Still, it was comfortable if one was dressed properly. We had a great breakfast of eggs, pancakes, sausage, and bacon. Scott and I cooked some of the bacon over the fire, and I think it tasted much better that way. I packed up my belongings and the tent while the other guys secured the campers and hitched them to the trucks. We drove back to the farm where I was dropped off. Not much later I left New Haven with my mother and headed back to Michigan. The weather had not completely cooperated, but we made a good time of it anyway. The kids had a great time, and so did the dads. I hope this is the start of a new tradition.
My birthday was on Saturday the 24th and Scott's was on Sunday the 25th. We both agreed that this was a great way to spend our birthdays.