The Midwest creeking season always starts hard and fast. It doesn't wait for anyone and the window is small. Even smaller this year. The Vermillion River, which is my home river and spring warm up, opened up last weekend. I wasn't on the starting line for the first time this year as I attended Canoecopia for my first time. Monday afternoon found me paddling the Verm at a nice high level. Life was good but I noticed I was coming down with a head cold. I blamed the wild party at the bar Saturday night in Madison for the virus...but it was a great night so I didn't mind. I spent the week just running the Verm with my creek boat. Once with my play boat but declined to play since this cold was developing nicely and I used my better judgment (for once) against rolling in Vermillion water. I wanted to be ready for this weekends creeks. I did notice that the only time I could breath was when I was on the river so this was good. So I thought.
Friday night I talked with Anthony and said I'd be up in the morning unless I came down with pneumonia. I knew my cold was kicking my behind but this only comes once a year and I didn't want to miss a minute of it. I'm "over 50" now and know my creeking days are going to be short. I handcuffed and muffled my better judgement and drove the three and half hours north. After all the plan was only to do the Lester and maybe the Stewart or Sucker river. Easy put ins and take outs. I knew being sick I could still do those easily and get my fix.
I met the crew at the Lester River. Unfortunately the levels were falling out extremely fast. I was disappointed as it was to be my first run on the Lester. We drove north. Low water everywhere until we saw the full parking lot at the Split Rock. My favorite run of all times, I had run it last spring and had the most fun of any river. The computer in my head said glitch...there is no way you will be able to make the 3 mile hike in AND paddle while being sick. I reached for more mental duct tape and muzzled my better judgment. I did briefly entertain thoughts of just running my camera instead...very briefly.
I did the hike in....3 miles up hill with my boat wheezing and hacking. I arrived at the first rapid and knew I was done before starting. But the river lured and enticed me as they do every paddler. I put on hoping I still had it in me. I was running with Aaron, Andy, Anthony and Dave. They waited patiently for me to get my breath but it felt like I was holding the reins on four wild horses that wanted to run. So off we went...I felt so good to be on the river and running. The first big drop and I pitoned and missed my two rolls at the bottom. Having run this river before I knew I had no time to play with another few rolls as what was coming up next was no joke. I pulled out and finally admitted to myself...hey I'm really sick and this river is really something you need to be top of your game to run. I told the guys I'd catch up with them tonight and not to wait for me and started the walk out.
Well I started the "drag my boat out" walk. Three miles down hill right? I hadn't gone far when I slipped in the mud and fell with my leg twisted in a bad position. My thought was I could have easily broken a leg there. As it was I took the skin off of my finger tip. I walked a bit further on when I saw I wasn't carrying my paddle. I had stowed it in my boat. I looked back and sure enough it was gone. I ran back and found it close to where I took out. OK now I'm standing there with all my gear...mud all over my new drysuit and blood freely running off my hand feeling pretty disgusted with my self not running a river I love and not accepting my limitations. Totally ignoring my life rule of if something is in the way of what you want to do accept it as it was not meant to be because there is something better you should be doing instead.
So I trudged on. Three miles down hill...right? Oh no..it's the only place in the world other than our parents memories that it's up hill both ways. For real! I came to the biggest hill and looked way up at the top. I just didn't have it in me mentally to go up that hill. It had bothered me that the river was just down the hill and that alone I could easily paddle the water between the big rapids. I knew the river well so I wasn't too worried. So with my hand still dripping blood I started through the woods to access the river. At least it was really downhill. Pulling and jerking the boat through trees and downfall I was determined to reach the river. Well I did reach the river below Under the Log rapid but found a high steep cliff ended the hill. Looking back up at the loooong way I had come down the hill I knew there was no way I was going back up. The sun was dropping and with thoughts of my cockpit being a cosy place to sleep for the night I searched for an access. I found a steep rock strewn gully with ice still clinging to the sides that cut down the cliff to the water. OK...it would be a bit difficult but the other option was back up the hill. I roped my boat down between the trees. climbed carefully down on the ice and rock aware that no one knew I was here and it would be kind of bad if something did happen. Being independent all my life I have done a lot of outdoor adventures like this so you just slow up and make sure every hold and move is solid and counts. As I approached the bottom I was dismayed as it didn't look like there was any place to set my boat to get in. I thought I'd have to drop into the current and swim my boat and paddle to the shallow island in the center and get in there. But as luck would have it there was a small shelf of rock just upstream that with a little finagling and fine balance I was able to get into my boat and launch. The stress melted away with the first paddle strokes and an euphoria wrapped around me....I was happy. It had turned into an adventure.
I floated out to the lake and was surprised to see boats in the parking lot still. I had said my goodbyes to Caleb and told the rest of the crew I would meet up with them later. They weren't the crew I was with but another crew of paddlers I knew, and they, on the other hand, were shocked to see me paddling out as they were waiting for me to come out of the trail. I took them up on their offer of jambalaya and a warm place to stay for the night. I was touched by their concern but it also made me realize that my mind set is so very far from others. I have spent a lifetime of relying on myself only and being so independent and single minded that I forget others don't think that way. I tried to thank them and they had to strain their ears to hear me since my voice was now nearly gone. The next morning I woke with no voice again and listened to my better judgment and opted not to paddle. It nearly killed me not to paddle. It was a great weekend and I was glad to see friends and get to know some of my fellow paddlers better. I lent my helmet with my GoPro to Dave that day so he captured some video of what I missed. Check it out.