Mary Beth Writes

The eagle photo was taken by Len - but not on this trip! 

6/23/2022

We are fine but I have a tale to tell.

Last week was our anniversary which seemed like a fine occasion for a two-day getaway. Dinner at ‘The Driftless Café’ in Viroqua and then maybe an afternoon canoeing on the Wisconsin River? Like we did years ago with friends and is such a good memory? Sure! We knew an outfitter where we could rent the canoe. They meet you at the take-out place and then drive you to the put-in place so it’s very convenient. Just paddle down the river to where you left your car, leave the canoe, text them that its back, drive home.

We reserved a motel in Spring Green which is where we’d leave our car in the morning. Viroqua is an hour past Spring Green, but we had time and the drive through the driftless region wends on a two-lane twisty-turny highway.

(From Wikipedia: The Driftless Area was not covered by ice during the last ice age so the area lacks the characteristic glacial deposits known as drift. Its landscape is characterized by steep hills, forested ridges, deeply carved river valleys, with spring-fed waterfalls and cold-water trout streams.)

We watched weather news for the area. Big storms were predicted for the day we’d planned to be on the river so we changed our reservations to go a day later. By Thursday, the weather was going to be 80 degrees and sunny.

As we drove towards the west side of the state on Wednesday afternoon the sky was becoming decidedly murky. We decided to stop in a few minutes at our Spring Green motel just to be sure we knew where it was so we could find it later in the dark.

While Len talked to the office person, I scrolled current weather predictions for the area and - um – tornadoes were on the ground forty miles from where we were. Towards Viroqua.

We stayed in Spring Green because weather people were telling people further up the road to “get in your basement now!”

Ok. Dinner in Spring Green? It was no Driftless Café though it was pleasant and my Magic Dragon IPA from the Hop Haus Brewery in Verona was great. Though, get this, the restaurant SERVED NO DESSERTS!

We met our outfitter driver on Thursday morning at the designated spot. The world was fresh and bright; it looked to be a spectacular day. I told the driver that we had canoed the Green River in Utah when we were younger. She said, “Good, then you will know how to manage the river.”

I swear, that’s all the warning she gave us. I didn’t remember it until the next day.  

We put the canoe upriver at the put-in place. One has to get around the sandbar island right in front of you, to where one goes actually enters the river, so one does not see the whole river at that put-in place.

She left.

We went around the sandbar.

The river was wide and the waves were high, some as high as the gunwales (sides) of the canoe. The river would be like this the entire five hours it took us navigate the 4-hour trip.

The river rises after a rainstorm and that makes the current stronger, which raises the height of the waves. There were whitecap frills the entire trip. On the Utah trip we did one three-hundred-foot section of “riffles” which are the lowest class of white water. The Utah outfitter had warned us about this and gave us some tips for how to negotiate it.

Our entire trip last week was a low-grade white-water trip. In a rented flat-bottom canoe designed for mild water.

Well, we do know how to head a canoe straight into waves, but the stronger the current, the harder this is to accomplish and steadily maintain. It was intense all the way.

This was the scariest part.

We canoed under Highway 14; an ordinary 2-lane concrete bridge. As soon as the front of the canoe went into the shade of the bridge, we were canoeing into a washing machine in a wind tunnel. The canoe went sideways no matter how hard we pulled. In less than a minute we were a yard from the concrete pier of the bridge. We were about to slam into it sideways, tip, and dump. Even though we were wearing life jackets and we can both swim, that current was insane.

So, we pulled harder than we have ever pulled in our lives.

We paddled so hard I could hear myself groan. My hat, pulled tight with the cords, blew off backwards and choked me but man, I dug that paddle into those whirlpools and Len dug into his. Was it only 15 feet from one side to the other? It was a lifetime. I can still see that rough concrete pier when I close my eyes. Len can still see the waves, now parallel to the canoe, coming up and over the gunwales, rocking us from side to side.

We came through. The wide, wide river was still high and fast around us but we did it. We finished paddling the river and came to the take-out place. A guy just standing there had to help Len pull the canoe up and out of the water. I couldn't do it. My arms and shoulders were kaput. 

I don’t know why the outfitters didn’t warn us far more emphatically what we might encounter; we would gladly have taken a rain check. I don’t know why the various outfitters in the area don’t install a system to gauge the current of the river. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to figure out. The last time we did this route the river had a current, but it was mild and the trip was beautiful and fun.

At one point we called the outfitters and they said they would pick us up for an extra fairly steep price. We would gladly have paid that but the place they wanted to meet us was hundreds of feet back across the river and we simply couldn’t get there. Why don’t they put possible early take-out sites ON the map they give you, with the early-out price listed, so one knows how to get to those few places?

It was crazy. I am not naming them because I saw other outfitters dropping off and picking up two other couples. And we actually like(d) the company and their employees. 

We had an adventure but it wasn’t fun. I love canoeing and plan to go again in my life, but not there, not like that.

Len took no photos the whole trip, which is unheard of since Len takes pictures all the time and everywhere. It was that intense, he couldn’t switch the paddle for a minute with the camera.

There's always a silver lining. We saw dozens of turtles sitting on snags. A few otter slides. One soaring eagle. And we never bickered at each other.  Forty-some years later, if we need to be a team, we are a team. 

 

 

 

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What an adventure and one I am sure you will never forget. What a way to celebrate your anniversary- here's to many more!!!!!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks!!

Wow - that was a much more intense anniversary that you bargained for . . . may next year's celebration be less life-threatening and stressful. You sure won't forget it! As I read your story - I had to keep reminding myself that you made it out OK, or I wouldn't be reading your account of it. Happy anniversary
Mary Beth's picture

Laughing and thank you. We had some other short getaway ideas in mind for this summer, but on the way home from the river realized our fav thing is to write, do hard computer projects (that's Len), and a few house projects here and there. Other than visiting some friends (which will be good fun) we are staying home til fall. After that, we will probably forget what we know and go back out into the world and throw ourselves off cliffs we didn't realize were there....

If I got scared just reading your story, I can only imagine how frightening it must have been to experience it. The concrete pier coming at me would have been it for me. I'm so glad you "lived to tell the tale" as the saying goes.

Was scared just reading. Holy mackerel, no way can I imagine being in that situation.

First mistake. . . Getting in a canoe, YOU both know just how much I Love You. . . And I say this with as much love as I can muster... "YOU'RE BOTH CRAZY!!!! But after all of that, it's good you are both safe at home an that you survived the death defying Anniversary... Much Love to both you Crazy Kids...
Mary Beth's picture

White people who can't dance (hands raised here in this house) do a lot of crazy stuff trying to keep up with the grace and energy of everyone else...

You are indeed, a team! I'm with Franc: "First mistake, getting in a canoe," but I am very impressed that you did! Patricia

Wow! You and Len are really experienced paddlers, so river conditions must have been incredibly bad! Very scary! I’m so glad you made it through - an even stronger team than you knew!

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