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Muskegon River in Michigan

Trip Overview

The day I arrived in Evert, I was taken upstream to the headwaters in Leota, MI at the county park. After loading my Moken 10' kayak, I started my 3-4 day fishing/floating/camping trip back to Evert. However, as soon as I started my float, I noticed that I was a bit overloaded with my gear and my kayak was a little "tippy"! However, since I read that the Muskegon was a quiet river and it was fall with the water at low tide, I did not foresee any problems with the weight of my gear. I was told by my livery service that the river was "clear" and I should not encounter any problems.

Since I was going solo, I prepared well using the 5 major rules of kayaking: 1) Stay warm 2) Stay dry 3) Stay well fed 4) Stay well rested & )5 Know where you are most of the time. With that in mind, I have read stories of people who were ill prepared because of the lack of special gear and had to be rescued and suffered in the process. For going solo, I was not about to let that happed and packed enough gear for at least 2 people. You name it, I had it! My Moken 10' had a capacity of 440 lbs. and could pivot in its' own length. It drafted 6" of water, was very stable (without all that gear) with a 35" beam and had safety cages built out of PVC for added safety. However, that would prove to become a problem shortly.

I had the usual PFD w/whistle that could be reached by mouth without hands, snacks, cereal, milk, coffee, an expensive Yeti cooler, steaks, chops, hamburgers, a small lightweight cookset, potato's, onions, beans, bacon, eggs, bread, ham & drink mix. Also, a very good water purifier, sleeping pad, self inflating pillow & pad, sleeping bag, a 4-season 3-man tent, small cooling stove, lighters, lighting fuel, lanterns, flashlights, fishing rod, cleaning board, large and small filet knives and for personal protection (as recommended by police officers) a pistol! For a 10' kayak, that was a lot of gear which it handled rather well. I lacked for nothing in comfort and intended to enjoy the open spaces that the shoreline offered.

Once under way, I noticed that the water had a mild flow with shallow water. As I rounded the first bend, there were some trees that blocked part of the river and there were a number of other tall maples that were leaning at 45 degrees from the riverbank. I also noticed that with the low water, the bank was undercut - meaning at some time the river must have been every high in order to form a bank that was nearly 8' over my head.

As I round the first bend, the water was in the high 60's and the air temp was in the middle 70's which made the afternoon very pleasant. I also noticed that this river meandered in the most extreme way because it must have been thousands of years old with all the switchbacks some of which would run west and than east. Since I was in the "boondocks" I expected to hear nothing but the sounds of birds and wildlife and to my surprise, I kept hearing a lawnmower... in the woods? The lawnmower would get louder and than softer as I meandered the river... never quite going away (thank goodness as you will find out why)!

As I meandered downstream, I would sometimes get hung up on a sandbar, look down on one side and see sand and on the other side be in 2 feet of water. A few "butt humps" later and I was free and floating again. With each bend in the river, it became more difficult to find a "slot" to get through.

As I looked ahead, a large long maple blocked the river. As I searched in somewhat of a panic, I noticed that right next to the bank where the trunk began, there was an opening about 3" wide that allowed me to pass. However, it lacked the height I needed to clear it. As I began to pass under it, I noticed that my camera pod was not going to clear it so I grabbed the trunk as you would in a chin-up bar and held my kayak in place to access my predicament. What I did next was push my kayak upstream into a sandbar and remove the pod for the necessary clearance.

At this point in time I was beginning to feel that trouble was in store for me because this river was not cleared nor travelled in with someone who was packing gear for a 4 day trip. To get under this tree, I had to remove my lifejacket, lie down on my right should in order to clear this slot.

From here the river looked clear but as I arrived at the next bend, my eyes were opened wide because a large maple had completely blocked the river. As I was being pushed along, I had no choice but to scan the ripples that reflected off the sunlight not knowing what was going to happen. Within 50" feet or so, I noticed a same slot in the middle of the steam that I might be able to pass through so I headed for it. Luck might have been on my side as the opening was high and wide enough to accommodate my kayak with one exception. As I passed through, my skeg caught a limb that cantelevered down into the water. However, with a few 'butt humps" I was free and clear except for that limb that I got hung up on and it pushed me over into 2' of water dumping all my gear.

Since it was all lashed down, nothing fell out but what I had was a 10' snowplow catching 2,000 lbs. of water. With all of my strength, I grabbed my built-in handles and jerked my kayak free and pushed it on the bank. A little wet and no harm done, I pulled my kayak back into the water I was standing in and it tipped over!!!! Because it waterlogged some of my gear, it was now too top heavy to remain upright... big trouble, I thought. I figured at this point this trip was over... not more than 4 hrs. old!!!!

I thought about dumping some of my gear to continue on, camping on the spot and drying out everything or using my VHF radio to call for help. However, I opted for something else'; that lawnmower I kept hearing was right over the river bank opposite the one I was on. The river at this point was only 40' wide so I just found a spot that was only 4-5' deep and waded to the opposite bank. As I began walking in the direction of the lawnmower, the river appeared again....going in the opposite direction......a rather long direction. I was puzzled at first and than realized that this was a switchback and I had been getting closer to the sound of the lawnmower because I was meandering the whole time!

Standing there, I waited for the lawnmower to stop (as luck would have it) within 3-4 minutes and I whistled... I can do that with my teeth....a pause, and another whistle, and a man appeared on the opposite bank. I should add that this river bank was high......40' or more.........I was looking up at him. He was careful at first because he was unsure of who I was so I told him that I dumped in the river, was alone and needed him to call the livery for me, give them directions of where he was and come pick me up.

After yelling the phone number to him and his wife, they said that it would be an hour because they could come and get me. I asked him how far up stream the river went because I was going to float to his riverbank. He said it was rather far and I began to wonder how in the world I was going to be able to get my gear and kayak to his location in time to be picked up. However, as I was "wondering" it occurred to me that I just did cross a riverback and could go back and cross it in the same manner. I noticed that had I chosen to camp it, the forest I was in was dry, high and beautiful.....a perfect spot for the evening. However, because of all the blockage on the bends of the river, I chose not to go on.

Since I was prepared to drag my kayak as needed, I has a large tow rope, tied it to my bow handle and waded across, took my gear, tossed it up over my head onto the bank and dragged my kayak up also, loaded it on the other river band and repeated the same motions again.

The hardest part of this day was yet come because I had to make 7 trips up a 45 degree bank on 18" wide dirt steps with all of my gear. The hardest part was dragging my 70 lbs. Moken 10" up that bank with one hand all the way without stopping! Talk about having muscle!!!! By the time I finished doing this task, the livery had arrived and I was skirted away back to Evert.

All's well that ends well!
With that said, I have learned that unless you get specific information about a body of water, it is better to find out the exact conditions before taking on a solo trip.


Campground: $25 a nite


US 131 North to Evart, MI


The usual Michigan River Books

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip