The trouble with any canoe trip that isn't in your back yard is, first you have to "get there". I'm at a place where I don't like to travel by car unless I'm going to spend at least a week or more at my destination. But winter is just around the corner and good buddy Jeff wanted to float The Pine River in northern Michigan as a last hurrah. He's been going there for 20 years, for reasons we'll discuss sooner or later.
I decided to bum a ride with Jeff for the 3-day paddling/camping trip in hopes the water and trees would be near peak. On Wednesday we met early at his home and loaded my gear into Jeff's' Ford Ranger. We were fairly loaded with his Mohawk Challenger (Old Red) and my homebuilt strip canoe (The Millennium Stripper). Not to mention all the good stuff that comes with car camping. (I had food for at least a week!)
We had a rendezvous with Gary a few miles up the road. His old GMC mini truck uses a little oil, the 8 plastic bottles of 10W30 he had stashed in the back was the first hint, but otherwise it's in good mechanical condition. Gary is a pretty good welder and had spent the last day fabricating a rack with extensions to carry our three boats on the shuttles. He paddles a brand new Old Town Loon kayak...but we won't hold that against him. I consider kayakers to be my cousins, even though they do sit on their asses and drag themselves across the water with a strange double bladed paddle. To each his own, off we headed to The North.
The Pine is located about 600 miles from us and it was a dreary day. Overcast with no sun, the weather looked bleak. However, Weather.com advised us we would have two to three good days before a sea change set in.
I dozed off and tried to supply Jeff with some healthy reparte' during my wakeful moments, but actually I just wanted to get there. A lunch/fuel stop near Grand Rapids was going to be our major break of the drive, and break it was.
On stopping at the gas station Gary advised us a semi truck we passed a few miles back had sucked the back window out of Jeff's' camper top, sending shatter glass and aluminum back towards him like shrapnel from a bomb. We had heard nothing. On inspection Gary's' radiator was sending a stream of hot antifreeze out the front. Oh oh, first casualty of the trip!
Across the street at Farm Fleet we purchased four bottles of stop leak and a five-gallon can for extra water. A bottle of stop leak, a refill of gas, oil, water and food and we were good to go. Pine River here we come!
The remainder of the trip was uneventful, just an occasional pullover to replenish the still spewing radiator, (stop leak wasn't fully doing the job) play Captain America at the side of the road and watch out for semi suction tornados. We pulled into Pine River Paddlesports Campground at 3:30 pm, right on time, signed in, paid our fees and picked out home for the next three days. We had the whole place to ourselves.
If you are ever in the area I recommend you check out PRPC (they have a web page). It's located about a mile from the Pine River near Petersons Bridge. As pay camps go it's great. The owners are a class act, run tight ship and paddle also. It's a "quiet" camp, meaning you won't have some loudmouthed drunk singing along to Leonard Skynard in the middle of the night. The campsites are located in deep woods with water at every site. A coin-operated shower is available. Canoes, kayaks and shuttles can be rented or arranged. Since riverside camping is outlawed for the Pine the PRPC is the place we stay
While the others went about erecting their tents I set my big "car camping" tarp over the picnic table and fire pit. Using Bill Masons Campfire tent as a guide I had a sleeping area in the back. Since mosquitoes were nowhere around I decided it would be nice to sleep out.
We each cooked our own dinners, (Ramen laced with dehydrated veggies from the garden for me) watched campfire TV, talked over the day and the days to come and were sawing logs by midnight. Sometime during the night it rained.
We woke at 5:30. The sky was partly cloudy and the rain had ceased. A quick breakfast of hot musili, pita bread and coffee got me started. After packing my dry bag with a few extra clothes in case of a "dump", I made my usual river lunch of pepperoni, cheese and pita bread and was ready to head to the river.
The Pine is a fast flowing twisty stream that never gives a paddler time to rest. Switchback after switchback, complicated by an occasional sweeper, make it a real fun paddle. Jeff chose the 20 mile reach between Dobson and Low Bridge for our first trip. Though the Pine isn't a whitewater river, this section has the most "rapids", mostly just swift water and a few class I's.
The shuttle was a real class I with good roads and quick driving time. By 10:30 the sun was shining, we were on the river enjoying the fall beauty, the crisp air, and the yellow, red, and green leaves. The forest was afire with color.
The banks of the Pine are mixed hardwood and coniferous forest with maple, aspen, an occasional oak, pine and white cedar, there is very little development. An occasional cabin greets you but mostly just the solitude of wilderness. The Pine is a designated National Scenic River and as so is protected..
It was a tangerine day. There were no surprises on the river, just continuous fast flowing water and maneuvering through the turns and channels. I got to practice all the paddle skills; draws, prys, braces, front and back ferries, post, stem and christie turns. It was almost like dancing. That river has rhythm!
Ten minutes from the end is Stronach Dam. The dam is being removed six inches each spring and fall but there is still a small portage to deal with. At the put-in is a set a wooden stairs sloping down to an eddy pool. Gary decides to try a sea launch from midway up the stairs. Jeff, for some reason advises a spray skirt is unnecessary. Jeff offers to be the launcher and I just get out of the way.
Gary is all gung ho as he settles down into the Loon. I stand to one side and Jeff is braced and holding the rear of the kayak. Gary gives the nod and Jeff lets go. I watch as the kayak slides down the stairs gaining speed. The nose enters the water and keeps on diving. The water comes up quickly towards the coaming and Gary starts to lean to the right. Just as I think he is going to tip over I shout "Brace, brace" but it is too late. Miraculously as the water reaches the cockpit the nose starts to rise. The boat plops down into the pool and Gary sets there sheepishly smiling up at us. "I guess you were right Jeff, I didn't need the sprayskirt after all, but I sure could have used it!"
Back at camp that night we each cooked our dinners and talked over the day. It got rather cool so I rigged another tarp for heat reflection and we were enclosed. There is something fascinating about evening in camp, a warm fire, the embers making strange pictures. It's a welcome feeling... old as mankind.
Last night held such promise. The sun set in a golden sky, turning red as it lowered beyond the horizon. The temperature seemed a little warmer. We knew our third day was to be another good one.
Rain woke me around 3:00 am. Light at first it increased steadily. By the time I got up at 6:30 it had been raining hard for two hours. It seemed like there was no end in sight. Coffee and musili helped somewhat, but the prospect of paddling in a pouring rain wasn't too inspiring.
The others got up and decided to go to a nearby diner for breakfast. I stayed in camp trying to gauge the rainfall, temperature, and winds. The rain was steady, temp around 50 degrees and wind light, mostly from the south. I decided to go ahead and get ready to paddle. Cliff Jacobson wrote, "When the weather is nice, paddle hard. When it's raining, paddle harder!
Gary and Jeff came back after an hour or so and seemed a little down. Jeff started mentioning something about this turning into a "site seeing" day and maybe take a drive up to Sleeping Bear Dunes. I replied "I hope you aren't pussying out on me. I came to paddle." The glove had been thrown down, they began to get ready.
We headed for the Manistee, a river that parallels the Pine. It's a big river and our route started at the Hodenpyl Dam down to the upper reaches of the Tippy Lake. The Manistee here flows fast with lots of big river eddies and boils. It's no real challenge but the scenery is beautiful with more deep forest and huge sand banks, some as high as 150 feet.
The shuttle was set with minimum effort. At the put in we met two fishermen who were going down in a big boat. (Float only no motors). The entry had a set of stairs like yesterday. I wondered if they intended to sea launch. Gary carried his Loon down.
It was still raining hard and steady as I pulled away. I decided to take Cliffs advise and paddle harder. In no time I couldn't see my Buds in the rear so I just kept to the main current and stroked steady. At one point the winds started to increase, but it was only temporary. Even with the rain it was a nice day. I was glad I put RainX on my glasses. They would bead up and a quick wipe with a finger would clear them. I stopped for a snack in a cedar grove around 11:30 and when leaving Jeff and Gary caught up. I waited with them while they had lunch. Too bad I didn't bring my alcohol stove. We could have had hot soup and coffee.
We drifted the remainder of the trip together. At one point we could see fog rising from the hills. It never completely stopped raining. At the take out I was to wait while the others went to get Jeff's' truck so I leaned my canoe up on a low limb and took refuge underneath. A little cheese and pita and I was set for a nap!
Camp looked a little ragged with mismatched tarps drooping all around. But hey, once we got a fire going it was home. A pitch in dinner of grilled hamburgers with onion, beans and weenies and spanish rice tasted great.
Our last night, tomorrow one more paddle and the drive home.
I forgot to mention; while shuttling on Day 3 I noticed a small crack in Gary's' windshield. He said it wasn't there before the trip, another shrapnel casualty? We were crowded in the front seat of Gary's mini-truck so I thought it would be good to roll down the window. When I did it fell off track and jammed half down. Another problem!
Day 4 dawned overcast but at least no rain. Gary and Jeff headed for the diner again for breakfast so Gary told me to help myself to the leftover food in his cooler. I had a small cooking fire going in a jiffy, nothing like eggs and bacon over an open fire!
They returned in an hour and I had most of my gear packed and one tarp down. We decided to paddle a section of the upper Pine from Elm Flats to Dobson Bridge, (about eight miles) then head home.
The river here is small and again fast flowing. Quick maneuvering around switchbacks is required. I decided to practice strokes again, but with a twist, this time paddling on ONE SIDE only, and keeping my paddle in the water at all times. I found by using draws, prys, running prys, sweeps, back ferries, and stem or post turns all linked together by the "Indian Stroke" I could control my boat without removing the blade from the water. After forty five minutes to an hour I got tired and changed sides. Big fun.
We picked up a few scattered pieces of litter as we went. The morning was nice, at one point I thought the sun would poke through but it was not to be. After three hours or so we finished at Dobson Bridge. We loaded all three boats on top of Gary's rack and headed back to pick up Jeff's' truck.
A word about Gary's homemade rack. I looked great, fit his truck perfectly, and was painted white. But when he added the extensions so all three boats could be loaded we found his extensions consisted of two pieces of channel iron that fit inside on the RIGHT SIDE ONLY, and they weren't quite long enough to hold all three boats. We ended up putting the Mohawk in the middle, and leaning my stripper and Gary's kayak on opposite sides, resting against Old Red. The Kayak was cantelivered out over the right side. It looked a sight, but worked!
When we got back to camp guess what? It was raining. We loaded all our gear and started back home. It never stopped raining all the way. We stopped again in Grand Rapids for lunch (Jeff is a creature of habit, remember he has paddled the Pine River spring and fall for twenty years?) when Gary informed us he has lost his billfold! Another casualty? Gremlins? What a trip!
(Jeff has since e-mailed me the billfold was found in his truck behind the seat.)