Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pine River

We have been living in this area for almost three years, and haven't canoed any of the rivers up here until this past Saturday. Luckily for me, my tooth decided to leave me alone for most of Saturday (though it just about killed me on the way home).

Since we failed to get a river pass on Friday, and would end up having to drive all over the place to get everything together (North to Cadillac for the pass, south-east to the cottage for the canoe), we decided to rent. It turned out to work out well because I decided that I really like those Old Town Royalax canoes. The lack of a skeg on the bottom (made possible by the Royalax material) allows them to slip over obstructions very well.

We put in at Elm Flats, which is supposed to be a six hour trip to Peterson Bridge. That's a bit long for a day trip, since we got a late start, and Don has never done a river before.

The pine river is touted as being one of the finer canoing rivers in Michigan. Unfortunately, that means that everyone who wants to have a drunken canoe ride chooses that river.

Bad choice.

If you want to paddle around and get drunk, or you just want to float down the river and enjoy the scenery, you should choose something a bit lazier, like the Manistee or parts of the Au Sable. Maybe the Muskegon -- but I can't say for sure because I have only seen it and have never canoed it.

The Pine River doesn't have class IV rapids or anything like that, but it has some fast water, a bunch of obstructions, and it winds and turns all over the place. It doesn't take a bunch of skill to successfully navigate, but you definitely have to pay attention and know what you're doing.

In general, canoing in a river takes some thought. For one thing, you aren't going in the direction that the canoe is pointing. The speed of your canoe is vector added to the speed of the current, and the speed of the current changes all the time. It tends to go faster on the outside of a curve, for instance.

So, if you want to go between two rocks, you don't line up on the rocks. You point upstream of the rocks and hope you still have maneuvering room when you get there. It also helps if you can judge where the current will speed up or slow down. If one end of the canoe is in faster current than the other end, the current is going to try to turn your canoe. It's not that hard, but it does take practice.

Also, you need to watch out for underwater obstructions. Of course, the obstructions (rocks, trees, and the like) make waves. If you see a "V" pointing upstream, avoid the point. If you see a "V" pointing downstream, head for the point. If you're going to hit it anyhow, try to hit it straight on. If you're going sideways, be prepared to shift your balance in an attempt to stay afloat. If the canoe tips enough to take on water, it becomes extremely unstable.

In general, what you want to do is to go with the flow as much as possible. Try to position yourself so that the current will take you where you want to go, but be prepared to paddle aggressively if you need to shift yourself to a better spot.

By the way, the Pine River is cold. It's cold all year long. Lots of people know that from experience. Sometimes, it's fun to stake out a particularly tricky curve in the river, camp out above it, and watch the show.

I hadn't canoed a river in quite some time -- not since the last millennium, as a matter of fact. It took about half an hour to get back into the swing of things. We hit a few obstructions, misjudged a few openings, got stuck on some log jams, and the like, but were still dry.

Don was enjoying himself tremendously. The scenery from a river can't be beat. A couple times, we saw a mother duck with ducklings. The scenery changes constantly. In fact, if you're used to canoing rivers, lakes seem pretty boring.

Near the end of the trip, we approached a bend to the right. There were people lined up on the right bank, and there was a large log to the left. I lined up for a good approach, but there was a kid floating up to his neck right in the middle. I had to go around him to the left (downstream -- so that the water won't push us into him).

This put us into some faster current that turned the canoe and pushed us right into the log.

There was one branch just under the water, and another at about chest height. Don's end of the canoe slid right over the log, but the back end of the canoe bottomed out, and the branch above the log was at my chest. I knew right there that this was a very tricky situation. In fact, I vaguely remember that log from a previous trip.

What I had to do is grab the top log and lift up. This took weight from the back of the canoe and allowed it to go forward. Then, I had to lean back over the end of the canoe and let the log pass over my face.

When you lean over the end of a canoe, you are in a very unstable position. It takes very little to dump at that point.

And that's exactly what we almost did. I'm sure that we came within inches of taking on water. We caught ourselves, though.

And so, no river has gotten me yet! [gloat, gloat]

For the most part, we just paddled calmly down the river. I like to keep up just enough speed to have some steerage. If you're dead in the water, you can't maneuver very well. We had problems with people coming pretty much to a stop in front of us, though. I generally have Don stop paddling, and hang way back as they go through the trickier areas. Then, when I find a good place, we pass them and continue on our trip.

There was one pair of canoes that were all over the river in front of us. I suspect that they were intoxicated. One of the women, wearing a string bikini, stood up in the canoe and bent over not too far in front of us. I was going to comment to Don that he should enjoy the scenery, but he didn't seem to notice. I suspect that'll change in a couple years.

We passed the first canoe, and approached the second -- the one with the bikini.

One thing I noticed was that everyone was wearing a swimsuit of some sort, even though it wasn't exactly warm that day. You would think that they would put a shirt on or something.

As we passed the front canoe, the girl commented about our nice, warm, dry shirts. She was wondering how we came to have nice dry shirts. In fact, she positively coveted our nice, warm, dry shirts. The guy commented that he had been freezing for the last two hours.

I guess they weren't as successful at staying aboard their craft as we were.

Really, if you want to do the Pine, you need to be prepared to get dunked. Either go on a warm day, or put some extra clothes in a waterproof container (and tie the container to the boat).

Of course, we didn't follow our own advice. We were lucky that time.

I have no gratuitous pictures ready, but I'll pull up some river pictures that I already have on my web site.

This is an old picture. I was home on leave, and decided to go canoing on the Manistee with my cousin Paul.


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