What An Interesting Canoe Trip

Trip Start Sep 06, 2013
Trip End Sep 08, 2013

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Where I stayed
HI Express Salem, MO
What I did
The Current River

Flag of United States  , Missouri
Saturday, September 7, 2013

So, this friend of mine, Jerome has been on me to go with him down to Missouri to the Current River for a canoe trip.  As some of you know, I LOVE canoeing.  I was up for it anytime.  We settled on the weekend of September 6,7 and 8.  We talked about it earlier in the week and it looked like Jerome, a friend of his from Mitsubishi and Brooke from Ride The Nine were going.  

But first, a story.  On Friday, September 6, I stopped in to State Farm to have lunch with the Business Travel Center ladies.  Great time catching up with them.   On the way out I spotted a sign on the HR desk on A-1.  It said, "The WICKED SFEA Event is closed."  Now, I am sure most people who know SFEA is the State Farm Employees Association and understood the sign, but if you were not in the "know" you might just ask, "If the WICKED SFEA event is closed, is the GOOD SFEA event still open????"  I don't know....things that make me go...Hmmmm..???.

I stopped by Ride The Nine to drop off some Chic-Fil-A for a waitress (Mary) who loves it.  While there, I saw Brooke and asked if she was ready for the canoe trip.  She said she couldn't get the day off tomorrow so she wouldn't be going.  No problem...we'll canoe with 3 people.  Two in one canoe, and one in another.   

Anyway, I headed south to Missouri...the Current River.  I've been there many times.  It's funny how you relate things and places to certain events and people.  McLean...home of Dixie Truck Stop, Lincoln...the only town named for him while he was still alive...he actually Christened it with a watermelon.  Elkhart and Williamsville...home of the conveyor belt for the coal mine...you can actually see it along I-55.  The Cloud Factory (also known as the large smokestacks of City Water Light  and Power in Springfield)...and on and on and on.

As I say, I have been down there many times.  First time was with Steve Endsley and friends. Also with Leigh Demling and friends.  I've also been down with the family a few times.  One in particular bears mention.  As I recall, Bryan was a sophomore at BHS.  He was in the marching band, so we took off for the river AFTER his football game Friday night....maybe 9:00 pm or 10:00 pm.  Now, remember it's a 5-6 hour drive.  We got there (actually in Eminence, MO)  about 4:00 am.  We slept in our car until the Harvey's Circle B Campground opened...7:00 am.  After paying for our camping and canoeing, an older gentleman picked us up about 8:00 am to take us up river.  I started up a conversation on the way to our put-in site (Alley Spring)...go figure, I actually struck up a conversation with a stranger..will wonders never cease???  Anyway, nice guy.  I told him how much I enjoyed bringing my son down here to see the river and capture some of the wonders of nature.  We had a great conversation.  I love the river, especially after Labor Day when all the "crazies" are gone.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I am all for having fun, but some of these people go beyond fun to idiotic.  The guy dropped us off and we floated down the river...the clearest spring-fed river you have ever seen...not like the dirty run-off rivers we are used to in Illinois.  It's all spring-fed, so the water is crystal clear.  You can see 10-15 feet the bottom of the river.  Beautiful!  We floated to our campsite and had lunch and then headed back on the river to a place called "Two Rivers" where they picked us up and returned us to our campsite.  

After cooking over the campfire and eating dinner, we slept and decided the next morning we would float the first half again, from Alley Spring down to our campsite, before coming home.  When I went the next morning to the camp store to pay for our float, the lady said, "Sir, your float has been taken care of by the owner."  I said, "Really, who is the owner?"  She said, "Senator Danny Staples."  He was your driver yesterday.  I thought "Senator" was an honorary term.  Turns out, it was not.  Read this about Senator Danny Staples from Eminence, MO when he passed away in 2003.  


The lady said, Senator Staples was so impressed that you would bring you son down here and teach him the art if canoeing and to love the great outdoors, and our rivers here in Southern Missouri, he would pay for your next trip.  I will never forget that. Wasn't that much money, but it goes back to probably my favorite quote, "People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did.  But people will never forget the way you made them feel."  (Maya Angelou)  I think we both made each other feel good that day.   

Anyway, back to the present.  I made the trip all the way to St. James, MO without stopping, and then stopped for gas ($3.25 a gallon) and a Diet Dr. Pepper.  Then I headed down the first of two two-lane roads to the town of Salem, MO, about 30 miles away.  That's the last major town until you get into the real hills.  I decided not to camp this time.  I would just stay in a HI Inn Express in Salem and wait for Jerome and his friend the next morning and we'd head down to Akers Ferry (a place I had never been before on the river).  I texted Jerome and told him I was in Salem and would meet him and his friend there, and we could follow each other to Akers Ferry.
That's when Jerome told me he wasn't sure he was going to be able to make it.  WHAT???  I am down here by myself?  Jerome said the would keep me posted.

In the meantime after checking into the HI Express (upgrade to King Suite, thank you!)   I headed to a bar and grill the receptionist at the hotel recommended, called The Roadhouse.  She said they had the best steaks in town and they were reasonable.  Turns out she was quite correct.  Ribeye, baked potato, salad (I declined the Texas Toast)...$17.  Dinner was very good.  However, I have become used to Illinois law and I have to say the fact that smoking was allowed in the bar and grill did bother me some.  Never thought it would.  

Anyway, back to the hotel and another text from Jerome....can't make it.  Oh well.  It is what it is and sometimes you have to make the best out of a bad situation.  I decided to go it alone on the river the next day.  

Up early...6:15...after breakfast, out the door by 7:00 am.  I headed south to Akers Ferry.  23 miles...29 minutes.  Why?  Because it's up and down and all around.  Top speed 55.  Slows to 30 or 35 mph quite often.  It was foggy in the early morning in Southern Missouri.  Very pretty.   I was there in about 25 minutes.  I walked in and told the nice lady behind the counter that I wanted to canoe today, but was by myself.  She suggested a kayak.  Now, as some of you know, I am an experienced canoeist. Chicago to St Louis, Kansas City to St Louis, Turkey Run, Current River, Jacks Fork and many rivers in Illinois...the Mackinaw, the Sangamon, the infamous Salt Creek which Sandy will never forget and I will never live down....don't try it!  But I have never kayaked.  I have always been of the mind that kayaks were less stable than canoes and more susceptible to tipping...a concept of which I am opposed.  Some people go canoeing to get wet.  That is not my goal.  Anyway, she asked a nice man to help me and he suggested a low riding kayak rather than one that just floats on top of the water.  Lower center of gravity = more stability.  OK.  Then how far...I said I wanted to spend most of the day on the river.  She suggested Akers Ferry (right here) to Round Spring.  About 20 miles.  She says most people can do it from 6-8 hours, they could pick me up at 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm or 6:00 pm.  I suggested 4:00.  Done...$25.   Oh, and a disclaimer which indemnified the rental company from anything and everything, including (and this is actually printed) that you might get wet!!!  Duh!!!  Gotta love lawyers.  Turns out she said some people actually call and ask if they will get wet when they canoe...the answer to that is three-fold...maybe, probably and definitely.  

Nice older guy (I need to be more careful how I use that term!)  took my canoe to the water.  Interesting it's actually at Akers Ferry.  A working ferry which takes cars across the river...cost, $4.  Who'd a thought? 

Fifteen minutes later I had loaded my cooler, snacks, life vest and towels into my kayak, had my water shoes on and I was ready to go.  

Right off the bat was a Class 1 rapid.  No biggie.  Rapids are rated 1 through 7.  All the rapids on the Current River are Class 1 or 2 (the easiest).  Around the next bend in the river was trouble.  There are three main types obstructions you can encounter on the river:  Root balls, Downed Trees and Rocks...or sometimes Boulders.   Right in front of me was double trouble...root ball combined with a downed tree, and the river was flowing rapidly.  

Much of canoeing and kayaking is what I call "reading the river."  You need to determine what the obstruction is, and then find out which way the deep water is flowing, and thus the best way around the obstacle.  You usually can determine that by what is called "The Vs."  I'll explain that in a minute, but suffice to say, I needed to make a quick decision on the best route to take to circumvent the trouble.  I chose unwisely.  The very strong current turned me around rapidly and hurled me right into the middle of the combined root ball/downed tree.  This was a serious situation, one where people at the very least tip and at worst get pinned underneath the mass of tree and root ball and die.  So I am backward into the mass of wood with the water rushing madly, pinning me against the wood.  Then, a strange thought entered my mind.  Jim Broach.  What?  My former boss at SF.  Jim is the most cool, calm and calculated person I have ever met.  (Very Yellow on the Pace Palette Scale!)  I thought, if Jim were here, he'd remain calm and search for the best alternative.  Plan your work and work your plan!  I would try that approach.  There was a limb above me and I climbed up on it, releasing the kayak partially through the obstruction.  I then just stepped back in the kayak and pushed it with my foot.  After that, I sat back into the kayak and the force of the water propelled me safely through the obstruction.  Now that was a harrowing first experience and a real adrenaline rush for my first time in a kayak.  I hoped the rest of the day would be more calm.      

As I say, most of canoeing or kayaking is "reading the river."  It's all about the "Vs."  If you are heading down stream and see a rapid or obstruction of some sort, you look for the V.  The obstruction creates a natural "upstream" V and you want to head your kayak or canoe right into the crux of the V.  Conversely, if the V is downstream...that is the obstruction is probably a rock or log submerged underwater and you want to steer clear of those types of Vs.  Probably easier explained on the river rather than in print.  Canoeing or kayaking is an exercise in reading what the river is telling you and then reacting to it correctly.  Oh, and the smooth stretches of gently flowing water...that's ideal for snacking or cracking open a cold beverage.  Seems to me those cold beverages go faster on the river.  I remember canoeing with Ken Menestrina, Mark Johnson and Mike Neuber on the Mackinaw River once.  We brought one case of beer per person for the weekend...96 beers.  At the beginning of the second day we discovered we only had 20 beers left total!!!  We had to start rationing beers!  Of course we rationalized that by the fact the we all spilled at least one!  Right!!!         

Most of the rest of the day was pretty uneventful, except for two more rather harrowing incidents as a result of a submerged log I was trying to avoid, and actually did, but didn't see it's evil twin next to it that hung me up and spun me around.  And a submerged rock that I just flat didn't see.  Some weight-shifting on my part dislodged me successfully on both occasions.  

The water is wonderfully clear down here.  All spring fed.  Constant temperature year round of 55-60 degrees.  Chilly at times, but refreshing when it's hot.  The wildlife is plentiful.  You can see and hear ducks, birds, fish, snakes, turtles.  You can hear the cicadas loud and clear.  At one time I saw a swarm of hundreds of dragonflies.  It must be mating season for dragonflies.  Not sure, but they were plentiful.    

I paddled into a cave where some other guys were canoeing along with their dog.  I only passed a handful of other canoests and kayakers.   The best thing about going after Labor Day.  I passed a put-in called Pulltite at 11:00 am.  An hour ahead of schedule.  I met a man who does Revolutionary War reenactments.  They were down here scoping out a place to ford the river.  And I had lunch....just like every little kid, I had a Lunchable!  I snacked on Chex Mix, peanuts and sunflower seeds.  

I made my way the rest of the way downstream maneuvering my kayak around and through many obstructions and eventually to my take-out point, Round Spring, just past the bridge over Route 19.  I asked some guys who were there what time it was.  2:30.  I was way early. But fortunately, a guy by the name of Chris from Akers Ferry Canoe Rental came by about 5 minutes later, and in ten more and I was on my way back to my car.  My first kayaking trip was an unqualified success if you don't count some sore muscles and a blister on my thumb from the double paddle I was not used to.  I was quite happy!  

I spent the night in Salem again, and headed home Sunday.  That's how to take what could have been a disappointing situation and turn it into a good one!  The one thing I discovered I could do on this trip was kayak and I have always wanted to canoe/kayak the entire 90 miles of the Current River from Baptist Camp (first put-in) to Van Buren, MO.  I think I can do it in 4-5 days.  That that will be another great adventure.  Something to look forward to! 

Stay happy and healthy my friends and family!



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