Looking Glass River Jan 19, 2013

Rodney and I decided to paddle down the Looking Glass River today. He has paddled here before, but it was my first time on this river. Since there was only the two of us paddling today and the river was fairly close to home, we decided to get an earlier start so we could be on the water by 10:00.

It was already 40 degrees as I arrived at the takeout spot in Portland. There was a trace of snow on the ground, although even that was gone by the time we finished. That was still more than we have at home. The weatherman had predicted snow on three days in the past week, but as usual it amounted to nothing on the ground. We have had less than 10" of snow this winter, about 30" below normal.

I was halfway to Portland when I realized I didn't bring a camera, and I had left my cell phone at work, so I wasn't able to get any pictures on the trip. It as a mistake I soon came to regret.

We saw far more wildlife on this trip than on any other paddle I have been on. We must have seen close to a hundred geese and ducks. They must have known this was going to be a mild winter, so they decided not to migrate south. It seemed there were blue heron around every bend, and the ever present kingfishers screeched at us most of the way down the river. I very rarely see deer on any of the paddles I have been on, but today we saw at least 75, including several buck that still had their antlers. We would scare up three to ten at a time. They must have been seeking shelter in the lowlands near the river in advance of a coming storm. But what I really missed getting a picture of was the large bald eagle that took off directly over us. He flew about a hundred yards downstream and landed in a tree directly above the river. He seemed to pose for us for several minutes, probably mocking us for not having a camera, then took off again and flew directly over us.

The river itself had a variety of conditions. The wind was fairly strong much of the way. Ice lined the banks most of the way down river, but the rest of the water was clear and open. There were a lot of houses along the river in some areas, but also plenty of farm land and woods. There were quite a few downed trees that made for some difficulty, and we got hung up going over several of them. There was one portage required where the downed tree spanned the entire river and we had no way around it. The ice along the banks made getting out a little more tricky, but it made the kayaks slide easily so we wouldn't have to carry them.

The current also varied greatly, from wide open, slow moving water to lively current with short stretches of riffles. Large rocks also were scattered throughout the river that kept things interesting as we would not be able to see many of them until we were about to hit them. We floated over several small rock dams that spanned the river. Except for plunging my arm in the water to keep myself from tipping over trying a seal launch, we did manage to stay dry today.

It was about a four and a half hour trip, a little longer than usual. There are no good access points on the river between our put-in and take-out points so we couldn't shorten the trip at all. Rodney is a strong paddler, and is used to longer trips like this, even though he is ten years older than I am. He paddled over 700 miles last year, even with missing 2 months in the summer with health issues. It was a little more difficult for me since I usually go on trips of about 10 to 13 miles. The extra gear required for winter paddling also makes it more strenuous, and I was a bit tired and sore afterward.

Today's paddle: 16 miles. Year to date: 32.1 miles. We will need to come back to do this river again in the summer.

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Thornapple River Jan 12, 2013

 Winter has made itself scarce here again. With partly cloudy skies and a high forecast for a record 60 degrees, a quick trip was put together down the Thornapple River. While having snow on the ground would be much more beautiful than the grays and browns of a snowless winter day, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather to get a trip in.

It was good to see Michal Ann and Jake, her black lab, on the river with us again. It had been a long time since we paddled together.
While this stretch of river is usually slow, the water level and current were good thanks to almost an inch of rain Thursday night. And being "winter" there were no bugs to worry about like there are on summer trips on this stretch.
It was 57 degrees when we put in shortly after 1:00. Considering there was such short notice of the trip, we did have ten kayakers show up, including several paddlers who were new to the group.
There were quite a few downed trees to avoid, but nothing that we had to portage around. The current did make for a few tricky maneuvers around some of them, though.

It is a good thing it was as warm as it was since one of the new paddlers didn't make it around one tree and went for a swim. I could see it coming because he had been having trouble getting caught sideways on several of the downed trees and was making the mistake of trying to grab on to the branches. While he has kayaked before, it was mostly on large rivers and lakes where there are not as many problems with downed trees. He did have dry clothes to change into, and we were less than a mile from the takeout. 

The backwaters of the Middleville Dam slowed the current down, and left more room to enjoy the trip without worrying about going for a swim.
 Except for a kingfisher, very little wildlife was seen, although the birds were singing like it was spring.

The takeout at the dam in downtown Middleville. We made the trip in a little over an hour and a half. The temperature had fallen to 51 degrees by the time we finished, and there is freezing rain and snow forecast for tonight. Maybe next weekend we will have some snow for a real winter paddle.

Paddled Today: 4.6 miles. Year to date: 16.1 miles.

New Years Day Paddle - Pere Marquette River

Tuesday was the annual New Years Day paddle. Twelve kayakers showed up for a trip down the Pere Marquette River. We put in at M-37 and paddled to Bowman Bridge, the same stretch we did in November.
 We have had a slow start to winter again this year. What little snow we got before Christmas melted right away, and it was beginning to look like it would be a repeat of last winter. But the day after Christmas, a small storm blew through, and the temperature stayed below freezing all week so it didn't melt.
The Pere Marquette is one of the most commonly paddled rivers in the winter since the strong current keeps it mostly clear of ice. It never got much below freezing before Christmas Day, so the ice really didn't had a chance to form.
There wasn't a lot of snow, just a couple inches at home, and about 4 inches in Baldwin. We did pass through a brief snow shower while driving through Chase, raising hopes we would paddle in fresh snow, but there were only a few snow flurries throughout the rest of the day. The temperatures were in the low 20's, but with very little breeze so there was no problem with wind chill.
The current was strong and the water level was good so there were few of the problems with submerged rocks or shallow spots that we had encountered in November. The downed trees were mostly cleared up too. It was a pretty easy run, allowing more time to enjoy the scenery and the company of good friends.
Except for a few kingfishers and bluejays, there was no sign of wildlife.
A brief stop for lunch along the river to stretch and warm up. 
Everyone stayed dry today, and except for a few cold hands and feet, we all had a great time. We may have to paddle the Pine River this weekend.
A trip to a local bar for a bite to eat and warm up, and great conversation was the perfect end to a great day.
Miles paddles today: 11.5. Off to a good start for the new year.

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