Turning Around

730 miles of driving, 14 hours in the truck and we never got the boats wet on this day. Plans don’t always turn out the way you expect, but with adaptation and a positive attitude a potentially ruined weekend trip transforms into a hometown adventure. Another river experience I’ll never forget.

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Watching the weather bring rain to NE Iowa and into Wisconsin set in motion our plans for a winter boating trip to the Peshtigo River. As rain fell, and a lot of it, the river gauges rose and we watched, waited to see just how high it would crest. The river crested at a great high level (22” or so) and we firmed up our plans about a day before our departure.

With the gear loaded Friday evening we hit the road at 3am Saturday morning. The drive went by quickly, interspersing our route with blacktop roads through the Wisconsin countryside. We arrived at the Peshtigo River about 10am. We got out of the truck excited for the paddling we would soon be doing, but a shock of consternation hit us as we gazed upon the thick slushee rushing down the Peshtigo next to Kosir’s. “Wow” we simultaneously uttered. “Didn’t think there would be this much ice already”. With doubt in our minds we headed into Kosir’s to change into our gear anyway. Half geared up, hoping and contemplating we jumped in the truck and headed to the put in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our eyes locked immediately with the river as soon as the put in was in sight. The slushee flow looked even more dense as we walked the short distance to the river side. Upstream as far as we could see was ice flowing. I chucked in a couple of rocks towards the ice slush flowing by. Phoosh! They easily went right through, confirming the icebergs here really were just slush. Further contemplation ensued as we walked downstream to the first riffle watching and pitching in a few sticks too. The slushee flow looked thick as ever as we watched for a few minutes. Umph!! With an ever-hopeful sigh, we drove downstream for further investigation at Horserace, the largest rapid on the run.

Arriving at Horserace a few minutes later did nothing in the way of assuaging our concerns about running the Pesh today. The slush was still flowing by and now we spotted good-sized ice chucks floating and tumbling by as well. We him-hawed and discussed beside the river, weighing the pros and cons amongst ourselves.

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Is this really a good idea? Can we get out of the river if needed? Will there be more ice shelves? Surely the river isn’t frozen all the way across in the slow sections, right? Is it just slush or is it really icebergs? What if one of us has trouble, can the others help? How fast will I get cold? Sure would make for some incredible photos and video. We drove 7 hrs to get here, we should just run it!

After debating for what seemed like a few hours, in reality the decision was made in few minutes. The final group decision was made; we would not paddle the Peshtigo today. We weighed the factors, the weather, our skills, and decided it was just too risky for us today. We trudged back to the vehicles. We would not wait and hope for the ice flow to be done later today or maybe tomorrow (Sunday). We opted to turn around.

Despite being somewhat crestfallen about our sudden change in plans, Marty and I agreed that if we hurried back home we could still head to Charles City Whitewater tomorrow to catch the Cedar River flowing at 2300cfs. New hope for paddling somewhere this weekend flickered into a flame and once again my excitement for soon to be paddling ignited my spirit, warming my heart in the chill of winter and energizing me for the 7 hour trek back home.

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Charles City turned out to be wonderful, a perfect medium level for surfing, flatspins, cartwheels, and loops. As much as I wish we could have paddled the Peshtigo, it just wasn’t in the cards this trip. It was a chance we took this time of year. I’m happy we were able to weigh our abilities and the conditions present to mutually come to our conclusion to not paddle the icy Pesh.

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This trip was another experience, a chance to assess my abilities and an opportunity to make a decision for myself and as a group. I firmly believe because of our positive attitude, willingness to be flexible and adaptable to the conditions at hand we were able to recalculate quickly. Thus turning what may have been a ruined weekend into an unforgettable memory. It really does matter how you choose to look at the circumstances at hand. For me, I chose to find the best in the situation and to explore the next option for happy paddling! (And some ice cream to top off cold weather paddling!)

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