I had an afternoon obligation on Saturday, but was bound and determined to get some time on the water and an opportunity to set-up and break camp — an equipment shake-down.
I arrived at Deer’s Mill on Sugar Creek at about 5:00. The local canoe livery, Clement’s, allowed me to park the truck on their adjacent lot for the night. I’d emailed and arranged to pay to park, but the person on duty wouldn’t take my money.
I unloaded the truck and loaded the canoe. I took my time — developing, practicing and establishing routines. In spite of this I hurried onto to the river. I wanted to make the three miles to camp and gets things set up.
Sugar Creek is known for being a quick stream — as Indiana streams go — and a rocky stream. In my rush to get moving I never took a few minutes to scout a line through the first rock garden below the covered bridge.
In those first few minutes my years of practice and reading were thrown out the window. I found a good tongue, but after that much was lost. I couldn’t see rocks in the late afternoon glare. I thumped and bumped much more than I care to admit. I kept out and began to walk, but immediately filled my knee high boots.
Looking back It was clear I should have spent some time on the bridge above the stream scouting a clean line through the mess. I should have been ready — and wearing the right forward — to jump in and walk the boat through the sloppy parts. I was so intent on getting to the campsite I failed to do a few simple things.
After a few rough runs the stream widened and slowed down. Most of the paddle to camp was much less eventful.
The canoe camp at Shades State Park contains a circle of picnic tables and fire rings around a slightly grassy central area. It sits on a floodplain about 25 feet above and well back from the creek. It is serviced by a road and park employees visit every evening to drop of wood ($6 a bundle) and collect the campsite fee ($14). Unfortunately they arrive after 8:00. That can make camp cooking difficult.
I fired up my Folding Firebox and made a stew. It worked well and was easy to keep going with sticks scrounged from the area.
I slept, for the first time on my L.L. Bean air mattress. It was amazing! It’s light, folds small and is outstandingly comfortable.
The purpose in these trips is to observe birds. I had no time to focus on birding but several barred and screech owls kept me entertained much of the night.
I awoke to overcast skies and wind howling through the treetops. This was not what I was expecting. I switched on my weather radio and found that it received no signal. Bummer.
After a breakfast of bacon, oatmeal and coffee — cooked over the alcohol burner in my Folding Firebox — I loaded up the boat and began the 3 mile trip upstream to my truck.
The winds were worrisome. They were blowing, roughly, straight up the river. Loading requirements to pole upstream and to pole into this strong headwind were at odds. I would pole a bit and a gust would swing me around. I’d adjust my load and try again. This time the wind didn’t cause problems but I couldn’t keep the boats. Nose pointing upstream.
I finally settled on the arrangement shown above. When the wind slacked a bit I could take a step aft. When a gust came speeding overt he water I could step forward. For the most part this system worked out well.
There were still times that I has to line the boat up through the boulders. By adjusting a long bow and stern line I could steer the boat around obstacles. Without my weigh onboard and with my clear vantage point ahead of the canoe I could avoid almost obstacle.
- Stop and scout your route.
- Be ready for all options all of the time.
- Wear gloves when campfire cooking or you will have soot everywhere and on everything.
- Falling asleep beside a campfire is pretty awesome.
- Frying bacon may not be worth the greasy mess.
- Don’t be afraid to get very wet.
- My Sawyer water filter rocks! I cannot imagine that i may never have to worry about the availability of potable water again.
- Chuck Taylor All-Stars are great water shoes