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A Weekend on the Kickapoo River (Wisconsin Canoeing/Kayaking) Part II

Did you read Part I of canoeing the Kickapoo River?

We awoke to what sounded like rain. Pattering on the tent, however, were the accumulated drops of the heavy mists condensing on the leaves above. The gunshots (.22 we figured?) we had heard nearby the evening before started up again. Someone must really not like squirrels. As we broke camp, the sun began to burn it off, but we still did about an hour of paddling before it was completely gone.

We discussed our plan if something untoward were to happen to Meg’s canoe. Options included feigning a broken leg incident, arguing that one of the massive dead trees fell and split it in half, and simply leaving the country. In the end we just went with cringing every time we slipped over some pebbly patches in the shallows or we broadsided deadwood on a tricky passage.

The leaves in some places were already more like we’d expect in October. Nice for photos but depressing reminders that summer disappeared on us without ever really giving us a chance. In two hours or so we reached La Farge and pulled out to unload all unnecessary items from the canoe and store them in my car. This last stretch might get tricky and the extra weight made a big difference. Naively we figured if it was bad enough, we could just paddle back upstream and skip it. The current along the first mile was consistently strong, still nothing of Class-anything rapids, but nevertheless enjoyable and requiring some quick navigation through and around shallow patches and deadwood. We were making really good time for that first mile or two. How bad could it be, anyway? What’s a few portages? The river is wide enough that probably there is SOME kind of channel through, right?

Then we came to the first logjam. Rob and Dave definitely had to get out and lift the canoe over to the other side at a narrow spot in the “dam”. But a few loosened limbs (tree, not human) opened up enough of a flow over one log that I could take a running start and glide right over. So we decided that technically that meant I hadn’t gotten out, so really we didn’t have to count it. Well, the next one wasn’t exactly so easy.

We had to climb a steep muddy bank and then haul our craft down the shore through stinging nettles and as it turns out, at least for me the trailblazer, chiggers. Good times! Good thing we didn’t have the cooler and tent and such.

This is one of 40 Wisconsin canoe trips detailed in my book Paddling Wisconsin:

And then we were off again. Until the third blockage. And the fourth. And lost count somewhere in the neighborhood of fourteen as this “six miles” started to seem a lot longer than possibly just double that. The Kickapoo River really has some twisting to it and throughout the day we were heading in all four directions of the compass. In fact, we started to doubt. Doubt is a funny thing. Sometimes it defies logic, but we were not paddling lazily like the day before and still there was no sign of Viola. Was there an east and west branch of the Kickapoo? Did we somehow not recognize the pull out hidden above the lip of the bank? Say, did I even ask if the little pull out in Viola was even ON the Kickapoo??? What if that was one of the many feeder creeks and we passed it? Each subsequent logjam made us wearier and the loss of the sandstone cliffs and the stiff current took a lot of the fun out of it. And then I reached the tipping point.

Meaning I filled the kayak and took a swim. By this time we were getting quite good at skipping along the logs and loading the canoe and kayak over. This big jam took but a minute or three to cross. I had actually climbed over everything, hopped from log to log dragging my kayak along with me, and it was as I was doing the “easy” part of just getting back in, that I decided a nifty sliding launch off the final log was in order. Apparently, one must have a bit more 1) forward momentum or 2) less altitude so that when the nose hits the water, the tail isn’t still high up on solid wood. What happens then is the force of buoyancy in front holds up (unstably) one end like the log does in back and the kayak now rests on two small points like someone tenderly holding corn on the cob preparing to roll it across their teeth. The rolling part was easy. Dumped me completely. I was lucky I had double checked the dry sack seal to keep my little camera out of the drink.

From here on we paddled hard crossing a few bridges we didn’t know but too stubborn to get out and see what road it might be. We were off the official map, so it wouldn’t have helped much anyway. Even when I finally saw the Viola Library I paddled all the way to it and the river hairpinned right back out of town on a quarter mile loop. At one point the river split in two. I went right and paddled and paddled and paddled to meet up with Rob and Dave who had paddled just 100 feet downstream to see where my branch came all the way back.

When Rob and Dave stopped at a bridge to ask directions, I settled into the super-stubborn and just paddled on until the mowed banks of the village park appeared around the bend. I climbed out through the muddy landing like life first reaching the shores and just lay down on the grass and waited. The thrill of victory.

They arrived not long after and as we packed up we chronicled our sightings: Kingfishers, including one that dove at an angle from across the river right in front of us and snagged a meal. Eagles, tons of hawks (red-tail and Cooper’s I believe, possibly one marsh hawk), muskrat, at least three beavers two quite close up, four or five owls (like logjams numbers get slippery here), one of the owls was silhouetted against the afternoon sky on a tall dead tree and was clearly a Great horned Owl – wish I had a telephoto at that moment, several Great blue herons, a few sandhill cranes just passing by, and an as yet unidentified fish that flopped on top of my kayak and was gone. No deer to speak of though.

The Packers won, by the way. And I’m on Day Five of the Chigger Experience.

Did you read Part I of canoeing the Kickapoo River?

Follow the link for more kayaking/canoeing posts here on my blog and check out my Wisconsin outdoors guidebooks.

Kevin Revolinski

Author, travel writer/photographer, world traveler. Writes about travel, hiking, camping, paddling, and craft beer.

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