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Home > Magazine > Boats > An Outing with a Canoe Gang

An Outing with a Canoe Gang
April 21, 2013

I went on a canoe outing yesterday with a group of guys who've been paddling together for 30 years, since before some of them were born. It's a multi-generation group that grows from 10 to 20 depending on the outing. They have an original outing in mid-Feb up north on the Pine River for a few days. Snow, straw bales, tents and canoes. And a buncha dudes. Some of the original guys were teachers and profs for some of the younger ones.

It was a neat group to be invited to join in with. At one point one of the older guys asked me if my ski group, who he'd heard about, gathers just for the skiing or if there's more to it, like a longterm arc of friends kind of thing. It was an interesting thing to distinguish -- and it's a reason behind my efforts with OYB. There's more to the outdoors than just the outdoors. These guys know that, too.

So about 10 of us met up in the morning to paddle an unfamiliar upper stretch of a mild little Kalamazoo river near Albion. Spring rains had turned it into something bigger and swift, with snags here'n'there. It was about 30 deg F out. Chilly and windy.

The outing went smoothly, with a few stops for refreshments. We had cause to notice the difficulty that kayaks have with portaging around tricky objects -- it's tough to get in and out of them in those conditions.

Then we hit a rough patch and a couple boats tipped over.

One of the guys had something of a close call with being pinned, but we gradually got him loose.

The other guys took a half mile to corral a submerged canoe. There was nothing for them to grab onto -- it was like a whale rolling along, slippery and powerful.

After an hour we got everybody back into dry clothes. We got paddling again after food and drink. One of the guys gave me a dandy cigar: now, that's a nice thing. (I'd tried paddling with my pipe earlier. Doesn't work without a windscreen since you need a hand to shield it so it doesn't flame out. Maybe I coulda packed it tighter.)

For the remaining 2 hours we did pretty good bouncing back.

Afterward we lashed boats to racks and regrouped at the Dark Horse, the local microbrewery in Marshall, home of a well-regarded local label. It was jampacked with hundreds of rowdies. Impressive! I haven't seen so many people or heard so much noise at a local-type venue in our region. It just doesn't happen with our depressed economy and dispersed exurban population. And it was in mid-day! This place has a "members mug" program. I've seen that before -- mugs on the wall. This place had THOUSANDS of mugs lining the walls and ceilings of the sprawling pub. They had an outdoor beer garden that even had quite a few people hanging out despite the cold. They had other shops -- a beer and skate shop (?) and buildings. Lots of parking. A huge, sprawling compound.

After we wound down and went our separate ways, I had time to think things over. My "takeaway" (ooh, I hate that term, but what the heck) was a few things...

A group can be a special thing. Groups have lifelines, lifespans -- it's particularly impressive when they span generations. I suppose this is partly why social groups like the Lions are organized.

This group of course included a lot of kidding around. There were nicknames. I heard that one guy was hard to get out. They were teasing about him having "low social needs." It's true: some need connection more than others.

Also, a group is a unit, all are in it together. This has its pro's and its cons. Indeed, it's tough to experience a set-back, but it can also be challenging to be involved with resolving such situations. They said the wipe-outs today were the worst in their 30 years. Quite a first outing for me to hop in on!

Then there are the technical issues. ...Adventure is in the details.

First, the luxury items: I'm thinking that I could use an improved cockpit area in my boats. A thwart bag seems like the solution. I could use a fanny-pack with drink-holsters and clip it in front of me: presto, easy access to food, drink, camera. As it is, my stuff just lays around me. My mini-drybag is clipped to my seat. It's all a pain. I'm used to the racer-brain, and am not even really dialed in even there. I typically just go out for an hour of hammering or portaging so an empty boat is usually what I have. But for a fun, longer outing: sheesh, it's nice to have comforts close at hand.

Then there's safety: It kinda seems that any boat going on a river should have bright-colored 1/2" floating loose bow and stern lines of, say, 6 feet length. These are great for giving swimmers something to grab onto. They are great for grabbing a submerged boat.

It seems like maybe boats should always have flotation. Clip in your drybags. Use inflation-bags in areas where you won't be moving or storing stuff. Water weighs a ton. Air is light. Keep the water out. Keep the boat floating.

Dry clothes and spare paddles: must-haves. PFD's -- ditto. Wear 'em -- that won't always be enough, but it's a start. My eyes are finally open to the idea that modern PFD's are totally easy to wear. So in any kind of real water, wear 'em. I'm used to paddling and poling in mostly 12". Most rivers aren't like that. Suit up!

Carry a throw-line. It should be thick enough and floating. A thin cord-type line is a pain. It could work but thicker inspires confidence: a big part of rescuing. 1/2", 30 feet. 1/4" will cut ya. Ya can't haul full bodyweights without damage using thin cord.

Learn about and train at unjamming people and boats.

I'm used to mellow riverflow. I should play around with bigger flows on occasion and get a better feel for their dynamics.

I'm not reliable at the "lean downstream" thing. Everybody knows that if you lean upstream you're a goner, but it's your instinct. If you're drifting into a snag it's hard to make yourself lean INTO it.

Race boats are limited. I tend to use them for everything since our local waters are so mellow. But they are bad for dealing with surprises. Sure, I could practice even more with mine and, who knows, maybe become bombproof, but tippy is as tippy does. I can stand in mine, etc., but not stand AND handle waves. Meaning, if I get thrown around I'll be thrown out. They're terrible for rescuing anyone or anything.

Strong rivers requiring maneuvering need a boat made for them. --Rugged ABS with rocker. C'mon!

Probably race boats should only be used in safe conditions, in short.

It's all something to think about, eh?

Well, it was a good day and a good new gang to meet.


Cool dude, ready for action. Wearing sensible drysuit.


Neat overhanging old hotel, eh? We're regrouping in downtown Albion after a buncha detours and portages.

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