Monday, July 31, 2006

down by the banks, of the Kickapoo

I have always wanted to go down the Kickapoo River.

I did not say those words. I don’t know much about the Kickapoo River. There isn’t any river, in fact, that I wanted to go down all my life. But I have been itching to kayak again, ever since my delicious run along the rapids of Languedoc last month.

Ed, I say to the man with the boats and good paddling arms, we need to do a river run.

Most people would perhaps not choose to exert themselves on a day when the temps are crossing the hundred degree mark significantly before noon. Most people would enjoy their air conditioning, their ice cold beer or rose wine, their remote controls, or at the very least their back yards, preferably with the sprinkler on.

I don’t have a back yard. To get close to nature, I need to leave town.

Most people, when they do choose to do strenuous activities on a day when the temps are crossing the hundred degree mark very early in the day, set out even earlier. Not me. I have to eat my granola, drink my latte, study any number of things on the Internet. Indeed, Ed and I are famous for starting late on our hikes.

By 11 a.m. we are speeding due west in Ed’s pickup truck, kayaks and bikes bouncing in the back for the several hour trip to the Kickapoo. I feel very regional-seasonal, what with the rolled down window of the old pickup truck, and the radio crackling loudly as it tries to reach for fleetingly available stations.

We leave our bikes at the point where we will finish our trek down the river. We drive up to a bridge some miles up and unload the kayaks.

The Kickapoo has the reputation of being the crookedest river in the world. Maybe. It did seem to twist and turn an awful lot. It’s also not boring. Heavily wooded banks…

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…sandstone cliffs, ferns and firs…

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And the usual water wildlife. Nothing to get nervous about… [This guy is staring at me, challenging me with his tongue, I swear! Or so it seemed at the time.]

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But it most certainly was hot. At times I felt I was floating down the Mississippi, oh somewhere around Mississippi, the state. I doubt the Kickapoo looks anything like the Mississippi, the state, but still, I imagine southern rivers to feel like this on a hot summer day:

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In sunny spots, it’s all you could do to keep your clothes on. Empty stretches of river, the hot sun on your shoulders – oh, to be in southern France again and let that wind cool your skin from all sides!

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But no. This isn’t the Mississippi, this isn’t the Mediterranean, this is the Kickapoo in Wisconsin.
Oh, watch it! Move! (Does my insurance cover kayak collision with cows?)(Paddle furiously backwards.)

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where is everyone?

It was near 6 by the time we reach the landing where we had deposited our bikes. Four solid hours of paddling in the 100 plus plus temps calls for a pause. We are in the village of LaFarge, population 775. Nothing much happening on a Sunday evening in LaFarge when the thermometer is still registering 99 (yep; note the numbers in photo below). Wait, there’s always a bar to be found.

Can you go inside and see what this one is like?
Nina, if I am going inside, I’m staying inside. This isn’t like a restaurant that you check out to see if the d├ęcor and menu are appropriate.

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Inside, the AC is running hard. The air is a musty cool, saturated with the heady combination of tobacco, beer and fried foods. Gunsmoke is up on the two TV screens. The bar tender comes over to take our orders. He catches our glance up at the screens.

Sorry, not much else on on a Sunday evening.

We order Spotted Cows (the beer), french fries and pretzels. A sign reads “good eats!” Fries seem like the best bet.

Outside, the air is still. I had worried about storms (Will I get hit by lightening? I don’t know, Nina), but sometime when we were out on the river, the last cloud disappeared and the sky turned a solid blue. We bike back along the old highway. The sun is low, the colors are sublime.

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The truck is there, we load up, go back for the kayaks and head due east. It’s dark now – the stars are out. Ed wants to stop for an ice cream bar at a Kwik Trip. Heath Crunch. Save the Last Dance for Me on the radio, sticky everything from the heat, Heath Crunch melting fast in the warm pickup. Am I living the American life, or what?