Wednesday, July 01, 2009

from the Wisconsin River: paddling toward the Mississippi, day 2

Beautiful day outside! – This from Ed, just a few minutes ago, as I force myself to poke out of the tent. The man who at home would never say a kind word about a day until it was over and done with tells me now it’s heaven on earth out there.

I look around. At least it’s not raining.

But then, yesterday started out dry as well. Let me think back now: cloudy. Yes, it had been a cloudy morning. We aren’t hurrying. I work, Ed takes out his burner to fix breakfast: instant coffee and cereal bars. And squashed nectarines and wine-infused bread (we had taken along a small carton of wine for supper and it leaked). Then, a quick splash of soap on exposed parts of the body (too cold for the works), then more reading time inside the warm tent.

We have no daily goal – only to make progress, loosely defined: we need to get back home at roughly the time Ed’s cat sitter thinks we’re coming back.

A little after 11, we set out.

The river is wide and beautiful.


But the sandbars are a challenge. You think you’re in a deep spot and suddenly you realize you paddled right into a hidden island of sand. Several times, we’re out in the middle of the river, tugging our kayaks to the sudden drop off where the boats can float again.

We are alone on the river this entire day. Along the banks, too, all is quiet. Green. Very very green.


The clouds are messing with us. They let out a sprinkle, just ever so slight and then they move on. Eh, we’ve been lucky. Luck will hold.

Some three hours later we approach the first bridge leading into Spring Green.


This is no river town (for one thing, it’s set a couple of miles away from it). Back in Madison, we think of it as being on the artsy side – Wisconsin’s headquarters for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and home to the American Players Theater. We’re not especially anxious to stop there, but we need water and WiFi would be handy too. (Ed had called ahead and the library was indeed open on this day, and free WiFi was readily available, though the librarian warned us that they did not permit people to use the electrical outlets. Bizarre.)

As we come closet to the bridge (and the construction of the parallel bridge), we begin to have second thoughts about pulling up. It’s so busy up there on the road!

But, if I am out to look for America, it’s here, on highway 14.


We paddle on. By the next bridge (still into Spring Green), we see a mom and two kids and a dog, trying to have a summer day, out here on the sandbank, but the weather, cloudy and cool, just isn’t helping.


I ask a guy with a fishing rod if he knows of a boat landing further down (it’s on our river map, but the river map is very very old). Don’t know. Not from around here.

We can’t decide. Pull over and hike along the road to town, or hope that landing further down. We take a bet on the landing and paddle on. These main roads are so repulsive after the quiet of the river. The idea of walking two miles each way just doesn’t sit well.

We scoot around the sandbars and keep to the shore, looking out for a place to dock. And it’s there, just as the map had indicated – Bob’s private boat landing.

We pull up on the sandy beach. A woman is standing on the deck, smoking a cigarette. Bob’s appears to be a cottage/campground kind of place. A family run business. She’s part of the family.

Windy out there?
Yes, gusty as anything. How far is it to town from here?
Bout a mile and a half.
May we leave our boats here for a couple of hours? There’s a grocery store up the road, right? We need some supplies.
What are you looking for?
Water. Snacks. WiFi.

I say it almost comically. As if I’m wistfully recalling civilization.
Got it all here.
Really? Can we get some food? And water? And use your Internet?

Bob’s is also a bar, with, well, Wisconsin bar food: burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, pizza.
We stay for supper.

I see you have pepperoni or sausage on your pizza and then there’s a third – deluxe. What’s deluxe?
Pepperoni and sausage together. It’s frozen. Tombstone.
And for an appetizer – there’s broccoli flowerettes?
Yep. In cheese, deep fried.

We settle for chicken sandwiches, french fries and fried cheese curds. With local beer. The room is first empty, then a few men come in for a drink, then it’s empty again. We work away on our computers and eat an early supper.

And by 6, we are on the water again. And by 6:15 it’s raining. And by 6:20, it’s really raining. By 7 we’re on the lookout for a camping spot. It’s unpredictable, here on the river: for miles, we’ll pass one great spot after another and then there will be stretches of no good landing place at all.


By 8, Ed is saying – a good half hour left of daylight.

I’m wet, the boat’s wet and still no good sandbar. How about this one? Too low. That? No place to pitch a tent.

And then, just as we spot the bridge to the village of Lone Rock in the distance, we find it: a nicely elevated sandbar. You have to count on luck, no? It’s too miserable if luck runs out.

Or is it? Some people just bypass the luck/no luck label altogether.
Great day outside! Simply great – Ed says again as he looks up toward the cool, cloudy sky.