We came together for many personal reasons. Some for the nature, some for the healing of that nature, some for the personal challenge. There were skill levels from extreme novice to well seasoned and the wise, to those who over estimated their skills and those who underestimated them. There were under packers and over packers. There were expensive sleek fast craft and box store plastic. Some like me thought they could make it with overloaded garbage scows, with everything including the kitchen sink strapped and hooked on to every square inch of usable space.
The morning was sunny, beautiful and cool. The magic land was calling. Sounds of it churning and gurgling across the rocks beckoned us. “Come to me” it said, “and I will change you.” The excitement was amazing. Old friends coming back together and feeling out the newbies. Can they make it? Are they prepared. Do they need help? We asked ourselves. I’ve got extra dry bags, do you need one? How would you like to have a pretty flag on your boat? Then back up to the parking lot we went. (If the safety briefing was held by the river, the river’s call would have distracted us way to much.)
This challenge was familiar to most on the trip. We cut a line through 32 miles of twisting and winding waters, through a few downed trees, and over shallow riffles. Paddling side by side with old friends and new acquaintances that were soon to become old friends. Over several challenges, we progressed. Some stumbled and picked themselves up and returned to the flow. We arrived at Mohawk Dam full of spunk and fire, we had survived the first day and we had a lot to be proud of.
Slipping and sliding through through the mud, we piled our boats onto trailers and over the dam we went to the great food and company that awaited us. In the back of some of our minds was the dread of the next days challenge of 39 miles, in the heat. Broken up by a new kink in the plan, the prospect of the old broken 6 mile dam project and all it entailed. Some had experienced the transformation of that area and some had only heard. Good conversation and great food and hospitality permeated the skies of Mohawk Dam campsite. Tents went up, hammocks strung between trees, bedding dried out from leaks here and there in dry bags. The sun slowly hid behind the hills and the temperature fell to a chill some wished they had felt that day when the sweat poured off their brows.
Sunshine and stirring, the clatter of equipment being packed. Breakfast smells, sweet bacon and sausage and eggs frying. Excitement coming to a crescendo as boats went on trailers and to the water. No gear today! Pile it here, was heard around the camp. Sighs of relief went through the group. I gladly shed myself of 100 pounds of gear out of my boat. The first group is off to scout the dangers. Into the mist they go, around bends and across riffles they glide. The water is deep and swift, and soon the old dam is found.
The water level has lowered over night and it doesn’t seem to bad. Some take the safest route to the left and easily glide through, some choose the adventure of the riding the wave train and go through easy, and some think they are on mechanical bulls, but all make it through safely. The rest of the day becomes tedious dip after dip of the paddle. Pull and pull, stroke and stroke. Miles and miles of beautiful nature, and more paddling. We pass homes, cities, and villages, and on and on we go. 39 miles of sometimes pure boredom, but for the most part the absolute perfect time to get to know each other.
Campsite in site, we pull onto the ramp which is small so we have no time to doddle, get the boats out of the water so the next person can get theirs out. Find your gear, set up your tent. Find some cold water to drink and some hot to shower and dress for the feast that awaits us. Hot corn, with butter “crack”, pulled pork, and every kind of salad and desert on earth. A open bar with a wild and wonderful bartender serving, it was a great party and just the thing everyone needed. These were good people, salt of the earth, hard working Americans that were giving of themselves to thank us for being there. It was amazing. There were drawings and auctions and giveaways and in the end substantial amounts of cash raised for our cause.
Some retired early, some later, but all slept very well and were ready to go the next morning after a wonderful breakfast served by fellow members not on the trip. Hot coffee and eggs, and bacon and home fries, it was a delight. We were able to sleep in this morning and there was no hurry to get anywhere. It was that long awaited short day where we could take it easy and prepare for the next two days of hard river miles.
Along with us, Olive the magical dog. The being that could spread happiness and bring smiles just with her presence. The super dog that could out swim the boats. The wonderful river smelly ball of fluff and curl that could warm hearts as she passed. I personally was so glad for her presence. I am sure other’s were also.
On the river again, we made it the short miles to Terry’s tavern for a warm lunch and drinks. It hit the spot for sure, but I think after all this generosity from others I was starting to gain weight. Maybe I did not need to be quite as accepting of that extra helping.
We made a large rainbow as we crossed to the other side of the river, all in line, preparing for our first lock experience. (I also think the Lock Master’s first!) Slowly we settled as the water flowed downstream out of the lock and we got to the bottom level. The door creeped open and we were in a rush of water coming from the damn. It churned and we paddled and eventually we were on our way. Our target a bridge in the distance and a lush lawn for our tents.
This was going to be a wonderful night, it was in the air. We had reached camping nirvana. Hot showers, flush toilets, trimmed grass, no weeds and all the pizza you could swallow. Space to spread out, though we didn’t, tents, were right next to each other, except for Bob, his snoring meant we had to put a bit a distance from him! It wasn’t that he kept you awake at night, but when he slept in in the morning, it was like packing in a sawmill! We could have had a campfire, but we chose to sit close at the picnic tables and hash out the day, the past and the future.
The bar was open. and in walks the bar tender! Shots, were poured! Apple Pie shared. Our hosts became the hosted as magical Rose entertained the crowd. The spirit was in the air. We were reminded of the dedication of our trip. Toasts were given. And most retired, as others sat around the campfire sharing of themselves.