Hello I am 65 years old. Two years ago, when COVID hit, I knew that I have to get healthy or possibly die from that dreaded illness. I chose to change my lifestyle by loosing weight and getting active by kayaking, almost obsessively. Here is mostly my story about my upcoming trip down the Ohio River, in May of 2022.
Nothing like preparing for a winter camp out / canoe trip. I go out to the garage, and try to sort out and find all my equipment, and it just gets to cold, so I bring it in the house. One bag at a time, hoping that there are not to many leaves and dead things wrapped up in it to get all over the carpet. Pack and repack, and think, do I really need this? Don’t leave home without it! Lucky there was no dirt or debris to fall all over the carpet.
I run through my head, the activities I will be doing and what do I need for that function. Sleep (most important), Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, wood blankets, check. Clothes. Two day trip, take 5 days worth of clothes. Two days, 6 pairs of wool socks. Two days, 6 pair of long underwear bottoms. Two days, 6, insulated polyester shirts. There seems to be a pattern here. Hats, mittens, wool gloves, NO COTTON. All of this double waterproofed in drybags inside of dry bags.
Coffee! YES! the most important thing truly of any camping trip. I can make it without food, but without coffee, we would be calling the rangers to pick us up on the river. Menu will be very basic, dehydrated stuff so I don’t have to worry about it freezing. No Kokosing River Mud on this trip!
Two days on the Manistee River in Central Michigan are in store for me on December 3 and 4. I look forward to paddling with Stephen Fleming and anyone else that comes. It will be fun digging in the snow to make space to put up a tent. I made a little snow shovel for the boat out of a cheap one I picked up at ReStore for 3 bucks.
I have to admit, I have some apprehension about the cold, but I have done it before, I can do it again and I don’t want to miss a chance to see how beautiful Michigan is in the Winter time. So wish us well. and yes I know I should not be out without a wet or dry suit, I know all this. Gonna do it anyway. My apprehension is not to much seeing as how I am packed two weeks early.
I started out the morning going to Riverside Park in Mount Vernon and filling that box with bags and putting the sponsor sign on the side. Don and Gayle York, thank you again very much for sponsoring this box and the one at the confluence. You might remember this couple from our September River rally, she is the one who had a injury and had to drop out. She is making a fine recovery and will be joining us on future events along, with her husband.
Than it was off to Fredericktown to Kokosing Lake. This box was sponsored by Sonya Bollin and dedicated to all Veterans. Thank you Sonya!
After installing that one I went to the South Marina on Knox Lake and installed a box which has not been sponsored yet.
After that one was installed then I went to the north Marina at Knox Lake and installed a box which is not yet sponsored.
Next I was on my way to Brinkhaven, it was quite a drive. But I got to see Lori Tottman who was having a meeting about the damn removal at brinkhaven. I also picked up some litter around that Park and filled the onion bag box and also put the sponsorship sign on the side. I forgot to take pictures but this box was sponsored by the same family who sponsored the one at Bridge of Dreams except this was Mike Good’s Sister who sponsored this one. Thanks again for the sponsorship from this family who suffered quite a loss when they lost Mike in the Mohican River over Labor Day weekend.
I had quite a trip back to the confluence. It was just a little bit muddy which is an understatement it was absolutely crazy. There was several points I thought while I was going to have to call a tow truck. I made it back there and put the sign on from the sponsor Gail and Dawn York again. Thank you very much for your generosity and caring about the river.
Well I drove to Danville got me a cup of coffee and stopped at the hospital to see Sonya for a second and give her the cup she left in my car last weekend when we went for the Veterans Day float. Then I went to Memorial Park in Mount Vernon and exchange that box with the special one that I made. I just had to do it I wanted to show off that red white and blue box in a place where lots of people would see it.
Thank you again for all our great sponsors who are paying for the bags that will fill up these boxes all year in 2023. That will take the burden off of Paddle for Heroes to raise the money to buy the bags and put in the boxes. This project is expanding exponentially and hopefully someday we’ll have all the access points to all the rivers in Ohio covered!
This little box has changed my life, has given me some hope, has renewed my belief in people. This little box can change the world. I know that sounds like a bunch of bull. “His head is in the clouds again,” some will say. “He is listening to that 60’s Psychedelic Rock again,” others might say. By the time you read this, you may agree with me. You will have sawdust in your garage, and mud on your boots, and cardboard boxes with hundreds of orange bags in the back of your van. I hope so.
Last year I was introduced to the onion Bag Box. A Simple box made from scrap wood with a little stain. In that box we stuff a few mesh “onion” bags. It seems to me we should call them potatoes bags because they would hold two years worth of onions for my house. When someone passes the box on the way to the water with their boat, they grab a bag and use it for their litter. When they reach their destination, the empty it in the proper garbage and recycle cans or take it home for disposal. They can return the bag to another box or better yet keep it in their boat for further adventures on the water.
Why the onion bag, you may ask? It is sturdy and when, not if, your boat tips and you go for a swim, you litter swims all together. When you get a chance you grab the bag out of the water a move on. There are those of you that might say that they don’t tip their boat. If you collect enough litter in that bag, you just might. Just kidding! These bags are durable and can last you for at least a year in your boat, maybe longer.
Stephen J. Fleming, one of the founders of Paddle for Heroes started this project. He got the idea from paddling on the Buffalo National River in 2019. The National Park Service does not allow plastic trash bags on the river, so “The outfitter we used to spot our vehicles gave each member in our group an onion litter bag. He then proceeded to explain, when you are on a river with small rapids, there is a higher chance of paddlers flipping their watercraft. Unlike plastic bags, which tend to rip open and become litter; onion bags when secured properly to your craft will not rip open and spill trash into the water.” stated Stephen. He also noticed that a group close to his home was using these bags on the Sturgeon River. He contacted Lori Totman the Knox County Park District Director, and the rest is history.
Paddle for Heroes has Installed these boxes in 10 locations on the Kokosing River, three on the Mohican River, 5 on the Walhonding River, 4 on the Tuscarawas River, and one on the Muskingum River. There will be 2 placed on Knox Lake within a week, one more to be placed at Kokosing Lake. Plans call for 6 for the Clear fork of the Mohican, 9 more on the Muskingum River, one at Ariel-Foundation Park, and as many as needed on the Killbuck Creek and other tributaries of the Muskingum River. Paddle for Heroes has a goal of covering the entire Muskingum Watershed.
These boxes are easy to make. I use cedar 6 foot fence boards from Lowes. I cut them into 16 inch long pieces. The sides have a 15 degree slope for the foot to drain water. I use nails, or brads, or screws to put them together. I made a single wide model and a double wide model. The single holds about 20 bags, the double about 60. If you don’t want to check them often to refill, then the double wide’s are for you. I use stain on the boards to help preserve them, and then put signs on each box instructing people how to use to the bags. The boxes are about $30.00 to make this way but you can save lots of money by using pallet boards. I also buy a landscape timber to mount them on. I use one big bolt in the back to hold the box on the pole, and one screw to keep it from being cooked on the pole.
How to pay for all of this. We have used money out of our general budget to build the boxes so far, but now we are seeking sponsorships for the bags we put in the box each year. The average cost per box is about 50 dollars a year for bags. In three weeks, I was able to get sponsors for all the boxes in Knox County, and we have not solicited any corporate or business money, yet! People were glad to give $50 dollars to sponsor a box. For each sponsor we placed a sign on the side of the box showing who the sponsor was. I hope this works out and is sustainable for the future.
Any assistance I can give to any groups interested in this project and trying to do it on a river close to you, I am more than willing to help. Contact me through my email at email@example.com or Facebook at Curtis Casto. I would love to see these boxes every time I come close to a river. When I am on the water, I sing to myself, with the John Lennon tune, Imagine, I sing “Imagine all the rivers, free of litter, only clean clear water, it’s easy if you try” We could make that come true. We can return out rivers to what they were 200 years ago.
We gather for our annual tradition of our attempt of removing this last Summer’s human activity on our beautiful Kokosing River. Everyone is excited to be here, all in their best old beat up clothes, old tennis shoes, floppy hats and clean body’s see. Everyone is energetic and excited as they pull their heavy canoes down to the river. It is a practiced well oiled machine. One by one boats are staged, wavers signed, t shirts passed out, gloves and garbage bags loaded and of course the ever fun to use grabber.
Vehicles were staged at the end point, the ominous dumpster there for all of us to see our goal. Fill that sucker! We have a short trip back to the start and off we go. People possessed! No can, bottle, plastic bag was going to go un-picked. Some would get out of their boat in knee deep mud to pick up a candy bar wrapper ten feet up the bank. A person is driven when they will risk injury to clean up some thoughtless person’s disgusting litter. (I think I may have misplaced the word disgusting.)
Eagles and herons kept an eye on us as we meandered down the stream. Our tire king just kept finding them buried in the mud and silt. With singleminded drive he would free them rinse the smelly mud off and add them to the growing pile in his canoe. The race was on to replace the king, but to no avail, he could not be held back. I asked myself, what drives us to do this? Why on earth would we take our free time, and do something that will sap us of all our energy, and make us smell like dump workers.
It is our river! We love her! We want her to flow free and clean like she has for thousands of years. She gives us so much pleasure in our lives, how can we let her be a trash dump? We Kokosing River Rats can not. At the end of the day, the smell and mud wash off. The fatigue is slept away, and a new day starts bright and clean. We know we did our best and we are proud to be friends of our river.
This week started with of course Labor Day Weekend being rained out for the most part. I had a few chores with onion bag boxes to accomplish. My friend and adopted daughter Rose joined me as we put a new box in at the ODNR park and launch at Brinkhaven, and another one at Greer and Bridge of Dreams.
When we arrived at Bridge o Dreams there were several fire fighting vehicles, empty boat trailers and various other emergency vehicles, but no people. I just assumed they were doing some training and when on my way putting in the new super sized onion bag box. A truck pulled up and men got out ,got in a few of the fire vehicles and they drove off. I asked one if they were training and he said no it was real there was a person drown in the river.
There was nothing in the news. I asked a Face book friend is she knew what was going on and she forwarded a post that said they were looking for her uncle in the river and they were meeting at Bridge of Dreams on Wednesday morning for a search down the river.
Rose and I packed up and as there ready to go in the river, but none else showed up. Due to lack of information we decided to go home, after a visit to the Amish bakery outside of Danville. After getting home I get word that no one is searching for this man. The fire department had said their area was searched and that the next jurisdiction down the river would have to take over. I decided right there that someone was going to search, me. I loaded up to be able to stay on the river at least three days and headed to Brinkhaven.
Another friend along the river allowed me to camp a night at her property, it was close so that helped. I searched a mile of river and set up camp to get a early start. Rose wanted to join me so I paddled back upstream to get her at Bridge of Dreams. We loaded up and off we went.
We did about as well as we could only being able to closely search one side. After floating about 12 miles we got out loaded up and went home for some rest. The next day doing it all over.
No one has located this man yet. We are hoping that he has not gone very far down the river. Fire and Rescue will be out again today. I hope they find him. If not tomorrow I am going to head to Coshocton on the river.
You might ask yourself, why does he do this? I think the answer would be, because I can. I have a boat, I have time, I have some skill in that boat. I am retired, why not? I don’t want to be in this family’s circumstance. I hope there are people out there who would search for me. I am reminded of the beauty of the river every day, but also reminded of it’s power.
I am pretty sure that this is what heaven looks like! That reminds me of that son “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie!” I sure hope that if I make it there that it looks like the plumbing aisle at Lowe’s. If I go the the other way, well let’s just say PVC smells really bad when it gets hot.
I recall a few weeks ago a friend saying he was disappointed that the rack on top of my van was wood and not PVC. I immediately started planning in my mind the replacement for the wood. Here is what came to mind.
Did I mention that I like to carry things to extremes?
Some other projects I have created.
Had a guy ask me “what’s that plumbing on your boat for?”
I hate this time of year in a lot of ways. I can feel impending cold winds and solid precipitation in the air. (Notice I avoided that four letter word!) I’ve completed all my scheduled long distance paddling for the year, but I sit here with my maps and books planning more.
The Ohio River is still there, and still a goal of mine. There seems to be to many flood waters in the area to even attempt it. Best to put that one off till next year. The creeks and rivers around here are low so not much fun to attempt. I guess it is lake time!
I have been spending time with Marsha, my wife on the water. She is new but seems to have more natural ability than she gives herself credit for. Yesterday she went over backwards when she sat in her boat. She was telling for help! I said stand up to the water is only knee deep. It comes down to trust. You have to learn to trust yourself and your equipment. The only way to do that is to test it. Swim with your vest. Turn your boat over. Learn how to drain your boat. The old timers tell me we are only between swims when we are in the boat.
Overall she is doing great and is going to have a lot of fun as we explore the rivers and streams of Ohio and other places.
I go out to my garage and you would think it was a onion bag box factory. It is down to assembly line effeciency now. I can build one in a half hour. I have even made double size ones for places that we use a lot of bags so that the box only needs filled once a month. We still have our fundraiser going to fund this project that is turning into a massive undertaking. We are shooting for having a box at every public boat launch and canoe/kayak access in the Muskingum Watershed. Working, on obtaining the permissions and funds for all that.
Now on to the wonderful part of this time of year. The bugs go away! The camping is beautiful, and waking up on col crisp mornings to a hot cup of coffee and the smell of bacon and eggs is better than s…., Well maybe not but close! Look forward to many more miles on the river.
It seems no matter where I am paddling, at the time, it is the best te I have ever had! Have you ever noticed that about yourself? This week on the Little Miami has been great. Who could not enjoy a few days with good friends and my best friend nature?
Started the week at the Narrows Park put in. Beautiful park. It did not take me long to sense something different about this river. It had good flow, was not too wide and plenty of curves, riffles and small rapids to keep me occupied. What I did not see or hear were Canadian Geese! It was three days before I even saw one and still have not heard one. Whatever they are doing over here we need to try at home
The second daywad the most challenging day on any river I have had. There were areas that were plugged with stainers almost totally. We worked as a team and Joeys leadership and knowledge got us through! We e lifted boats over logs, roped them under logs and over a dam (empty of course.) It was impressive how we all worked together to get through.
Heat of course has been a issue. We have out hats and sunscreen and cooling towels. Sn occasional swim helps. Paddling in the shade as much as possible helps also. It has been wonderful sleeping weather.i have slept better on this trip than ever on a camping trip.
That brings us to today. When the sun gives us a peep of light, we are off. We should have four hours of dry weather. We have 15 miles to go. I am sure as the water that keeps flowing down that this team will make it and be right on time!
Well I am here sitting at The Narrows landing on the Little Miami River. Of course I am 3 hours early as usual, my usual before the float insomnia. I woke up at 2:00 in the morning and was raring to go so I got in the van and left.
My trip here was on eventful except I did stop at gas station and they did not have coffee. I could not believe it! A 24-hour gas station without coffee amazing! I went to another and got a couple donuts and a cup of coffee and I was set for my trip.
It has been a while since I drove in the dark so that was something that I had to get used to again. Luckily there were no deer to deal with tonight.
I am all packed and ready to go! In fact I am probably packed enough for the next three trips. I hope we don’t have to do very much portaging, but I know we do have to do one dam. I have wanted to do this River for a long time. Ever since I heard Joey Butts’s Father talking about it at PaddleFest last year.
So here’s my chance. We are only going 9 miles the first day thank goodness since I will probably want to take an afternoon nap. I will keep in touch during this trip. I did bring Spalding with me he’s already to go but I think he’s still asleep in the backseat.
I had decided to go camping on the Kokosing this week to try out my new hammock sleeping system and just to enjoy some of the peace the river offers. The river was up just a little bit to make it easier to run a canoe loaded with a hundred and fifty pounds of gear down it without dragging to much. It was going to be a two day adventure, stopping near Howard and then after Factory Rapids someplace. My main intention was to search gravel bars for some interesting rocks and crystals. It is amazing what you can find if you take your time.
The heat was oppressive, and I wanted to stop for a short nap, so I found a island just past Rt229 after Big Run, it was about 10 miles into my trip. It was all gravel with many trees to hang my hammock from. I thought I might do some fishing also since I had brought some worms and my pole. After tieing off my boat good, just incase the water may rise for some reason, I hung my hammock and got to some good napping. This was all new to me, I had never slept like this before.
After a good 2 hour nap (guess this thing worked.) I set up my chair, got my worms out and got to some fishing. Got a few bites and then decided it was time to get some bites myself. I had brought a couple MRE’s from the Army that my sons had brought home for me. They were three years old but in the Army I had eaten Viet Nam C-Rations, so I figured these could not be to bad. I was extremely surprised. First of all, there was a bag of Skittles, now they were a bit stuck together but they were still edible, as much as Skittles are, they were sweet and they hit the spot. Of course after two hours when I was done chewing them, I got to eating the rest of the MRE. It was chili and beans and even had cheese and Mexican corn mix. I sure wish I could have eaten like this when I was in the Army.
After some more fishing I decided to hit the hay. I heard a text message come in around 1130 pm. It was Father Gabriel. I had met him this Spring. He had a group of Summer Camp boys that he was taking down the Kokosing the next day and asked what I thought about novice’s taking canoes down the Kokosing at the level it was. It appeared to be ok to me and I told him I look forward to seeing him tomorrow, that I would meet him at his starting point at Millwood access point. I thought maybe I was dreaming but when I checked my phone in the morning, indeed I had talked to him the night before.
Morning on the Kokosing is special. It is quiet except for nature sounds. There was a mist coming off the water and it was a bit foggy. Fish were jumping after breakfast near the banks, birds were singing their morning songs. I made a quick cup of coffee and before the sun peaked over the horizon I was on the water. I love to paddle in the morning. It is so cool and quiet and I am still full of energy. It was a good sleep the night before on the hammock, think I am going to like it.
I found one strainer that had been there since the tornado went through in the middle of June but had moved around and gotten worse, so I reported it again to River Rangers. You are able to get over it but as the water goes down it was need to be portaged over. It is near the Eagles nest west of the Killduff Road bridge.
Making good time, I was closing in on Howard. There was the usual debris in the river, but I managed to get around it. There was on tree, hanging out into the river. It appeared I could go under it, but as I got closer I noticed, that I would have to be laying in the boat to go under but it was to late, I was already under. One side of the boat went down, the boat filled with water, and I was out of it and in the water. After getting out, it was easy to get under the tree. I chased my boat down and pulled it over to the side. I learned a few things from previous experiences. This time, everything was tied down. Everything was double waterproofed. Nothing was lost. After throwing everything over to the short, I drained the boat, loaded back up, and in 15 minutes was back on my way. The water was very refreshing.
I made my way to Millwood and waited for the group to come. They made it and 17 boys and a few parents, camp counselors and Father Gabriel and I prepared for the river. The boys were well prepared with briefings on what to expect. They were very excited and ready to go. They worked together very well to get all the boats and equipment to the river. They quieted down and listened to instructions. The older boys were doing a great job of mentoring the younger. This was a great group of young men, and I looked forward to paddling with them.
I led the way and we met a few obstacles along the way. The water was low so there were several dangerous areas before the rapids that a few boats went over. The boys were trained well, none panicked, they were handling themselves well. I went ahead to the rapids and went through, and then waited for them with a safety rope as they went through the rapids. We got through without loosing one boat, except for the occasional intentional over turn to enjoy the cool water.
Slowly we made it down the river, I had a chance to speak to a few of the boys about how to read a river to tell where the deep water was. A few times while discussing this, I would run onto gravel myself and get stuck. The system is not perfect I guess. We stopped at Zuck landing for lunch, and continued on to Riley Chapel Access to end the trip. After a very hot trip, these boys were full of energy, they pulled boats out of the water and brought them up to the trailer, there was no whining, no belly aching, no hesitation. Every thing got loaded for the trip home.
I hear many things about todays youth. How they lack this or that, how they do this or that that is not good, how they don’t know this or that. I can tell you, I am more than willing to trust my future to this group of young men. They were smart, they had common sense. They helped each other without question. There were some future leaders in that group and there were some great followers. There was most likely a doctor or two, a lawyer, a counselor, a priest or two. There was good fathers in the making, no doubt about that. Our future is in good hands my friends, I met it today.