Long Distance Kayaking

So you have chosen to go on a long trip in your canoe or kayak. How do you get ready? What equipment will you need? How do you get in shape? All these questions are important. If the day’s agenda calls for a 32 mile trip, there are few opportunities to get off early. You must make it to the end! Careful preparation now, in the middle of February, will help you make it to the end, safely, with energy to spare.

For me the first thing is to ask my doctor to give me a complete physical and let me know, can I do this trip? Is my body capable of getting in shape to do 5 days of paddling? Make sure you are healthy enough.

You have not chosen a easy thing to do. I would not compare it to such long term events as a marathon or Iron Man, or anything to that level, but, it is no cake walk. The sun will beat on you like you are in a desert, no shade in sight, and it wouldn’t matter if there were because you can’t stop of you get to far behind the group. The wind will blow such that you think you are going backward up the river, and no matter how hard you paddle, it seems you are not moving. The waves will be breaking over the front of your boat, giving you thoughts of the boat going to the bottom and you swimming to the shore. Then will come the storm clouds, pouring liquid sunshine on you by the bucket full. Pulling over and hiding under a tall tree, you will see the lightning strike and hear the crack of the thunder as if it were right next to you. You still must go on.

If you have done your physical preparation, if you have the proper equipment, you will be so confident, you will take these things in stride and move on to the objective of a warm campfire, a soft (ha ha) bed, and a rehashing of the stories of surviving the day with your fellows. Sometimes this sport that gave you so many pleasant days on the lake, seeing the wildlife and relaxing, will turn into drudgery of one stroke after another. I think that you will find as I have, that when you reach the end, all the pain, all the discomfort will be replaced by the joy of another day over, good food, great camaraderie and a feeling that is so wonderful, the knowing that you DID IT!

Don’t be discouraged. I started at age 64, no previous experience, poor or just plain wrong equipment. I made it 5 miles, got caught under a limb, almost bent my kayak in half, got my equipment wet, including my sleeping bag which made my boat even heavier. My packing made my boat look like a garbage scow, top heavy and everything in a garbage bag. My rain coat was from Goodwill. It was Summer but I almost ended up with hypothermia. I made it 12 more miles, in and out of the boat, never dealing with such low water conditions before. Being in shock from near drowning did not help and after that 17 miles, I got off the river and went home. Three hours later I was in the ER, IV bag stuck in my arm and shivering uncontrollably. Shock, hypothermia and believe it or not, sea sickness did me in for that trip. I made up my mind and two weeks later with the proper equipment, my boat fixed, and a better mental attitude, I did 109 miles on the Muskingum River and made it to Marietta. You can make it!

It is time to start getting yourself in shape for the trip. Last year I did 1200 miles of kayaking and canoeing. 310 on the Ohio River, 160 for the Mount Vernon to Marietta trip, 75 on the Little Miami, and various other trips. Prior to going on those trips, I had a regimen of training that included at least 3 miles a day of lake paddling, 5 days a week. After a month it became 6 miles a day, 5 days a week, and later, 10 miles a day. I paddled on lakes because it doesn’t help me to get in shape to go on a river that is running at 3 and 4 miles per hour. I would try to do 3 miles per hour on a lake and paddle for at least an hour at a time. Keeping a log is necessary for you to track your progress and show yourself, that you are making your goal.

I can not stress enough, learning proper paddling technique. I watched youtube movies about it from ACA instructors. There are many of them. Learn at least how to do a basic forward paddle. How to hold the paddle, how to put your core muscles into it, and how to paddle when you are tired. These are all so important when you will be paddling 8 to 10 hours without much of a break.

When this trip is done, you will be so proud of yourself. You will talk about it for years to come. You will have a sense of accomplishment. You will be craving more! I am going to make this a series of blog posts in which I will cover Physical Preparation, Mental Preparation, and Equipment.

I don’t know about you, but the season is turning, the sun is out more and warms up my body and soul every time I am in it. It is that time! It is time to start getting prepared! You are in for the trip of a lifetime. Do it right!

A “Wild” Night In Clifton!

Last night, the Little Miami Watershed Network, and the Little Miami Conservancy held a 50th anniversary party to celebrate 50 years of being designated a National Scenic River. It was a real party with balloons and cake with candles and cupcakes, fudge and refreshments!

The scene was the Clifton Opera House, a historic, lovely building with pipe for handrails and seats that were uncomfortable (the originals.) The parking was small town, but what a lovely little clean town. I arrived early and got to park close.

Former Ohio First Lady, Hope Taft was the MC for the event. She is very involved in Ohio’s rivers. We had speakers that explained the economic impact of the Little Miami River. There was a short movie on the Little Miami.

When I walked in to the building, I started talking to people and the Onion Bag Boxes came up, I was surprised at the number of people that had seen them. I then became known at the “Onion Bag Man”. There was little or know cellphone connection and I went on a last minute decision to the event, so I was not prepared to share any literature. Most had seen my blog article about the boxes. A member of the Conservancy was interested and wanted more information. I also had the opportunity to invite several people to our Marietta trip this year including Gov. Bob Taft and Hope his wife. Over all it was a great networking event. I got to meet lots of nice people, and it was very crowded. People love that Little Miami River, and I know their secret, from going down it last year to Paddlefest.

I will continue going to these events in the future, but next time I will take a pocket full of literature. I was amazed that so many people knew about the Onion Bag Boxes. Ohio Scenic Rivers has shared this blog on their site last week and it got shared to many other groups in Ohio. The good magic of Social Media!

On a side note, gas was 50 cents a gallon cheaper over that way!

Time to go camping!

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.

Quite a productive day!

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.

Riverside Park Mount Vernon

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!

A Simple Little Box

Box at Bridge of Dreams landing on Mohican River

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 for the sake of our beautiful rivers.

Who wants this in our rivers?

In 2021 I was introduced to the onion Bag Box. A simple box made from scrap wood or inexpensive wood with a little stain added. In that box we stuff a few mesh “onion” bags. It seems to me we should call them potato 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. The bags last for several trips, and some even several years.

Skip’s Landing Coshocton, Ohio

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 and paddle 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. If you look around you will find deals on the bags to save a few bucks.

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.

Starting on the Mohican River, Paddle for Heroes has expanded to the Kokosing River, the Walhounding, Tuscarawas, and Muskingum Rivers. We have also placed boxes at Knox, Kokosing, and Alum Creek lakes. We also help other groups in starting their own projects. Currently the Mahouning and Cuyahoga Rivers have projects started, and the Lower Olebtangy and Little Miami are exploring the project.

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 crooked 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 curtiscasto@yahoo.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.

No More This!
More of THIS!

Kokosing River Rats!

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.

The Tire King Joseph Butts

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.

“A little Help From My Friends!”

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.

PVC -Adult Tinker Toys!

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?”

What to do?

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.

Always the Best!

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!