Saturday morning we met up, parked our cars in the downstream parking lot, then headed up to Lions’ Park for instruction and launching. Geared up, we took a look at the river and immediately some folks started getting nervous – the water was REALLY high after all the recent rains. I’ve paddled on and off for many years and Tazer is strong and smart (though not always cautious), so we were looking forward to some adventure on the water. Not soon after we started, two of the women in our group got swamped and pulled from their kayaks by a strainer (a tree that had fallen in the river and created a powerful section of current underneath its branches) – I made it by safely, Tazer got hung up but stayed relatively dry in his kayak before the ranger managed to extricate him and send him on downstream. Another participant and I corralled a loose kayak and paddle, then swung in to “shore” to empty it out and wait for the others. The “shore” was flooded pretty far in, with standing water between 6 inches and a foot or so deep. Luckily, the water and the day weren’t that cold, though it was breezy and overcast. Happily, everyone was okay and, after a bit of discussion, we shoved off and headed downstream again, albeit a little more cautiously. We got to our pull out point with no further problems, a full half hour ahead of schedule even with the mishaps earlier. The river was moving fast!
We hiked through the Blackwell Forest Preserve to the Family Campground, got set up in a couple of campsites, then passed our time walking, reading books, and chatting around the fire as dinner was prepared (a fantastic turkey and butternut squash chili prepared in a Dutch Oven). Dessert was S’Mores and Hobo Pies, with Tazer creating what may be the ultimate camping dessert mash-up, the S’Mores Hobo Pie, so tasty and decadent. It got cold pretty fast, so as it got dark, all us tuckered folks headed into our tents to get rested for the next day. Tazer and I read for a bit and, just as we turned out the light, the rain started. Such a soothing way to fall asleep and the cold temps were perfect for slumbering the night away.
We woke to more rain, but it cleared up as we got ready to make breakfast and talk about the plans for the day. Coffee, hot chocolate, bagels, and cream cheese – amazing how simple food tastes so great when camping. Post breakfast we cleaned up, struck camp, and packed the truck that would transport our gear down to the downstream parking lot where our cars awaited us.
Up first, an archery lesson and a chance to shoot on the preserve’s state of the art range. Not so fast though, as rain was still in the forecast, so the rangers set us up under a shelter, shooting out at targets in the grass. This is our third time attending a Preserve’s Archery Program, and we’re getting a lot more comfortable – I really love it because it forces me to slow down, focus on my breath, and not hurry my shots. almost meditative. Definitely planning on getting a few bows and a target for the backyard (this is also something we could do in the basement during the winter).
Then, minus one participant who wasn’t comfortable in the kayaks anymore (not surprising after the ordeal she had gone through the day before), we headed over to the river to put in and finish our weekend on the river. We were pretty excited to see a wall of whitewater just downstream of our put in point, though one woman opted to walk down the bank and launch below it. When I say whitewater, I’m not talking about the sort I’ll be exposed to in Idaho on the Snake River for Hell Hike and Raft, but with a son to look out for and being relatively inexperienced, it was just the right amount that day (also a blast). The rest of the trip down was primarily a float, with paddling required only through some fast moving sections and to set ourselves up for bends in the river. Once again, because of the fast-moving water, we finished ahead of schedule without much effort on our part.