November: a month to cap the paddling season in many places, a time when the rains return and replenish rivers in others. Both provide ample cause to reflect, and give thanks. That is our theme this month here at DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE. Reflection and thanksgiving.
For me (Chicago Mike Toughill) it’s a time for both. I’m about packed up and ready to set off for a season of running stouts with a most incredible set of dirtbag paddlers in the PNW. It’s also a season of wrapping up; I just completed a quick trip to western Pennsylvania, (you may have seen the colorful posts on our Facebook page) and had also thrown a goodbye Wisconsin party.
The invite for the soireé deep in the Northwoods at the Peshtigo River was wide open to any. I got a chance to meet and paddle with one of the many Facebook friends I’ve made through Dirt Bag Paddlers, Joe Mayer, a few weeks back while “retiring” from guiding at Kosir’s Rapid Rafts. We had a blast running our local stretches together, and Joe captured some great photos from our trip. The cover photo for this month is a photo of our friends and Admins playing on an Autumn day on the Menominee River.
I asked Joe to recount this fun weekend, and he kindly obliged.
“The sound of gravel crunching under my tires as I pulled off the pavement into Kosirs parking lot caused my smile to widen. I had been invited up to the DBP nerve center for some fall boating and I was stoked. I parked next to an SUV with Illinois plates and covered in stickers. I knew I was in the right place. No one seemed to be around so I cracked a beer and considered my options. The words of my wife echoed in my mind as I drank and scanned the seemingly empty grounds. “Why are you still going since Shane bailed?” she asked. “So, let me see if I have this right, you are driving up 5 hours to attend a retirement/going away party for someone you’ve never met and being attended by no one you know,” she said.
“Maybe she was right,” I thought while shyly looking around the compound. Shane is a good friend of mine who it turns out knows Chicago Mike, the godfather of the Dirt Bag Paddlers. Shane seems to know everyone, and if you’re good with Shane then that’s usually good enough for me, but on top of that they were boaters so I figured it was all good. She was right though, Shane couldn’t make the trip and under pressure to provide a sensible answer I blurted out, “I love to kayak that’s why” which in hindsight was a horribly corny thing to say, but whatever.
I was almost done with my beer and was about to take a ride over to surf the afternoon away at Gilmore’s Mistake, a Class III park and play with pretty good surf on the Wolf River, about half hour away. All of a sudden I spot a bearded dude about my age heading towards me.
“You Joe?” he asked.
“Yup, you Mike?” I responded.
“Want to get a lap in?”
“I was hoping someone would be ready,” I said. Any apprehension was gone immediately and we geared up and were on the river quickly. Kosirs Rapid Rafts sits right at the takeout of the Peshtigo River. The put in is just minutes away, so we were in our boats in no time. It was a beautiful fall day on the river. The colors were just starting to come in, and air and water temps were great. I could tell Mike loved this river and knew it well. While guiding me down through the numbered drops, Five Foot Falls and Horserace Rapid, he told me stories about the rapids, history of the area and various tales of wallacing custys. Due to a dry September, the level was a little low, but that hardly mattered. It was dusk when we landed back at Kosir’s and headed into a small cabin.
Inside I was introduced to Dale, Todd, Sam and Kenzie. Dale is part of the original DBP Wisco Crew. Todd was up from Chicago for a few days of whitewater boat riding before heading further North for seven days of sea kayaking on Lake Superior. After some initial conversation and questions like “who the hell are you?” “Where you from?” “What is your connection to be here?”, we all retired to the bar for some Friday night fish fry. Rapids Resort is the quintessential Wisconsin Bar, with tons of fish and game on the walls, dice games and raffles going on at the bar and whole families eating, drinking and carrying on. I fell into my regular groove of quaffing down beers as if it was a competition, while getting to know the people I would be boating with tomorrow.
The next day was slow to get started and it is safe to say that I enjoy a lazy Wisconsin morning. After everyone got some breakfast and various hangover cures, we rallied and headed for the Menominee river. With us today was Chicago Mike, Paula, and Mike the lifty in a raft, Jamey in an inflatable kayak and Dale, Mitch, Todd, Twiggy and myself in kayaks. The scenery of the Menom was great, with awesome rocky cliffs jutting out of the forested hills, and I thought it was really cool that the left bank was Michigan and the right bank was Wisconsin. I knew from the internet that Piers Gorge held some great whitewater and that it was kinda short. Well it may be short, but it is big and fun with a great playspot. There is an obvious line down a large tongue at the main drop which the leads through some big fun standing waves before you have to get left around Volkswagen Rock. I forgot to mention that Mitch’s girlfriend Jackie met us right above this drop; apparently there is a walk in loop trail. Jackie was paddling an awesome kayak, it was unmarked and real old. They said it was borrowed, and the guy claimed it to be like the 7th boat out of the mold. It was so intriguing because it was a familiar design. They said they thought it was a freefall, but I knew it wasn’t that. It seemed like a Perception Corsica, but not quite. Anyway I referred to it as old yeller, because obviously it was yellow. I won’t go into detail, but Jackie charged heroically into the drop and immediately wallaced. After her gear was collected we all proceeded down to a fun playspot, where we did enders and worked on learning cartwheels until we tired out.
Not far above the takeout is a fun wave called Terminal Surfer. This is a fun spot for kayakers, but it is awesome to watch a raft surf this wave. The two Mikes and Paula got it served up like I had never seen before. Things were going great for them for a few minutes, until water started pouring into the raft. High siding and weight shifts weren’t helping, they were in it for the long haul. After much digging in and pure exhaustion, Mike the lifty and then Paula bailed out, in the hopes that maybe less weight might convince the river to release the raft from its watery jaws. More yelling and a few failed attempts with throw bags to pull the raft free followed, until finally Dale and Jamey were able to pull Chicago Mike free. Witnessing this half hour surf session was a treat. It was really enjoyable boating this run with the Wisco crew, because they have all been guiding these rivers for years and bust out the folklore all the time. I seem to remember something about an Indian chief residing in the murky depths below Volkswagon Rock.
After another great day on the river, everyone was amped to get back to the Kosir compound. Our bellies were growling and our thirst could not be properly satisfied at the takeout. That night Chicago Mike said some heartfelt goodbyes to his Kosir family, while a couple of local virtuosos (the band Fossil) serenaded the room. Food and drink flowed, dice were thrown and merriment of all sorts was made until the wee hours. I felt like Goldilocks when I discovered someone’s bedroll in the bunk I had poached the night before. I would like to thank Mike the lifty for saving me, because apparently my next move was a very late night attempt at setting up my tent, which I quickly discovered had a broken pole. He found me flailing around in my headlights performing surgery on the aformentioned pole. (Quick side note: the repair took me a half hour the next day in full sunlight and a clear head.) In between fits of laughter at this sight, Mike informed me that there was an extra bed where they were staying. So, I abandonded the tent and we both staggered off to the mobile mansion. The mobile mansion is a dirtbag 5 star hotel and I couldn’t have been happier about the accomodations. It is an abandonded RV with 3 beds and keeps the weather out.
I awoke to find Mike the lifty packing up to head home. “Just stay, we are going to do a quick early morning run and we will be out of here by like 10:30” I said. He informed me that he had a lot of stuff to take care of back home, “And besides,” he said, “you won’t be on the river before noon, I guarantee it.” I went and had breakfast, while considering my options. The Wisco Crew is not at all concerned with any modern notions of time; this in itself I find to be an admirable quality. However, to a whitewater junkie family man, time is a constant balancing act when away from home. Normally I have my son Jake with me and it’s hard for his mother to get very upset when his desire for more kayaking pushes our arrival time back into the late evening hours. However, I could not bring him on this mission for fear of the level of debauchery that he might be exposed to could be too much for him and that I might fall into the bad dad category. I pondered my dilemma over like two more pots of coffee and just decided to bail. I had planned on boating, but was also staring down a 5 hour drive. Around 10:30 I had waited long enough and informed Chicago Mike that I was just going to take off. “Sorry about the holdups, but we are almost ready to go. We should be on the water in like 1/2 hour,” he replied. Like an alcoholic with a rubber arm trying to refuse a drink, I of course said “alright” and we were on the water two hours later at noon.
The air and water temps were noticeably colder that day, which seemed to heighten the senses a bit. Colors were starting to pop in the forest and everything was crisp as hell. We stopped at a few rapids to rehydrate ourselves and for Chicago to properly toast and say goodbye to what has been his home river for 13 years, the mighty Peshtigo. Off the water, quick goodbyes and info were exchanged and I was on the road. After checking in with the family, I had a lot of time to reflect on the weekends activities.
The first and biggest thing I noticed about the Wisco Crew was their welcoming nature. These guys practice what they preach, one love one river. I did not know any of these guys or gals before this trip, but after a few days of boating and hanging out I feel like I could pop in anytime and the same dirty red carpet would be rolled out. Another observation is that some of the originals have, or are in the process of, moving away to places like Colorado, the PNW, or just really extended road trips. This will only serve to strengthen their paddling and afford weary road dogs a place to crash. However, there is a strong faction that seems as if they will never move from the Northwoods; these Wisco hardcores do a great job of bringing new paddlers into the fold. As long as you are willing to bomb down rapids in anything that floats, and then spend all night drinking and playing dice, then chances are you will fit right in. I guess that’s why I felt so at ease with them. So when the winter temps subside a bit and the snow begins to melt off, I will be pointing the car north again to hook up and do some whitewater riding with the Wisco Crew.”
The door to the cabin will be open, bud. Cheers!
As for looking back and giving thanks… DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE celebrates our one year birthday at the end of the month. It’s both a privilege and a pleasure to serve as Editor-in-Chief here. I’m thankful for the editorial staff, which includes Taz Riggs and F. Wes Breitenbach, and co-founder Alex DePue. The staff writers, including Sam Benetto, Sam Hood, Lee Laughton, Priscilla Macy, Rob Gravelle, and Aaron Erdrich, track down stories and report on some of the best whitewater festivals around. I’m blessed to be associated with such writers as Jay Young, Chris Preperato, Bill McGinnis, Bobby Miller, Adam Piggott, Nadežda Matić, Lee Turner, Rachel Elise, and Sarah Cartron. I’ve made friends around the globe, and in return we are able to offer up to you our reader what we believe to be THE BEST FREE PUBLICATION IN WHITEWATER TODAY! Thanks for the support, and let’s have some fun in the coming year!