"For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it." ~ Jean-Paul Sartre


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Epic Leap 2012

Way back in November I came to the realization that 2012 was a leap year.  My heart was filled with joy because Feb 29th is the most kick ass day ever  (at least according to me).  A day so awesome it only comes around once every four years.  Quickly I put the word out that Leap Day was going to be filled with adventure.  Chuck said something about a paddling adventure he had been thinking about and just like that it was decided, that for our Epic Leap we would paddle the lower Dardenne creek out to the Mississippi, and over to Dardenne Island, and back.  This sounded like such a good plan that Robin, who hates paddling decided to borrow a kayak and join us.  The plan was made and all we had left to do was wait anxiously for the day to arrive.
The winter here in the St Louis area has been extremely mild making the thought of paddling in February even more appealing.  We watched the weather obsessively, constantly checking for any new developments.  The day ended up almost perfect, a high of 65degrees, but with 25mph winds gusting up to 40mph.

Click to read more, and watch the slide show from the trip...

Tuesday was a long day for me at work, too much clock watching I guess, so when quitting time rolled around I was like Fred Flintstone sliding down the dinosaur's back and beating feet out of there, Yabba Dabba Dooooo!  I drove home and immediately started loading up.  It had been a while since I loaded up for any type of adventure and it felt good, it felt right.  Once loaded all that was left to do was wait, and check the weather, the route, the stage of the creek, directions, the weather, my gear, the weather, and the weather.  I woke up at 4am and made a mental note that when my alarm goes off at 4am for work I go back to sleep until 5am.  Maybe that is the difference between adventure and drudgery, a persons willingness to wake early in the morning.
Waking up before I need to is what I do.  We weren't meeting until 8am so there was plenty of time to relax and watch the weather forecast on the news (the overnight storms were pretty bad with tornadoes and lots of damage), and eat some breakfast.  Eventually it came time to get ready to leave, and after some last minute checks (of the weather) I was on the road.
Not even the horrible traffic on I270 could dampen my spirits because I knew that the poor suckers all around me had failed to embrace the true meaning of Leap Day and were on their way to work, just like they do every day "packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes"~Sting.  When I arrived at Lakeside 370 I saw Robin waiting at the entrance in the Adventure Van and she followed me down to the parking area and soon after Chuck pulled up in his Adventure Van (soon to be replaced by Adventure Jeep).  I was pleasantly surprised to see that Lori (Chuck's wife) had decided to join us.  The more the merrier!

We began unloading when the park director drove up to make sure we weren't planning on paddling the lake, which was closed until March 1st.  She was very nice and warned us that there might be some log jams on our planned route and that it might be better if we put in farther up stream and paddled down to the park.  In my mind we had a plan and we should stick to it, a few log jams to cross would only make it more of an adventure.  As it turned out though there were no log jams and it was smooth sailing so to speak all the way down.  The arrival of the park director while making us feel very welcome prevented us from driving the kayaks closer on the "Authorized Vehicles Only" access road.  I thought for a minute that she was going to say we could, but instead she said something about how far it was to carry the kayaks.  It was far too!  I would guess pretty close to a quarter mile, and we are not fancy paddlers with Kevlar and carbon fiber boats, we have heavy plastic boats and tired shoulder and backs.  I guess it was for the best we followed the rules, I mean if we broke them then the next thing you know everybody would be doing it.
The bank was very steep so we used a rope to get the boats down to the water.  I helped everyone get in then hopped in my boat and we were off down the creek not knowing what was around the next bend.  I turned on my Spot Tracker so Beth could follow our progress.  Once down in the creek the wind didn't seem too bad and I think we were all glad because on the way back we would be paddling into the wind.

Paddling the creek we saw lots of interesting stuff.  There is always plenty to see on the water.  We saw some hawks, owls, a muskrat, and hundreds of turtles (I think Red-eared Sliders).  There were so many of them sunning themselves on the steep banks that when we got close they would all jump in the water and it looked like an avalanche.  Lori managed to get some good turtle pictures but I am not sure how.  We also saw lots of trash and man made junk, tires, an old television, but we saw more balls than anything else.  If you can think of a ball that floats I can almost certainly guarantee that we saw it floating in the creek.  Soccer balls, volleyballs, basket balls, footballs, street hockey balls, soft balls, and many more.  Chuck even found an aluminum bat.  The good news is that the majesty of nature overcame the A-holes that dump junk in a creek.
The current wasn't very strong and we took our time paddling down.  Just a lazy day out on the water, with no work or deadlines, in fact I wore my Garmin 305 but only used it to check mileage.  Time was irrelevant. When we reached the Mississippi it was decided that we would paddle up river and into the wind to make the crossing to Dardenne Island.  I knew it was going to be tough and I was a little worried about Robin and Lori because I had never been paddling with them before.  They made it just fine though, and to their credit it was a very hard crossing.  Going up river wasn't nearly as bad as being exposed to the wind and paddling against it.  Once everyone was on the island we tied up the boats to avoid any unfortunate surprises when we got back, and headed into the interior of the island.  Immediately I thought it would be a great place to camp and decided I would get at least one of my twelve "bag nights" there.
We sat on some logs and ate our lunch.  I don't know what time it was but it seemed like a good point in the adventure to enjoy some food.  After lunch we set up the slackline, but for some reason I couldn't figure out how to set it up correctly so the only part that we could stand on without it touching the ground was at the very end.  We ran the rope up high to hold on to since none of us are experienced slackliners.  Despite my failure at setting it up correctly we still had fun with it.  Lori and I managed to stand on it without holding on to the rope, until we unceremoniously fell off.  I guess it was good that it wasn't very high off the ground after all.
After slacklining for a while we set off to explore the island.  There were several deer stands and some human garbage but not so much that you would want to shake your fist at the sky and scream "why!".  Chuck said he saw a snake but when I got to where he was I didn't see anything.  Robin and Lori asked what we were looking at and I said "rabbit tracks".  There could have been rabbit tracks, under the leaf litter for all I know. We headed back to our picnic area and goofed around on the slackline a little more.  I think the paddle back across the river and upstream was weighing a little heavy on everyone's mind so we decided it was time to pack up and get back in the water.
I thought the island was a fun part of the day.  So often it seems with all of our adventures everything is go, go, go, all the time and we finish at the same place we started from.  Having a destination was a nice change of pace.
Paddling back across the river was much easier the second time and once we got back into the creek things weren't bad either.  Robin would probably disagree with me though.  Robin is not a paddler, she avoids it when she can and probably wishes the canoeing during adventure races could be replace by jetskis.  I am by no means an expert paddler but I know a few things, and tried to offer a few tips or pointers, and eventually realized that Robin and paddling just weren't meant to be.  Sure, she is tough and gutted it out even when we were forced to endure an extended period of 40mph gusts of wind coming at us so strong my paddle almost blew out of my hand, but it wasn't fun to watch her do it.  Luckily for all of us there was only the one time we had to face the full brunt of the wind, until the very end at the take out.
About halfway back up the creek I saw what appeared to be a cement turtle on the bank.  You know the type, like the ones they sell at garden stores to put in your flower beds.  I thought of all the things we saw that had to be the weirdest.  Who would put a cement turtle...wait a minute that's real turtle, a real snapping turtle.  How cool is that? Probably not very to someone who spends more time on the water, but it was cool to me.  I paddled over to it and it just stayed where it was.  Maybe it was dead.  I got a little closer and saw it move it's eye to get a better look at me.  So it was alive and apparently didn't care that I was there.  I'm sure he was thinking, "If this guy touches me I'm going to snap his fingers off."  There was no danger of that though.  I like to look at nature, I don't need to touch it.
We found some good souvenirs floating in the creek, a couple of old duck decoys, and the bat Chuck found, but about a half mile from the take out I found the most kick ass souvenir of the day.  I was talking with Robin while we paddled along, and I happened to turn my head and catch a glimpse of some sticks pointing up out of some mud and leaves on the bank.  I turned my head back and thought those sticks were a little too even in their placement to be sticks.  The were ribs!  Then I saw the antlers!  I told Robin that I found the coolest souvenir of the day and paddled back to them.  Robin asked what I found and I yelled "A BUCK!", she thought I meant that I found a dollar.  Honest mistake.  I paddled over to it and from what I could tell the whole skeleton was there, partially buried in the mud.  The skull was easy enough to remove so I pulled it free and in doing so ended up back out in the current.  Trying to paddle with the skull of a ten point buck in one hand is fairly difficult but I made it back to the bank and tied the trophy down.  The skull will be displayed in a place of honor in the Adventure Shed, that much is certain.
By the time I caught back up with everyone they were at the takeout and Chuck and Lori were already out and working on getting the kayaks up the steep rocky bank, while Robin was struggling with the winds trying to find a place to land so she could get out.  I paddled in place watching Robin become more and more frustrated about not being able to land.  She kept approaching and getting turned away by the wind and a lack of room.  I think she was about to crack but she finally made it and I was next.  We were all out of the water, some happier than others.  None of us were happy about the long portage back to the cars though.  Once we climbed up out of the creek the wind was howling like mad.  There were huge white caps on the lake and I wanted nothing more to get out there and paddle them, but once we got back to the cars a park ranger drove up and asked how it was out on the creek.  How did they know I would have broken their rules if given the chance?  The Ranger was pleasant enough and we talked for a bit.  Then all of a sudden my kayak which was sitting on the ground behind my truck blew over and right into my shins, "OUCH"!  Of course Robin was more worried about the deer skull than my shins.
We loaded everything back up, said our goodbyes and hit the road.  As far as Leap Day adventures go this was the best so far for me.  Beautiful weather, great friends, and a magical day on the water and exploring an island.  This one will be hard to top in 2016!  The way things are going though I have a feeling that 2016 is going to be a truly Epic Leap!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a really good day. I'm sorry I missed out on the island, but not so much the paddling. I'm definitely with Robin on that.