Reader's Digest Condensed Version: It was awesome.
Before delving into details of this extended OHCRA trip, I want to give a HUGE thank you to Lance for bringing his trailer. He saved us all so many hours of driving so we had lots more time for paddling and fun.
June 2: Arrival Day
May and Eric were the first to arrive at Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, MI. They set up camp and were soon joined by Laura, then Ruth, then Lance. The weather was chilly but beautiful and we had a good night at the fire.
June 3: Trip 1 - We start with five paddlersOne of the best things about this area is that the put-ins and take-outs aren't very far apart...combined with the fast (4-5 mph) rivers, we had a relatively leisurely morning before embarking on our first trip: 17 miles of the main branch of the Au Sable, a section of river trout fisherman call the "Holy Water." We paddled from Burton's Landing to Wakely Bridge - one of the nicest stretches on the river. The weather was comfortable but windy...why is it that the wind seems to pick up every time you go around a curve??? The river was challenging, fun, and required much more steering than paddling. We stopped for lunch at Gates Lodge, a local motel/restaurant that caters mostly to fly fisherman. Laura had a little trouble getting her boat steady when we got back on the river and went in. Ruth and Lance waited patiently downriver while Eric and Mary helped her get back on the water (with the aid of two hotel guests who even let her change in their room!). We had eagle sightings, lots of ducks (love those mergansers and their babies!), geese and a couple muskrats.
June 4: Trip 2 - Five paddlers continueWe started even a little later this morning because the overnight temp was 32 degrees. In June. For real. Just a weeeeee bit chilly. After we thawed out at camp, we got on the river around noon. Today's trip was the Mason Tract on the South Branch of the Au Sable. Another 18 mile, 4 hour paddle. This is a really special place - in 1954, George Mason gifted 1500 acres to the state, with the contingency that the land would be a game preserve and remain undeveloped. The state added to the area, and aside from the Chapel the Mason family built as a respite for fisherman (maybe for praying to catch the big one???), there's no development - no cottages, no roads, no nothin'. Just a piece of quiet, serene beauty...except, of course, when you get on the river 30 minutes behind a group of about 20 people with coolers full of beer and food...which we did. We caught up to them eventually, and because they took a break at the Chapel, we weren't able to stop to check it out. No room at the inn. Mary was a little crabby about this, but as Lance reminded her, it was the best way to encounter the group...just to pass 'em by. A great paddle - some nice curves and fast water with only one "uh-oh" surprise around a bend. Right near the takeout, Lance spotted a huge eagle's nest. Another fun day.
June 5: Trip 3...And then we were fourToday's trip was on the elusive North Branch of the Au Sable. Elusive because there's not much written about how to access the water (the fisherman seem to want to keep it a secret), but Eric did some digging, and with the help of info from the Traverse Area Paddling Club, found a way for us to get on and off the river. Laura decided to have a chill day at camp, so Ruth, Mary, Eric and Lance set out for the adventure. It was GREAT! The river was narrow and a bit shallow, but we were mostly able to avoid too much scooching by reading the water, which got a little tricky once clouds set in. There was a ridiculously low man-made bridge that would have challenged the best limbo dancer around...Lance had to get out of his boat and reconfigure his seat to get under it; the rest of us were able to clear it since we sit so much lower in our boats. Lance, in the lead, also followed a pair of male mergansers down the river for at least 30 minutes. In addition to the usual wildlife, we were treated to a majestic osprey and many orioles.
June 6: We rest and get bigger!We woke Monday to rain, rain, rain. It was a planned off day for everyone, anyhow, but it was sure great that the weather cooperated! Mary and Eric did laundry and grabbed a few groceries, Lance went on a mission to get some Petoskey stones (and found some amazing ones), and Ruth and Laura headed to St. Ignace and Petoskey. A relaxing day, and the rain stopped in time for Tom and Ron and Jilinda to arrive...though they did have to set-up camp a bit in the rain.
June 7: Trip 4 - Eight people, seven boats, and fast waterWe got up and got going this morning to make the drive to Mio, where we put in at the Mio dam - this is the "big water" on the main branch of the Au Sable. Great group - Lance, Mary, Eric, Ruth, Laura, Ron, Jilinda, and Tom. The water was wide, fast, and without encumbrances. Beautiful surroundings and an easy but fun paddle. It was nice to have a day we didn't have to think quite so much on the water. Lance had paddled a stretch near the Mio dam many years ago, and thought this was the same section, but it wasn't what he remembered...no matter, it was another great paddle with a nice halfway point for lunch. That evening was potluck, since it was the night with the most members present. We enjoyed delicious marinated drumsticks, deviled eggs, cowboy salad, hash browns, pork loin and peach pie irons for dessert. A feast for all!
June 8: Trip 5 - Six people, five boats, goodbyes and hellos.This was getaway day for Ruth and Laura, who had to go back to real life in Ohio. The rest of us - Ron, Jilinda, Tom, Mary and Eric decided to paddle the South Branch again. Those of us who had already done the trip wanted the others to experience this special paddle, so off we went - this time with no other paddlers on the water; the only people we saw were some fly fishermen (and women). We finally made it to the Chapel! This was Mary's fourth time on the South Branch...been waiting a long time to see it! It was tough to access the dock and climb up to the Chapel, but it was worth the effort - slate shingles, all open, with an open latticed window that looked out onto a forest of white pine. Gorgeous. Along the way, Lance saw a painted turtle. We also saw heron and more mergansers (say that 10 times fast). It's funny how much easier that "uh-oh" turn seemed this time around. Another day, another great paddle. On the way home, Lance's trailer blew a tire. Lance, being Lance, was ready - he had a spare, jack, lug wrench and air compressor. Mary and Jilinda directed traffic while Ron, Lance, Eric and Tom put their heads and muscles together to get the tire changed. Thirty minutes later we were back on the road, which was great because we were in the car about 30 seconds before the sky opened up - it was supposed to rain for about an hour, but the rain persisted all night. During our adventure, Wil, Gloria and Teddi arrived at camp. Gloria made us a wonderful comfort food dinner of Dutch oven Dorito chicken which we devoured under cover of the awning of Mary and Eric's camper. All in all, another great day - Lance's wisdom of "as far something bad happening, that was a good as it could be" kept everything in perspective.
June 9: Trip 6 - Six people, five boats, and a goodbyeWell, when you've found something really fun, why not stick with it? After saying goodbye to Tom, who was off to the UP of Michigan, we decided on a short paddle today, going back to the "Holy Water" (main branch) of the Au Sable. It's tighter and faster than the South Branch, but so fun! We put in at Burton's Landing and took out at Stephan Bridge, which is conveniently just a two minute drive from a lunch opportunity at Gates Lodge. Gloria helped with transport, and hung out at Gates - Kathy and Denny Stemen stopped for a visit with her before heading to a cottage in Glen ARbor. (Denny saw us paddling by and confirmed that we weren't really paddling at all...just steering ). Ron and Jilinda got caught under a tree and recovered without getting wet (though we are all still trying to figure out how they did it!), though they did leave a little blood in the river. Jillinda lost her paddle, but Wil did an expert peel out to retrieve it.
June 10: Trip 7 - We say goodbye, and then there were four. Bear sighting!This was getaway day for Ron and Jilinda; we said goodbye in the morning then Mary, Eric, Wil and Lance headed out to paddle the Manistee. We put in at Cameron Bridge. The first hour was really tricky - very narrow, lots of fish structures, fast water, turns, and plenty of fallen trees. Fun but challenging. Mary got caught up between two trees, and despite thinking her paddle was going to break, she got out of trouble fairly quickly. (Of course, it felt like forever to her...) Mary, Eric, and Wil each got up on a sandbar once and Lance found himself on a rock, but everyone recovered. Lunch was from our boats. Afterwards, we took a braided path off the main branch and were well rewarded with more natural beauty of the river. We passed what Eric dubbed "bear island," Lance in front and Wil as sweep, and startled something on it...we heard really loud rustling and running and Wil saw the black fur running away. Bear sighting! Very cool. The river slowed a bit after that and the paddle started feeling just a little long...we had to paddle instead of just steer, for the last mile or so before our take-out at the M72 bridge. All in all, a fun paddle and great day.
June 11: Trip 8 - And then there were threeThis was the day! We left mid-morning for our put-in at the M72 bridge. We said goodbye to Gloria and Teddi, then Lance took us to the bridge. Off we went for our almost 6 hour paddle (that we expected to be a four hours...). It was a fun paddle, with (more) fast water, lots of narrow passages and turns. We got caught in a heavy rainstorm that (fortunately) only lasted about 10 minutes. On went our raincoats and off we went down the river in sprinkles, a little wet but determined. About 90 minutes later, we welcomed the sight of our CCC campground take out. We were tired and ready to get off the water. We managed to set up camp and eat before it started sprinkling again. We hit the hay early, and the rain started in earnest. It rained most of the night, but stopped in time for us to break camp in the morning.
June 12: Trip 9 - Heading back to campWe woke to a cool, sunny morning. These rivers are special - if the rain we had overnight would have been in Ohio, there's no way we would have been able to paddle in the morning, but both the Manistee and Au Sable seem impervious to rain. (It's the sand.) We got on the river around 9 that morning for our 3-hour paddle to the take out. The trickiest part of the trip was about 10 minutes before the end; Mary got caught on a streamer, but Wil talked her through it. (It went something like this: "Paddle Mary, just keep paddling!" We were off the water just a few minutes before Lance and Gloria arrived to pick us up. We stopped for lunch at a popular BBQ food truck, then went back to camp for showers and a nap. We had some fun reminiscing about OCHRA adventures recent and old at the campfire that evening. It was another cold night - in the morning, Lance and Mary agreed that it might have been one of the coldest of the trip (and we had some cold ones!).
June 13: And that's a wrap...Get away day for all of us. It's always a little sad to leave when you have such a great trip. Wil, Gloria, and Teddi were the first to leave, and Mary and Eric followed about an hour later.
And then there was oneLance was last to pull up stakes, which seemed somehow fitting (he's a great sweep). Everyone got home safely. AWESOME trip.
Best quote #1: (Tom) "This river is why I build boats."
Best quote #2: (Wil) "It's a great day to be us."
By the numbers:
Number of paddles: 9
Miles paddled: 200+
Most paddlers on the river at once: 8
Fewest paddlers on the river at once: 3
Number of dumps: 1
Number of ticks found: Way too many
Number of amazing views: Hundreds
Total number of happy campers and paddlers: 10