When we last checked in with our intrepid heroes, they had barely survived a 10-mile trek down the lazy waterway of horror known as the Wisconsin River. Leaving from Arena, WI, they found a sandbar to camp on yet were almost blown away by the storm.
The following Summer I woke in my bed in a cold sweat, heart pounding. Karen woke up alarmed and grabbed my shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Even in the moonlight I could see the look of concern on her face. She knew exactly what was wrong, but she didn’t want to admit it to herself. One of these nights she was hoping I would have a different nightmare, but it was not to be.
“The River… we have to go back.”
Graham picked up the phone instantly even though it was 3 in the morning. “The River,” he said. I agreed.
We needed to go back, to show it we weren’t scared. We wouldn’t rest until we did.
“We’re going to need back-up this time,” I said.
It is the summer of 2013. Signing up for the same 10 mile trip, this time we invited a few other friends and our spouses to join us. My wife, Karen, was hesitant to say the least, but volunteered when the other ladies decided to go. Adam’s fiancee Rachael was coming on this trip, so they would ride with Arwen. I would be traveling with my friend Kyle, while Karen was in a canoe with his wife Lindsay.
I brought my gear in dry bags this time.
It had rained the night before, and the forecast now called for clear skies. Warily reassured, the trip was a go. We piled the gear and beer into the canoes and set off. No keg this time.
The water was much higher than the last year. There were no parts where we had to go overland to get to the next stretch of river, so we made great time back to the spot where we had camped the year before.
Something felt… wrong. Like the river was trying to trick us somehow. “Look how easy it was to get here, so restful,” I can imagine the River saying, in a bubbly voice because that’s how I imagine Rivers sound like.
A small scouting party consisting of myself, Graham, Karen, and a few others were dispatched to the next sandbar and found it in much better condition. Staking a claim on the highest point, we began to drag the canoes on to the sand.
The sand bar was a circular island. The half we were on was all sand, and there was a small forest on the Eastern side filled with mosquitoes and privacy for the women. The others joined us and we unpacked our camp. All was well, it was warm and much fun was to be had by all.
Our tents were all set up and sand staked. I bought a set of four even though I needed 6, because Karen didn’t really think I needed 6 and clearly the one who has never set up a tent in her life is the one that makes the tent-accessory purchasing decisions.
At nightfall thunder rumbled in the distance. My heart pounding, I called for the fire to be put out and gear stowed. To their credit, the rest of the expedition moved like machines. With precision, they did as much to secure the camp as possible just as the first of the gusts of wind struck our tents. We were arranged in a circle, with several feet between each tent, facing in wards.
My tent was the furthest from the couple we knew would probably try and make the loud hanky panky (we were correct,) so that was a bonus to our highest point of the sandbar.
From that point until 3am, the heavens dumped water on us like they were emptying out one of those old-timey clothes washing buckets with the washboard on it. I don’t know I’m bad with metaphors. Anyways, the 2 missing sand stakes cost us dearly as a portion of our tent flooded when the wind uprooted the regular stakes.
Karen sat up freaking out and crying, while I bravely found sleep to reserve my strength for the arduous day ahead. It got bad enough to the point where we actually couldn’t see the river through the rain. There was talk of fleeing for the shore, however cooler minds prevailed as if we fled we would be fleeing into forests, which, in an extremely dangerous windstorm is not advisable. We hunkered down for the night, ready for what was happening.
3am I was awoken by Graham. Karen had finally fallen asleep, and I whispered to him quietly.
“You better get up, the sand bar is disappearing,” came the whispered reply.
Unzipping my sleeping bag I saw the damage. The sandbar had shrunk in the night by 100 feet, bringing the river within ten feet of our campsite, and we were losing more space to the elements as time ran on. Startled, we began to awaken the others. By 4am the first of the sunlight poked over the horizon as we packed up the camp. I learned later that the canoes were saved by the actions of several of our brave adventurers, who worked tirelessly through the night to ensure we had a way home.
As such, our only equipment loss was Graham’s backrest, which the canoe company didn’t charge us to replace because of the whole ‘almost dying,’ thing.
Our gear was packed as the last of the sandbar disappeared beneath our feet. We set off as the canoes scraped their bottoms against our long submerged sanctuary.
The sun came up and the day was beautiful. The flooding meant we were able to make it back to our cars within only an hour or so. I called the canoe company and explained the situation, they were glad we were safe. (Seriously it was that bad of a storm.)
Anyways, we had conquered the river at its worst. We have decided to not go back. Not for an overnight. But next time we’re going to do an 18 mile day trip. I no longer wake up afraid. I sleep calmly, in my dreams imagining the River waking up in a sheen of sweat, worried about us setting forth on it’s now frightened surface once again. Like a personification of the river though, not the real river. They don’t dream.
In truth, while Karen said she will never go camping outside of our backyard now, we had tons of fun. I would heavily recommend giving canoe camping, or even just a canoe trip a try if you haven’t. Very relaxing, but also a great workout. If you’re looking for a great canoe company to deal with, the Wisconsin Canoe Company is amazing. Each time we’ve dealt with them they’ve been professional and awesomely accommodating. Book trips early though, because overnights go quickly during the summer.
We are still planning another trip for sometime in the future, but without camping because we’re sick of trying to get sand out of our expensive expedition tents. Seriously, it sucks.
Until next time readers, when I share the story of ‘Klondike!’ Or, ‘What adult thought it was a good idea to take a bunch of 10 year old’s camping in a foot of snow?’