Monday, October 7, 2013

The J-stroke on the Manistee River is the best way to stay out of the brush

The Manistee River in early October is a wonderful trip to take. It's too bad (or is it?) others don't take advantage of
the water and the autumn colors that comes with it.

Most people don't spend a weekend in October canoeing in northern Michigan. That activity is reserved for the summertime when people have time.

But fall canoeing is one of my favorite times to go, provided it's not pouring rain like it did this past weekend west of Grayling along the Manistee River.

The Manistee has a slew of coniferous trees gracing its bank,
meaning the fall color I had looked forward to wasn't
completely there like last year's trip.
Staying in the Grayling State Forest group camp area along M-72 in Crawford County, we, the group of Christian Service Brigade members from St. David's Episcopal Church in Southfield, canoed a small stretch of the Manistee River. The river, which runs from the central northern Lower Peninsula west into Lake Michigan, contained quite a few meandering bends and small islands dotted throughout the water, but we saw no one else on the water, and that always makes for a smooth experience.

This was also a first milestone for me, as I typically avoid manning the stern of the canoe on trips such as this. I ended up in the back of the boat, a job much different than I'm used to in the front. While canoeing rivers, the man in the back is essentially the rudder, steering the boat and avoiding all those rocks, tree limbs and other hazards along the river, as well as making sure the boat stays in the correct position. I'm not as confident about my j-stroke (a stroke used to help steer a canoe) as others, so I tended to avoid the back and provide paddle power and limited steering using a draw stroke in the past.

Getting ready to launch the canoes into the Manistee
River. We took a lazy, five-hour trip down the river
before it got dark and too cold.
But with the need to provide some experience, I found myself in the back of the boat for the trek, which took us about 5 hours to complete, longer than we anticipated with breaks and other issues that arose. It started off rough for my partner and I, as I got ahold of steering the boat. My instincts on which side to paddle were a bit off; I was doing the j-stroke on the opposite side, thinking it would work. It did not, and we may have spun a few times throughout the trip.

But overall, my partner and I worked fairly well together on the river, even though he told me he was "never canoeing with me again." I think it had something to do with me yelling out the paddle/draw orders, something that happens when you're with someone who's never canoed before. It's a difficult thing to do, to canoe with someone. There's a reason they say it can truly test a relationship.

Overall, the river didn't have many obstacles to it, making it a seemingly smooth ride. We would hit a rock or log every once in a while that we couldn't see, but all the rain in the area helped raise the water levels, eliminating some of those from sight. It's not a fast-paced river, but flows enough to keep you moving if you plan on admiring some of the real estate along the banks.

One major problem we found, and a major problem it is when you have six kids with lots of energy, happened when we stopped for lunch. Long story short:

Yes, that happened. It wasn't as bad as we leaders thought it would be. One of the kids even brought a bag of beef jerky with him that appeared to keep the hunger at bay. Lunch for myself consisted of a glass of Coca-Cola and a warm cup of hot cocoa. When you're canoeing, that's all you really need to keep yourself going.

Thankfully, we avoided a majority of the rain while on the river that afternoon. It poured at camp the morning before we took to the river, and it poured later that night before going to bed. It rained so much that at some point, a pair of the tents we set up were flooded and their occupants ended up sleeping elsewhere. It was one of the more wet fall trips I've taken with the group in recent memory.

Fall canoeing is a great experience to do, especially when the weather permits. There's something about the crispness in the air and the colors changing that makes it such a great trip down the river. Has there been a canoe trip worth making in the fall? I'd love to know more about it!

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