Sunday, June 29, 2008
To float or not to float, that is the question
Yesterdays 36th Annual EC River Float Trip became a bit more like a risk management discussion on a kayak trip than a lazziez-faire, beer swilling inner tube float. We had some unseasonably chilly weather combined with marauding thunderstorms in the area and the decision needed to be made whether to hit the water or implement a yet unknown 'plan B'. In a vote made under threatening skies and divided neatly along gender lines, it was decided to head downriver to the pavillion at the Lion's Youth Camp and have a couple of adult beverages to wait out the weather and help focus the decision making process. Potential lightning and a past history of 'freezing our asses off' were key issues in the campaign before balloting took place. Memories of the whining and whimpering that ensued after certain individuals became wet and cold in years past drove undecided voters into the non-float camp, effectively swinging the election.
The grassy meadow at the youth camp was warm and sunny after the storm passed to the south. As we sat there on our flotation devices a renegade element decided they were by god going to float and that anyone interested could join in and the rest of the group could do as they wished. On paddle trips this is usually where things begin to disintegrate but in this case the group was large, the river benign, and any risks of splitting up were more of a danger to maritial harmony than group integrity. So 75% of us headed for the river and an abbreviated float. It was superb. The water was high enough to avoid rear ends dragging, the sand beaches were pristine, the temperature perfect, and the water an excellent temperature. Just as we were arriving back at the Lion's camp another line of thunderstorms rolled in and we managed to get out of the water and under cover just before it hit; perfect timing once again.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, this is the 36th year in a row for this event. I grew up in the area and have been playing in and on the Eau Claire river since I was a kid, forbidden by my mother to go anywhere near it. I managed to conveniently ignore that edict. The river originates in the sand counties of central Wisconsin, an area made famous by Aldo Leopold in his seminal book, A Sand County Almanac. The river is meandering, slow, sandy, and of a manageable width with root beer colored water caused by tannins leached from the pines along the banks. There is one dam upstream and also Big Falls, an outcropping of basalt that the river tumbles over in 3 or 4 drops before it flows into Lake Altoona. The riverbanks are undeveloped and the land sandy and not very fertile. Scrub oak, jack pine, assorted underbrush, and an unbelievable amount of Toxicodendron rydbergii, the infamous poison ivy, grow there. If no one is scratching by tomorrow we dodged a bullet, given the sheer amount of it and the way our crew blundered down the trail to the river. Even so, its a great little river and a fine yearly gathering that just seems to be something that a lot of folks look forward to. Its a return to youth for a day and the ultimate escape from the work a day reality of constant questions and decisions. Its a low key, relaxing trip down a sweet little river in an inner tube with some beer, a fine cigar or two, and no worries whatsoever. There isn't even a need to think about steering or the route; the current takes care of that. The awards banquet, where the Best Performance trophy is awarded, is held afterwards at the famous Chicken Hut, one of the few places I know of that serves a fine chicken gizzard dinner. Only 364 days until next year!