kayaking on the St Joseph river

I’m behind in Life Update posts, but I wanted to jump out of sequence and post about the adventure Bones and I had last Friday.

I grew up canoeing in a water reservoir called Blue Marsh, located in the Reading area. I’ve always felt pretty confident in a canoe, and have been eager for a long time to try my hand at kayaking.  A friend told me about ocean kayaking, and that sounded even more amazing…but I’ve never had the opportunity to try any variety.

Bones found a Groupon offer that made such an adventure wicked cheap, so we decided on a date, slathered on the sun protection, and headed off to St Joseph.

It’s an adorable little town, and the riverbanks from whence we departed are lined with small privately owned boats and sporadic commercial fishing vessels.

What this picture shows you is that there’s a lot of territory to explore…you can head towards the lower right hand corner of the photo, going upstream on the St Joseph River; you can go downstream and hook over into the Paw Paw River, which is a little more private and in the upper right hand corner of the photo), or you explore a more open waterway that eventually leads up into Lake Michigan.

We initially decided to head upstream, trusting that the current would not be too much to fight and that it would make for an easier return to the dock.  What we didn’t anticipate was how strong the winds were, nor how much they’d make our idyllic trip not so idyllic.

kayak 1(…um…ignore the date)
It doesn’t look bad, but I was really struggling.  As Bones commented, ‘From this distance, I couldn’t hear you cursing at the kayak.’  Which I did.  A lot.  Some of it was that I was trying too much to treat it like a canoe, some of it was that our kayaks didn’t have keels – meaning it was really hard to actually go *forward* – and some of it was just that the wind was really fighting back…and I really wanted so very much to be good at this…and I really wasn’t.

We passed a deer standing along the shoreline, daintily nibbling on berry bushes, which was happy-making, but I was not a happy pirate overall.  Bones took pity on me and suggested we try turning around and go towards the quiet Paw Paw River.

kayak 2
This proved to work much better, thank goodness.  I will say the river is amazinglyshallow.  I started figuring out how to make the kayak turn in the direction I wanted, and that helped me stop ramming into Bones’ poor vessel.

The Paw Paw was very pretty, but goodness that wind was pretty formidable.  There was a storm front coming in, and although the sky looked gorgeous, the wind was the stormy indicator that this wouldn’t be the case by nightfall.  We decided to pull up at a beach and take a break.  I found a small launch area, and we met up with a couple that had some stand-up paddle boards.  Pretty neat!  One was out working against the wind; the other had had enough.  We spoke with her for a bit as she waited for her partner to return, and they let Bones try out of their boards.  He did quite well!  (I did *not* try, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand up on the thing.)

Bones helped me get the back rest and the foot pegs adjusted in my kayak while we took our break, and that proved to immediately improve my ability to kayak.  Yay!  Using the foot pegs meant I could brace myself more and use more of my core body strength as I paddled.  Huge, huge difference.

We realized we still had quite a bit of time left on our rental, so we decided to leave the Paw Paw and go closer to Lake Michigan.

kayak 3(Bones’ descriptor for this photo:  “My Pirate Queen on the high seas.”)
We explored bridges and a wide waterway, and…the lure of the lake was pretty dang strong.  This is where I admit to being too damn pushy, but…there were waves.  So it was like the ocean.  And..ya know..ocean kayaking was on my list.  And and and..

We went to the channel that connected the river and the lake.  There are no photos because we quickly hit waves that were maybe 10 feet high…but this gives you an idea of what I’m talking about:

kayak 4
The red arrows show you our path.  The St Joseph river meets Lake Michigan through a narrowish channel that’s lined by walls.  There are ladders every few yards along the wall.  That was my naive safety net – “well, if it gets bad, we’ll aim for a ladder” – but this plan didn’t take into effect that the waves were surging around us and there was no guarantee at all that we’d be able to hold onto our kayaks during those surges…which would have meant replacing said kayaks had something gone wrong.

Fortunately, nothing did.

The first waves were not so bad.  They got bigger pretty fast.

And it. Was.  AWESOME!!!

I did take on some water because I hit two waves a little roughly.  The first few big waves made me feel a tiny bit seasick because the surge was so much more than I’d anticipated.  And there were moments when I felt like I wasn’t moving forward at all because of the wave surges, but..bit by bit, we crept along to nearly the mouth of the river.

Bones was the voice of reason, calling me back and saying it wasn’t really safe for us to try to go out to the lake itself.  We were totally in the wrong kind of kayak to be doing what we were doing in the first place.

Going back was hard.  Had we thought we’d be crazy enough to want to try taking on the lake, we should have done it first thing so we’d have the energy to do it more safely.  But!  We made it back to the quiet waters of the St Joe…exhausted, but full of woo!  I very much want to do that again.  It was worth waiting..what, 15 years to experience?

The trip back to the original launch was fairly wind free, fairly calm, and fairly exhausting.  We were only out for about 4 hours, maybe, but wow was I tired.  It was the kind of tired where you want to be whiny and high maintenance and throw down what you’re doing and say, “Screw this, I’m not going any friggin’ farther.”  So I let part of my brain do that and the rest of me just kept going.

Bodywise, my hands and my forearms ached that night, but it was much better by the next day…small price to pay for adventure!  I’m grateful to the Gods that are Watching that we had a safe, exciting experience…and am looking so very forward to other such adventures. ❤

..We did make a stop in town for lunch, a walk along the main street of shops, and then took a stroll to the beach, where we discovered that no one was being allowed to swim due to the approaching storm that did indeed hit us pretty dang hard Friday night.  But we *could* cool off a little by kneeling in the lake and splashing water over ourselves.

(Well.  Ok.  I could do that.  Bones has a little more self control.)

Our final reward for all our adventuring?  ICE CREAM SUNDAES BIGGER THAN OUR HEADS!!!

…And it was totally awesome, although WAY too damn big for any one person to consume.  Which made us realize we should probably go kayaking again IMMEDIATELY to work off our sundaes.

Instead?  We went the heck home, took showers, and went to bed, to rest up for the next adventure…


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