Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yellow River Almanac: Day Two

The bad news this morning: the grass outside our motel window was covered with frost; the good news: any lingering mosquitoes and gnats had shivered away.  We were on the river just below the Spooner dam at 8:15, with no authorities around to kick us out of the KEEP OUT area so we were able to drive up close to where we put in.  The current was fairly fast for the first hour and we managed to climb over and go under the trees that had fallen across the river.  Scenery was spectacular:  towering white pine and spruce, garnished with birch and brilliant splashes of red and orange maple, against a vast expanse of azure blue morning sky, broken only by the moon.

We portaged at the culverts on Tozer Lake Road. We contemplated trying to go through, but the water is high and we thought better of it.  As we ate our health bars before setting off I thought of my classmates a half century ago, Beverly Magnus and Randy Giddings, who had lived right there a stone's throw away on either side of the road.

Our next leg of the voyage was hard going.  The river veers south and turns into a shallow lake that continues beyond Green Valley Bridge and on to Hector Dam---almost all the way to what is known by locals as Swan Bridge.  We were told by Dave at Green Valley that we had gone less than a quarter of the way from Spooner to where we had left our bikes, just across the Burnett County line.  That news was more than a little depressing.  We had already fought the SW wind for most of our three hours, and I was calculating the time, fearing we wouldn't arrive to bike the eight miles back to Spooner until 8 p.m.  Fortunately, he had seriously miscalculated.  The current picked up after Swan Bridge and we sailed past my second cousin Carrie's home and ten minutes later to cousin Nancy's home where we learned she was gone but chatted with her husband Bud for a short while.  From there we went under the bridge on Highway 70, the current carrying us through some beautiful terrain.

We stopped at the home of another classmate, Richard Wright, and were disappointed to find him gone.  A bridge had once spanned the river near his house (before I was born), and was washed away in a flood.  Across the river from his home is "Wild Cat Canyon," a large wash-out where I played with brother Jonnie as a kid.  From there, we passed the old Stafford place and soon we were going by the swimming hole where I spent many hot afternoons as a child.  And then, the bridge.  It was our bridge, as we referred to it over the years.  Less than a half mile from my childhood home, my four siblings and I spent many hours playing there, and it was where I launched my raft that took me down stream to the river bank on our own property.  Beyond the bridge is the seventy square feet of land I claimed as my island.  What incredible memories.  Within minutes we were at realtor Jerry Thompson's beautiful log home where we had stored our bikes.  Jerry worked with me more than two decades ago when I was selling some land in the area.  We biked back to Spooner and were in our motel room by 4 p.m.

All in all, it was a perfect day.  I would not recommend the trip for beginners or for the faint of heart.  What perhaps surprised us most was that we saw only one other boat during our long trek---some duck hunters pulling into shore.  The Yellow is truly the river less traveled by, to paraphrase  Robert Frost.

Here is John putting us in this morning and below is the wonderful bridge on Yellow River Road near my childhood home.