Paddling the Coleen River
June 10 It’s 5:30 AM. I push my kayak out into a good current on the Coleen River. This will be my first full day on the water.
After a few hours the river splits into two major channels. I pick the faster, right hand fork. It’s soon apparent that this is a new channel. Ahead is a log jam. As I approach I look for a gap, but there is none. I quickly paddle to the slower side and pull the bow up on a small log. I step across and carry my gear to the gravel bar on the other side. People worry about bears, and they are certainly something to think about, but water is far more dangerous. I might have been able to squeeze past the sweeper on the far bank, but if I got stuck and the boat turned sideways and got pinned? That’s how people get into trouble. That’s how gear gets lost.
It’s easy to pull my light, empty boat over the log. It only takes a couple of minutes to secure my load and hop back in.
A mature bald eagle wheels overhead. I’ve seen many eagles on this trip, but I think all the others were golden eagles.
Around a corner stand a cow and calf moose. The calf is brown and fuzzy and long-legged. As I approach the cow and calf step closer together and the long hair on the cow’s hump stands up and I hear a low, threatening rumble in her chest. I paddle on the opposite side of the narrow channel, watching her ears. If her ears go all the way back she might be about to charge. Thankfully, the encounter ends peacefully.
I beach the kayak for lunch. I open a big sausage. I’ve been burning through a ridiculous amount of calories, so the salty, fatty meat really hits the spot. I put together my telescopic fishing rod and cast a spinner out into the deep water next to the opposite bank. I expected to catch a fish on the first cast, but even in the wilderness if the fish aren’t biting, they aren’t biting.
I turn on my GPS to see how far I’ve come. Somehow I hit the wrong button and all of my waypoints, all of my plotted routes, disappear! I’ve had this model of GPS for ten years and have carried it thousands of miles. This is a first. How did that happen? It’s not actually as big of a disaster as it might seem. I’ve still got my maps on the GPS. The only thing I’ve really lost is my plotted camps up until this point. I’ve got my route and other waypoints on both my iPhone and inReach. Redundancy is good.
In the evening I check out several potential campsites but the first ones are too rocky or uneven. Finally I find a nice spot. I set up my tent in the grass. The sun has come out so I hang up my socks and sleeping bag and inverted waders to dry. A few large horseflies buzz around. And white sox. None are very aggressive.
I set up the solar charger to take advantage of the sun and charge up my iPhone. Solar charging is a camp chore that I enjoy. It’s fun to get free energy, to see my battery percentage steadily climbing. What a pleasant evening. I’ve traveled 30 miles as the crow flies today, a good 45 river miles.
July 11 This morning I’m paddling against a moderate headwind, but the current more than compensates for it. The sun periodically appears from behind a mostly cloudy sky. Beavers are plentiful, including an occasional young one. There are also Canada geese with large “Baby Huey” goslings. The goslings seem like slow, easy prey, but the adults put on an aggressive display if I suddenly appear too close.
A mink runs along the shore, constantly hunting and investigating, with a lope reminiscent of the much larger wolverine.
I am surprised to hear a rumble. I turn around to see a thunderhead looming to the northwest. For a while it looks like the storm is going to slide past me, but then the headwind turns to a tailwind and the rain hits, hard. I keep paddling. This is where my goretex waders really shine. My rain jacket overlaps them so except for around my face and hands and wrists I stay dry.
The rain lets up. More black clouds threaten. I quickly set up camp on flat, fine gravel, with willows protecting my tent from thunderstorm winds. I’m set. It can rain and blow all it wants.
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