Canoeing the Eel River

last campsite Last week a small group of us decided to sally forth down the Eel River in Indiana.  The Eel is one of the nicer rivers in northern Indiana.

We all knew Darci Zolman, the instigator of this trip.  Rick Duff is the quintessential outdoorsman who knew the river up and down and led the way.  Tim Gerardot brought his dog Savannah, and his canoe.  I came along for the ride.

The weather was perfect for this trip, making it very pleasant and easy.  There were a lot of highlights on this trip.  We saw 76 species of birds, otters, beavers, deer, groundhogs, etc.  Luckily there were no porcupines.

Aside from the storytelling around the campfires, the highlight of the trip may have been working our way over an old, somewhat washed out dam.  Scroll down for the story.

Rick & Tim shoving off

Rick & Tim shoving off

Tim and I have done several canoe/backpacking trips together.  This was the first time we had met Rick, who worked with Darci and was chief planner of a Boundary Waters trip that they did a couple of years ago for a group of Older Earthy Gals.

Rick is the District Conservationist for Miami County for the USDA.  This means that he spends a lot of time working with farmers and landowners.  He seems to know every farmer in the county, which is handy when you’re looking for a campsite or a pullout.  He’s also familiar with the river and was a great guide.  We never got lost!

Savannah was a very good canoe dog!

Savannah was a very good canoe dog!

Savannah is an amazing dog to have along on a canoe trip.  She will just sit in the canoe and not wobble it or anything.  When they saw an otter playing in the river, she got her paws up on the side and wanted to jump in after it, but didn’t.  She comes on all of our canoe and backpacking trips.

Darci and I had less weight in our canoe ... easy paddling

Darci and I had less weight in our canoe … easy paddling

Tim & Rick examining the streambank stabilization project

Tim & Rick examining the streambank stabilization project

This was just weird.  There is all of this “stuff” along the bank for a couple of hundred yards.  It’s hard to imagine the amount of effort it took to get it there.  All sorts of scrap cars and other stuff.  At some point we need to find the history of this mess.

Campsite #1

Campsite #1

The campsites were perfect!  Sand and gravel bars along the river are nice for setting up a tent and having a campfire.  This was a great part of the trip.

Campsite #1 was quite peaceful and beautiful

Campsite #1 was quite peaceful and beautiful

Campsite #2

Campsite #2

 

The one portage was at the Stockdale Mill dam

The one portage was at the Stockdale Mill dam

Speaking of dams, this one provided plenty of excitement

Speaking of dams, this one provided plenty of excitement

Take a close look at the dam behind Tim & Rick.  You’ll see that it’s broken down on two sides but intact in the middle.  Rick say that it might be a bit “tricky” to negotiate.  Ha!!

If not for all of the stuff in our canoes, we may have been tempted to just blow over the top on one side or the other, but the thought of fishing our stuff out of the river if it didn’t work out prevented us from taking that path.  Instead, we decided to get out on the middle part of the dam, negotiate our canoes over the broken part using the ropes on  the ends of the canoes, and then gleefully hop back in the canoes and paddle on our way.  That’s not exactly how it panned out.

Tim and Rick were first.  Darci and I learned along the way to always let them go first so we could see what the hazards were.  They obliged here by finding the best way to swamp the canoe.  As soon as it was over the dam, they let it float towards the broken side of the dam before pulling it over to the intact side to get in.  Unfortunately, the backflow right under the dam pulled the canoe over and swamped it.  They managed to get it afloat enough to climb in and paddle it to a small island 4o yards downstream, but they had to leave Savannah on the dam because they were riding so low in the water it looked like they would sink it.  They managed to get it safely to the island and unloaded it and drained the water out.

We were next.  Canoeing up to the dam, I could barely see over it to see what they were doing.  Tim was calling Savannah to try to get her to jump and in and swim to the island.  Normally this would be an easy task for her, but the two foot jump into the water intimidated her and she wouldn’t do it.  When we got alongside the dam, she decided that a much safer thing to do would be to jump in our canoe and paddle safely down to them.  Of course she was wrong!  We didn’t have a spot for her and she had to scamper up and down the canoe, wobbling it this way and that, until she settled at the base of my feet.  Luckily we didn’t swamp the canoe during the process.

I could see over the dam and Tim was looking for Savannah because he couldn’t see that she jumped in our canoe.  So, I yelled to him that she was in our canoe.  He yelled back that she didn’t need to be in our canoe and could swim back on her own.  I yelled back that he needed to explain that to Savannah!  It wasn’t exactly our decision and we had our hands full just keeping the canoe steady.  We did have our hands on the dam and Darci was able to stand up and sit on the dam to get out of the canoe.  Then Savannah got the message that we were abandoning ship and jumped up on the dam, again nearly swamping our canoe, but after that all was steady and I was able to get out of the canoe.

Now, we just had to position the canoe to go straight over the dam, then pull it back to the intact side of the dam, not the broken side, hop in and gleefully paddle on down the river.  While we were working on that, Savannah finally gave in to Tim’s appeals and jumped in the river and swam to the island.  We successfully let the canoe slide over the dam and away from the broken side.  Success!  I was quite proud of myself until I realize that the canoe continued to float downstream while I was still hanging onto the rope.  Years of practicing knot-tying in boy scouts … all wasted!  At this point I think we were all laughing so hard that none of us sprang into action.

So, Rick hopped into his empty canoe and came and rescued us.  Tim waded out and grabbed our canoe and we were all now safely ensconced on the island!  Whew!!

The Redneck Yacht Club!

The Redneck Yacht Club!

I don’t know who this is, but he was the leader of a twenty vehicle group of revelers out for their annual Memorial Day river trip.  There were all sorts of canoes, kayaks, catamarans and paddle wheels.  They were all stocked with appropriate beverages and were a friendly bunch all out enjoying the river!

Darci enjoying the ride

Darci enjoying the ride

Journaling at the campsite

Journaling at the campsite

Miami Mist

Miami Mist

Wild Hyacinth

Wild Hyacinth

The final pullout ... we're still smiling!

The final pullout … we’re still smiling!

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2 Responses to Canoeing the Eel River

  1. jabinb says:

    I know the history of the mess you saw on the Eel. Would love to share sometime. The Eel is a great ride! So glad you got to enjoy it.

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