26 Jun

The Fox River Canoe Trip Thunderstorm Expedition

Steven K. Ledin,

Call me Ishmael.

The Fox River through Illinois isn't what you might call a grade 5 waterway. Maybe a 4. Nope, not even a 3 or a 2. In fact, it struggles to be an adult 1.

But in a thunderstorm in an aluminum canoe it's a bit more challenging. My Shirley and I received a gift certificate for Starved Rock state park last year from her boss and were finally able to break away from work to use it. Family watched the dogs. Rain was forecasted for every day before, during, and after our date at Starved Rock Lodge. Our planned canoe trip looked destined to be canceled.

We arrived at C&M Canoe Rental, a bar, at 10 AM under brooding skies. My Shirley insisted that we should try to get the couple hour trip in before the weather made up its mind. I hadn't canoed in years, and My Shirley isn't exactly a Potawatomi Indian, either. We grabbed our cooler with beer and snacks and other gear. No tanning lotion was required. We were driven up river 7 miles then tossed out with a canoe and a couple of life jackets and paddles. The driver pointed and told us to go that way until you go under the bridge, then look left. We should see the landing. Now, you can call me Magellan only in jest, because I've been lost in states, countries, and continents. A caribou trip by the Arctic Circle was a fun one. If you tell me you'll meet me on the other side of a tree I might get turned around a couple of times before I arrive. But I put on my manly airs to impress My Shirley and make her feel relaxed. There's a reason she's the navigator of our team. She's good with a GPS and not forgetting freeway exits whereas I'm just a dork.

We had the best padded canoe seats available, AKA couch cushions from our living room. We didn't even expect to get them dirty. Not that they weren't already, So we pushed off with Shirley in the front. It was a non-event, thankfully. The last time I pushed off a canoe in the same Fox River I capsized my friend Don and me and all our fishing gear. The rain didn't start for almost 5 minutes, a lovely, refreshing rain, scintillating against the skin, cooling in the humid morning. Rockwellian, almost. The overworked middle aged couple trying to reclaim a sliver of youth in an aluminum canoe, both smiling and having a wondrous time with each other, happy on God's own bubbling river of life. The sun shone through a couple of clouds and all was right with the world.

Then I turned my head and saw the clouds. Black and heavy and mean. The delirious color, or lack of, was shocking in its intensity, and instantly the sense of humor was drained. In a few minutes, the deluge dumped on us until visibility was about 50 yards. It was one of those times when your car wipers couldn't keep up. The sun didn't exist at this time. The hurricane-force winds (ok, maybe 30 mph) pushed us at a right angle to the shore, with no place to beach our boat, and little to hold onto when we got there. We couldn't steer at all, and Shirley's understanding of nautical forces and boat handling was nil. Fortunately, mine was several percent more. With gargantuan skill and a tremendous amount of willpower and brute force we stayed the course, since there was no lightning and it was still kinda funny. There was no windbreak in the middle of the river, so we felt the brunt of the force, pushing us around at its whim. But the winds only lasted strong like that for a short while, then we just had to deal with the downpour. My Magellanism came out and I took the correct route both times I had to choose a way.

We weren't dressed for such a dip in temperature, and My Shirley was a bit "bumpy" in her spaghetti strap top, if you catch my drift. Her chivalrous husband gladly donated his sopping shirt to the cause, plus, she got to see her heartthrob's physical gun show. It turned into a long haul to come, since all this happened in the first 15 minutes of our trip and we still had miles to go. We chugged on in silence only broken by the middle-aged husband futilely vociferating  his suggestions like, "The other way, woman!", and, "Need some help, here, baby!". The white water raged in some places for several feet, and going over some rapids (Ha!) I may have even felt the boat move up and down. Actually, I make more rapids getting into the tub.

The winds were down, the rain came down a bit less hard, and we relaxed a bit and floated. I had a beer. We were having fun with such silliness. I stopped the canoe by the mouth of a cave and bravely went into it where only thousands before me had ventured. I knew that because of all the names scratched in the limestone walls. I felt a bit like Louis and Clark. Jerry Lewis and a Clark bar. We were kinda hungry. One of the most pleasant discoveries I made on the trip is how good a warm, sopping wet sofa cushion feels under your butt. Highly recommended.

Shirley relaxed while I paddled, mostly. We didn't see humans or game the whole trip. Not even a frog would be out in rain like this. But we still chugged on, while the rain lessened more, and the clouds parted. Sun came through in rays. We had a lot of water in the boat, and everything in it may as well have been submerged. We got to the bridge and looked left for a while until we saw the landing. We didn't exactly kiss mother earth, and our sea legs didn't leave us too wobbly. I had another beer and pondered the rest of our vacation day. All was well with the world once again.

Our sofa cushions are still drying a week later.

My Zeiss Pocket binoculars weren't very much use on this trip.

About Steven K. Ledin

Steve has never not known guns. Before motorcycles, money, or girls, they have always been part of his life. He was tenured as General Manager of one of the country’s largest gun stores and ranges, a buyer in a big box sporting goods store, and is currently OpticsPlanet’s Director of Product Intelligence. He was a US Navy gunners mate, and is an NRA certified instructor in ten categories, as well as an Illinois CCW instructor. He shoots competitively and has hunted from Alaska to Africa. He thoroughly loves life with his beloved wife, Shirley, and their three wildish dogs Tinker, TranRek (pronounced “Train Wreck”), and Crash Almighty. He is a stubborn stage 4 cancer survivor not yet ready to cash in his chips.

Leave a Reply

Back to Entries