Trip Planning Meeting and Journeys with my Father

You must love this time of year as the days get longer and spring is getting closer by the minute. This is the time of year where CPA starts planning events for the upcoming season beginning with the Trip Planning Meeting. It scheduled for March 31, 2021 at 7:00 PM EST and it will be via ZOOM. Click here to register

The planning meeting is where the current or new trip leaders start populating the calendar. This is by no means the only chance to list a trip, but it is a great start. Let this be the year that you lead a trip and show us your favorite place to paddle. Your place may be routine to you but most of us have yet to see it so please share.

This past year CPA saw a lot of new faces with some old timers joining us again or some new paddlers, either case, welcome. Some of the paddlers I met have a long history of paddling and some are new to the sport. I am one that started at a very young age since I was about ten years old.

How I Got my Paddle On

My father had just changed jobs when my grandfather offered him a partnership in his long-established roofing business. This meant he had more time to spend with his growing family since he was well on his way to becoming the father of nine children including seven boys.

About this time the world’s first Kmart was opened about a mile from our home. This meant nothing to my father who would not be caught dead in such a place until my mom mentioned they even sold canoes.

My father made a bee line for this new store and came out with a canoe, paddles and a few horse collar PFD’s. I remember him justifying this purchase to my mom with “I always wanted to canoe and now that I am thirty, I do not have too many years left where I can still do this.” I doubt if my mom bought it, but at ten, I sure did. I even felt sorry for him.

When the weekend rolled around, we were off to the river. Being the oldest I was drafted first along with my brother Joe who is a year younger than me. It did not matter that it was still April in Michigan, which can rival January in Maryland. I remember our paddling clothes were sweatpants, sweatshirts and last year’s worn-out sneakers. Canoes did not come with an owner’s manual back then, so you were on your own.

The river we paddled on was the Huron River which is a beautiful river. We would start from Hudson Mills and take out at Delhi rapids. This was our favorite section, so we paddled it frequently. At ten years old the rapids at Hudson Mills and Delhi seemed like class five rapids, but in reality they were class 1-2 at the most. The riverbanks were almost entirely wooded park land with a section through the quaint town of Dexter, Michigan so the scenery was excellent.

Along this trip was a paddle-in campsite which was rare in the early 60’s. My father would tell us that we would paddle in and camp once the weather got warmer. When summer rolled around, I asked my father if we could canoe camp this coming weekend which he replied we would go when he got home from work the next day.

I was so excited that I spent the day gathering our gear. I do not think we even owned a tent or sleeping bags, but I managed to put together a suitable replacement and it was warm enough to sleep under the stars.

When my father finally got home from work, he told me maybe another time, but my mom let him have it so off to the river we went since you cannot break a promise to a ten-year-old. After paddling to our campsite and settling in for the evening my father was soon snoring.

As the faint moonlight came up, I looked towards the river and could make out the silhouette of a person standing there. I was petrified, and my father was sound asleep. My ten-year-old brain started imagining the worst. I recalled that the Huron River dumps into Lake Erie and that people had recent sightings of the Lake Erie monster, the Michigan version of big foot. But the Lake Erie monster was mean, not like the gentle giant out west, and never mind that Lake Erie was about 70 river miles away. I must have finally drifted off to sleep because when I woke in the morning, I realized the person standing there was the sign for the campsite.

The Later Years

Over the years I continued canoeing with my father and when I was not available, as my younger brothers came of age they also paddled with him. My sisters always had an excuse why they could not go.

I used to think I was the only one that continued paddling as an adult but that is not true since all my brothers own one or more kayaks, one brother even made a cedar strip and canvas canoe.

My father continued to paddle until he was 56 years old when he had a disabling construction accident that left him a quadriplegic. I remember visiting him a few years after his accident and he was studying a map of the Sand River which dumps into the north shore of Lake Superior in Lake Superior Provincial Park. He told me this trip was the top of his bucket list. He gave me the map because he told me I am the only one that would think about doing such a trip.

I paddled the Sand River with a friend shortly after his death and thought of him often while on the trip especially during some of the 29 portages. I felt like he was with me in spirit on that trip, I will always remember that trip as my favorite.

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