The last canoe adventure I wrote about was in April. It was just a 3-mile jaunt down the river. I had figured it would be a mostly casual float, but the snowmelt and Spring rains made for a high, fast flowing and cold river. I was a bit concerned and anxious. I wanted to be Cool Hand Luke, but I just wasn't very Cool Hand Luke. Everything wouldn’t be fine if we took a spill into the river - people would be shivering cold and cross words would be aired.
What a difference 60 days make. For this more recent adventure, mid-June, the air was a happy-go-lucky 80 F and the water temperature not far behind. This time I could be Cool Hand Luke. We were going on a splashy, carefree, summertime cruise. The plan was to put in at Smith Lake, paddle across the lake, through the thin river channel, shoot out into the wider Milwaukee River and float our way back to West Bend, about 5 or 6 miles in all. I looked at Google Maps for a total planning period of about 5 minutes, loaded the canoe, life jackets and paddles and drove off, ready for an easy afternoon of living life with flowing water, strong rays, abundant nature and great company.
We dropped a car just north of West Bend, in Barton, took the suburban and canoe 10 minutes further up the road where we found the Smith Lake boat launch. The grass covered “road” indicated the ramp was rarely used, but earthen ramp was perfectly adequate and right where google maps indicated we would find it.
We launched the canoe without even wetting the feet. An an easy paddle across the lake brought us through open water, cattails, grasses, lily pads and flowers. A bald eagle soared overhead. Ducks swam about. The air was calm and quiet, rays shone down in abundance. Perfect.
As we approached the opposite shoreline, the lake narrowed and the vegetation closed in where the channel flowed west out of Smith Lake and toward the Milwaukee River. We pushed through some vegetation, then around a blowdown log. “Is this the right way?” “Yup, sure..” Then we came to a road. I was hoping for a bridge and a nice stream flowing under it, but we found a 2’ diameter culvert with the water barely trickling along the bottom. “No problem, just a little portage!”
An hour later, I had drug the canoe 2000 ft - over a ¼ inch to 1 inch deep “channel”; under and in a bramble of cedars, berry bushes, grasses and miscellaneous scratching vegetation; through a corridor of nature between a field planted with corn and a farmyard clucking and moo-ing with chickens and dairy. The trickling channel was marked as “Stream Access Program”. I accessed it, alright, right up past my knees in the muck, thorns in my hair and certain that I had taken plenty of poison ivy and poison oak along on my skin to mark the memory.
Andrea walked on the margin of the corn field, listening to “Cool Hand Luke” smash his way through the brush like a Sasquatch. She could occasionally catch sight of my thorn-scratched, mud-caked and bug-bitten dumb ass. “You’re doing great!!” I appreciated her good cheer. Any adventure with me is liable to be a few clicks more “adventurous” than initially advertised, and this Google Map Thin Blue Line adventure had taken a twist well beyond a splashy summertime cruise. Andrea was either unfazed, knew to expect an increased level of adventure, or she just put on a great face of being fine with the whole thing. Regardless, a champion attitude.
Eventually we made it out to the main Milwaukee River channel. The water flowed several feet deep and 15 yards across. A gentle current pushed us along. Back to easy-living, put into context by the Thin Blue Line slog. We saw snapping and painted turtles, frogs, a hawk, and a beautiful brown-red fawn, just a few weeks old, sitting in the green grasses of the river and watching us float by. Adventure found, right in our back yard.