Although by now Ekaterina and I have probably been on at least as many miles of the Belle River as anyone else, we still haven't traveled the full distance. It remains unfinished business. But despite the lack of rain and the immovable height of the river gauge, we decided to keep pushing forward and spend another day with our hobby (perhaps 'quest' is a better word.) We must make it to the St. Clair River! And then possibly further upstream too, we'll see.
So this time, unlike the last, we brought kayaks. We went on foot last time and waded, but the water level was getting a bit higher the further downstream we went. Also it was much cooler this day, around 73 degrees. Not cold of course, but not really balmy enough to be waist-deep in water all day.
We used Ekaterina's boats. My sea kayaks are certainty not up for this niche task. I used a sit-on-top and added a nice dragging leash, and she used her new inflatable kayak. I was skeptical that this pool toy would be sturdy enough to not puncture during the abuse of the Belle River, but it does have the advantage of being very light and easy to carry. And we do spend a lot of time carrying and dragging the boats.
After parking my truck at a pullout on the side of the road, we had a long carry to the bridge. It's good to get the boat-carrying triceps warmed up early. The river had a pleasant depth to start and stayed that way for most of the trip. Of course we had some shallow areas where we had to get out, but not nearly as many as in the stretches further upriver.
This area was notable for its logjams and beaver dams. There were some truly massive blockages. The photos don't really convey how thoroughly the river is blocked. When we were able to paddle, we were fairly quick. But then we would encounter a series of dams and it would take us some time to navigate. It was often tough to decide which river bank we wanted to try to portage over, the least steep, sure, but also with a preference towards the least nettles and poison ivy.
I do like avoiding the nettles by climbing over the jams, but with the really big ones it feels too risky, especially with the kayak in tow. The biggest dam we encountered was a doubly offensive; probably ten feet tall with nettles growing on the top of it!
After our first major portage, Ekaterina noticed an audible leak in her inflatable boat. We had decided that it wouldn't be necessary to bring the pump, but no big deal. Worst case scenario we could tie the deflated pile of rubber on to my boat and wade. I did have some duct tape in my first aid kit, but it didn't stick to the boat well enough to help.
Remarkably, the boat maintained its slow leak the entire trip without sinking too low into the water. I'm not sure if it self-seals or if a leaf just got stuck to the hole, but we were pleased. The water was pretty murky and perhaps not the best to wade through.
We saw a few interesting net systems on pulleys, for catching something. Any ideas? The wildlife was great as usual, with zero people sightings. We saw lots of deer and a variety of birds, including a green heron. I haven't seen one before; they're really interesting and it took us a while to figure out what it was. Also of note was an unusual looking plant with a cluster of green berries. We weren't tempted to eat them, but after looking it up it turns out they are in fact poisonous and will be turning bright red soon. There were also a lot of pretty wildflowers. It really is a beautiful river. Also of note were the many spiders that caught rides with us.
In nearly eight hours we made it under nine miles, which is an even slower pace then our river wade. The boats actually slowed us down during the portages. It looks like the next section will be more paddling and less gymnastics, but we'll see!
If you want to improve your paddling on open water, check out my Kayak Essentials course.
It was not a surprise.