Ekaterina and I enjoyed the Flint River the first time we went, so we thought we should explore more of it. The South Branch joins up with the North Branch, which then flows into the main river. For planning this trip, I found a map with more details than Google Maps. Strangely though, no mileages between points were described, only 'float times.' Not being sure what drift speed they were using, this wasn't very helpful. I studied it for a while then abandoned the project and decided we would just begin at the beginning and leave a second car at an access point on the North Branch. The float times for the whole South Branch added up to 14.5 hours, but surely we paddle a little faster than the average tuber.
Early on it was pretty quiet, with some little tiny rapids that were fun. Strangely we passed through a construction zone, with the river partially roped off. Spring construction is no joke in Michigan. We picked up our first pond snail around then, the first of many. I was surprised to see so many different sizes and colors. I have a minor outbreak of these snails in my aquarium right now so they were an unpleasant reminder! I did of course take photos to send to my partner to ask if I should bring any home.
Deerflies were some of the less enjoyable wildlife. Nothing stops them (except sturdy clothing I suppose...) and their bite is really unpleasant. At times there were none, and at other times they were so distracting that it was difficult to concentrate on paddling. Fortunately, with the tandem one person can be swatting frantically at deerflies and the other can keep the boat moving! Other animals of note were a heron, a muskrat, one disturbingly large water spider, and some beautiful dragonflies in the process of laying eggs.
For the most part, the river banks were covered with poison ivy and nettles and not very inviting, meaning we really couldn't use the shore at any point to detour around blockages; up and over was the only option. This stretch of river is kept relatively clear by volunteers, but we encountered at least fifteen or twenty fallen trees and other obstacles. There were no massive obstructions like on the Belle River (featured in earlier blog posts), but we still had some good challenges.
I thought using the tandem kayak for this trip might be inconvenient for portaging and logjams because of the heavier size, but it was actually easier than dragging two smaller boats. Two people working together on a single problem was less difficult than doing it separately. Strange. The most off-putting thing was when the downed trees had poison ivy on them, further limiting the options! One tree even had two piles animal poop on it! So some racoon or fox decided to walk out on to a tree multiple times to poop. Astonishing. And smelly.
As for smells, we didn't just have unpleasant ones. Many of the trees that are hanging low over the river are linden trees, and the smell is amazing. I never really noticed them before, but Ekaterina pointed them out and I've come to appreciate them quite a bit.
The weather has been hot all week, with frequent storms. When its really humid here in the summer it seems like there is usually some chance of a storm predicted, so I wasn't too worried. After three or four hours, we spotted an inviting patch of grass by a bridge at the side of the river, the first area like it for miles. As we got out to stretch and eat we noticed the sky was getting quite dark. So the weather prediction was accurate! I still had a little cell service and checked the radar map, it showed about ten minutes of clear skies left. At the same time my partner sent a text message wondering if we were alive and saying the house had just lost power 😂
We had time to finish eating and get back in the boat, deciding to study the graffiti under the bridge for a little while and see how the weather progressed. Sure enough, it was quite the downpour, with a fair amount of thunder and lightening. For us it was perfect timing. During our break I reviewed the map. Compared to where our end point was, we still had comically far to go. At least the days are long this time of year! When the worst of it seemed to have passed we started off again; astonishingly the deerflies were not deterred by the rain.
All in all it was a great trip. I love it when there are some unknowns, in this case the distance, which ended up being twenty-three miles over about about ten hours. This is especially fun because my last hiking trip with the exact mileage unknown ended up also being twenty-three miles. Next time we're planning to head upriver, to an area that doesn't have float times recorded.
Below are photos (some with captions), and a couple of video clips. If you're interesting in taking a trip with me, there are a few spaces left on group backpacking trips this summer and fall (gear & food are provided). Negwegon at Night is a beginner's trip during a meteor shower, and Wild Heart & I Am Enough are women's backcountry yoga retreats.
Waiting out the storm in luxuriously dry accommodations.
Ekaterina doing some remodeling.