A couple of weeks ago, although it was getting a little colder, Ekaterina and I felt like river exploration season hadn’t yet ended. This year we paddled (and portaged…) stretches of the main and south branches of the Flint River, about thirty miles over two days, which is only a small percentage of the total waterway. For both of those two days we parked at the same location, a three-way fork in the river. It was clearly time to get started on exploring the third branch, the north.
The south and main branches of the river are regularly used for kayaking. Trees are cleared, maps are produced, there may be ramps and access points. The north branch is different. I haven’t been able to find any mention of anyone paddling it, and there are no dedicated access points. We did our research and drove to a couple of places where the river intersected roads and saw that it looked plenty wide and deep enough to attempt, and wasn't just a creek or drainage ditch.
When I woke up early the morning of, there was frost on my truck. I did begin to wonder at the wisdom of doing a trip that would surely involve getting very wet when it was so cold. However, the forecast for the day was decent and I do have plenty of suitable clothing. No excuses would be sufficient to get back into bed.
I looked at Google Maps, on satellite view, and picked out a likely starting point. There were other options, but they all seemed too close. It would be a shame to drive all the way out there and have a short, unfulfilling trip. We dropped off Ekaterina’s car at the confluence of the three branches and took my truck to the start. It took us a while to find a decent parking spot, and I ended up not too far from the river, parked on the grassy shoulder of a dirt road.
Under the road we were launching at, there was a mostly sunken rowboat, filled with mud, the rest nestled in poison ivy. Not really a good omen! Someone did try to navigate these waters at one point, but perhaps without great success 😂. We could see the first portage from this point, a sight we would become used to.
It did warm up fairly quickly, so wading waist-deep in the chilly water wasn’t that bad. All in all, we did very little paddling. Some portages were big, some were small, but they were all very close together. On some blockages we got lucky and were able to squeeze under, laying completely flat on the kayak, usually scraping spiderwebs with our noses. When we were unlucky, we’d drag the boats up the banks at the spot with the least poison ivy and nettles. I’d take nettles over the poison ivy any day but would still rather have neither!
One interesting feature of this area was all the burrs. Past river trips seemed to have fewer of them. Our pants were thickly adorned after a few hours. We did see some interesting deer stands, some so well camouflage that I missed them at first. There were also a few deer in the river, some muskrats, and some fairly gross swarms of red beetles covering some of the plants, milkweed bugs.