Wading the Belle River
After last month’s kayaking trip down the Belle River from Braidwood Road to Gratiot, if felt like we had unfinished business. Sure, we’ve been on fifteen miles of the river, but what about the rest?! It’s a long ways to the end, where it empties out into the St. Clair River. We hoped for rain, but the river levels didn’t rise much over the past month. Ekaterina had the idea to just leave the boats at home and walk; on the last trip we did spent quite a bit of time out of the boats, dragging them behind us, so it made sense to me.
Yesterday we went into the river where we left off, at the Gratiot overpass. I had some concerns about my truck being impounded while we were out, so I crossed my fingers and we left a note on the windshield. Ekaterina brought Aya, one of her Central Asian Shepherd dogs (here is her website). She cleverly had the dog carry its own backpack. I had the contents of my own backpack in dry bags inside, not knowing how deep the river would be.
It started out like I remembered, with slippery mud on the river bank. The river was varied, some places had deep, stinking mud. If we stepped in it wrong, disgusting bubbles of swamp gas would rise to the surface. The smell was astonishing and unexpected. Other areas had nice a firm sandy bottom, or small stones that were easy to walk on. We also had our fair share of big ankle-turning rocks to walk through, and of course the underwater obstacles.
The water isn't especially clear, so in the shallowest places it was easy to see the bottom, but in others it was quite murky. On several occasions we'd be wading along happily, then a tree branch would surprise us on the shins to make sure we were paying attention! We had quite a few of these algae-covered trees to climb over, and several massive blockages, some probably from beavers.
I was able to negotiate most of these mid-water obstacles by climbing over them, reminding me of American Ninja Warrior; Ekaterina had to take her dog over the banks, getting to experience a fun native plant: stinging nettle. Of course the dog didn't notice the nettles or the poison ivy with her thick coat. Lucky dog. The water level varied, from sand bars that we were able to walk on to chest-deep water where I thought we might have to swim. Knee and hip deep water was common. Aya did do quite a bit of swimming; it was a fairly strenuous trip but she did great.
If we had wanted to stop walking, we could have tried to salvage one of the two boats we found, likely washed away by high water some time ago. The canoe has clearly been part of the river for a long time, but we actually know the original owner of the kayak; it traveled nearly twenty miles from its home. It was mostly sunken when we found it, trapped against a logjam and filled with mud.
We got to see a few blue herons and a few deer, plus tons of small fish. We also found lots of clams; I couldn't resist picking up a few different varieties of shells. It's interesting how many types there are. We only saw one turtle, resting peacefully under the water. We did see several indents where turtles had been sunning themselves in the mud. We stopped to filter water by a patch of milkweed, such a nice smell. What we did not see was people; we may have been close to the road at some points, but we didn't see a single person all day.
When we made it back to the road, incredibly, my truck was still where I parked it. All in all, we waded for around seven and a half hours with just a short lunch break. We covered around nine miles and got out just before I-94, so it wasn't a very efficient way to travel. Still, we will have to come back, the St. Clair River is still quite a ways away.
We might be walking along the river, but I'll be in a boat soon: our Kayak Essentials sea kayaking classes have moved to a new location and are available from Monday - Thursday. Sign up to learn how to prepare for the unexpected!