Our Wilderness Survival Story
OK, not wilderness really. But the Namekagon River in northern Wisconsin is part of an officially designated Scenic Riverway, so that’s kind of close. Little did we know that this river would test our wilderness survival skills (which is like testing our neurosurgery skills, as both are pretty limited).
The plan was that Judy, Daniel, and David would kayak on the river for a couple of hours. For myself, I like to avoid water craft of all kinds. I dropped the family off at Jack’s Canoe Rental, then headed over to the Trego Nature Trail for a nice little hike.
The kayaking got off to an idyllic start. The water was clean and lovely, the trees verdant, the weather mild, the sky an azure blue.
Things started going awry, however, about a half hour into the trip. Judy gave Daniel her phone (the boys had left their phones with me) and asked him to take her picture. In the process, Daniel got distracted and collided with a tree trunk lying in the water.
His kayak overturned, plopping him in the river along with Judy’s cell phone (which still sleeps with the fishes).
The current carried Judy, David, and Daniel’s kayak several yards downstream until Judy and David grabbed hold of some overhanging shrubs.
Danny, meanwhile, had managed to get on shore (did I mention he was barefoot?). Walking upstream proved pretty much impossible. The three of them could hear each others’ shouts but could not see each other, nor could they make out the words.
Eventually, Judy told David to kayak down to the landing at Jack’s and get some help. Meantime, she kept trying to shout to Daniel while sitting in her kayak, holding onto a branch and being eaten by mosquitos. After at least a half hour more of this she decided to try heading upstream.
This was not a good idea. The current pushed her kayak against some driftwood, where it promptly overturned and dumped Judy in the water, bringing our party’s aquatic immersion rate to 2 out of 3. Standing in the waist-high water, she tried to empty the waterlogged kayak with the only tool at her disposal, namely a one gallon Ziploc bag.
After an excruciating length of time, fortune smiled on Judy in the form of Carly and Rick, two people passing by in a canoe. They helped her dump the remaining water out of the kayak so she could get back in.
While all this was going on I was taking my hike, contemplating the trees and ferns, lichens and mosses. After two hours I got back into my car and headed to the landing by Jack’s. Just as I got to the river I saw David arriving in his kayak. (I think David qualifies as the most maritime member of our family, as he managed to avoid getting dumped and also is the only one of us who doesn’t get seasick.)
I was just about to congratulate him on his excellent timing when he told me there was a problem and that we needed to find Jack. We rushed to the rental office, images of emergency helicopter rescues filling my mind. Jack, however, could only suggest that we try to find our family members by walking along the river on the trail I had been hiking.
So David and I headed back to the Trego Nature Trail, which stretches along the riverbank for about three miles. We called out to Judy and Daniel, but answer came there none.
When we reached the end of the trail I called Jack, who told me that Daniel had just arrived in his office. Apparently Daniel had climbed the riverbank and dragged himself to the highway. There he was able to hitch a ride despite his shoeless, soaked, and disheveled appearance. Still no sign of Judy, however.
Then, as David and I hiked back down the trail we saw her, paddling downstream. We shouted that Daniel was fine and she should meet us at Jack’s landing. She did so, and we were finally all reunited.
Judy, Daniel and David are moderately experienced kayakers. They all agreed the main lesson of the day’s events was a simple one: you really have to pay attention and look where you are going, especially when the current is a little faster and the water full of more obstacles than you are used to. They were a little overconfident given the conditions.
To commemorate these traumatic events, we had decided to propose a Namekagon River Inept Outdoorsman Triathlon (RIOT). Legs of the event would include:
- Kayaking for one mile, then falling into the water (extra points for style);
- Bailing water out of your kayak with a Ziploc bag;
- Climbing the riverbank and hitchhiking to the kayak rental office.
In case this idea doesn’t catch on, we bought some t-shirts from Jack to make sure we would remember the day.
Actually, our week in the woods was very nice, in spite of overturning kayaks. More details in future posts.