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.

Namekagon River seen from Trego Nature Trail. Since Judy's phone ended up in the river I have no pictures of any family members kayaking on this trip.
Namekagon River seen from Trego Nature Trail. Since Judy’s phone ended up in the river I have no pictures of any family members kayaking on this trip. These pictures were taken with my phone.

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).

Another view of the Namekagon.
Another view of the Namekagon.

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.

At least this didn't happen.  Source: Dommy.wordpress.com
At least this didn’t happen. Source: Dommy.wordpress.com

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.

One of the first maple trees turning color, viewed through branches of white pine.
One of the first maple trees turning color, viewed through branches of white pine.

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.

24 Comments on “Our Wilderness Survival Story”

  1. Oh my, I’m glad you al made it back to shore safely! I’m sure I could be a contender for the RIOT award should you decide to hold a competition, but I doubt I’d get in a kayak or canoe in the first place. Glad to hear you had a good time on your trip in spite of this misadventure.

  2. I know this is a bit dark and twisted, but this is really funny. The ziploc bag idea is priceless. I love the concept of an event based on ineptitude. It might be hard to pick a winner. I probably would have ended up in the river, too. I’m glad everyone is ok. :o)

    • They were already planning the triathlon by the time I finally reached Jack’s, and I will say that the humor helped me recover. I felt pretty stupid bailing my kayak with a baggie, but it passed the time (I figure an hour), and when I did get rescued, the kayak was light enough we could tip it and dump the rest of the water.

  3. Good grief! I’m pleased to hear that all went well as these situations can easily get out of control, I speak from bitter experience! Respect to David!
    The pictures look lovely, it sounds like a wonderful place to chill….well, when out of the water! I shall look forward to hearing more about it.xxx

  4. Oh my goodness! This is something you all will be telling for a lifetime!! I am so glad that everyone is ok! I can not get over how trying this was for everyone…and tell Judy she is a trooper!!! I did have a little chuckle when you mentioned you were observing trees and bits as they were trying to stay afloat!! If you had only known!! Sounds like an exciting trip Jason! Wishing you a wonderful week! Nicole

  5. Thank goodness no serious damage was done! I don’t normally laugh at other people’s misfortune, but you had me giggling with your tale. It will be one of those stories to pass down through generations! LOL! Hope the next trip goes more smoothly – if there IS a next trip…

  6. Hi Jason, that’s hilarious and I’m glad you’re all safe and there were no serious accidents (apart from the phone). It’s the thought of you communing with nature and contemplating the autumn colour on the trail, totally oblivious to all that pandemonium happening on the water.

  7. I am so glad everyone was safe by the end of the story. I think maybe this will be one of those trips none of you will forget =) I agree with Sunil Patel that from a distance it all sounds rather hilarious. I too saw you examining mosses and ferns while in the distance there was much arm waving and sobs.

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