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In mid April (16th-17th) of 2011 Colin and I went on our first overnight canoeing trip together. When I say 'overnight' I mean camping on the river, no noisy campgrounds and no 'civilization' of any kind. As you can imagine, taking a three year old on a trip like this would normally be a challenge. Add to that the fact that it had been raining a ton the week before and we really didn't know what we were getting into.
We had bought our new Kayak (Wilderness Systems Commander 120) in March but other than a yearly 'float' trip or two I hadn't done anything like this since my two trips on the Crow Wing River through Scouts...and that had been a LONG time ago. Colin had gone on his first float at 18 months with myself and Laura and loved it (Meramec State Park). We took him again at 30 months, and his sister Kristin came along (Gasconade Hills). He loved the water and spent all his summer evenings at the pool, so I wasn't worried about that. What we weren't prepared for was the high and fast river as well as the cold temperatures.
We had left home around 6:00 a.m. and arrived at Mountain Creek Campground on the Niangua River a little after 9:00. Everyone was still sleeping in given the dreary weather. It was around 50 degrees and the rain had just stopped. Travis, whom I had spoken with on the phone, rode with us to the access at Moon Valley Road. He helped us unload and then shuttled our car back to the campground, but only after making sure we were set. I wasn't so sure we should be doing this because the river was fast and it was cold. However, there was good cell phone service so I figured we could bail if need be. This was it...what I had been waiting for. I was either going to start paddling on a regular basis or I had wasted a lot of money on gear!
Sure enough, after about a mile into the trip Colin got splashed and started shivering. I mean REALLY shivering. Being that the river was high there were not many places to stop, but I new we needed to get him warmed up. We found a small gravel patch along the shore and pulled over. Figuring we might be here a while (it looked like the rain might start up again) I quickly pitched the tent, got out his sleeping bag and got him out of his wet clothes. In no time at all he was warm and happy watching movies and playing games on my old iPhone...which quickly became 'his.' We laid around playing and relaxing for several hours.
About 2:00 p.m. we heard voices. I poked my head out of the tent to see half a dozen paddlers floating by. As it turns out these were the only people we would see on the river all weekend. We would later learn that they were members of the Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club of Kansas City. Not only were there others on the river but the sun had come out and warmed things up to around 72 degrees! I asked Colin if he would like to continue on and he emphatically said yes! So, after packing up again we were off.
All of the paddling I had done in my youth and on my summer floats since had been slow moving class I water. Though this was by no means anything over Class II it was new to me...and so was the boat. Our new Kayak was great! It could haul both of us as well as enough gear for a week long trip. However, it sits lower in the water than a canoe and it took a bit to get used to the tracking. The current will grab ahold of the keel and turn you a lot more than a canoe. So, with the swift water, new boat, and debris in the water, it was a fun but tiring day of paddling. We went another 7.5 miles for around 8.5 total before we found a campground just past Bennett Springs State Park. It was actually maybe the second patch of gravel we had seen since our first stop, and it was beautiful. We had just enough daylight to setup camp and for Dad to make dinner (Mac & Cheese) before dark. We spent a little time reading and watching movies but were both out cold before 9:00 p.m.
The next morning we awoke to beautiful sunshine and singing birds. The water had dropped 6"-10" and the weather was gorgeous. Not in much of a hurry we had a nice breakfast of eggs and played around camp. The canoers from the day before passed by and said they were 'glad to see us alive' in a mostly joking tone. We packed up and hit the water, soon catching up to them at the Barclay Conservation Access where we had lunch and they were taking out.
With just a few miles to go we continued to enjoy the scenery, wildlife (Blue Herons), and sunshine! Little did we know our most exciting, and potentially dangerous, part of the trip awaited us. About a mile from our takeout I spotted a downed tree ahead. It wasn't just an old dead log, but a newly fallen tree with all of it's branches, and it was blocking the entire river! I tried to paddle to the shore but quickly realized we were stuck in the current. The GPS later would tell us we had been going 8.8 mph! Heading for the tree sideways and not having the strength to get out of the current I knew this could be bad. I told Colin to hold on, swung the boat around, and headed for a 5ft wide gap with branches 3ft over the water. We ducked and I expected to hit the trunk. However, the water was moving with such force that there was roughly 6" of water on top of the trunk and the water on the other side was a good 18" lower. We shot through like a ride at the water park and let out a woo who as we did!
A nice relaxing paddle was all that we encountered from there to our takeout. But in that mile I did a lot of thinking and realized that I did love doing this as much as I remembered (if not more) and that we could handle this! I loved being outdoors, but more importantly, I loved sharing it with my son! Yes, we would be doing this again.
We loaded up the car and headed home. It wasn't long before a very tired boy was snoozing in the back seat. I drove home physically tired but mentally refreshed. I had found what was missing from my life.