A memorable paddle down the Flambeau River in 1971
A highlight for many canoeists in northwest Wisconsin is to be one of the first to paddle down the Flambeau River in the spring. Being the owners of the Flambeau Lodge in Rusk County, Wisconsin, was a real advantage for us in the "Spring Run of '71."
An unusual warm hard rain, which destroyed six inches of snow overnight, broke winter's hold on northern Wisconsin. The Flambeau River was forced to open early. Chunks of ice a foot thick shaped like giant puzzle pieces were grunting, rolling and mashing their way down the river. Erie sounds of crushing, rushing ice filled the same air where only days before hung a frozen silent stillness.
I stood in wonder as these enormous chunks of ice were being pushed into the banks of the river, forcing rocks the size of cars out of the riverbanks. Trees, which have shaded the shoreline for over a hundred years, were being torn out by their roots and ground to pulp by the slow but ever moving ice floe.
It was all over in just two days. The shoreline looked as though a pair of large bulldozers had forced their way along its edge. Sheets of ice 10 feet wide were stacked eight high, like poker chips, at a bend in the river. The ice had never gone out this early or this fast, and the river had never been this high.
A cold shiver rippled through my body as we made plans to be the first to canoe the Flambeau River this early in the spring.
My brother-in-law, Ron, looked at me with those sparkling yet sinister eyes and asked, "Who we gona get to take pictures tomorrow?"
Now, we'd been talking all winter about being the first to canoe down the Flambeau and this was our chance. Ron was 10 years older then me and had a adventuresome, kid-like, approach to life. The only occasional downside to that was he never liked to embark on adventuresby himself. That's what I was around for, his partner.
"I'll ask my wife," I said, adding, "Eileen loves to take action shots."
But Ron reminded me "Eileen isn't only afraid of the water, she's petrified of canoes. And besides, she's pregnant with your baby."
I told Ron that it wouldn't hurt to ask her. He just laughed and started making plans to hit the water.
The entirety of Jerry Gillis' story appears in the July 2012 print edition of Silent Sports. To order a copy or subscribe, call 800/759-6397.