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January 1st 2010. My friend Bill Perkins wants to be the first one to paddle the Crystal River this year and this decade. So here we are at Fishers Landing with winter boots and many layers of wool and polypropylene clothing. His little ford station wagon is not quite stuck in the snowbank. We unload his old aluminum canoe and immediately appreciate the first difference of winter canoeing. Instead of carrying the canoe and gear to the river we just pull it across the snow like a big sled.
The Crystal River is the only river in our county. It is a twisty, four miles from Big Glen Lake to Lake Michigan and most of that is through cedar swamps in The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In the warmer months there are many fisherman, canoeists and Kayakers on the Crystal but New Years Day Bill and I had it to ourselves.
After the first few minutes we encountered one of the inconveniences of winter canoeing. We could not get to the portage around a small dam because of ice along the shore. It was too thick to paddle and too thin to walk on. Eventually we got to shore and put in again below the dam. One of the benefits of canoeing in the winter is how still and beautiful a river can be. Around every bend was another picture-postcard view of the scenic river flowing through untracked snow and large flakes of new snow falling as we paddled silently around deadfalls and sandbars.
All too soon we were approaching the takeout, which had another ice challenge for us. We manage to get ashore without either one of us getting wet as the canoe rocked back and forth on the shelf of ice at the edge. As we walk back to the car my hands are cold but I think that any year that starts out this nicely should be a very good year.
Any canoe adventure leads me to thinking about Langskib and Northwaters. In the winter it is good to have contact with NWL alumni and staff and to get a paddle wet at any opportunity. Teeth to the Wind.