Canoeing in Michigan-The Rifle River
According to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources there are 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, over 11,000 inland lakes, and 36,350 miles of rivers. Wow! No wonder it is a popular tourist attraction in the summertime. With over 300 named rivers, canoe liveries stay busy renting canoes to folks who want to experience nature from water instead of land.
I was fortunate to have a father who loved the outdoors and taught his children to respect and enjoy it as well. Each summer dad would load the station wagon with camping gear, fishing poles, six kids, and his aluminum fishing boat and we would head north into one of the many state parks for a week of roughing it. It was mom’s hiatus from us. My love for the water was born through these wonderful, Michigan camping experiences and I passed this on to my children.
An excellent resource for Michigan Canoe Trips
Canoeing down a quiet river
Michigan's Rifle River
The Rifle River in Ogemaw County, Michigan, was a frequent canoe spot for our family and relatives. It is an easy river to maneuver and is only 18-24 inches deep. Although the current can be swift in certain places, it has no white water and is 60 miles in length.
One of the favorite places that the Rifle River flows through is the Rifle River Recreation Area. Located within the Au Sable State Forest, there are many campgrounds available to ensure that your canoe trip is more than a day activity. Among the activities that the campgrounds offer include: fishing, swimming, hiking trails and an Outdoor Explorer Program .
Where is the Rifle River Recreation Area
Canoeing-a family affair
I have many fond memories of canoe trips I’ve made with my late husband, John, but my favorite memory of this river was the time we took his cousins on their first canoe trip. John and I were avid canoeists and talked it up so much that it inspired his cousins to want to try it. One evening, before they could change their minds and back out, we all jumped in the car and took off for the three hour drive north.
Arriving at our destination late into the night we had not thought ahead to see if there were any rooms available. It was a sign of what was to come. We eventually found a small motel that had a one room vacancy with a pull out sofa bed. We didn’t argue and settled in for what was left of the night.
The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to buy supplies-water, soda and snacks. I noticed the other couple chattering nervously and kept reassuring them that it would be great fun. I didn’t know at the time that neither of them were confident swimmers.
Beginner canoeing experience
The second ‘red flag’ was the realization at the canoe livery that Gerry misunderstood the arrangements, and both he and his wife thought they would be sitting together with us in our canoe. Big problem, because now there was a more visible nervousness and the fact of the matter was that they could not ‘practice’ anywhere.
To top it off, Lilly did not have much faith in her husband’s abilities and was frequently critical of all that he attempted. I wondered if we had gravely miscalculated the situation and perhaps should abort the plans…but, John insisted all would be fine. He patiently demonstrated to them how to hold the paddle and the motion that would direct the canoe when changing course.
All of this was easy to do on land, however, when they attempted to apply the lessons while in the water they immediately began to head downriver facing backwards. At that moment I turned to my husband who was standing on shore wide eyed and yelling at them to turn the canoe around. He met the evil eye I gave him and said, “oh, oh”.
When the canoe tips over
“Oh, oh” was an understatement, as things went from bad to worse. About halfway through the trip we heard a loud splash, cussing, and a scream for help. Turning quickly we saw the two of them clinging frantically to the limb of a low hanging tree-their canoe upside down and floating towards us.
“Quick, intercept the canoe,” I yelled to my husband, who immediately went into action and we corralled the canoe. Holding it along ours, we made our way to the edge of the shore and waited for Gerry and Lilly. But, they weren’t budging.
“Stand up”, John yelled to the desperate couple.
“No! I can’t swim,” Gerry yelled back.
“Just stand up-it’s only knee deep,” John yelled back, and indeed it was…but, in their panic they were unwilling to do this. When they finally managed to follow John’s direction they let out a laugh and made their way down stream to us, retrieving the paddles that had been trapped in the river foliage.
The next thing I knew, I was being instructed to switch canoes in order to get us safely, and efficiently, back to our rendezvous point. I was not happy about this because I was leery that the same thing would happen to me, and shot that evil eye look at my husband once again.
Reaching the end of the canoe journey
After the second spill into the cold water I was ready to take my paddle and smack Gerry across the head with it. He was in the back and could not maneuver the boat in a straight path. Each time he came close to any low hanging branches he would panic and grab a-hold of them causing the boat to go off balance and tip.
Instead of smacking him I made him an agreement: I would be the navigator and get us back to our landing place if he would agree to keep his hands off the trees. It would be the first time I had taken that position, previously relying on John to navigate. But, it was the only way we would finish the course in time for our pickup.
Thank goodness, there were no further mishaps after our switch. We talked about this event for years after, but I don’t think Gerry or Lilly ever gave canoeing another try. John and I, in the meantime, learned valuable lessons about the situation.
Note: Although the facts of this story are true the names of the couple involved have been changed.
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