I start to feel the calm as soon as I hop out of the car and see the moving water of the Wisconsin River glittering in the sunshine. I take in the smell of water, decaying vegetation and the faint aroma of fish and the calm spreads from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.
It’s Memorial weekend and for the next three days, my friend Steve and I will paddle our fully loaded canoe from Prairie du Sac to Peck’s landing near Spring Green. This is rustic camping at its best. We have no reservations and no idea what awaits. Just our sense of adventure.
I brought along my audio recorder hoping to capture the sounds of the river. The rushing water, wildlife, and the wind through the trees.
We pack our gear, launch the boat and immediately I feel the soothing river current sweep thoughts of daily life away. We are left with only one goal…to paddle downstream and take in the sights and sounds.
As the afternoon sun bears down and the heat intensifies I consult the map scanning the terrain through polarized glasses, shaded beneath the wide brim of my hat searching for landmarks to determine how far we’ve come. It’s hot, and after about ten miles we search for a campsite to get a break from the relentless heat.
We find a spot on a little peninsula on the south end of an island, but there’s no shade. Not to worry, I have my trusty 30 dollar “shade tent”. The wind wants to launch it like a hang glider, but eventually, we get it staked down and settle down for a cold beer and an afternoon nap.
I dig out my recorder to get the “sounds of camp” which ends up being us struggling to open a whiskey bottle. Dinner is chicken curry over rice…oops, forgot the rice…chicken curry with French bread and a wee dram or two of Kentucky bourbon.
At dusk, an army of mosquitoes drives us into our tents. I see the frantic swarm hurling themselves against the mesh desperate to gorge themselves. I switch on my recorder again to get the evening sounds along the river as I drift off to the noises of geese in the distance.
Hours later I am awakened by the sound of a sandhill crane near my tent. I hit the record button, hoping to hear the call again. After ten minutes I switch it off hearing nothing. It is only when I return home and play back the tape that I realize I did record something in that short time, something I had never heard before. I’m still not certain what it was. I play the sound for my wife she says she has heard it before…I don’t believe her.
Morning comes and the mosquito swarm has grown. Steve and I skip our morning coffee as we frantically swat at the mass of bugs and swiftly pack our gear. A fair number of them follow us out on the water till a strong breeze comes up and blows them back into shore.
The temperature rises as we paddle through the day. We fend off a belligerent jet skier and try not to get swamped by fishing boats occasionally zipping up and down the river. When the threat of capsizing is gone our attention is drawn to the spectacular sight of the bluffs along the waterway. We set up our second camp among a legion of ravenous mosquitoes.
This time we outmaneuver them by dashing out to the middle of the knee-deep channel, crack open a cold beer and sit in the cool rushing water pondering how perfect it is to be here on the Wisconsin River.