Several years ago I volunteered at a HistoriCorps project on Lake Namekagon just East of Cable, Wisconsin. I swam in the lake after the long hours of working and paddled along the forested shores. That would be a good reason for naming our new Kevlar light weight canoe “Namekagon” peaceful memories brings good karma.
But, I like the story of the Native American Chief Namekagon even better. A hermit of sorts he lived out his life in the 1800’s on Lake Namekagon. He was known to travel occasionally to larger towns by foot and trade for goods in raw silver. This was eye raising enough that locals created theories on where he might have access to a hidden mine. He eluded wealth seekers for years and never divulged his silver source.
Naming our canoe after a historic Native American who would never give up the location or source of his silver, who walked everywhere by foot, and paddled a canoe seems fitting. Invocation of his spirit to protect our canoe and our canoe trips seemed appropriate.
Yes! It finally happened. Our first canoe paddle of 2021. You can read about our other first yearly season paddles here, here, and here.
We had kicked around a lot of ideas this Spring as to where our launch point would be. As always, do we go someplace new or just dump the boat in a known location? Our old winter torn bodies determined that we chose an old favorite location in the small town of Hillegom.
This time of the year the flower fields near Hillegom are always a nice quiet paddle and the air is filled with the floral sense. Just the right combination of canal paddling to ease the muscles back into shape.
With COVID still sky high here we took the precautions needed to stay away from other people.
After unloading the canoe at the launch site I guessed that seeing a large rat would be the highlight of the trip. A bit concerning seeing a rat hanging out at the launch site but he wasn’t thin as I am sure the nearby school was providing a good amount of food for his COVID kilos.
Once on the water we headed towards the North and right into the wind. Our arm paddle muscles barked from the lack of winter use. We didn’t get far into our excursion when we were stopped by a barrier placed in our path. For some reason this canoe path was closed and won’t be opened until 15 April.
We turned around and headed South. The rat was happily sitting by the launch sight and I think I heard him laugh as we paddled in the opposite direction.
We slowly got into our paddle rhythm and started noticing the changes from our last paddle here last Spring. Although we were a bit disappointed that the fields were not in full bloom. I had to remind myself that it is still about three weeks before the normal mid April tulip bloom. But, even then it might be less than in years past as we saw a number of fields sitting empty of any bulbs.
As we were enjoying the sites I noticed a pair of swans up in front of us and warned the back of the boat. This time of the year can be tricky when coming upon swans as they are very territorial in the mating and nesting season. Not the first time we have had to give clearance to the large birds as we paddle. Suddenly, one of the large birds starting running across the water with wings flapping right for me! What to do? There was a small sense of concern from the back of the boat, but not the level of concern I was feeling as my heart jumped into my throat and I lifted my paddle out of the water getting ready for a large white water fowl to place itself in my lap! At the last possible minute it hit the water to the left hand side of the boat not more than a five feet from me!
Now a level of appropriate concern came from the stern of the boat.
“Paddle hard! Paddle fast!”
As I put all my power into the paddle I peeked back at the Hubby who now was paddling hard as the swan was with almost no effort was swimming not more than 3 feet off the bow of the boat.
“Hell, that bird is keeping up with us!” I replied
Once the swan figured we were out of his terriorty we slowed.
“Wow, that was a first for me!” I said. In all my years of paddling, I had never actually been almost attacked by a swan. I have always respected them and gave them distance when I saw them as I had heard stories from other paddlers. Now I had a story to share too!
We continued down the canal and towards De Zilk fighting wind gusts that always blow off the sea in this canal. When we reached De Zilk and saw that the fields there were also not much to see we turned and headed back towards the launch.
The swans were waiting…
This time he tried a different tactic. Look like he was going to be friendly. swim up to the boat and them make yourself small like a floating ice burg (she won’t notice a thing until it is too late!).
We already had a plan. Paddle as fast as we could past the pair of swans.
As we paddled the back of the boat once again was shadowed by the swan for a few hundred yards.
My heart rate was elevated from the entire encounter.
As we eased our way back to the launch site we laughed about the situation. A short quiet paddle. Sure!
Pulling up to the launch pad we reflected on our first paddle of the 2021 season. We are grateful for the experience and that we are still able to enjoy some adventures even those that are unexpected.
I worked for a boss a few years ago he would stop me in the middle of a conversation and tell me to “get out of the weeds”. He didn’t have the time or the energy to listen to a long story about what had happened and how I came to the solution. He only wanted the guts of the situation and what the solution actually was. Then, if asked, he could explain it to his boss. When I finally made it to his position I didn’t have as blunt of an approach with my people but, I did finally really understood why he used the phrase.
Now, that I have provided all of my readers with all the “weeds” and “back story”, I will continue with our most recent paddle into the Weerribben National Park.
I was told about this paddle by my canoe friend Petra about two years ago. I always know which canoe paddles are awesome by the way her face lights up as she talks about them. In this case, her face had glowed with that secret of giving away a cool location that few canoe paddlers venture to this location. I made a mental note. I looked at the location on the map several times in those long winter months of planning but we never had made it that far to the East in the park. I had even gone by bike on one trip to the Weerribben to recon the location but had never found a launch point.
When we found that the Dutch Open Canoe Fest was very crowded on and off the water this past weekend, we headed to this new location with fingers crossed that we might find a launch point.
One of the most adventurous parts of any canoe paddling trip, to me, is locating the/a launch point. Many are hidden from view, only known by locals or, in some cases, they just don’t exist. When they don’t exist it can make your plan for paddling that day fall apart instantly or become very creative as to how to place your vessel in the water.
We were lucky on Saturday, we didn’t have to get creative. We found a launch site I had missed on all my other trips to that same parking lot. A nice boat launch and canoe platform was clearly visible.
We unloaded and headed out against a strong wind that bounced Cedar along the water and made our paddle muscles bark from the lack of use this summer. There were two kayakers who had launched just prior to us and then headed quickly back, passed us going in the opposite direction. They told the Hubby that they didn’t want to be on the ship canal. Ok, we thought, but there is a nice lake and that is where we were heading.
We crossed the busy ship canal. Enduring a strong head wind on the canal we paddled hard to the other side and then ducked under the bike bridge to enter the lake. Oh, what a dream! A well hidden small lake with vegetation along the entire shoreline with not one soul or boat of any sort to be found! Awesome!
I silently thanked Petra for this location tip as we glided across the mirrored water. The lake was calm in the protection of the trees and vegetation. We commented to each other that this was like something we could find in Northern Minnesota. A catch in my throat, as I thought about missing an entire paddling season this year in my beloved canoe country of Minnesota. So thankful, that we have some beautiful spots here in The Netherlands to paddle.
Petra had told us that there was a canal that exited the lake on the other side. We had seen the exit point on the map. Although, looking across the lake we couldn’t spot it from where we sat. We stopped at an old dock and turned on our GPS to help us locate the exit point. Again, we experienced a flashback of paddling in Minnesota as we had this same issue in the BWCA three years ago. It all looked the same, just tall reeds and woods. Even looking at the tops of the trees, a skill I use sometimes to determine where the river runs out of a lake in Minnesota (usually a break in the skyline), I couldn’t determine where it could be on this Dutch lake.
We paddled in the direction that the GPS gave us, just as we neared the shoreline it was revealed, a canal that was only about canoe wide. Again, “awesome” escaped my lips.
As we paddled along, the weeds seemed to want to keep this location secret. We were slapped in the face with their overreaching branches and pulled aside by the long leaves. As we paddled deeper and deeper into this canal we did wonder if we would just disappear into the reeds never to be found again. Mostly we wondered how we would get the canoe turned around to go back.
As the front paddler, I made sure that the Hubby didn’t have to get spider webs in his face. I cleared the way forward through the jungle of green. It seems that spiders think this is a great place to catch insects to eat and some of those webs almost caught a human. What a surprise that spider would have had!
I was having fun. I think the Hubby was too but he really likes things all laid out for him and isn’t as adventurous as myself (I think), so I won’t speak for him. I do think that the branch that snapped him was unpleasant…
The GPS kept telling us that the ship canal was close and that we would soon enter it again. We stopped when we finally “eye balled” the ship canal and then determined our next plan for the paddle day. We would head towards Kalenberg and then take a canal that heads towards Nederland.
Again, I have been in this location many times on the bike but never with the canoe. As we headed into this new canal was a bit busier. We paddled a short ways into the canal and then found a nice place to stop to have a break and to make a plan for our return trip.
The place we stopped was a old boat house where there were canoes, SUPs, and boats parked. Beautiful wild orchids grew along the edges of the canal. We were just far enough off the main canal we could secretly watch other paddlers and boats go speeding by.
We had such a good time going through the weeds the first time that we decided to take the same way back. We had already cut a path with the canoe and I had captured all the spider webs along the path. So why not?
It was a much faster paddle on the return. The wind at our back, the path well clear of vegetation and spiders. The front paddler that sometimes listens to the Hubby’s instructions about what is needed at the front of the boat was mostly silent on the return trip.
(spoiler alert: another blog post will be totally dedicated to paddler partner communication).
We returned to the spot at the launch and were happy with the location we had just paddled and added it to one of our favorites.
We were finally “Out of the Weeds”, but really sometimes being in the “weeds” is the best way to find out what is really going on or to find something special like we did this past weekend.
Later in the day, when I spoke with Petra, I told her what a nice paddle we had and where we had gone. I saw, once again, her face light up from her memories of that secret location. Thanks to Petra and to all those great paddle adventurers who share their secret canoe paddling locations. You keep all the rest of us dreaming and then experiencing them ourselves. 😊
Do you have great paddle location that you share with friends? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.
As always it is sad to see the end to another Dutch Open Canoe Festival. Seeing old paddling friends, making new ones and always the learning that goes with new ideas or new techniques.
This year that included learning what each of us considered acceptable risk just to attend. What about bathrooms? Where should we stay as the event brings people from all around Europe and most of all can we still interact with old canoe paddle buddies and still maintain our distance. What challenges!
I will write a detailed blog later this week on our experiences from the weekend but promised two young paddlers that I would post a few pictures. To keep my promise before this old canoe paddler takes a nap to recover from so much excitement over the weekend here you go young people.😊
Best wishes and safe a healthy travels to everyone who attended. Until next season.😊