Volume IV, No. 3, Spring 1977
by Stephen Ludwig Drawings by Emery Savage
The river was calm and peaceful with a warm spring breeze rustling through the trees. Some squirrels scampering along the ground made the perfect setting for our three day float on the Osage Fork of the Gasconade. We were in a world of our own with only a few signs of civilization, a couple of farm houses spotted from the river and some high wires that spanned the water.
Daniel and I rounded a sharp bend and the riffle up ahead looked a little more challenging than the ones we had previously come through, so we became a little more determined to make it through this one without a mishap. After ducking down and bursting through limbs hanging down to the water, I popped up in the front to see a large entanglement of brush and sticker bushes dead ahead. The river made a sharp turn to the right but we were a part of the current that was racing directly into the pile.
I yelled to Daniel, "Steer to the right." I thought it would be better to hit the brush sideways than to go into it head on.
Daniel tried to bring us about, but a large rock in our way turned us back toward the pile almost rolling us over. Even ducking down in the bottom of the canoe did not prevent the sticker bushes from raking up my back as we went into the brush pile. I could tell the canoe hadn't gone all the way into the pile from hearing Daniel's laugh. I very cautiously turned over to push us out the way we had come in. Daniel had his hands full keeping the powerful current, which was sweeping up against the side of the canoe, from turning us over. Though we got the canoe out of the brush pile and were free to continue on our way, we were facing the wrong direction.
Daniel shouted, "Turn us around." But since I had left my paddle stuck back in the brush, it was going to be most difficult. Our only recourse was to back onto a gravel bar a few yards downstream and try to put things that had been knocked about in the crash back in order. There were tree limbs and leaves scattered all over the canoe, the trash bag was ripped open spewing trash all over the canoe and the innertube that was tied to two camera cases was floating in the water. Luckily none of the camera equipment had been pulled out.
We had things stacked well above the sides of the canoe thinking we needed everything that we had brought to get us through the three days. Though Daniel and I had minor annoyances of things getting knocked off into the water, Doug and Mike had more problems. Doug had a hard time navigating trying to see over all the junk they had brought.
I started walking back to retrieve my paddle out of the brush pile when I saw Doug and Mike avoiding the fast water by dragging their canoe over a gravel bar. I yelled to them, "You boys afraid of a little rapid?"
Mike replied rather quickly, "No, but we're not stupid."
With the river up a little more than usual from the spring floods, the riffle was a bit more trouble than it would have been normally, but also the river being in this state made it easier for us to float over the low places that we would normally have to drag the canoe through. The water was also over the barbed wire that stretched across a low place, so we didn't have to worry about getting entangled in it. The difficulty only made the good things even more enjoyable.
Our first little smash-up was only one of many, but we didn't let these problems bother us. There were a lot more things to be enjoyed on the river than to be disliked. It was a joy to lean back on the innertubes and fish with only an occasional paddle thrust to keep our direction. It was a luxury as we lazily floated the long eddies to watch the scenery roll by on both sides of the river--the high cliffs perpendicular to the water with vines growing down the sides and mighty oaks standing on the top like guards over the river, the long fields with hay waving in the wind or green rows of new corn leading away to a distant hill, a cow standing in the water getting a drink staring at us as we paddled by.
Rounding a bend and seeing Orla Mill with its water wheel turning at the spillway meant that we had almost reached the day's stopping point where we would camp for the night. But first we had to portage around the concrete mill dam and then pass under the low water bridge where the road crossed the river. When we got to the dam we pulled over to the side to survey how we would carry the canoes around the dam. We already decided not to try to paddle over the spill-way because, even though it looked easy, the churning water would have turned over the best canoeist. We weren't going to unload the canoes to carry them around if we could just lift them out of the water and slide them down the back side of the dam into the river again.
We pulled the canoe that Daniel and I were in first because it was the light-est and started to slide it down the other side. Everything was going pretty easy until a large deteriorated piece of concrete broke loose and slid a little under the weight of the canoe. We then had to pick up the canoe and carry it the rest of the way to the water. Sliding the canoe into the water was more of a problem than we had expected. Because of the angle at which the canoe had to go into the water, the canoe did not have enough buoyancy to keep the front end afloat while we slid the rest of the canoe in. Daniel and I went in to the water to hold up the front end while Mike and Doug eased it back in the river.
Next came the heavier of the two canoes. Not only did Doug and Mike have more gear than Daniel and I had, but also their canoe had a leak which added a lot of water to the already heavy load. Using eight ounce paper cups, we bailed out as much of the water as we could. The four of us struggled together to pull the canoe out of the water. When we finally had it on land with one person on each end and one on each side, we picked it up to portage around the dam. We took about ten steps before we dropped it on Mike's foot. While he was hopping around the rest of us had a long rest break. When Mike recovered, we heaved up the canoe and staggered the rest of the way to the water.
The low water bridge was about a quarter of a mile away, but we didn't float two hundred feet before we met a curious snake coming toward us. A couple of swings with a paddle discouraged his curiosity.
At the bridge we had two choices, either to carry the canoes over the bridge or float them through the tin whistles that went through the slab of concrete. After carrying the canoes over the dam we made one of the quickest decisions of the whole trip. We'd float them through! Grabbing the rope on the first one, I waded through the whistle. Doug on the bridge grabbed the rope to pull the canoe over to the bank while Daniel helped me crawl out of the whistle up onto the slab, because on this side the water was about ten feet deep where the water poured out.
The second canoe went through with the same ease except that while trying to maneuver it over to the bank, Doug .lost his balance and in order to avoid hurting himself by falling on the concrete, he just stepped off into the water. He sunk like a rock, but it didn't take five seconds before he was out of the water. Even though it was warm outside, the water was still cold from the previous winter and several rains.
Safely past these obstructions, we paddled down the river about a quarter of a mile where we set up camp for the first night. It was here that we all first noticed that our arms, legs and backs were stinging and as red as the sun disappearing behind the bluff. Doug and Daniel were off in a flash to set up a trot line in hopes of catching some fish for the next day, leaving orders to have supper cooked and camp set up when they returned.
Mike worked with his stove for about forty minutes before he gave up and decided we would cook on a campfire. He took about as long with his lantern which didn't work either. These were both extra things brought along that we didn't need.
Doug and Daniel arrived back just in time to cook supper for us, and since it was dark, we didn't know what we were eating although it looked like hamburger. We also had the usual pork and beans along with some crawdad tails that we had caught while seining for minnows for the trot line. We threw the tails in some salt water and boiled them till we thought they were done. They did taste fairly good after we got up enough courage to try them. We just popped them in our mouths and chewed till they were crunched up enough to go down. They tasted like shrimp, but they didn't set too well in my stomach. Everything tasted like it had sand or dirt in it, but with it being dark, there was no way to tell what it was. After supper Doug and Daniel went down to the river to wash the dishes, but there was still dirt in them in the morning.
Mike and Doug had built themselves a lean-to out of some branches and a tarp to sleep in, but since Daniel and I were not so original, I had brought along a two man tent for us to sleep in. Before we went to bed we did a little fishing and we also had to do something with our wet clothes. We hung clothes in the trees around the camp, but Mike, determined to dry his socks, hung them on a stick by the fire. They dried rather quickly when the bottoms caught on fire!
I crawled into the tent determined to get to sleep. Outside the fire was crackling away in time with the rhythm of the river bubbling over the rocks in the riffle just below camp. Then the rumble of the crickets drowned out all the other sounds until the cows in the field across the river started bawling. This made me want to be at home in bed where it was quiet and peaceful.
I was just waking up to the second day of our twenty-four mile float when I was routed out of bed at five-thirty by Mike trying to build a fire. The pain of my sunburn flared up as I crawled out of my sleeping bag. I left the tent in a pair of shorts but turned right around to go back in. It seemed like a winter morning with the temperature down to forty and steam rising off the river. That called for warmer clothes. When I had on my coat and long pants, I went out again to join Doug standing by what was supposed to be a fire trying to get warm.
Doug and Mike started to cook breakfast while Daniel and I got the rest of the things ready to go. We took some pictures of the sun coming up over the hill as a Pale little ball through the fog. Breakfast was terrible because we'd used all the salt on the crawdad tails.
After the canoes were loaded, we changed out of our dry clothes to save them for next camp. The clothes that were in the trees were supposed to be dry, but this dewey spring morning they were still as wet as when we hung them up the night before. It was a very slow procedure putting on a wet pair of shorts and a shirt that were colder than the air around us. When it came to putting on the shoes, I almost left them off. Not only were they cold, but they were full of grit and slime from the river!
The boys got through riffles one way or another. At top Mike and Doug hold the course in the rushing water. By using paddles as poles, Stephen and Daniel ease over a log blocking the way. In especially tricky water cluttered with obstructions (below) Mike and Doug wade.
The pleasures of the day floating through lazy eddies and dashing through swift riffles and the
challenges of navigating around any obstacles the river throws in the path make any float
enjoyable. But the best time of all is at night sitting dry and comfortable on the gravel bar by the
fire anticipating supper.
Starting so early, we thought we had lots of time for fishing since it was only seven miles to Long Ford Bridge, our next camp. We killed time floating around in innertubes and swimming so we didn't get to the bridge too early. Our fishing got us into problems because we lost track of time and how far we had gone. At three-thirty we figured we had only a mile to go so we had lots of time.
We sighted a log dock downstream that blocked most of the riffle. Doug and Mike maneuvered their canoe into the riffle where the water was sweeping sharply to the left. When Doug ruddered the canoe to go left, he let the back swing out so that the current slammed them sideways into one of the dock supports.
Since they were blocking most of the riffle, Daniel and I had to duck under the low dock. Rising up I spotted a large tree that we were going to hit. Remembering the smash-up we had the day before, I jumped right out of the canoe without a second thought. The canoe hit, jarring Daniel out of his seat, but the situation wasn't bad enough that I should have jumped out.
Though Doug and Mike had taken on some water, they managed to keep themselves upright and out of the water. A girl sitting on the dock laughing told us it was still three or four miles to Long Ford Bridge.
This didn't leave us much time since we wanted to get to the bridge and fish and still have time to set up camp before dark. Paddling onward at a fast rate, we had no hesitation in getting out and pushing the canoes over gravel bars and around a couple of log jams. Doug and Mike left their fishing rods sitting on top of their other gear, and in their haste during those few miles, the rods got snapped off by tree limbs. An hour and fifteen minutes later, rounding a bend, we saw the large cement pillars of Long Ford Bridge.
We caught twenty goggle-eye and a couple of bass for supper using minnows which we seined for at the bridge. We carelessly left the seine thinking we would use it again, but it lay there and we didn't remember it until well on our way the next day. That seine caused a four mile walk overland for three of us while Mike stayed behind to guard the canoes by taking a nap.
The second night at camp wasn't as easy as the first due to unorganized packing in the morning. Everything was out of order. It was hard to find things because everything was dumped into the same black trash bags to keep them dry. For supper that night we had pork chops with the fish we had caught along with the stand-by can of pork and beans. Without salt it was all flat, but it filled up the empty growling space in the stomach.
I set up the tent for me to sleep in but the rest were going to sleep on the ground. That night was colder than the first and an even heavier dew in the morning, so none of us slept too comfortably. The morning was the same as the first only the clothes seemed to be wetter and colder. We dug into the food bag to get something out for breakfast, when we discovered that Doug, the great fish-fryer, had left the lid off the cooking oil. Oil was all over everything! We salvaged what we could and dumped the rest into the trash bag.
The third day was nothing like the others. Taking time out to chase down the seine didn't leave much time for fishing or general horsing around, because supper would be waiting for us when we got downriver to Doug's house. Since we weren't fishing and we didn't have many other problems, we had time to lean back and look at the scenery that was around us.
There were high cliffs along the edge of the water and numerous cave opening leading into the earth. The cliffs changed quickly into wide open fields. Around the next bend there was a long high mud bank where the river was undermining a field and then a wide gravel bar framed in willows. There was a lot that we had missed the previous two days--ducks swimming in the water ahead of us and birds singing in the trees. It was a peaceful place where a person felt that he was away from others. It was its own private little world.
The scenery along the river couldn't be experienced in the same way from a car passing over a bridge or even walking along the bank. It could be enjoyed only Prom a boat where the scene rolled by ever so slowly and always changing.
It occurred to me then as I drifted in this world that the river might not always be like this with all the talk of people wanting to dam up the rivers to make large resorts for recreation. I couldn't see how anyone could replace the river running free with anything to make it more pleasureable than it already was.
That day went much too fast. What had seemed like only a couple of hours had been a long quiet and peaceful day.
Doug's mother had a good meal waiting when we arrived tired and hungry. There was more than enough food to satisfy everyone. All we had to do now was to pack canoes and gear onto the truck and head back to town. When I arrived home I dumped all my things in the garage and started to head straight for my bed, but my mother had different ideas. I was going to be clean and all of my gear taken care of before I went to bed.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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