Every year for the past dozen or so, we take a short break during the summer months to go canoeing with friends of ours. For all but one year (because of a shoulder injury of one person) we have selected the Pine River outside of Cadillac, Michigan, as our river of destination, and our two-day trip has followed a predictable plan that is both exciting and rewarding.
We always leave after church on Sundays, and we alternate drivers so that one year we drive and the next one our friends drive. The drive to Cadillac takes between five and six hours, and after quickly settling into the motel, we head to Lakeside Charlie’s restaurant for dinner. Stuffed pork loin and prime rib were our most recent selections of choice, and all agreed that the meal was outstanding. We had a recommendation from the motel desk clerk to eat at Herman’s Restaurant downtown, however, in checking out that restaurant, we found it closed on Sundays.
Following dinner we went to Glen’s Supermarket to pick up supplies for lunch on the river the next day. From the selection of already prepared sandwiches, we decided that next year we would make our own at home and bring them with us as we do with most of our lunch supplies.
On several occasions, an evening swim or a walk in the cemetery across the highway from our motel took place, but on our most recent trip we were all too tired to pursue either of these activities so we simply relaxed in our rooms and went to bed.
The arrangement was to meet at 7:30 a.m. in the breakfast area downstairs in the motel, and there we all filled up on cereal, omelets, rolls, waffles, orange juice, and coffee.
We checked out of the motel by about 8:30 and drove to Jim Horringa’s canoe livery just beyond Peterson Bridge which crosses the Pine. We were the first canoers to arrive at the livery and after paying $40 per canoe for the 4-5 hour trip, and after shifting our lunch supplies to a transportation van, we all went to deposit our car at Low Bridge where we would be ending our trip. After putting a state park parking sticker on the mirror of the car, the van took us to Dobson Bridge where Jim had deposited two Old Towne red canoes (numbers 14 and 24) for our use.
We were on the Pine River by 10:10 a.m., and the current, as usual, was rapid, the water was clear and cold, and the sky was overcast with the potential of widely scattered showers. It was cool and the heavy mist over the water gave a Stephen King aura to the trip.
Adding to the look of the River on our most recent trip (July 6-7, 2008) was the fact that for two weeks in June it had risen to nine feet over its current height and had to be shut down to all canoers. The point at which the nine-foot height of the River affected the numerous sand banks traversing the River was obvious during the entire trip from Dobson to Low Bridge. In addition, there were trees down, stumps and limbs to avoid, and many trees tilted down toward the River in a last, desperate effort to preserve their foothold. At one point, there was a brief portage to avoid a full block of the River by trees, limbs, stumps, and other debris. At another point a large tree blocked the entire River, and we had to make a brief portage around the end of it to continue our trip.
One advantage of canoeing on Monday each year is that the crush of weekenders is over, and we have most of the River to ourselves. The exception was this year since we followed the Fourth of July weekend so closely, there were a number of other rafters and canoers (maybe a dozen or so), but for the morning, and until stopping for lunch, we saw no other people.
At 11:40 a.m. we reached the state park at Peterson Bridge where we pulled our canoes out of the water and set up for lunch at a Riverside picnic table. Our friends come prepared with a oil-cloth table covering, plates, plastic dinnerware and a spread of food that is incomparable in our picnicing experiences. We bring fruit, chips, sandwiches, and additional selections to make our lunchtime a mouth watering, extensive, celebration of food. There are pit toilets at this stop, and this year we made it a full one-half hour stop, putting into the river again at 1:10 and traveling the last portion of the River to Low Bridge (float time is 3 hours) in exactly two hours.
As if to signal the coming of the last portion of the river, the sun emerged from the clouds, and our afternoon was sunny and breezy with blue sky and beautiful white clouds.
At Low Bridge, we pulled the canoes out of the water, took the paddles and seat cushions back to the livery, and changed clothes and cleaned-up for our next experience.
Driving directly south from Horinga’s canoe livery at about 4:10, we joined up with Route 10 and proceeded directly east back across the upper lower peninsula. The trip to Frankenmuth takes just about two-and-one-half hours, and we arrived at Zehnder’s for their outstanding chicken dinner at about 6:30 or so.
We made Zehnder’s a destination one year when we put in at Peterson Bridge accidentally (instead of Dobson Bridge) and ended up with a canoe trip of just two hours instead of 3-4, and went to Frankenmuth and toured the stores and shops downtown just to occupy some time. It was a fortuitous accident which created a new tradition of eating dinner there and a new destination following our canoeing experience each year.
Ushered directly to our seats, we took approximately two hours for their standard, all-you-can-eat chicken dinner. We have had outstanding waitresses, and we end our meal with a small sundae (not on the menu), which we received as a compliment from our waitress just for asking for it. We have discovered that by asking for it, it has become a standard part of our meal.
Leaving Zehnder’s by 8:10 p.m. allowed us to get home by approximately 10:15 p.m. or so, and we made it just in time for our normal bedtime.
Much of the success of our trip has resulted from good planning. We made reservations at the motel early, know what we need to take with us to make canoeing user-friendly (like insect repellent — badly needed on our current trip — sun block lotion, hats to protect from the sun, lightweight clothes, surf-friendly shoes that can and do get wet, and rope to tie everything into our canoes. None of us have tipped over in the dozen or so years we have been traversing the river, but we prepare for that eventuality none the less.
The Pine River is an experience for knowledgeable canoists whose instincts regarding the control and maneuvering of canoes are well in place. With planning, good friends, and a great canoe livery, we have made it an exciting and rewarding annual experience.
At the Schmidt Outfitters web site, http://www.schmidtoutfitters.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_id=207, there is more information on the Pine River.
At Michigan.gov the Department of Natural Resources has a map of the Pine River watershed and more information about it: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-30301_31431_31442-95813--,00.html
Jay Hanks has posted a description of his wilderness trip on the Pine River at his web site, http://www.paddling.net/places/showReport.html?855 Although his trip was longer than ours (from Edgetts to Tippy Dam) it covered some of the same territory we did.
Contact Richard L. Weaver II