Day 2 –Travel from Eau Claire, WI to the Flambeau River put-in in Winter, WI – County Line Camp off of Prettie Road
Today would be the official start of the trip. Since I went to sleep as soon as I arrived at the hotel, I decided a 5:30am wake-up would be the best call for making last minute decisions on the amount of gear I should pack, and to make sure all my bags were organized with like items – clothing & sleep gear, camera gear & electronics, small accessories, toiletries, and quick access items.
Right around 7:00am we all met up downstairs in the hotel lobby for continental breakfast and to load our gear up.
Today’s main goals were:
1. Dropping off our shuttle vehicle, 2. A safe drive to the put-in
3. Pushing for miles on the river. But before any of that, we reconvened at Tiner’s place to load boats, paddle gear, food, and drop off unwanted items.
I personally packed too much so I decided to leave quite a bit behind. I often surprise myself by how much more I can live without when I opt into my expedition mindset. This mandatory practice of minimalism assists with simplicity and the overall enjoyment of the experience.
However, since this was a river trip with tandem canoes, I didn’t sacrifice on what I knew would bring me true joy. For this simple fact, river trips with large watercraft are my favorite in that you don’t have to cut back 100% if you don’t want to. My non-negotiables change from trip to trip, but this time around, I brought a comfortable pillow, large sleeping bag, sleeping pad, medium format film camera, two 35mm film cameras, a couple rolls of film, and a 2-person tent all to myself. That’s not to mention the copious amounts of food and drink we were able to take.
The journey offered an interesting perspective of the Northwoods as we passed by Amish people driving their horse carriages down the road and large swaths of aspen and birch forest speckled with trillium flowers. Our first stop of the day was at a Kwik Trip to top off our tanks. I made a cardinal mistake and grabbed a less than savory egg burrito from the gas station. The second stop was at the Flambeau Lodge. We had to drop off one of the expedition vehicles for the shuttle back to the put-in after the trip was over. After moseying around a bit, looking for any sign of life, a one-eyed man named Ed came out of the lodge and told us that it would be $5 to park there for the 2 nights and he only took cash.
We paid Ed and then went about consolidating all of our gear into one vehicle. The smell of rain had been lingering in the air for sometime and it finally started as we began jerryrigging both canoes on the roof. At this point, we knew we had a damp paddle ahead of us. The Flambeau State Park Visitor Center was our third stop. We wanted to make sure that we checked in with the park to let them know our expedition plans and grab necessary maps and reading material about the area and its history.
We pulled out from the visitor center for a 20-30 minute drive to our final stop, the put-in on the North Fork of the Flambeau. I took these final moments to load a roll of Kodak Gold 200 into my Mamiya 6. I had already been snapping shots on a roll of Portra 400 loaded in my Contaxt T, as well as a roll of Illford XP2 in my Pentax Spotomatic. Something that I forgot, but that is also a must for any kind of travel, is downloading an offline map of the area on Google Maps. Not only is it great for navigation, but there’s the added benefit of being able to geographically pin your favorite places and take notes.
After spotting our mile marker, we drove down a small path to start unloading the boats and gear. Normally, the reeling feeling of starting a river expedition is what I remember most, but I didn’t have time to take it in because the mosquitos were so bad. I couldn’t wait to get on the water to shake a couple of them off. Unbeknownst to me at the moment, dodging mosquitos would become a common theme over the next few days.
Finally on the river, decked out in Eddie Bauer rain gear for the light intermittent rain, we had finally found our respite. Not even several minutes down the river, we saw just what kind of ecosystem the Flambeau supported – wildlife abound.
My favorite moment from the first day, as well as the overall trip, was paddling past an island of tall reeds near Log Creek Campsite and spooking a pair of sandhill cranes. As they flew off, we stilled our canoes to hear their call – it was loud, otherworldly, and bugle like. At the same time a bald eagle swooped down over the tree line, a hummingbird buzzed a couple feet over our heads, and a kingfisher swooshed alongside the riverbank, trilling. The energy in this area was crazy. It was a blessing to witness.
It would be several more eagle encounters, a couple more hours of paddling, and 8-10 miles before we arrived at our first campsite, Mason Creek. We unloaded our boats, tied them off, set up our individual tents, and then reconvened at the designated camp kitchen to prep for dinner.
Luckily by this point, all the rain had stopped. Chris decided to make the first dinner and prepared a tempeh and veggie stir-fry mac & cheese. After grabbing my sunset photos, I went into sous-chef mode. (Pro tip: Unless you have a good reason, it’s not good expedition behavior to sit back while everyone else works.) We sat around the fire filling our bellies, calmly and blissfully taking in our first night of the expedition before returning to our tents to sleep under the stars.
Read Part 3 of Ron’s Adventure
Ron is an explorer, educator, and trailblazer in the outdoor industry. Frustrated by the lack of diversity in the outdoor industry, Ron founded HBCUs Outside as a bridge between the outdoor industry and students at historically Black colleges and universities. The goal is to promote wellness through outdoor activity, and also to create an interface between the industry and the talent pool that the HBCU students represent.