Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kayaking along the Shiawassee

Tri County Times
Fenton, Michigan 48430

Kayaking along the Shiawassee

Shiawassee River - It was a beautiful, sunny day when I kayaked seven miles along the river with Susan Julian, vice president/president-elect of Headwaters Trails, Inc. After she provided me with some information about Headwaters Trails, Inc. and its activities, for another story, she asked me if I wanted to try kayaking.

The rest, as they say, is history.

We made the trip last Wednesday, during 80-degree weather. It was cool and pleasant, though, as we paddled from Waterworks Park in Holly to Strom Park in Fenton. Susan, who obviously knew the Top of the Shiawassee Canoe Trail well, pointed out when we left the Village of Holly, entered Holly Township, moved into Fenton Township and reached the millpond in Fenton.

The trip, which took us four hours, usually takes three or four hours to complete, she said.

Along the way, Susan collected seeds from native plants. These will be placed in Waterworks Park in Holly. Plants she pointed out included virgin's bower, turtlehead, smartweed, button bush, cardinal flower, nightshade - and poison ivy.

The poison ivy had wound itself around some trees where we left the kayaks to go around a beaver dam. We took turns using a paddle to balance as we walked along the surprisingly sturdy dam, avoiding the poison ivy vine.

Susan said people are allowed to clear a notch in a beaver dam so canoes and kayaks can pass through. The notch can't be so large that it disrupts the beavers. Beavers often build right over the notch again in two or three days, or even the next day.

Beaver dams can cause flooding and change the course of a river, she said. She pointed out an area where the river's course had moved by 100 feet because of a dam.

In the area frequented by beavers, we saw floating twigs and tree trunks where the animals had stripped the bark off to eat it. They also made "slides" where they enter and leave the river at its edge.

We saw a beaver at one point, swimming across the water in front of us. We knew it was a beaver because of its size. Susan also said muskrats swim more smoothly. When I developed my film from the trip, I could see the animal's large tail.

Our trip took us through woods, marshes, Haddon Lake and the Fenton Millpond. We heard deer moving in the woods, and a couple of spiders hitched a ride in the kayak I was using. The spiders joined me after I floated into tree branches at the edge of the river. Kayaking is not, for the record, as easy as it looks, but it is a lot of fun.

The important thing to do when the kayak floats into overhanging tree branches is not to panic and unbalance it. Kayaks are very stable when you are sitting in the middle of them. Pushing off from a tree, or using the paddle, will take the kayaker away from the edge again.

We went through some culverts and under a bridge or two. The kayaks got stuck every now and then on a sandbar or a rock, or even a large tree branch that had fallen in the river.

I really appreciated all of the hard work Headwaters Trails, Inc. members and other volunteers did to clear a path through the river after the Aug. 24 tornado. Susan took photos as we floated along of more projects that needed attention.

There was a large tire discarded in one area, piles of debris from fallen trees and a rock in a bad place at the other side of a culvert. Susan said moving a large rock is relatively easy, when using the motion of the river to carry it along. Unfortunately, the motion of the river can move rocks back where people don't want them.

We saw an area where the emerald ash borer had turned a leafy canopy into a bunch of barren, dead tree trunks. The dead ash trees were still standing after the tornado because they didn't have leaves to catch in the wind. A lot of healthy trees blew over, because of their leaves.

The toughest part of the trip was getting across the beaver dams. With most of them, we were able to push, pull and scoot our way over without leaving the kayaks.

The Shiawassee River where we traveled is pretty shallow. Deeper areas are located where it narrows, Susan said. The river mostly stays the same depth, according to measurements that have been taken.

We startled some large herons that were fishing in the river, watching them fly off with their long legs dangling. A pair of them were roosting in a tree on the edge of the Fenton Millpond. And when we got close to Strom Park, it was like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" when the flock of ducks started flying away.


Having now kayaked, I made these observations:

* Seven miles is a lot longer than it seems.

* Susan is a very patient person.

* Beavers don't seem as cute and unique after you have struggled to make your way over several of their dams.

* Taking photos while kayaking can land you in the tree branches at the edge of the river.

* If you haven't ever kayaked before, you will likely have some sore muscles the next day.

* I am "hooked." Kayaking is really fun and I want to get one so I can go paddling some more.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Canoeing in Color - Oct.6 - 1:00 pm

Canoeing in Color,
- co-sponsored by North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy
Come out and experience a wonderful fall paddle

Maps : see LINKS section (right hand column of blog)
  • MAP of Shiawassee River

  • Date : October 6th

    Time : Launch at 1:00 pm in the water (arrive early to set-up)

    Launch : WaterWorks Park on Broad Street in Holly, Michigan

    Take-Out : Strom Park in Fenton, Michigan

    Contact : Sue Julian e-mail ........


    Bring your own canoe or kayak or
    call Heavner Canoes at 248-685-2379 to rent one.

    Return trip transportation will be provided free.

    For more detailed information
    just call Sue at 248-634-3513.
    An RSVP is appreciated by phone or e-mail at

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Other Trip Reports from Paddling.Net

    Shaiwassee RiverReport

    Type: Destination Report
    Nearest City: Linden, MI
    Difficulty: Easy

    Description:I put in at the Mill Pond in downtown historic Linden. I paddled east against a slow current. The water is clear and you can see many Bass and Panfish.
    Leaving the mill pond you enter the river and can paddle about 2 miles. On this stretch of the river there is abundant fish and shore wildlife. There are very few homes at this time.
    Once through the river you enter into Tupper Lake. The river picks up again on the east side of Tupper Lake and in a short distance you will be in Lake Ponehma. The trip back to the landing is enjoyable going with the current. Great after-work paddle or extend all day by exploring Lake Ponehma.
    Accommodations:Restaurants and shops in Linden
    Directions:US23 North to Silver Lake Rd exit. West on Silver Lake Rd. to downtown Linden. On the North side of main street is the mill pond.

    Shaiwassee RiverReport

    Type: Day Trip Report
    Trip Dates: July 2005

    Nearest City: Durand, MI
    Difficulty: Easy
    Submitted by: Mike Willits

    Description:I found a river close to home(45min from Highland Mi.)that reminds me of many rivers up north.Not many houses or people and lots of wild animals(Deer, Beaver, Turkeys, Mink, Ducks, Geese, Turtles, Fish, & on and on). I went on a 4hr trip with Cheff's canoe rental and can't wait to go on their 6hr trip. If you like an almost wilderness experience that's close to the Detroit area then this is it. There's even a campground(Walnut Hills) on the river. The people at Cheff's canoe rental were really nice they even get you into your canoe and started down the river(that's a first). I'm going the end of May 2006 and will update everyone.

    Fees:$30 for a 2 hr trip and $1 for parking

    Directions:I-69 to the Durand Exit, South on M-71 to Durand rd., South on Durand Rd. to Cole Rd., West on Cole Rd to Reed Rd., South on Reed Rd. to Walnut Hills campground.

    Contact : Cheff's Canoe Rental : 1-989-288-7067
    Walnut Hills Campground : 866-634-9782 (open 4/15 to 10/15)

    Thursday, September 06, 2007

    Greg Barton Paddling Technique

    Greg Barton Paddling Technique
    - Olympic Medalist/World Champion/Kayak Marathon Champion

    Original Link:

    Most of this article applies to WING PADDLES

    The Catch - At the catch, you want to have your body rotated out, which means that your knee on the side away from the stroke should be pushed down almost straight. You should be rotating from the hips, too, not just from the upper shoulders while keeping your hips straight. Your bottom arm should be nearly straight, but like the leg, not locked out. Being locked out can be a dangerous position with which to enter the water. The shock can hurt your elbows or shoulders. The push elbow should be bent, but never more than 90 degrees and usually a good deal straighter than that. This differs from stroking with the traditional paddle. With the traditional paddle, you needed to bend your lower elbow at the end of the stroke much more in order to keep the paddle close to the side of the boat and yet not go too deep. So when you exited the water, the exiting hand was closer to the side of the boat than with the wing. This meant that as this hand came up and became the pushing hand of the next stroke, it started out close to the head. By way of contrast, the wing stroke goes out to the side, so you finish a stroke with the exiting hand further from the side of the boat, and thus starting as the push hand in the next stroke further away from the head. This enables you to keep your top arm much straighter both during the pull-through and the push, which is good because it enables you to use your back more and your arms less.

    The most important thing at the catch is to get the blade in the water as quickly as possible and bury the entire blade - but no more than that - before you start pulling back on it. Barton sometimes puts pieces of red tape at the tops of his blades so when he looks at a video of himself he can judge whether he is at the right depth. This results in a top arm push at eye level. ''This is what I learned years ago," he said. "Then, in the late 70's and early 80's, a lot of people, especially the Soviets and East Germans, tended to push out at shoulder level. But when the wing appeared, top arms started going back up again."

    Initiating The Catch
    To initiate the catch, the paddler should use both arms to push the paddle down into the water. “To me the catch is like spearing the water and a lot of it is done with the top arm." As he inserts the paddle into the water, Barton brings his top hand forward a little bit to help get a good, clean catch. It is important to insert the blade as close to the side of the boat as possible for three reasons:
    1) it makes the paddle more vertical, as viewed from the front;
    2) since the wing paddle moves sideways from the boat, a wider start a wider finish, which isn't good -it's easier to pull when the paddle is closer to the boat;
    3) the closer the paddle is to the boat's center line, the less it will cause the boat to yaw.

    The Pull-Through
    Barton appears to execute the pull-through almost entirely with the body and not the arms. He appears to plant the paddle when he is rotated completely out, and then simply holds the paddle in the desired vertical position while he unwinds his torso. It looks as though the arms simply provide a link between the paddle and the body. Once the catch has been initiated, he takes care not to push out too soon, or too much with the top arm. For Barton, the top arm push is about 25 percent of the force on the blade and the pulling about 75 percent. He thinks about using the top arm "almost as an anchor," as though the top arm was locked in place and he is pulling as hard as he can with all the muscles on the stroke side -back, shoulders, obliques, and arm. He lets the top arm almost stay stationary at this point because he is trying to get a "high pivot!' point on the shaft. What is a high pivot point? During the stroke, as seen from the side, there is a point on the shaft that does not move either forward or backwards during the stroke. It is the place where the top hand pushing the shaft forward merges into the bottom arm's pulling the paddle backwards. This is called the pivot point. If you were to put the paddle in the water and just push hard and not pull at all, you would have a very low pivot point. If you did the opposite - didn't push at all, and just pulled - you'd have a very high one. A high pivot point is desirable because it keeps the blade vertical longer .

    Pumping with the Legs
    Not only is he thrusting back with his leg on the stroke-side, Barton also is swaying his knees inboard and outboard to compensate for the shifting of his torso weight during rotation. As he rotates out for a stroke on the right, his knees sway to the left; as he rotates to the left, they sway to the right.

    Application of the Power
    When he takes a forward stroke, Barton thinks about the following things:
    I try to get maximum power on as soon as possible in the stroke, but you don't want to slap the water at the catch. That's really important, getting the blade in the water, instead of thinking about pulling back right away.
    Submerge it first, then pull on it, and then keep the power on evenly throughout the stroke.

    The Finish
    Barton believes you should start to take the blade out of the water when it passes your knees and it should be completely out of the water as it passes your hip. You need to think about the blade not getting buried too far in the water so you can avoid a problem with the release. This means possibly bending the bottom arm slightly to keep the blade at the required depth. 'This is not as critical as it was with the traditional paddle," Barton remarked, 'but you still need to think about it." He also thinks about "counter-rotating," which he picked up from his old coach, Andy Toro. Counter-rotating means continuing your rotation even after you're pulling the blade out of the water. You don't simply finish the stroke and abruptly pull the paddle out of the water. That causes a slight braking action on the boat. Instead, it is better to continue to rotate a little more even when the paddle is out of the water. That way you are sure not to stop the blade in the water.

    The Release
    The wing is both better and worse than the traditional paddle on the release. It is worse because it lifts more water at the release, due to its thicker size. Overall, though, it is better because of the way the blade moves out to the side. This way, you can keep the power on the blade right up to the end, even when you take it out (counter-rotate).

    The following describes how Barton thinks about his forward stroke:
    It helps if you think that someone has taken a series of poles and driven them into the water, down into the bottom on both sides of the boat, and you are able to grab each one and pull yourself by. Only take it a bit further and pretend that you've got this big old row boat that's out in front of you and you're actually suspended just above the water behind it, pushing it forward with your feet. So, you're grabbing this pole and trying to push the boat forward with your feet. And there's another pole on the other side and you do the same thing with that. If you think of it that way, it really helps to get the forward force on the legs. In paddling you have to transfer your power to the boat and the two places you are touching are your feet and the seat. But I think the forward force is coming almost entirely from your feet and your rear end is stationary.