Ionia to Saranac

. . . or, All Hail the Mighty Fisherman

August 24, 2018

Water Temp a steady 70 F, Air Temp 69 – 76 F

Joe Writes . . . 

I finally caught a fish on the Grand. Most trips I’ll make a few perfunctory casts but our trip is all about paddling forward, while fishing requires that one not be in a hurry to get from one spot to another. My brother never cared much about fishing – even when we were kids – so there’s that, too. I start casting and he starts drumming his fingers on the fish pic joeBillie V’s gunwales and humming impatiently.

On this trip I had resumed my rightful place, as the strongest paddler, in the stern seat. I saw the resulting after-splash of a leaping fish, starboard and ahead of Tom’s subservient seat in the bow. My fishing pole – in its pink, floatable carrying case – lay at my feet.

“Thar she blows! Hold ‘er steady,” says I, quickly and quietly unsheathing my Zebco harpoon. One perfect cast and – wham! – the Leviathan hit my spinner like a rogue gator introducing itself to a curious Shih Tzu.

Pictures don’t lie.

Other thoughts: the river at our put-in spot for this leg of our journey – the Ionia Fairgrounds – is rather dismal. City Mothers and Fathers would do well to haul away the dead trees that line the riverbank, providing first-time visitors with an uncaring greeting  to their otherwise-attractive city. And we like Ionia; indeed we do.

We didn’t see a heron, our spirit guide, until we were four miles into our 10-mile paddle. That is most unusual and I was beginning to worry, thinking perhaps this stretch of river was cursed. Herons are usually sighted early and often, leading us down the river.

I love that Saranac has a sign geared towards paddlers on its bridge spanning the Grand. Makes a guy want to stop and spend some money . . . other river towns might take heed.

Joe (l) and Tom (r): two handsome River Rogues on the Road to Saranac

saranac bridge pic

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I always take the river’s side; Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends already. Thank you for visiting our blog, please share it with a friend. You may contact us by leaving a comment here or via email: joe@lenthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely) or tom@lengthofthegrand.com (Tom Neely). 

We would love to have you join us on the river, but it’s BYOC.

 

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Who’s the True Patriot?

After extensive consultation with our legal, financial and spiritual advisors we have decided that the Billie V – unlike the DeVos yacht – will sail under the American flag.

Billie V flag pic

In case you missed the news.

 

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Bald Eagles and The Alibi: Paddling Into Ionia

Joe’s Photo Essay (followed by Tom’s writing)

Lyons to Ionia on Michigan’s Grand River

August 10, 2018

 

 

 

 

Tom Writes . . . 

Lyons to Ionia, a Perfect Morning on the River, about Six and a Half Miles

Water Temperature 78 F, Air Temperature 75F

The Grand River is public, but we made use of private property today, rather than the public access points. I already described our put-in place: the sandy beach on the downstream side of the Lyons bridge. Same place we pulled out last time. I have learned that this actually is private property and the property owner is generous, he lets people such as Joe and I use his property. Maybe I should not have publicized it.

So . . . I am somewhat hesitant to tell too much about our pull-out place in Ionia, because it also is somebody’s private land. It is a nifty place. People use it to moor their boats and park their trailers. Before Joe and I paddled there, I scouted, and learned that we would be welcome. But it is not my place to describe it in detail, to invite the world to pull out their kayaks and canoes at that spot.

I call it the River Rat Enclave. I do not believe the people who stay there would be offended by that name. And, just so you know, Joe and I went to a high school where the sports teams are named the River Rats. I hope to devise a River Rat flag to fly along with Old Glory on our canoe when we paddle.

Anyway . . . We had a lovely morning on the river. Clear sky with just a few pretty clouds. Nice breezes cooling us, and the wind was not always in our faces. Sometimes, it even helped us.

Brother Joe was hoping to get some great nature photos (editor’s note: he did, see above). We saw eagles and herons. I hope Joe got some pictures of trees with green leaves, because many of our previous blog photos are of brown trees in the spring and fall. We need green photos, in order to entice you guys down to the river. This time of year, Michigan is green and lovely.

We ended our time together at one of Michigan’s great restaurants: The Alibi Bar and Grill In Ionia. Do yourself a favor and go there! The Alibi is at the south end of the Cleveland Street Bridge, just across the river from Ionia town proper, corner of Cleveland Street and Riverside Dr.

Before we even ordered the owner sent us fresh, free samples of a new Russian dish she is developing. Delicious! The owner’s name is Gala (“Like the apple,” she told us) and she is Russian, with an incredible soft attractive accent in English. Who would ever expect to meet a Russian restaurant owner in Ionia, Michigan? Unexpected, but true. She has great tasty burritos, salads, burgers and more on her menu. Even Russian Burritos. All yummy. (I have been there three times: today and on a couple of scouting trips).

Brother Joe says he loved the Alibi because it checked off all the boxes that are important to him: it is not a chain and they are doing innovative and adventurous things with food as opposed to offering nothing more than the standard mom-and-pop restaurant fare. The Alibi offers more than just burgers, etc. (although they have WONDERFUL burgers).

The Alibi is no flash-in-the-pan. They have been in business in Ionia for five years. I hope Brother Joe will post links to their website (done, they are on Facebook as well, search ‘Alibi Bar and Grill Ionia’ on FB).

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I always take the river’s side; Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends already. Thank you for visiting our blog, please share it with a friend. You may contact us by leaving a comment here or via email: joe@lenthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely) or tom@lengthofthegrand.com (Tom Neely). 

We would love to have you join us on the river, but it’s BYOC.

 

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Perch Fishing and Foghorns

We’re going out on the river tomorrow: ending up in Ionia. I just asked a guy at an AA meeting if he knew where that was. “Yeah,” he said. “I was in prison there.” I expect we’ll be eating lunch at the Alibi in Ionia around 1 pm, after a 3-hour+/- paddle from Lyons. Join us if you can . . . we’ll be the swashbuckling pirates.

Joe Writes . . . 

These are my earliest memories of the Grand River, starting in about 1960 I suppose, when I was five years old, and beyond.

Perch fishing. Our cottage was a mile north of the channel, where the Grand enters Lake Michigan between Grand Haven’s north and south piers. We knew at a glance if the perch were biting because even from a distance we could tell whether the pier was largely deserted – perch not biting! –  or if the fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder. Fishermen fighting for a spot on the pier, of course, were a sure sign the perch were biting.  Perch fishermen were not an unfriendly lot – they always invited us to look in their buckets when we asked them “Catch anything?” – but they spread way out across the pier for some peace and quiet  unless the perch were hitting good.

Walking to the channel on the beach after a storm, the sand washed smooth and hard. We scooped up silver cylindrical fisherman’s floats, floats which before the storm had been used to hold up fishing nets.  I haven’t found one of those floats in ages but they were plentiful then. As far as I can tell commercial fishing is pretty much ka-put on southern Lake Michigan now.

In those days there were only a few houses on the beach past the Hartgers’ place. A few old, weather-worn classic cottages. The Caldwell cottage is the one I remember; it was straight out of a Cape Cod landscape painting. By the time I got to high school that stretch of beach was still deserted enough to provide cover for a couple of kids looking to be alone. Now? Forget about it. Get a room. (I defy anyone to identify a better summer love song than ‘So Much In Love’ by The Tymes.)

The foghorn was on the south pier, as it still is today. An early and comforting memory is of being gently urged to consciousness by the old-fashioned “AH-OOO-GA” of the foghorn on a rainy, misty morning. I probably wasn’t much older than 10 or 12 when the tone switched to an electronic ping; I think that’s what is still used now. I’m sure the new sound was safer and more detectable by the various ships at sea, but it wasn’t nearly as romantic. An electronic ping urges no boy to adventure. “AH-OOO-GA!”

Oh, and freighters entering the Grand or exiting back to the Big Lake belched black smoke from their stacks in those days. Coal smoke? I should know. Haven’t seen a freighter belching smoke in a while. Are the engines all diesel now? Again, I should know.

There have been many changes in the past 50+ years, but the river and the lake remain largely the same in my mind.

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Hey, do me a favor; ok? Take the river’s side whenever you can. Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends already. Having stumbled across our blog, please recommend it to a friend. You will also find us on Facebook. Contact us by leaving a comment here or by email (joe@lengthofthegrand.com, tom@lengthofthegrand.com). Join us on the river some day, we’d love the company but you must BYOC (bring your own canoe).

 

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Over the Dam, Through the Chute and Into Lyons

This and That Tuesday 

July 24, 2018. Webber Dam to Lyons, MI. About 7 miles.

Joe Writes . . . 

We could call the stretch of the Grand River between Portland and Lyons ‘Bald Eagle Byway.’ We had numerous sightings of at least three different eagles today. One a mature male, one a mature female (bigger than the male) and one a immature but nonetheless quite large female. Mature eagles have the classic white feathers on their heads; the immature female had not yet developed a white head and had mottled white on her underbelly and beneath her wings. For such a majestic bird the eagle has a sort of undignified, screeching call. Have you ever heard it?

God protects the foolish, at least sometimes. We went over the spot where the Wagar Dam used to be – there is still a two-level obstruction in the river there – dead center of the river instead of running the chute far ‘river right.’ We didn’t capsize but I wouldn’t do it again. Knowing that we had a couple of spots like that today, we wore lifejackets and traveled light, everything stowed securely in water-proof bags.

Why are there no signs warning paddlers of what’s to come on the river from the Webber Dam to Lyons? The first sign should be at the old Wagar Dam site (KEEP RIGHT!) and the second at the site where the dam was removed coming into Lyons (KEEP LEFT!). It would also be a good idea to paint an arrow on the bridge in Lyons, pointing to the chute for paddlers. The fact that there are no such signs or other instructions is probably indicative of how few through paddlers traverse the Grand.

Great wildlife sightings today. In addition to the bald eagles we saw plenty of our blue heron spirit guides, large flocks of geese, wood ducks too young to fly scurrying to get away from us in the water, swallows swooping down to feast, fish jumping – a rolling carp in a shallow spot scared the bee-jeezus out of me, or it could have been a River Nymph, I suppose – muskrat or mink swimming and diving, turtles dropping off of logs before we could get close. It was spectacular. Only one human being, though. A friendly fisherman as we drew near to the end of our paddle. Hey, Michigan: get out and enjoy your rivers!

Got rained on, which occasioned the joint singing of various songs mentioning rain: ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’; ‘I Wish It Would Rain; ‘Rain’ by the Beatles (Tom claimed it was the B-side of ‘Paperback Writer’ which Google confirms)’ . . . “someone left the cake out in the rain” . . . on and on it goes.

I hope Tom writes about what a pain in the keister it was to find a place to launch today. It’s not always easy to enjoy Michigan’s longest river.

Allison the river-wise manager of the tavern in Lyons told us what happens when eagles mate (didn’t Prince have a song about that?). Apparently the male and female circle way up high and, at the top of their ascent, attach. They then begin to plummet downward and can’t let go of each other until the deed is done. One can almost imagine the female screeching, “Hurry up, damnit! What’s taking you so long?” Quite a contrast to the human experience; ‘eh, fellas? I’ll say no more.

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Always take the river’s side. Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends in powerful places. We live in perilous times.

Tom Writes . . . 

July 24, 2018, Webber Dam to Lyons, Michigan

Transition from Northern Central Lower Michigan to West Michigan. (How about all those geographical adjectives? You may need to live in Michigan, even to know what I mean. And, maybe note that the people of Lyons, Michigan pronounce their town as LIONS, the plural of the mighty cat LION, even though our cell phone navigation application says, “Lee-OWN,” after the famous old city in France. That cell phone is trying too hard.)

Today, we already knew where we wanted to finish, and to pull out our canoe: It is a nice sandy beach just downstream from the Lyons Bridge. However, we had to scout on shore for two hours, to find a launching place. There is no ideal launch spot, when one wants to paddle downstream, in this section of El Rio Grande del Norte.

Part of the trouble is the fact that this area is where the excellent canoe charts provided by the Michigan canoe clubs end. So, we had to rely too much on general information from Google Maps, and then drive back along the river, to see the possible places.

First place we looked: the right river bank at Webber Dam. We had had no trouble pulling out and loading up last week at the same dam, just across the river on the left bank. BUT! The put-in place, supposedly a “portage,” was about a quarter mile from the parking lot. We would have had to drag the boat down a steep concrete road and steep steps, across rocks. Or, as an alternative, we would have had to drag it up over a steep forest hill path. No!

Second possible put-in: the site of the former Wagar Dam. We knew the name of the road, but when you turn down that road, the first thing you see is a scary display of No Trespassing! and No Entry! and Private Property! signs. Out in this part of Country Deep-Woods Red NRA Michigan, one takes such signs seriously, but we drove in anyway and found a few houses and cabins, all separated by tall fences, and a couple insulting signs pointed not at interlopers, but at the neighbors themselves. This could have been a good launch place, but No! We did not want to ask any favors of these people. We turned around.

Third place: We went back to the left bank at Webber Dam, and put in there at a less-than-okay spot. We had to drag the boat about three hundred yards, to get below the dam. And, then we had to park far back, away from the river.

We finally got going though, and we had one of our best paddling days. Please read what Joe writes (above).

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Having stumbled across our blog, please recommend it to a friend. You will also find us on Facebook. Contact us by leaving a comment here or by email (joe@lengthofthegrand.com, tom@lengthofthegrand.com). Join us on the river some day, we’d love the company but you must BYOC (bring your own canoe).

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Sore Butts and Herons

Tom Writes . . .

Holy 2018!

June 22 and 23 – Jones Road to Webber Dam. Eagle, Michigan, to the boondocks between Portland and Lyons.

We paddled two days in a row. First time we have been on the river since December 1, last year. Wow! Physically demanding, like the first two days of Spring Training. Our shoulders ached, but that was not the worst. The worst had to do with our rear ends, sitting in those hard canoe seats for the first time in six and a half months. Yikes!

We made it, though, and today, you will be glad to hear, both our exquisite butts are much recovered.

We put the Billie V. into the river at the exact spot where we pulled her out last year. No red berries now, as we saw before, just bushes, green now. The river was high; the current was swift. Great paddling conditions.

High blue sky with white clouds and sunshine. Hallelujah! We saw cardinals twice. Joe said the cardinals were a manifestation of our mother, journeying with us. I thought, No. She probably would come as a rarer pretty bird, maybe a Cedar Waxwing or an Indigo Bunting.

Anyway, the river shallows out as one reaches Portland. An evil tornado destroyed Portland, Michigan, three years ago, but they have rebuilt in a glorious way. Portland is a nifty river town. The Looking Glass River enters, right bank.

Portland has a dam on its north end. Downstream, the river turns into a lake, down to the Webber Dam. Nice lake, but no real current. We canoe-ists get no help from the river. We made it, though.. Herons along the way cheered us forward. Bald Eagle sightings as well. Joe thought he captured a Bald Eagle on the GoPro camera but he did not.

blog pic july 1

The Grand shy of Portland, while we had some help from the current.

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Joe Neely: joe@lengthofthegrand.com

Tom Neely: tom@lengthofthegrand.com

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Welcomes

Joe Writes . . .

Paddling the Grand, a bit short of Portland, we came upon a lovely oasis and anblog pic sign invitation to pause and rest. While ‘No Trespassing’ signs are common along the river’s bank, a homemade sign here urged us to “PLEASE STOP AND ENJOY.” A bench was provided for just that purpose. A plaque identified the spot as Judy’s Bend, named in honor of Judy Wight – a nurse, judging by her likeness on the plaque – who must have loved the Grand and perhaps this spot in particular. A well-maintained shrine protected the plaque from the elements and there were two statues, I think they represented Jesus and St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. The plaque stated that Judy Wight now “dances in the ripples and sings in the breeze.”

Nice stuff. Welcoming and peaceful. The world would be a better place if there weremore such opportunities for reflection and refreshment.

At the end of the day’s paddle we hopped in my brother’s car and drove back to where we started to retrieve my truck. We did so, and on our way back to load the Billie V (our canoe) we came across a pick-up truck parked in front of a clean-looking ranch home. The truck’s entire rear window – a big window – was filled with a decal in the shape of the continental United States. In big vinyl letters the window sticker proclaimed, “F_ _ _  OFF, WE’RE FULL,” an obvious reference to our southern border.

The problem is not that the truck’s owner and I disagree on immigration issues. No, the decal is abhorrent  on several more basic fronts. Consider that young children are being casually-exposed to vile language every time the truck is used to pick up a quart of milk from the grocery store. “Daddy, what does ‘f_ _ _  off’ mean?” My parents taught me better than that. The decal’s message is also untrue. Labor shortages are very real for some industries because fewer immigrant workers are coming here to work. Finally, I wonder if the truck’s owner is Native American. If not, then his ancestors were immigrants themselves at some point. Should they have been told to f _ _ _  off, too?

So, a tale of two welcomes, indeed. One uplifting, the other base and depressing. I offer a sincere “thank you” to the conveyor of the former, and a hearty “shame on you” to the latter.

blog pic shrine

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Joe@lengthofthegrand.com (Joe Neely)

Tom@lengthofthegrand.com (Tom Neely)

 

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