My family has been “into” kayaks for many years now. Though we have 4 people in our family, we had 6 kayaks for quite a while. We still have five!
My husband is the activity cheerleader and organizer. A few weeks ago he went on a “midnight paddle” that was put on by the River Alliance of Wisconsin and Milwaukee River Keeper. The event didn’t take place at midnight — they actually started at 7:30 pm.
Since then, he has been trying to convince me to go with him on an the same route for an evening kayak trip on the Milwaukee River.
You might wonder why I would need to be convinced. Well, kayaking is fun while you are on the water, but there is a lot of lifting, carrying, tying down, loading and unloading involved. Since I’ve gained some weight in the last few years, it is also very difficult for me to get in and out of the boat and sometimes I end up IN the river.
Last night, I said yes.
It was nearly dark by the time we got into the boats and started down the river. There is a wonderful canoe/kayak landing hidden away which I presume was built by the Kiwanis club because there was a big canoe shaped sign proclaiming the place as “Kiwanis Landing.” For Milwaukeeans, the landing is just upriver from Bel Air and Gastropub on the north side of the river. (?)
Almost immediately I was spellbound by the experience. A mother duck and her three ducklings swam alongside of me. They might have been hoping for me to toss some food out for them, but I loved seeing them so close as they quacked, paddled their feet and chomped on bugs.
After the first bridge, there are condos and apartment buildings on both sides. At times the walls on both sides of the river reach so high, you feel like you’ve entered a canyon.
Going under the bridges is kind of spooky. There are ladders, dark corners and creepy little windows. Imaginations can run wild in a place such as this! (This photo is not of the creepy ones; it was the only photo I could find of under a bridge at night in MKE.)
At one bridge, we watched while the road was lifted so that a taller boat go could through. We were passed by pontoons, huge yachts and regular speedboats. There was a LOT of boat traffic going both ways, so we were vigilant about making sure we stayed safe.
If you’ve never spent time on a boat at night, you might not realize there is a system of required lights that help everyone navigate around each other. In the front, there is supposed to be a light that is green on one side and red on the other. Red is starboard, I believe. If you see the red light, you should yield right of way. If you see the green, they are seeing your red light and it should be safe for you to proceed. If you are heading directly toward each other, you pass on the green side. All boats are supposed to have a white light in the back of the boat. For slower not very large boats like kayaks, the only required light is a plain white light in the front. We both had lights, but if we do this again — I’d prefer to have the red/green light in the front and a white light in back as the larger, faster boats are required to have. Or possibly not go on a gorgeous summer Friday night. There was LOT of boat traffic, and some boats were being driven by people who clearly didn’t have much experience (rental party boats, for instance).
The sun was down. There was a half moon in the sky. The lights from the bridges, businesses and buildings shimmered like a magic kaleidoscope on the surface of the water changing as the breeze and wave patterns evolved.
I didn’t take my camera, but my husband had his cell phone. I kept asking him to take photos because the light on the water was so mesmerizing.
People on the water are usually friendly, waving and sometimes saying a few words as boats pass each other.
We went about 2 miles or so through Milwaukee and turned around near the Public Market. We passed several outdoor patios (at restaurants and breweries for example) full of happy people, drinking and talking. One guy tried to convince me that we were heading for some dangerous rapids up ahead. Another person warned of sharks.
I laughed when we saw one of the letters of the Usinger’s sign was unlit. The building now proclaims “Singer’s” — which as a music teacher and choir director I found amusing. (For non-MKE folks, Usinger’s is one of the famous sausage and bratwurst companies here).
As we paddled back toward the landing, a couple shouted “Good job; you made it!” and clapped for me. The woman added, “We saw you headed the other way.” I laughed and thanked them.
We also saw a very interesting and quirky boat docked on the river: the Solomon Juneau. Apparently it is a fixture on the downtown river and the man who owns it has lived in it for many years. For additional photos of this boat, click here to see “Aboard the Solomon Juneau.”
I kept thinking, “I grew up in my little tiny town with one stoplight and here I am paddling through the middle of a major city on a Friday night in a kayak.” You never know where life will lead you, that is for sure!
I will say, I was horrified by the amount of trash in the river, though. I can’t believe people are still so lackadaisical about throwing stuff willy-nilly into water (or anywhere not in a trash can, for that matter). Next time, I’m going to take a big trash bag (and some rubber gloves) so I can pick it out of the river. Didn’t they see that pollution commercial with the Native American and the tear running down his face?? He would have been crying again last night for sure.
But other than the trash and a few boats going too fast with clueless drivers, it was a magical evening. I can’t wait to go again!
Oh, I forgot! We saw a great big green frog at the end as we were getting out of our boats. He was alarmed by all the fuss, I think.