When it was over, I was physically drained in a way I hadn’t been in a long, long time.
I was soaked to the bone, a bit groggy, and many of the muscles ached inside my aging body. As I trudged back to the vehicle, each step required my full attention.
But it was worth it. The eight-mile, five-hour kayak trip down the Big Piney River that me, my wife, Wendy, our youngest daughter, Claudia, and our adventurous Welsh Corgi, Gertie (the Permapup) had completed last Sunday was an experience that will leave a lasting impression on all of us.
We arrived at Boiling Springs resort (west of Licking) before noon, and were soon being shuttled upstream in a pickup truck with a trio of kayaks in its bed. Before long, we were dropped off at Sand Shoals, with many miles of Big Piney current between us and the boat ramp located a few yards from where we had parked.
The conditions for our trek were ideal – temperatures were in the high 70s, and the river was running at a perfect level with water that had spent a few months warming up to just the right point since winter left the region.
Moments after we all put in, Gertie and I realized we were in for a challenge. Our kayaks were the kind where you more-or-less sit on top, and our combined volume (especially mine) made us a bit top-heavy.
Over the course of the first couple of miles, Wendy counted seven times that me and the dog went overboard. Each time, I laughed and either stood up if the river was shallow enough or made may way to the nearest piece of shoreline that appeared to offer space to get back in. Gertie always followed and eagerly got back on board.
Every time we dunked, I was sure we were getting closer to staying topside. And ultimately, we learned how to balance (with Gertie staying put near the center of the boat, nestled instinctively between my outstretched legs) and went in only one more time the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Wendy went in only once and Claudia stayed afloat the whole dang way.
As we cruised downstream, the sights and sounds never ceased to be downright captivating. As we paddled through many calm stretches and numerous sections of relatively merciful rapids, we passed numerous large bluffs (some of which hung right out over the Big Piney) and traveled through what at times looked (and felt) like Amazon jungle, with deep, lush forest featuring dozens of species of trees, some draped with big vines. All the while, a talented assembly of animals and birds provided a soundtrack perfectly suited for any jungle-themed setting.
At one point, an unseen squirrel or bird was chattering from the trees in such a way that it seemed like monkeys might suddenly appear on the branches.
Claudia even said, “it’s like we’re going through the jungle.”
Being fans of all types of turtles, we enjoyed observing them along the way. Large logs on the shoreline or sticking up from the depths almost always hosted a perching red-ear slider or two, and we twice saw one of those oddly flat softshell versions slink into the river off of flat rocks at water’s edge.
At about the six-mile mark, I was pleasantly surprised when a baby softshell spent a few minutes being a passenger in my boat. The kayaks we were aboard were the kind designed with a couple of holes in the bottom, which allows some water to freely come and go from the craft.
I figure my little aquatic reptilian buddy came and went the same way (although the coming part was probably not done as freely as the going).
Naturally, we did stop about halfway for lunch on a gravel bar. We also saw a group of young men and women in canoes doing a little fishing. When we went past them in McKinney Eddy, a guy in one of the canoes said they had done pretty well and the goggle-eyes were biting.
When we were putting in, our driver, Rob, had advised us that when we were several hours downstream and saw a big overhanging bluff with a large cedar growing right out of its top, were about a mile from the end. When we saw that natural feature, it was like we had been refueled.
Then when we saw the boat ramp and the canoeists unloading there, I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment. I could tell Gertie did, too.
Then came the realization that my frame isn’t really designed to be in that position for so long, and the subsequent hardship of getting back to our vehicle. But I can’t say it wasn’t worthwhile.
It just comes with the territory if you want to be an infrequent – but intrepid – Ozarks river trekker.
Whew. It was fun seeing Gertie out cold in the back seat on the way home. Kind of made me feel like something “big” had just happened.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.