More miles on the Kaw

This weekend we led a pretty awesome fleet of kayaks and canoes down the Kaw River. It stretched about a quarter mile from head to tail and included 20 people and 16 boats. We took over the river in a pretty obnoxious way in order to spread the word that Kansas wilderness does exist!

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This trip was a continuation of Kerry and I’s multi-weekend long, Picky Bar-funded quest to paddle every mile of the Kaw River and to get members of the community outside and on the river. Fairmont Park in Manhattan is where we left off last weekend and so that’s where we found ourselves at the beginning of this one. The section between Manhattan and St. George is particularly beginner-friendly and popular, so we advertised it heavily and used some of our grant money to rent kayaks for novice paddlers.

The complex task of running shuttle for a paddle trip is something that has certainly baffled people for thousands of years and will continue to for many to come. The goal is to get all people and kayaks to the start to the paddle, and then get them all home at the end. It gets confusing when you have many people that each want to paddle different distances, some of which have borrowed kayaks and others have rentals. But by 8, we were successfully making our way to St. George.

The group paddle went well for the most part. We had one capsized boat, but our experienced crew pulled off an efficient rescue and got the party back on the water. We weren’t fast, but after about 5 hours we reached our destination.

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The majority of the group left from St. George while six of us ran a shuttle to the next town of Wamego. The next ten miles of river went much faster and we were in Wamego two hours later.

From there, Kerry and I pushed on by ourselves, intent on covering as many miles as we could. We stopped at the Belvue boat ramp for some much-needed dinner (rice and curry!) then got right back on the river. The heat was wiping us out – even as the sun was going down, temperatures remained in the 90s. Kayaking at night isn’t always a great idea, and having forgotten your flashlights makes it even less brilliant. But the moon seemed bright enough. After an hour of narrowly dodging trees and other river hazards, we decided to camp on a sand island. We had covered 40 miles in one day, a record for both of us.

One of the biggest draws of the Kaw river for me is the island camping. It’s free, it’s primitive, and it’s away from any sign of civilization. It’s the only time in Kansas that I’ve felt I’m truly in the wilderness. The heat and insects didn’t make for a particularly pleasant night of sleep. To cut down on volume and weight, we brought bivy sacks instead of a tent. That basically amounted to being wrapped up in a plastic bag full of our own sweat, barely able to breathe with swarms of mosquitoes buzzing in our ears. We agreed to take the tent next time.

By morning it had finally cooled of. We were on the river by 6:30, in time to watch the sunrise as we glided through a layer of fog. Our goal was Kaw River State Park, just before the river enters Topeka. It was a moderate 20 miles that we were able to cover by noon. Our friend Darrin was able to pick us up there and take us back to our car.

Our original plan was to finish the river next weekend, and we could still potentially do that. However after this weekend’s intense mileage, we are considering splitting the remaining miles into two weekends so that we can potentially enjoy the experience a little more. Next weekend: Kaw River State Park – ?

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