Brother Dan owns a small construction company here in Waynedale. He and his wife Molly have three sons, Matthew who lives in Indy, Ben who has just finished his junior year at Purdue, and Little Dan who graduated from Homestead last year. Dan can trim the inside of a house, hang doors, fix or design about anything, and has employed most of the young men in our family. He’s the kind of guy every family wishes they had and few have. He called me last Wednesday about 7 pm.
“You got a two man tent?” he asked.
I answered yes. I was running late for an appointment and Dan is never much for small talk.
“You going to be there for awhile?” He asked.
“No, I’m on my way out, I’ll leave it by the door, just come in and get it.”
I guess I should have asked where he was going, but it didn’t seem important at the time.
When I returned home the tent was gone. My wife informed me that Dan and his son Little Dan were canoeing to West Lafayette, Indiana to see his son Ben.
Holy Cow, West Lafayette, Indiana! I tried to call him but couldn’t get through. The spring rains this year had the rivers full to over-flowing. The St. Marys was out of its banks. There was more rain predicted for Friday night and Saturday. I wanted to get my camera to him so he could take some pictures.
Our family has done a lot of canoeing over the years and Dan has always been interested in the early waterways, so I guess it was normal for him to take off on this type of adventure.
My brother in-law Matt dropped them, their gear, and their canoe just west of the dam in Huntington. Dan would later say that the first look at the Wabash got his heart pounding. It was wide, full of all kinds of debris and running fast. They loaded their gear in the canoe, said farewell to Matt, and pushed off into the turbulent waters.
They could have put in just off of Yohne Road. The Little River watershed flows from Yohne to the Little Wabash and from there into the Wabash in Huntington. Since they had never canoed to West Lafayette before, they were not sure how long it would take. They decided to put in in Huntington to avoid a portage and shorten their trip.
The areas around the bridges turned out to be the most turbulent. Logs and flotsam that had jammed against the abutments earlier were now underwater. The fast current would boil over the debris piles and actually curl back upon itself creating eddies that at one point spun their canoe 360 degrees.
Little Dan had a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver, so they not only knew where they were, but could calculate their speed. The river was running between four and five miles per hour and when paddling full speed they could travel at about ten miles per hour.
“It’s a funny thing, said Dan. No matter which side of the river we were on, the other side always looked faster. We would paddle over to the other side and then sure enough it would look faster where we had just been. It must be the ‘grass is always greener’ thing”.
They made Logansport before nightfall on the first day, and found a high point of ground that looked good for camping. They over-shot their take-out mark and had to turn their canoe and paddle upstream to get back to their camping spot. They did it but they were both exhausted from the ordeal. “The Wabash is definitely a one way stream going Southwest this time of year.”
They lit a fire, pitched the tent, and placed their previously prepared foil (Hobo) dinners in the coals.
When Dan and I were ten or eleven years old we used to make up Hobo dinners, hike down McArthur Drive to the railroad tracks, then go south along the tracks to an old bridge abutment we called the barge. We would start a fire, cook the Hobo dinners, and as I remember it, they were the best food I had ever tasted. Him telling his story brought back a flood of memories from those early experiences in Waynedale.
Friday night the rains came. They had piled up leaves to make for comfortable sleeping but the rain was hard and water came in around the tent zipper. The tent floor was waterproof enough to trap the water, making for some uncomfortable wet sleeping. They awoke to a gray over-cast morning and continued on their way. By now every sort of obstacle was floating along with them. There were huge trees with gnarly root systems washed clean from the fast current. A mattress floated by, complete with bed-sheets, and each tributary flowing into the Wabash widened it and increased the water speed. Dan said the most common debris were basketballs.
They had tried to guess the number of bridges they would travel under before they began. Dan guessed 20 and Little Dan guessed 15. The actual number turned out to be twenty-seven. The cell phone they were using went dead after the first day, which led to some anxious moments for Dan’s wife Molly. When they arrived in West Lafayette, Little Dan flagged down a motorist and borrowed his cell phone. He got in touch with the dorm where his brother Ben stays and arranged for a ride onto campus. Saturday night, as the boys were asleep in the dorm, the river climbed another eight feet. The farmer’s house where they had stashed their canoe had been turned into an island and the farmer’s fields were now a vast lake. I asked Little Dan if he would do it again. “Next time all the way to the Gulf of Mexico,” he said without hesitation.
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