Listen to Ruth tell the story of her last day on the Wisconsin River:
Day XVIII transcribed:
Last day of the I Heart Wisconsin River Trip. I woke up this morning to the sound of birds flying overhead. I was completely socked in by the fog. I couldn’t even see the edge of the water that was only 20 feet away. It was a solid bank of fog. Yet I could hear, not that far above me, the wings of birds and vocalization of birds—kind of chipping at each other, making sounds so they stay in contact. And I just laid in my sleeping bag imagining them streaming over my tent, heading down the river to the confluence of the Mississippi, which is a global migration pathway called the central flyway. I tried to catch this on video. I don’t know if you’ll hear the sounds or not. But, just imagine thousands and thousands of birds moving, moving, moving. Most birds migrate at night and I think I was just catching the tail end of it or maybe the wind had changed or something. Rivers are often used as flyways and I have been seeing birds all along that I thought were moving down the river. But this morning was pretty special. I tried several times to record it, over 15 or 20 minutes. It really was a solid flock of birds. Great way to start my first morning, my last morning on the river. The fog was so complete I couldn’t tell where the river channel was, so I hung out in my camp. I had slept in a little bit because I was so cold the night before and didn’t get to sleep until pretty late. But the fog finally cleared around 9 a.m. and I was so thankful that I had come those extra miles to get closer to the Bridgeport landing where I was going to connect with my co-workers and people who were going to come in to help me on the final leg.
I finally shoved off, it was like 9 or 9:30 this morning, with all my gear and headed down the river for the last day. I feel like I was kind of slowing down unintentionally because I didn’t really want the trip to end. I kind of wanted it to end to see everybody and get back home again and all that, but I also kind of did not want it to end. One of the things I really enjoyed is being active all day long. When you move around all day long, you don’t get stiff and you don’t have sore muscles. I think the only time I had a sore muscle or even felt pain is I took a fall on my thumb and it kind of got strained or something, I had a huge bruise on the inside part of the palm of my thumb. It still hurts now. It didn’t change my paddling, it just makes it hard to pinch things or to lift things. That was just from falling on it. Otherwise I just felt great living outdoors, sleeping outdoors, moving around all day, not sitting in a chair and it has caused me to really think about how I work. I need to get up, I need to have a standing desk, move around, maybe get a treadmill desk, I don’t know. The whole entire trip I’ve had great energy and have felt great.
I got in my boat, headed down the river and immediately saw two trumpeter swans and that’s very special because the Natural Resources Foundation has funded trumpeter swan reintroduction into Wisconsin, which is a huge success story thanks to Sumner Matteson, Terry Kohler and many, many others who worked on the reintroduction of the trumpeter swan. Dr. Stan Temple, Lisa Hartman I know worked on bringing trumpeter swans back. Now there’s over 200 nests of trumpeter swans in our state. This morning I saw a couple of them standing on a sandbar. If you see a big white bird that’s low to the ground, that’s probably a trumpeter swan unless it’s later in the season and then you can see also on the Mississippi, hundreds, maybe thousands, of tundra swans.
I kept going down the river and heard a big ruckus on the left hand bank in the Wauzeka Wildlife Area and was surprised to see some black angus cattle. I guess I thought it was wildlife land and/or if there were cattle, they would have been fenced off, but there was no fence. I really spooked them and they started bawling and then they started trotting and they were following me down the river. It was really funny. I’ve never seen cows trot together in a line and they were just really agitated. I tried to get a video of it. Finally they just kind of crashed off into the forest and disappeared. So I knew I was still in Wisconsin, although they weren’t dairy cows.
When I got within a couple of miles, I decided I’d try to do a selfie. I absolutely hate selfies, this is a story about the trip, not about me. But there were people I wanted to thank. So I did a video, I’m sure I forgot a bunch of stuff, but what I say in the video is that this trip is about the people that I met and that’s really true in so many ways. The people that helped me out as River Angels; the people who paddled with me; the people who helped back in the office; volunteers who met me here and there, drove me around dams with my gear; people who read this and sent positive thoughts; just really a super experience that I hope everyone can have at some point where you just put yourself out there and you ask for help and you get it. It’s really a nice feeling. Watch the video and thank you to everyone that helped me.
I got down to Bridgeport, I think pretty much on time, maybe a little bit late, due to the fog and I was joined by several paddlers. We had John and Mary, Jerry, Dan, Cait from our office, and Koda, a yellow lab riding in the canoe with John and Mary. And I got to see my co-workers that were able to take the day, Christine Tanzer, Cait Williamson, Lindsay Renick Mayer and Diane Packett came down. That was really fun to see everybody wearing their I Heart Wisconsin t-shirts, which would make great holiday gifts if anybody wants.
Our little small group then gathered together and we took off and went down the river. I had done this stretch from Bridgeport down to the confluence and into Wyalusing once before with a group and didn’t really pay attention how to get there. It turns out the side channel, which would normally be a real fun channel to go down, was way too low and there’s no way we could go through that. So we went down the main channel. We saw eagles, and eagles and eagles, just a great view. We saw on our left the blufflands of Wyalusing State Park and as we came down the confluence, just this wall in front of us. I looked at Dan and asked if that was still Wisconsin and he said “no, that’s Iowa.” We were facing the far bank of the Mississippi.
We came down around the corner and there was a beautiful little sandbar right there, so we took a break, stretched out our legs a little bit and had some fun watching some barges go by. The river, the Mississippi River was smooth as glass. The wind was blocked, because it was a westerly wind it was blocked by that bluff. It was warm, like 70 degrees, just unbelievable for Oct. 14. So many fears about the safety of canoeing and kayaking on the Mississippi were allayed because of the extremely unique conditions today—protected from the wind and warm.
We watched a few barges go by. At one point one of the barges was pushing a lot of water in front of it, you could literally see it push up the water and it was leaving a huge wake. I’m glad we were on the sandbar. Dan jumped onto his racing canoe and he raced out there and caught a little bit of the power of that wake just for fun. Dan had done the whole Wisconsin with his father back in ’88, ’89 in two parts and had also done a big part of the Mississippi River. It was fun to travel with him. He’s a Department of Natural Resources biologist who works on management of the wildlife areas in the lower Wisconsin. I found out later that he is the one who matches up projects to be funded by Paul Brandt’s permanent endowment that he set up before his death that’s a Lower Wisconsin Riverway Endowment Fund. It was nice to meet Dan.
Also on the trip was Jerry, a retired surveyor from Dodge County who is contemplating a future river trip. We talked about maybe the Foundation could think about offering some segments of the river as a river trip for our field trip program, which is kind of a cool idea. I’m not sure if we could pull that off, the logistics might be a lot, but that might be kind of cool.
And then I paddled with John and Mary. If you get our latest newsletter—if you haven’t, call our office and we’ll give it to you, we’ll give a complimentary membership—our latest newsletter has a story about them. They have set up a planned gift through their will, which will benefit citizen-based science, will benefit Wisconsin Master Naturalist program, or any program that provides environmental education and conservation education. When that endowment is created after their death, they will have a legacy that lasts forever to help educate people about natural resources in the state of Wisconsin.
I feel real proud to be working for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin because we do provide a way for people to express their love for the state of Wisconsin in many ways. A couple of the ways that I’ve learned on this trip that people do that is: 1) I met with some of our members like John and Mary who actually set up endowment funds either now or to happen after they’re gone. 2) I’ve also met people like Dan today who are partners with us when we make grants. Many of the grants that we give are to the state of Wisconsin to manage public lands, especially state natural areas, but also for research for rare and endangered species, like the Important Bird Areas and the Kirtland’s warbler, the trumpeter swan reintroduction, whooping crane reintroduction and so on. So the Foundation makes grants. Also, the Foundation offers opportunities for people to engage directly with our state in some of the most beautiful areas like the lower Wisconsin River, like the entire Wisconsin River, on our field trips. They’re always a learning experience. Just like this I Heart Wisconsin trip has been a learning experience for me and for you, our field trips, every day, every one of them is not only fun in a beautiful part of our state, with incredibly nice people who are always great to talk with, but they’re always educational. We’ve heard time and time again that’s why our members like our field trip program.
Take your own field trip, find your river, find your prairie. If you want to do the Wisconsin River, call me, I’ll share with you everything I know, which is not much because really you just have to get in the river and start it. One day at a time, it doesn’t have to be in a row, you could do the trip over several years and that’s just fine. Do it in your own way. Ask for help like I did so you’re not camping every night, get a shower every once in a while. One thing I’d recommend is that you take a rest day. I didn’t have enough vacation time to do that.
I guess I’ve been rambling on now. It’s hard to know what to say. It was pretty emotional to see the confluence of the Mississippi. An absolutely beautiful way to end the day and end the trip with people who had driven in to help me celebrate. We had a cake and some sparkling cider at the take-out, which is in Wyalusing State Park. I got to say hello to Randy Paske, president of the Friends of the Wyalusing State Park. One more way that our Foundation has partnered with friends of state park groups. Their group, Friends of Wyalusing State Park, runs a concession stand, they support programs, they have a canoe rental business, they have a film festival, they have concerts in the pavilion. Our state has 81 friends of state parks groups and more power to them. I hope we get more. Our Foundation continues to support them through endowments. We’ve also made small grants to some of the friends groups and we’re happy to do it.
Great way to end the trip and great way to see all these people who have been supporting me all along. A special thank you to Lindsay Renick Mayer, who took all of this media I would email her every day from an iPhone, the videos, the photos, I would dictate this blog, it would be transcribed, posted on the website, the maps would be downloaded by the satellite beacon. A lot of work back at the office, so thank you Lindsay for everything you’ve done to help share this wonderful trip.
I hope that this will be an inspiration for others who want to do a trip like this. I hope it’s an inspiration to others to learn about the kind of work that has been done through individuals and conservation groups that love our state. I hope it also served as a way for people to learn more about the Natural Resources Foundation, who will be celebrating our 30th anniversary next year. We hope to see you on a field trip, hope to have you as a member supporting our cause of natural resource support and protection in the beautiful state of Wisconsin.
Watch Ruth’s final few minutes on the river: