I apologize a bit for the length of this one, but as its my 40th birthday post, I reserve the right to ramble!
This June I turned 40. If you know me personally, and missed it, don’t feel bad, because the day passed as any other, which was as I wanted it. I didn’t make a big deal of it because I have had a pretty bad relationship with my birthdays. I remember that even as a kid, birthdays were a bit sad for me; even then I felt life was whizzing by way too fast, and birthdays only reminded me of that. (Pretty depressing for a kid, eh?)
So with a pretty big landmark birthday approaching, I had thought long and hard about how I wanted to handle it…I mean “celebrate.” 😉 Please don’t misunderstand; I am incredibly grateful I am having another birthday. I relish the facts that I am healthy and have a full and happy life. I feel incredibly blessed. And it is because of these feelings that a birthday party just didn’t seem to suffice. I did want to mark the occasion, but wanted to DO something, something I have never done before but that I have been wishing for. (So things like bungee-jumping were NOT on the list!) This spring it came to me…a kayak trip on the Wisconsin River with a night camping on a sandbar! Why, you ask? Well, growing up, my family made countless trips over the river as we were cruising up and down Wisconsin’s highways, and I can remember looking down and seeing the sandbars in the sparkling river, sheltered by the vibrant green along the river bank, and it just looked like a great place to be. I had told Chad that someday I wanted to camp there, and since we recently started kayaking (day trips only up to this point) it seemed like this wish might actually come true.
I also recently learned another factor that obviously played into my developing this wish…it’s my mom’s wish, too! She told me she had the same thoughts as we went over the river, so no doubt I heard her and adopted this dream as my own. Therefore, I am doubly glad I was able to make this happen…and now I can take her on her own trip someday. (Start looking at your calendar for next year, Mom!)
Now, since my birthday was in June and I’m writing this in August, you are correct in assuming I didn’t do this on my actual day-of-birth. In June we were in the planning stages of moving and Chad’s school year was still wrapping up. Also, the water and air temperatures would have been much colder! And since I’m weird about birthdays, as previously discussed, I didn’t care when we went, as long as it was sometime this summer. Spoiler: I got my birthday wish, and it was everything I hoped for!
We launched Saturday afternoon to cover a 14-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River, from the north end of Sauk City, Wisconsin to Arena, WI, with one night of camping. (There are longer sections and multi-day trips we could have taken, but having never overnight-ed using our kayaks, we wanted to be sure we could carry what we needed without swamping the kayaks!)
We paddled only moderately hard, and stopped once to stretch our legs. We had eaten breakfast but not lunch by then, and since we weren’t sure how fast we would be traveling, we ate on the water as we went. It was a gorgeous day! Temperatures were in the low 80’s and we had a slight breeze. We did have some clouds, but it was mostly sunny, and Chad and I did our due diligence with the sunscreen. The river was wider than anything we had kayaked on before, and though we saw several groups of people out for short trips in kayak, canoes and tubes, after leaving the Sauk Prairie area we only saw 1 or 2 groups at any one time. After a couple hours it was already past 4 PM. We had made pretty good time, making it more than halfway in just three hours, so we figured we could start looking for a place to camp. We had read that this stretch has miles of sandy beaches and sandbars on which to camp, and no permit is needed, but it can sometimes get crowded. We were hoping to avoid as many people as possible, and not have a RV/Camperland type of population to deal with…that was NOT part of my birthday wish! It didn’t take too long until we came across the PERFECT place!
There was someone already camping on a spot that looked good, so we went ashore on the next sandbar to look around. It had a wide open beach, but high enough that we were sure we wouldn’t get wet from any rise in the river. We could stroll almost all the way around it about 5-10 minutes, and the center had tall grasses…great for when nature called!
We set up the tent and unloaded our gear, then Chad went about making dinner; even though we didn’t paddle too hard, kayaking is still a bit of work, and with the warm temps, we were deliciously tired and hungry. We ate a tasty meal (more on that later) and watched the sunset behind the bluff. [One thing we did not do, since we didn’t want to have to deal with firewood on this trip without knowing more about the capacity of our kayaks, was have a campfire on the beach. However, next time that is a MUST!]
After a nice stroll around “our island,” (no one ever joined us, so we had the place to ourselves!) we sat down to play some cards and enjoy the cocktails that Chad had wisely packed for us. We knew the next day would be even hotter, so we turned in not too long after sunset, with thoughts of getting on the water early. I fell asleep looking out of
my tent at the water and listening to gulls, geese and fish jumping in the shallows just inches off shore. It was amazing.
I woke up a bit before sunrise, and was able to snap some pictures of the beach without ever getting out of bed! There was a slightly cool breeze, but it never got chilly in the tent. Then I promptly fell into another peaceful sleep while watching the horizon, and we woke when it was full light. We were able to enjoy our hot breakfast and coffee (iced for me, hot for Chad) before we quickly and easy de-camped. We waded out into the water in the warm morning sun, and after a quick splash to freshen up, we were on our way. We left camp at 9 AM, a bit later than we expected, but since we had no schedule, it really didn’t matter!
It turned out camping where we did was great for more than just one reason. The next day was a bit windy, and though I don’t know if it was the changing weather or that stretch of water, I’m glad we were rested and fed before we paddled that section. If we stopped the wind would not only cancel out the current, but in some spots we were pushed backwards! Not that it was too rough to deal with; it only lasted for small bits at a time, the breeze felt good, and it was another sunny, beautiful day! Also, the next area we came across did have multiple tents camped together, so we were fortunate not to have that company! We saw a couple bald eagles that morning, and Chad started scoping out other places he would be willing to camp, either on a repeat trip or perhaps a longer one. I take this as a very positive sign that he enjoyed himself; as I was totally geeking out with joy the previous night, raving about our great beach, wonderful weather and the tastiest camp food ever, he seemed stunned that I would be SO happy. After all, we were “just camping,” right? But the fact that he at least enjoyed himself enough to want to do this again made me think I didn’t have some weirdo wish, and that other, more normal people would enjoy this, too!
As we were coming up to the Arena, Wisconsin boat landing, which is quite a busy one, we saw several groups either finishing up or just starting a Sunday day-trip. We were off the water after just another three hours of paddling/floating, and since we worked a bit harder this stretch than the day before, we had a picnic lunch at the landing before we loaded up to head home.
As I stood on the beach Saturday night with the sun setting in front of us, I knew I made the right choice when I decided to have this as my 40th birthday celebration. While I do hope that this won’t be the last time I camp on a sandbar, it will always stick out in my memory as the first, and best, time; the time when it was just Chad and I on a secluded sandbar with perfect weather, a beautiful sunset followed by a beautiful sunrise. So am I weird about birthdays? Yes. But I couldn’t be happier that instead of just marking the day as it came and went, I went out and LIVED…isn’t that what we are supposed to be celebrating, after all?
But wait, there’s more! Of course I will talk about food as well, so the next post will follow shortly to address the food and exercise part of the trip.