Scott Teuber of WI River Outings knows something about the allure of rivers. Scott began paddling in mid 1990’s and has been hooked on it ever since, which led to starting his own canoe rental business in 2003. Now that his operation is expanding onto the Kickapoo River, he arranged for a demonstration tour of the lower Kickapoo, putting us in the river above Gays Mills. The adventure was on.
We boarded the shuttle above the dam in Gays Mills and spent the time heading north getting to know our boat mates. Conversation was lively, full of anticipation of spending time with a river on a sunny day.
Arriving at the Kickapoo River Bridge on County Highway B around 4:30 pm – this short section would take about 90 minutes – Scott gave us instructions on river navigation. The thing about rivers is that they do most of the navigating; just let the current do its work. The meandering Kickapoo is somewhat directionally challenged, taking you east and west in equal portions to south, but eventually delivers you to your destination.
We paired off into partners and slipped our canoe gingerly into the current, like explorers into uncharted territory. After fleeting near the bridge while the rest of the canoes put in, we headed downriver.
The upper Kickapoo is open for canoeing and served by several outfitters. The lower Kickapoo River is currently being cleared of major debris, thanks to funding by a Community Development Block Grant, which will open it up for recreational use. This section of river has not been cleared yet, but contains no major obstacles that require portaging or extraordinary skills.
No matter. A low hanging branch and an errant helmsman – that would be me – still managed to roll us over into the chest-high water for a late afternoon bath. It’s humbling to be outwitted by a river that has a better idea where it’s headed than you do. Upright and invigorated by our sudden adventure, we continued downriver; wetter, but soon bathed in warming sunlight.
The river obliges your every curiosity, taking you on a guided tour of attractions in the valley. Your perspective constantly changes. Forested river bottoms with overhanging canopy suddenly open to pastureland with wide-angle panoramas. River bluffs loom large and then fade from view. Critters on the bank make brief cameo appearances and then return into hiding. Startled geese take flight and do a quick flyover before disappearing into a sun-drenched sky.
Amid laughter and muted conversation from canoes ahead and behind us, Riverfront Park in Gays Mills soon peeked around the next bend. After debarking, we spent some time celebrating with wine and cheese, retelling our adventure. There’s much to tell. The Kickapoo River takes you to new places and new experiences without ever leaving its banks.