When I first kayaked the Yahara River, its shallowness was the main factor in deterring me from paddling it again. Therefore, this past August when record rainfall hit Dane County and flooding closed roads and damaged numerous homes and businesses, the depth of the Yahara River between DeForest and Windsor was much more appealing.
Over a year since I’d kayaked the river, and the day following the torrential rains, my husband, Greg, and I decided to take advantage of the high water levels and give it a go. The two orange kayaks loaded when I got home from work, we headed into Windsor, parked one vehicle on the Upper Yahara River Trail and proceeded north to DeForest where we dropped in the kayaks about 6 p.m. from Veteran’s Memorial Park on Main Street, much farther upstream and all new river territory than the first time I’d kayaked the Yahara River.
Veteran’s Park featured a sign along the road for canoe/kayak access but it wasn’t exactly easy access, requiring us to carry our kayaks across the park and then drop them into the river from a slippery, grassy slope. I’m quite a bit smaller and more agile than my husband and was able to carefully lower myself into my kayak from the steep embankment. Greg, not so gracefully, fell into the water from where he had to heave himself into the bobbing kayak, wet from the waist down before we’d even pushed off from shore.
Then the journey downstream began, the river current strong and loud, water foaming along the edges over the flood-flattened grassy edges. I carefully maneuvered myself with my paddle around corners, noticing the force of the water if I tapped a rock or tree or the shoreline the wrong way. This already was a much different experience than the previous time I’d been in the river.
The Yahara River initially carried us westward through Western Green Park. A quiet evening hush blanketed the area making me feel at peace. As we rounded the river bends, we startled multiple deer standing in the water drinking from the river and herons resting along shore. It was so serene and beautiful that as I floated along, I removed my iPhone from my waterproof bag and took pictures, at ease enough that I let my phone rest in my lap as I paddled.
As we crossed under South Street and the river took us southward, I looked at the houses and enjoyed the ride. Feeling comfortable at this point, I’m not even sure why I put my phone back in my dry bag, but I’m glad I did. I’d made the mistake of letting my guard down in an angry, flooded river, and a minute later, the current pulled the front of my kayak toward the right shore, setting me crossways in the river, and in a gasp, my kayak flipped to its side, rolling me into the waist-deep water. I found my footing, grabbed my kayak with one hand, setting it upright as I grabbed for my waterproof bag and shoes before they floated away.
A split-second error and I was drenched and shaken, my kayak full of water. The current was pushing hard against me so I climbed back into my kayak and tried to get settled, sitting in a considerable amount of water. I’d never tipped my kayak before… what had happened?! Every bend and rock and tree branch later, I was careful to keep the front of my kayak facing downstream.
We worked our way around small fallen trees, and one time I even laid back flat in my kayak as Greg pushed me under a large tree that completely blocked the river. Then we came to a huge fallen tree. With no way around it and no way under it, we temporarily pulled our kayaks up the embankment and explored our options. We were not near a road or path. There was nowhere to go but over the tree. At that point, Greg helped dump the water from my kayak as I crawled over the tree, kayak in tow. Greg did the same and we took a deep breath and carried on.
Greg was grumbling and muttering by this time, asking whose bright idea it had been to kayak the Yahara River. I said to think of it as an adventure—we were kayaking a new territory and testing our kayaking skills like we’d never done before! We were both wet but unharmed, and we continued to see herons and deer along the river, including a couple of beautiful bucks. It’s the most wildlife we’d ever encountered kayaking.
As time progressed, we began to wonder where we were at in the river between DeForest and Windsor. The communities are quite close to each other and we’d walked the trail between them many, many times. Surely, we would recognize Windsor ahead around the next river bend, right? But no such luck. Had we actually studied a map of the Yahara River before embarking on our evening trip, perhaps we would have realized that after a brief southbound stretch, it takes a wide jog westward in almost a circle detour before going south again.
After maneuvering through some mini rapids, I took the lead, really the best place to be for spotting the deer. As I watched the river carefully, I also noticed the sun setting in the west. Where were we?! How much farther to the car? Greg was so far behind me at this point that I couldn’t voice my concerns to him about reaching Windsor Road before nightfall. As the sun slipped from sight, I knew I had to find a place to pull out. It was cooling off and I was wet and began to shiver.
Finally, with relief, I recognized the access point in the Conservancy Place off Innovation Road where my daughter and I had entered the river our first trip. I crawled ashore, pulling my kayak up the embankment, and then I waited. And waited. I began to think Greg had given up and gotten out further behind me. If that was the case, how would we find each other and get to the car? Finally, he came around the bend. Dusk had set in as we pulled his kayak out of the water. We’d been on the river for hours and were only halfway to our destination. We discussed who might be able to come and get us as we carried our two orange kayaks toward the road.
I pulled my phone from my dry bag and first called my friend Karen, one of the first people I’d ever kayaked with. Thank God she was home, and she set out in her car to find us in the dark, despite my poor directions of where we were stranded. We left our kayaks in the weeds as she drove us to our vehicle, cranking the heat for me as we shared our adventure.
I’ll always be thankful to Karen for rescuing us! And now that I’ve traveled the entire Yahara River from DeForest’s Main Street to south of the Windsor Golf Course, I better understand its intricacies and the total amount of time it takes to make the journey. The next time I’m feeling adventurous (and up for a day-long challenge), I’ll be taking on the Yahara River for round 3. Want to join me?