Finishing the Madison Five

Beads of sweat trickled down the side of my face, down my arms and chest.

My daughter and I sat atop our kayaks in our bikinis and baseball caps, paddling slowly across the water, baking in the sun.

The lake was quiet this sultry summer day, the hottest day of the year, a day almost too hot to be outside unless you could be in the water. Temperatures were hovering around 90 degrees with over 70 percent humidity and light southwest winds, adding up to a heat index of 99 degrees where we sat on the water and 108 degrees at home.

Rebecca and I had each scheduled this day off of work weeks earlier. Our original plan was to kayak the Bark River near Fort Atkinson, but water levels were reported to be too low for kayaking. Not ones to waste a vacation day sitting at home, we decided to paddle a nearby lake instead.

Since it was a Friday, we preferred to avoid the interstate, which we knew would soon be packed with Illinois weekenders heading Up North; therefore, we wouldn’t be going to Mirror Lake, Lake Wisconsin or Lake Koshkonong. And we were deterred from going downtown Madison to Lake Mendota or Lake Monona due to two explosions at Madison Gas and Electric facilities earlier in the morning causing power outages and traffic congestion.

We continued to contemplate where to go even as we pulled out of driveway in the Pilot, our loaded kayak trailer behind us.

Once we were on Highway 51, it soon came to me: Lake Kegonsa, of course!

It was my goal to kayak all five of the major Madison lakes this summer, and Lake Kegonsa remained the final lake on the list. With a later-than-planned start to our day, it was also a practical destination, an easy 16-mile drive south on the highway to Stoughton.

Lake Kegonsa is the fifth lake in the chain of Madison lakes. From the north, the Yahara River feeds Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, with Lake Wingra to the west, and then Upper Mud Lake to Lake Waubesa and Mud Lake—and finally into Lake Kegonsa.

Lake Kegonsa covers 3,200 acres and is more than 30 feet deep. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the lake was created by a glacier during the last ice age approximately 12,000 years ago.

Rebecca and I launched from the canoe and kayak launch on County Road in Fish Camp County Park and paddled along the northwest side of the lake through Colladay Bay.

We talked and relaxed as we checked out the lakeside homes, dipping our feet and legs into the water often to cool off.

Very few people were outside—most were either at work or somewhere inside away from the heat. Less than a half dozen boats occupied the water, a couple pulling inner-tubers and water skiers—friends trying to find a way to stay cool.

Today, we’d brought the sit-atop kayaks so we could easily slide off into the lake water. But we were leery to jump in.

Nearly 10 years ago was the last time we’d been swimming in Lake Kegonsa and merely saying its name conjured up unpleasant memories of dirty water and algae. However, we were too hot to not give it another chance.

Rebecca jumped in first while I held onto her kayak, then I took a turn. Overall, the water didn’t seem any better or worse than the rest of the Madison lakes. The temperature was comfortable and we each floated in our lifejackets for 5-10 minutes.

After our refreshing dip at Colladay Point, we began our journey back to the boat launch, moving a little faster and taking a more direct route to our starting point, ready to get out of the sun and head back home to the air conditioning.

Now that I’ve paddled Lake Kegonsa, I can cross off the fifth lake in Madison’s big five, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be back. We enjoyed the short drive and convenient launching point—and we have a lot more shoreline to explore.

Loaded and on the road northbound, we were satisfied with our decision to paddle Lake Kegonsa. It was a great way to spend our vacation day! Not even the sweltering summer sun and heat warning could hold us back from spending time together in our two orange kayaks.

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