Dave and Mary Finck and Larry Braaten, officers of the SDCKA, announced Sunday that they were setting out on a Labor Day cruise down the Big Sioux River from the Klondike Dam to the Highway 18 bridge just east of Canton, SD, and invited interested members to join them.
I realized that this was an opportunity not to be squandered, a chance to join with the group and enjoy the fellowship of the paddle, have access to a shuttle, and laugh it up in the sun on this really wonderful day. The winds were light, the skies were sunny, and the temperature in the low 70s. In addition the water conditions were as good as they could be: plenty of depth, a wide and steady flow, no strainers, and no rapids.
We gathered on the South Dakota side of the river and dropped off our kayaks at the established launch area. Eight of us drove down to the take-out to leave our cars and then piled into Dave Finck’s van for the ride back to the Klondike. There were ten kayaks in our flotilla, and we began our eight-mile paddle about 2:00 p.m.
After launching, the kayaks milled around the put-in until everyone was afloat, and then we set off downstream.
These group paddles tend to begin with kayaks bunched up, but then a separation occurs and three or four conversation groups seem to form and reform over the course of the trip.
I was the last kayak in line as we set out. As I stopped to take photographs at times, the distance between me and the group tended to lengthen.
Sometimes, I found that no other kayaks were in sight. It was almost as if I were alone on the river; then I would put some power back into the stroke and move up to at least another kayak. One of my kayaking pals, Jarett Bies, helped me understand that the power in a stroke is in the pushing of the paddle rather than pulling. Keeping that in mind, I would ensure that my hands were low on the paddle shaft and drive forward a hundred strokes or so until I spotted the most distant kayak ahead.
On this Labor Day, we saw some fishermen out along the banks, we passed a family that had built a bonfire and seemed to be settling in for a picnic, and we even came across a motorboat filled with fishermen heading upstream – one of the rare times that I have seen a powered craft on these small South Dakota streams.
This stretch of the Big Sioux is wide and the banks are heavily covered with trees. There are rolling hills along both sides of the river and some steep banks at times, especially along the Iowa side. The banks have been undercut with the floods this year, and it is easy to see future strainers hanging on to their probable final year of growth with roots exposed and hanging down. There are also rugged large tree skeletons in the water, evidence of trees that once graced the riverbank before being eroded through spring floods.
There are several sandy beaches scattered along this course of the river, and we stopped along one for a few minutes to take a short break. These few minutes provide a chance to connect with each other and enjoy a moment of fellowship.
There were no “critters” to be seen today and only a few birds. The sounds of a group paddling downstream tend to provide a clear announcement to the animals that their space is being invaded, even though we are all harmless people – environmentalists by nature of our kayaks.
We arrived at the Highway 18 bridge after about two and a-half hours on the water. There is an easy take-out at a launching area just down from the bridge on the Iowa side of the river.
This was a great trip, a beautiful day at the beginning of the informal fall season. Many of us were conscious of the changing season. The leaves are about to start falling, and all of us know the signs of the fading summer and the hint of what is about to befall us here on the northern plains. Winter can be here as early as October – next month!