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Seven. That’s a big number considering the weather, cold, fast water, and winds over 40 miles per hour. Even before we had launched, a sharp crack alerted us a moment before a dead limb was pulled from a tree, crashing to the ground close enough to us to keep us watchful: a harbinger of our adventure of another sort.
Spray off of the surface of the river repeatedly scattered a dozen feet into the air, driven by particularly strong gusts on our 11 or so mile trip from Tunnel Mills to Boone Forks. Amazingly, the wind also created a section of choppy waves well over a foot. Most of us were in kayaks, and had to be watchful least the wind, or a gust of wind, grab the upper blade and flip the boat. The one tandem canoe in the armada, an Old Town Discovery 174, was ably powered by Dan and his cohort, Chris.
It was one of those winds that could blow a canoe as well as a kayak upstream, even in the strong current. More than once, the wind drove the canoe and kayaks forcefully across the river to one side or another. Fortunately, the wooded bluffs provided some protection.
Even, better, we all stayed dry. This added immensely to all of our enjoyment. Belted kingfishers were another treat, a first for this year and another sign that our local migrants are back and that spring is here. Another first of spring on this paddle was the sounds of phoebes. The wooded bluffs along the river were filled for the first trip this year with the low buzzing of tree frogs (I believe). Great Blue Herons, Turkey Vultures, screeching Red-tail Hawks, Black-capped Chickadees also chimed in and graced our paddle downstream.
Our takeout on the Boone Forks Access is just in sight of the Des Moines River. We arrived relatively early in spite of the wind, the river powering us downstream with about 3000 cfs, comfortably within flood stage. Even with the break at Bells Mills, the trip only took three hours. Arriving at our take out, early and in good spirits, we took a side trip to a local graveyard where long- gone pioneers and the mound builders that came before them keep vigil over look the confluence of the Des Moines and Boone Rivers.
Finally, our adventure, but not the wind, was winding down with a brief visit at the local café in Stratford. The food was great, the small town prices were appreciated, and so was the enthusiastic owner. It was especially gratifying to find out that they do in fact serve beer after being so attentive on the river.