Manitowish Waters 4th of July Canoe Extravaganza

Like most of our trips, this one started and ended with Thomas, Tim, Tier, and Andy. For some of this trip, we added a Tiff and another Andy for good measure, but as you will soon see, those two didn’t last long.

So it all started with the twins, Tier and Tiff. Let me tell you about these two girls. One is evil, and the other one is also evil. But one is eviler.

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This is Tiff. She claims that she is NOT evil. You be the judge. 

Both Tier and Tiff are dating Andys, and between the four of them, they are quite adventurous and experienced in the art of planning camping trips. So Tier and Tiff put their brains together (which is redundant to say, because they share a brain) and planned a canoeing camping trip along the Manitowish River up in Nowhere, Wisconsin.

The plan was simple: rent canoes, paddle, camp, repeat. We also planned on doing some drinking, fishing, and taking part in general shenanigans.

Of course, like most things outdoors, it can’t be done in northern Illinois, so I (Tim) had to drive up to Madison to begin the trip. I got a quick beer with Eazy (congrats on the move, buddy!) and then went to Andy’s and Thomas’ to get packed up and on the road. Unfortunately, SOMEBODY was late because their tubing trip went late. Andy, Tier, and I sat around cursing Thomas’ very existence until he finally came back, then we yelled at him as he packed his stuff into the car and then we finally hit the road.

We stopped by Tier’s family cabin to grab some fishing poles then ended the night by a campfire in Rhinelander eating fruit salad and marshmallows with Richard and Jenny, friends of Tiff. We crashed at Tiff’s place for the night, and that’s where we woke up as well. In the morning, we ate some small breakfast snacks and hit the road again. We may have gotten lost going to the canoe place, but that just led us to a gas station/bait shop where we picked up some nightcrawlers and met a giant 160 lb bear/dog.

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He had just eaten the previous patrons so he was sleepy when we arrived.

Canoes rented, we loaded them up with our gear and then the shuttle drove us and the canoes down the road to the put-in, where we met with Andy and Tiff (they brought their own canoe). We ditched our shirts, sun-screened up, and pushed off into the river. We were finally on our way. We had enough food for a small army (of ants), enough alcohol to feed a small horse, and plenty of fishing poles.

We had three canoes: Andy and Tiff, Andy and Tier, Thomas and Tim. Since Tiff recently had her appendix removed, she was careful about paddling as to not rip out her stitches. We quickly decided that slow was the way to go, as we only needed to paddle 6 miles per day and we were going WITH the current…so we laid back, relaxed, had a beer, and failed at our few attempts at fishing. At one point, we even stopped our canoes to fish near some downed trees…but two of us got snagged so Andy the Fisherman had to swim over to the logs and untangle us. We laughed off that failure and continued our float down the river, enjoying the absolutely perfect weather.

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Upon arriving to camp, we found that EVERY SINGLE MOSQUITO WAS WAITING FOR US. I would be genuinely surprised if anyone else in all of Wisconsin got a mosquito bite that night, because every single mosquito in Wisconsin was at one point on Thomas’ back as he changed his shirt. We soaked ourselves in deet, and Thomas and I put on our trusty mosquito netting to avoid ruining our faces forever (see below).

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Oh, the horror!

Tents set up, hammocks set up, Oberon mini-keg tapped. That could mean only one thing: time to chop wood and light it on fire. The old forest was dry and there were plenty of dead trees around, providing us with an abundance of firewood. I began collecting, and got a fire going, while Andy the Lumberjack went off into the woods to chop some dead trees. Since he was doing such good work and everyone else was in tents or hammocks napping, I began practicing my knife throwing skills with our SOG throwing knives. I am NOT good.

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Here’s where things get fun. Please skip the next few paragraphs and pictures if you have a weak stomach. What I am about to describe is as true and hilarious as it was scary and dangerous.

Let me set the scene. Tier and Andy are napping in a tent and avoiding mosquitoes. Tiff is laying in a mosquito-net hammock reading a book. Thomas is trying to get some rest while wrapped like a cocoon in his hammock. I (Tim) am throwing knives at a nearby tree trunk. The only sounds are those of knives hitting a tree, mosquitoes buzzing, and the echo of a hatchet cutting through dead wood. But all of a sudden, Andy the Lumberjack yells. No biggie, lots of people yell, right? Especially after they smash a hatchet into their ankle. I stopped throwing knives and tried to assess the situation, but Andy kept saying he was okay but that he was bleeding. As he limped into view I could see that his pants were bloody and he was leaving a trail of blood in the pine needles as he shuffled towards me.

 

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Andy left these blood stains all over the forest. He has no “leave no trace” ethics.

I helped him over towards the picnic table, and we each grabbed our first aid kids. He sat down, and I sprayed some water on his ankle to reveal a tiny cut year his ankle bone. What a wuss, it was like a paper cut! Then it gushed some blood. We wiped the blood away again. It gushed again. By now, we realized that this was a small but DEEP cut, and that we needed to get this taken care of before he flooded the entire area with blood. I sprang into action! “Thomas, get over here!”, I yelled, alerting our registered nurse that there was a problem.

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Seriously, it was bad. 

Thomas sprang into action, attractively prepped some bandaging for him as Tiff held gauze to the wound. Andy the Patient lay contentedly, getting eaten by mosquitoes as Andy and I documented the situation. Once the bleeding abated enough, Thomas steri-stripped the gash shut and taped everything secure, like nothing ever happened.

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After that fun died down, a few of us head out in the canoes to try fishing again. Another failure, but at least there weren’t bugs out over the water. Plus, added bonus: while docking the canoe, Thomas took a tumble into the river and just decided to take a short bath. Thomas then had to run up to the fire in his skivvies to avoid the initial barrage of mosquitoes, hoping the smoke would help. It didn’t. He stood by the fire getting dry as I played a mosquito version of wac-a-mole on his back to help him avoid losing a dangerous amount of blood. But I am only one man, and he got covered in bites before he was able to get dry and into protective clothing and bathe in deet.

We continued on with the shenanaginning through the evening and into the night, drinking beer and wine and reminiscing about life without mosquitoes. Tiff even had some sparklers to celebrate the Fourth of July!

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Such a patriot. 

The next morning, Andy was not feeling so hot. He struggled to sleep and now had trouble walking on one of his ankles (I don’t actually remember if it was the one that he axed the night before, but it could’ve been). He and Tiff decided it would be best if they got it checked out as soon as ASAP as possible, so Thomas and I helped paddle them back upstream for about a half hour to a bridge we passed the afternoon before. The nice thing about Wisconsin is that you are never more than a mile or so from a bar; it really defeats the need for locator beacons. We got them up and out and walked down the road to a bar where they asked a patron if he could drive them back to their car. The man obliged, because, ya know, northern Wisconsin.

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Plus, how can you say “no” to that face? Those faces. That face. 

Since Tiff and Andy were both injured, Thomas and I hung around so we could lift their canoe back onto their car. This meant we had about half an hour to kill, and standing on the road in a canoe wasn’t gonna cut it. We stripped down and took a dip in the river, making sure to note how cold it was. I climbed up on the bridge and jumped into the water, but before we could decide on a backflip or frontflip for the next jump, Andy and Tiff were back! Thomas and I didn’t bother to change, so we loaded their canoe back onto their SUV in our underwear and bid them a tearful farewell, knowing in our hearts that we would never see Andy alive again.

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Small bone chip, but still enough to incapacitate a man (and possibly lead to a bone infection).

Thomas and I zoomed back to camp to find it just as we left it, with Andy and Tier lazing about in their tent. We packed up as quickly as we could and departed this campsite/mosquito mecca on day two of our downstream trip.

No longer crowded by a third canoe, we were able to drift lazily around bend after bend of reedy shoreline without paying much heed to just about anything. What better time to break out the 5 litre (for some reason) bag of wine? We spent the entire afternoon hopping in and out of the canoes and drinking wine, beer, and tea. Not a bad day. Except for Tier: Andy kept running her into trees and reeds.

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I cannot emphasize enough how fantastic it is to float lazily down a river with good friends, good beer, cheap wine, and some solid tunes blasting from a bluetooth speaker. No shirt, no shoes, no pants, no problem. Clear skies and a light breeze. It’s the tops.

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We rolled into camp as evening was setting in and set up camp. For Andy and Tier, camp was a tent at the top of the forested hill. For Thomas and I, it was stringing up hammocks on the bank and building a fire right off the water. The mosquitoes weren’t bad at this site, and Thomas and I didn’t even need out nets. However, pooped, Tier and Andy hit the hay early again and Thomas and I stayed up late talking about mosquitoes, the milky way, planets, and the latest season of The Bachelorette.

 

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Perfect.

I took a swim to get all the bug spray and sun lotion off of me, then I dried off and warmed up by the fire. Nothing better than a nighttime dip! We were getting pretty sleepy at this point, so we tossed the rest of the wood onto the fire and Thomas roasted some food, which was delicious!  right AFTER we turned out the lights to go to bed, Thomas gave me a frightened, giggly warning that a spider had been lowering itself from a tree directly over my hammock. Thanks, buddy.

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The next morning was easy enough. I woke up a bunch throughout the night with thoughts of spiders and mosquitoes disrupting my dreams, but waking up was actually pretty cool because the river looked amazing and calm as the moonlight waned into sunlight. We rolled out of our hammocks and our tents and got some breakfast into our faces (oatmeal for me, yes please) and loaded up the canoes and shoved off.

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It was a beautiful day again, because why not have three perfect days in a row? We lazy-rivered for a few miles before hitting lots of wind, and had to paddle to make sure the trip didn’t extend into next July. The river opened up a lot for about a mile or two before we finally beat the wind around a curve and had the wind at our backs for a few minutes before getting to the canoe landing. We unloaded all our trash (leave no trace ethics!) into the trash and recycling cans, Andy made some lunch for himself and Tier, and Thomas took a bath in the river while we waited for the canoe rental place to come pick us up.

And that’s pretty much it! I loved the trip and I think we can all agree to NEVER DO IT AGAIN BECAUSE MOSQUITOES.

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