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Home > Magazine > Boats > A Trip Down a Historic River: a Dream Getaway

A Trip Down a Historic River: a Dream Getaway
October 07, 2010

...That's what I'd like to do.

Because my extended family and friends live out west that's mostly where we've gone when our family hits the road in a bigger way.

But we have the sense that the country SE of Michigan has a whole lot to offer.

A few years ago a friend put us onto the idea of exploring the Cahokia Indian mounds country in south-central Ohio. So there's that. It's where the earliest settlers in N. Am. had a highly developed city-culture, way back in the B.C. It's also home to several adjacent nature areas which form the Earth's richest remaining deciduous forest habitat, the Arc of the Appalachia.

Then there are the place names themselves. I'd really like to check out the Shenandoah Valley. There's a place with both beauty and history in its name.

And I bet that floating down its namesake river for a few days might be a dandy way to do just that.

Yeah, that's the way I'd like to go. It seems to me that seeing an area by train or water is the best way to go. You get to see the backside, the real side, that way. You see it the way it was meant to be seen, before the distorting car came along.

Homogenization hasn't reached the backside yet. Well, in many places, anyway. I don't mind some industry or even trash. Gaudiness isn't the worst thing either, thinking of the riverviews in downtown Cinncinati and Pittsburgh.

Anyway, I don't really know where to launch a first adventure of this sort, but perhaps closer is better. So maybe it'll be the Ohio River at first. It's a lush region full of history where the first Indian settlers found a heaven on earth that they defended as best they could.

When you grow up in a featureless area like Ingham County, Michigan, which is salvaged swampland almost randomly settled, with the best natural locales for living ignored for that purpose by the white people (but often now preserved as park, thankfully -- I'm thinking of the Portland State Game Area), you kinda wonder about places which have been obvious Very Good Places to Live, easily recognized by people of all kinds for millenia. (Altho soon after the whites conquered such areas, the riverfronts, the main reasons for living there, were destroyed and turned into makeshift zones for quick'n'deadly cash creation and then abandoned. Only in recent decades has life and nature been seen as having value per se and so these zones are starting to be revived in some sense.)

Anyway, I'm wondering HOW best to do such a trip. Possibly a cheap pontoon boat and motor could be trailered there and set out upon the water. But I'm thinking that maybe a smaller craft like a Wayfarer (or CL 16) might work -- for a couple people to explore upon. Not a family of 4, though. Hmm, in that case, maybe an O'Day Mariner 19 would work. One could rig up a small motor on the sailboat for windless days. These rivers seem big enough, though, that there might often be a helpful breeze. I'd have to look into bridge-heights, but such a boat has an easily lowered mast, anyway. Room for 4 to sleep (2 in cockpit). Easily trailered. I also kinda dream about including oars in case of motor trouble. The 19 is big for that, but maybe an oarlock could be fitted into either cockpit side for 2 to row. I'd think we would find the bottom to be deep enough for the centerboard -- if not, then you can always crank it up enough to give you clearance yet also a bit of control.

I like the idea of a boat that's big enough to spend a day on and to lounge about on and to camp on, but which is still small enough to haul out somehow or to drag onto a shore if need be.

I dunno the exact answer, but in short I think that one shouldn't limit your scope for daysailing to local lakes. Big rivers also seem like dandy candidates.

Maybe interesting towns are close enough together in the southeast on the big old rivers to make for a couple sightseeing stops each day. In Michigan both the rivers and coasts seem a little thin in ways. We're good on the nature side, but our state is younger so we're perhaps a bit light on culture.

What are some other cool river candidates for multiday adventures?

I don't think you want 'em as big as the Mississip. You don't want to deal with huge barges and the whirlpools of wingdams.

How about the Allegheny, Susquahanna, or Delaware?

Of course, one would study up the navigability aspects well beforehand.

(Right now I'm reading Ekhert's "That Dark and Bloody River," a historical narrative of the Ohio, and will soon start his "A Sorrow in Our Heart: the Story of Tecumseh.")

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