A Mother’s Day To Never Forget: Kayaking Fun & Misadventures

Mother’s Day at our house means that Mom (that would be me) gets to choose the family activity for the day. Since I’m the most adventurous in our family and definitely the most adventurous Mom my kids know, they tend to be very skeptical of any activity I choose.

Don’t get me wrong. My children don’t stray away from adventure all the time. They are just regular kids who know that family time does not equal friend time, and that seems like the end of the world. Ok, maybe I do think my kids are crazy for wanting to spend every living moment indoors in front of a screen.

Regardless of all the obstacles with the kids, Bryan, my husband, and I enjoy the outdoors. I love the peacefulness and the purity it brings, while Bryan loves water sports and loves taking pictures. So, my choice for our mother’s day outing was to head to High Island Creek, a tributary of the Minnesota River, for some kayaking.

kids posing in front of kayaks for Mothers Day kayaking adventure

Laura (7), Ben (10), and Noah (6) all set for our Mother’s Day kayaking adventure. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Off To High Island Creek For Mother’s Day Kayaking

I spent the previous evening researching and Googling as much information I could find on the creek since I knew this route was not traveled often. I found next to nothing for paddling information, which should have clued me in that this route was even less traveled than I had initially thought. In the paddling world, there’s usually a reason for this.

Anyway, upon our arrival, we noticed the creek was indeed moving quickly and was looking very inviting. Bryan decided to lead (accompanied by Noah, our youngest son). Ben, our eldest, followed the lead, while Laura, our daughter, and I pulled up the rear.

mom and daughter in kayak

Laura is relaxing in front of Mom (me), taking the back of the group for our Mother’s Day kayaking outing. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Since I am the most experienced paddler in the group, letting Bryan lead in this quick creek was my first mistake. I have a theory that one mistake during a paddling outing makes you uncomfortable, two mistakes will at least make you miserable, and three or more mistakes might kill you.

For the first mile (1.6 km) or so, the going was quick and fun while we avoided the numerous overhanging branches and occasional deadfalls, which blocked up to three-fourths of the creek. We were negotiating the creek well, and we were all having a good time. The creek was full of standing waves while making quick meanders throughout this wooded area. It required reasonable boat control, but we were all easily enduring the challenge, which only improved our confidence. Then, it happened.

standing waves on the water while in kayak

We all enjoyed paddling in the standing waves. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

The First Deadfall

Ben, our oldest son, was paddling his kayak beside me when we heard Bryan yelling, “Right, right, right!!!”, telling us that we should try to go to the right. We look up in time to see Bryan and Noah broadsiding a large deadfall (downed tree)  that completely spanned the creek.

They proceeded to scrape their bodies against the tree while being flipped under it. They came up on the other side separated from the kayak. Seeing my husband flip was frustrating, but seeing my six-year-old flip was incredibly nerve-racking. Knowing that I couldn’t do much for my youngest son at the moment and that I needed to help my other two kids stay out of danger helped me keep a sane mind.

While my ten-year-old, Ben, and I were paddling to a good portage point, we heard Noah and Bryan, and it sounded like things were in control given the circumstances. Bryan is a great swimmer, and we all were wearing PFDs (personal floatation devices) as we always do. Also, we have learned to always attach all our dry bags and essential “luggage” to our kayaks. You ask, where did you learn that? Why that is another horror story altogether.

deadfall in the distance while on a kayak

Bryan and Noah in the distance about to get taken out by a deadfall. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Time To Portage

It took the older two kids and me over ten minutes to portage one tree, but it felt like 20 minutes. The stinging nettle and briars were everywhere. During the portage, I glanced down to find blood running down my leg, amongst all the other scratches. And this was only a 25-foot portage.

After portaging, we paddled our kayaks a short bit over to where Bryan and Noah had found the shore. Albeit wet and scratched up (from the down tree), they seemed in good spirits. Except Noah lost one of his Crocs (sandals) and was a bit upset by having only one. However, it was then that Bryan informed us all that he lost his paddle in the ordeal. That bit of information changed all of our moods, as our Mother’s Day kayaking outing might be over for Bryan and Noah if we didn’t find his paddle.

mother and son navigating portage on mothers day kayaking outing

Our first portage of the day. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Paddle Searching

As Bryan began to walk down the creek to do some paddle searching, Laura started whimpering, being unsure and a bit scared of how we were going to get back to our vehicle. While I was helping Laura onshore to ease her anxiety, we heard a scream, and suddenly our youngest son, Noah, was floating beside us, having fallen into the creek while walking the steep bank. I grabbed Noah by his PFD while he was yelling, “My Croc, my croc!!” as his remaining shoe began floating away. Ben saved the day by jumping into the water (which was at least 5 ft / 1.5 m deep) to rescue the Croc.

After this ordeal, I deposited all three kids onshore with instructions not to move or end up in the water, so I could paddle downstream a bit to search for Bryan’s paddle. I gave up after about a quarter-mile (0.4 km) of searching, and Bryan had no luck either. We returned to our kids for a family meeting, in which Bryan, Ben, and Noah decided to walk back to our vehicle, accompanied by two kayaks.

Bryan was not looking forward to the walk as Noah had only one Croc. So as a result, Noah rode in the kayak while Bryan dragged it through the brush. I would continue with Laura since it was Mother’s Day, after all. Luckily, our cell phones worked so we could communicate if issues arose.

After paddling maybe another 200 yards (183 m) downstream, I spotted the tip of Bryan’s paddle. My first thought was, “That saves $100”! We retrieved the paddle, and I coordinated with Bryan. Then, we returned the paddle (much more complicated than you would think since we were on opposite sides of a creek that was way too wide to toss a paddle across). Our happy family was once again in our kayaks and heading downstream.

wave splashing into kayak

Some great wave action! Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Navigating More Deadfalls

It should be noted that we are only a mile (1.6 km) into our Mother’s Day kayaking journey, yet two and a half hours had passed! At this point, I told Bryan that I would lead as I have the most experience reading and negotiating rivers. If we approached more deadfalls, I wanted to guide us all in the best decision to maneuver through the obstacles.

Not even one-half mile (0.8 km) later, we were up against another deadfall. In fact, we encountered several deadfalls in the next three miles (4.8 km). We were able to wiggle our way around some but had to portage others.

Laura and I also got soaked. We accidentally flipped over while waiting for the boys to finish a portage; during the wait, the flow pushed us sideways right into a lodged log right beneath the surface.  The only tragic part of this flipping, however, was the wet Barbie dolls Laura brought to play with while being “bored” in the kayak.

father and son in kayak

Bryan and Noah, paddling along. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Having A Blast!

When we were actually on the creek in our kayaks, we had a blast. Ben was whooping and saying how much fun he was having. I loved the tight turns, standing waves, and challenging steering.

Yet, for the sake of our entire family, we needed to cut our original route short from twelve to four miles / 6.4 km (yes, quite a change). Unfortunately, we were running out of daylight, and our legs could not stand too many more embedded thorns resulting from the portages.

We were all relieved to see an old footbridge, which marked the early take-out point. Even though I enjoyed the kayaking challenge this Mother’s Day, I breathed a big sigh of relief when we were all standing on dry ground.

kids standing on footbridge after kayaking on mother's day

Proof that our kids survived Mothers Day – they are standing on an old, abandoned footbridge at our take out. Photo: Molly & Bryan Cochran

Yes, our ride home was full of relief that we were all unharmed, but also full of talk from the kids that they were never going on another river kayaking trip again. I’m not so sure about that; my birthday is coming up in June.

What Mother’s Day kayaking adventures have you had? Share with us in the comments below!

Read Next: 
How To Plan An Overnight River Trip With Kids
Prep Your Kids For Canoeing; You Will Thank Me Later
River Safety: 4 Lessons From Swiftwater Rescue Training
Doing The Dog Paddle: Tips For Canoeing & Kayaking With Dogs

Story originally appeared in Snowshoe Magazine, June 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.