As always, there had been a rough sketch of a plan: a 7- or 8-mile row, heading generally northward through the meandering sloughs and backwaters of the Chippewa River delta, the largest contiguous floodplain forest in the Midwest. From there, it would be an easy float down the main river channel to its junction with the Mississippi. Two or three nights aboard, a wandering pilgrimage through 30 square miles of river bottom forest and wetland bisected by only a single road. No need to pack the sailing rig—oars alone would do.The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. With no charts available, I downloaded a set of detailed topo maps, printed them at 2″ to the mile, and ran them through a laminator. A bit smaller than restaurant placemats, and stiffened nicely by the laminating, they’d be perfect for one-handed use in a small boat—a trick I filed away for future trips. Even better, the maps seemed to suggest that the route I had imagined might actually exist. From a launch ramp 50 yards off the south side of Highway 35, a reasonably open channel paralleled the road eastward for a mile or two, snaking back and forth beneath a series of bridges before entering a thin but apparently continuous ribbon of river leading farther north.

Photographs by the author

Many of the channels leading north from Highway 35 were so shallow that I could stop FOGG, my Don Kurylko-designed Alaska, in midstream, with no need to tie to shore. Sandbars and shallows were so frequent that wading upstream while pulling the boat behind me often turned out to be the only way to make any real progress.

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