After pushing the canoe from a small sandbar eight miles upstream from Kickapoo State Park, I settled into the back seat and let gravity pull us downstream.
This seemed so wrong. So totally out of place.
My wife and I had driven about a dozen flat-as-a-pancake miles from Danville to Kickapoo. The most notable feature on the farm landscape being hundreds of windmills.
Yet, I would spend the next three to four hours passing through massive glacial deposits, skirting massive boulders and dodging deadfalls in Illinois’ only stream that has been designated a National Scenic Waterway.
But, those first few seconds in the canoe were to be savored.
I closed my eyes to engage my other senses. Although it was just late May, the early morning sun seemed focused like a magnifying glass directly on my chest. Yet, with my eyes closed, the most evident sensation was the cool air rising from the surface of the water.
While figuratively drinking in the cool I took a deep breath, taking in the aroma that is peculiar to cool, swift-moving streams.
Realizing that keeping my eyes closed for an extended period of time would result in a violent ending, I looked ahead to take in the lush vegetation of the banks. Massive trees lined the narrow river that seemed to be moving along at a pedestrian pace.
The river’s tempo would pick up in the next half mile or so, but those first few moments allowed us to savor the moment.
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The moment was abruptly interrupted by the sight of a large, black bird shooting across the river at about eye level. Upon reaching the opposite bank, the bird swooped upward and perched on the side of a tree -- a pileated woodpecker, up close and personal.
In the next 30 minutes or so we paddled effortlessly by a pair of mallards. And, during the course of eight miles we saw solitary sandpipers picking around the rocky banks looking for food and bald eagles soaring overhead.
And, in due time the relatively passive upper stretch of the river gave way to slight riffles and even a hint of white water. Sometimes the cliffs towering above our heads was a distraction as we tried to pick our way through the boulders or around deadfalls that created nearly river-wide obstacles.
As is the case with most canoe streams, the water alternates from fast to slow, from deep to bottom-dragging shallow. We managed to get bogged down a couple times on a bottom so jagged it seemed holes would be ripped in the bottom of the canoe.
The leisurely trip downstream, we stopped for water and to catch our breath on two occasions, took a little over three hours.
Perhaps the best part of the trip, this is not a party river.
The stream is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Persons renting canoes from the vendor at Kickapoo State Park are allowed to carry just three beers per person in their coolers.
The coolers are checked at the time of rental, and as some canoeists learned, again when you enter the water.