As a kid one of our favorite things to do was go on canoe trips with family and friends. My parents had several spots we could put in and several we could take out. How long the trip was to take determined the in and out spots on the river. We usually had at least one canoe that was the older kids and the adults would always have their own canoes. For the kid’s canoe we were able to collect mussels, gather shells and go at a pace that worked for us. I remember trips that included running into rocks in the middle of the river, going under trees that overhang the river, and my aunts riding in inner tubes down the river. The rocks that we would run into were marked with paint for years after, making them a favorite landmark to look at as we went down the river.
Our furthest spot to put the canoes in was at our farm we called the Ranch. It was at the very back of a field and had a path that went down a hill to the river. Right before the river spot were the foundations of buildings that had been part of the historic town of Conkey Town, most recently known from the Conkey Town bridge that was still standing years after the town was gone. While being by the river at the Ranch, we would play in the runes, with our favorite being an old fort some kids must have put together in the early 1900s. I used to love seeing what we could find at the spot. I keep thinking I’m going to run down at visit it again to see if anything is left at the site.
Our next stop was by the old Chaney Ford Bridge. That bridge has since been removed and replaced. It was one of our favorite spots to put into the river, unless we really wanted to spend all day on the river. There is a spot on our property that is now a favorite place for kayakers to use to put in. Many leave trash as they cut across our property, making me feel that they are nothing more than trespassers with no regard for the land.
Our next spot was a bottom field that we have since sold. It was just a short trip if we put in by the Chaney Ford Bridge and took out at our bottom field. (The rock marked with paint was between those spots) While my dad would be working in the field, we also would play at the sandbars that marked the take out spot. I can still remember the shape of the sandbar and how there would frequently be a small section of water that went half way around the bar on the field side. That shallow water was a great place to see fix. Around the sand bar it was frequently shallow enough to allow us to hunt mussels and we always thought we would find a pearl in some. On the far side of the sandbar were rapids that my brother and I loved to walk back and forth across, thinking we were testing fate. At the very end of the rapids was a deep hole that my dad had said was a great fishing spot.
The bottom field spot was where while taking out at one point my dad had told me not to park his truck on the sandbar. I parked it up on the bank… but at the end of the day I drove it down onto the sandbar to get the canoes. To me I had not parked it there, I had just driven it down for the pickup of the canoes. A completely different thing, but it turned out my dad wanted the truck off the sandbar because it would sink in the soft river sandbar. The sinking caused the truck to become stuck and I ended up ripping the 4 wheel drive out of my dad’s truck. The truck required the wheels to be locked in, and somehow I hadn’t done it completely right. I didn’t hear the end of that one for years after.
That take out spot was also the place that my husband had parked a truck with his brother and left it when we took a canoeing trip. I was almost 9 months pregnant with our oldest and knew it was just a short trip – so I wasn’t worried. Cell phones were not a thing yet, our only cell phone was a bag phone that ran off the car. The trip was only a few hours and there were houses in an emergency that we could stop at. Reaching the take out though we found that my husband to be safe hadn’t left the truck keys, and it turned out he hadn’t brought them either. So we reached the take out spot to find that there were no keys and no way to reach anyone. My husband and his brother had to leave me with his sister and walk all the way to my parents to pick up keys.
Our final spot was a place we call Bailey’s Bottom. It’s 50 acres on the river in a very secluded area. While building I debated it as a place to build but there isn’t an easy/cheap way to get power back to it and definitely no way to get a house back to the field. Several spots in the field flood there, and the lane back to the river would have huge ice chunks wash up the lane each year when the river would start to thaw. The take out there was a nice spot that we had used to for cookouts and playing in the river with a tree swing that we would use to swing out and drop in the river. We’ve owned that particular field since the early 70s and can only access it through an Illinois park.
Stories from canoeing include
- My aunt riding in a tube after just getting her hair done and flipping the tube.
- Taking twinkie breaks upon seeing a rock coming and letting the canoe smash into the rock.
- Getting the truck stuck
- Forgetting the keys
- My dad stopping at a cousins to try to repair the canoes, we kids had cracked on a rock
I would love to be able to go down the river again and relive those experiences, but my youngest is afraid of water. We’ve decided it’s easiest to wait until he is out of school and my husband and I can get kayaks to go down the river. Kayaks will never be the same as the river trips taking coolers and spending the whole day in the river stopping at each sand bank.