The water has been high this spring, so we were able to get on the Brule again, this time the most frequently paddled part! I used both Canoeing the Wild Rivers of Northwest Wisconsin and Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob to piece together what I needed to know for the trip. The first book has more detail – sometimes too much to know how dangerous a specific rapid might be. It names everything on the map which is nice as you go along. The other book is reliable for its assessment of feasibility (if it’s in this book, it will exist as a navigable river) and difficulty of rapids (if this book warns you to be careful, do, if not, you are ok).
The bike shuttle itself is a story. We stopped to get out and shuttle our bikes, and our car tire was making a hissing sound. We quick ran into the town of Brule, which does in fact have a tire shop – 15 minutes before it closed. They took care of the tire while we sat in the park across the street. People started showing up for a North Country Trail picnic, which we joined while we waited for the car! Our shuttle started on gravel roads, and we then switched to paved roads when we got to County B, for it was much quicker for me to bike further on paved roads than gravel.
We started at Stones Bridge after the shuttle. The river here was much like it had been before – open and beautiful. Plant life included spruce, cedar, white pine, tamarack, alder, red dogwood, marsh marigold. While the wildlife was slim, it included an eagle, grackle and blue jays. Early on, we ran into some friends who were paddleboarding. Soon we saw a sign that said 10 miles to campground. That sign indicated the beginning of the private land – land that spoke of a different time and class. It was muddy in this area, which is called McDougal Ponds or Springs.
The first indication of an atypical river was the boathouse at Cedar Island Estate. Presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Eisenhower were all guests here while they were in office. Not your typical river home, eh? Cedar Island Estate lasted a while, with many cabins and a few bridges to go under, including the Green Bridge. It was such a perfect place – cedars, mossy ground, the river creating small waterfalls that could have been right out of a fairytale, or a president’s vacation. The only thing missing was elves or leprechauns; maybe they were not missing, just not showing themselves. After the Green Bridge, there was a rapids at the end of a small pond, another rapids under a bridge, and then a narrow tunnel-like rapids that brought us to another bridge.
Our next challenge was not too far ahead – The Falls, which were the most difficult rapids on the trip. The river makes an elbow turn to the left, so one has to make sure to shoot them right. We got the most water in the kayaks here. Big Twin Rapids were more of riffles that led to a lake, and Little Twin Rapids were bigger than their wrongly named pair.
Big Lake was the next challenge – it is open, and very shallow. Birch are more prolific on this lake. It is a lot of work to paddle the shallows, but we did it, passing two other couples paddling. We watched an osprey fish, and were excited when it got one and carried it away after a few tries! We figure that being so shallow must help the osprey see and catch the poor fellow. We went through Wildcat Rapids (riffles) onto Lucius Lake, passing cabins, boathouses, gazebos and 2 canoes ties to docks in the water. This lake was also shallow, and I got stuck in the mud enough to get out (I went left, another way may have been better.) At the end of this lake is another narrow area that goes under Castle Bridge. There were some weeping willow here. The river enters Spring Lake, and soon the Winniboujou Club. An interesting choice of name, I thought. The Nature Conservancy helps the club conserve land along the river. The oddest thing was a statue of a First Nations ‘chief’ I assume – just facing the river. I do not think that the name of the place has any true history with that sculpture or those that founded the place, and was a bit saddened by it.
Most of this section screamed old money at me. It was beautiful. A piece of me is jealous of those that own or can take part of the beautiful old homes here. They were mansions, but much more – reminiscent of historic national park lodges, a heyday when canoeing was high class. The boathouses spoke these things to the passerby, the mansions overlooking the river, but blended in so as to be out of sight. One boathouse looked like a small cabin along the river, complete with flowers planted in the upper window. We only saw one family out – it seemed a place to not be seen, but to see a perfection you coveted. Maybe a bit of ‘social media’ of yesteryear, where paddlers by could only guess how wonderful your life was. Many boathouses had canoes tied up along the docks outside – as if someone stepped away from them 75 years ago and would be back soon. Even when the boathouse was open and could be used, it was a show that the owners were ready to jump in the canoe and enjoy their time in the wilderness. It was unlike any other river I have been on, and I yearned to be part of the high society that existed and lives there to this day.
Once we passed County B and the town of Winniboujou (there is a landing on river left here before the bridge), the river became a regular river again. The national park lodge homes were gone, though it was still beautiful. There were many rapids here. There were three bridges amidst Williamson Rapids and then Hall Rapids. This was the trickiest rapids; if your boat went straight, you would end up in a log that was pinned to a rock wall at the bottom. Make a sharp left turn to avoid this!
At Nebagamon Creek, the river’s character changes – sandy, not quintessential boareal shorelines any longer. There were tag alder, ash and maple here. The land where the creek came into the river was for sale. Long Nebagamon Rapids were easy. Little Joe Rapids were the biggest rapids (the reliable book called only these rapids a Class II) that we went down. Both books mention a path to either portage or scout the rapids, but we saw no such thing. There was more elevation change than for other rapids, but these were easier than The Falls earlier.
Soon, we were near the campground for the Brule River State Forest. There was a landing to get out at (with a warning sign so you knew it was coming up). There is also a campsite near the river (further downstream) that Ryan thought he had used in the past.
Our last landmark – one we were looking forward to all day because of the name – Doodlebug Rapids! It was not hard at all, and we declared there were doodlebugs in the air (some kind of fly that at times the fish were catching – better than landing on us!) There were many ash and tag alder near here. As you continue downstream, you can hear Highway 2, and buckthorn can be seen on the shore. The landing is on river left, and you must pull up alongside, just like all of the other landings on the river – it seemed high class to have a wooden platform along the shoreline to step into your boat from.
Paddled June 1, 2019