We made it maybe 10 yards before our canoe flipped over, sending my kids, at the time ages 6 and 5, sprawling into the frigid water.
Oh, they both had their life jackets on, but we watched helplessly as their Crocks floated away down the river. Our towels, juice boxes and snacks were salvaged but soaked.
A couple on the bank watched as we attempted to load everything back in the canoe, only to tip over again before we even got started. I blame it all on my dad, of course.
“Would you like us to call the canoe company for you and have them bring down a raft instead?” the couple on the shore asked.
“That would be great,” I answered as I stood waste-deep in the river, a sobbing kid in each arm.
If there’s anything positive that came out of that ill-fated trip, it’s that I realized how great rafts are for exploring Michigan’s rivers in a worry-free, relaxing way.
Ever since, I’ve wanted to take my entire family on such a trip, but with a new baby girl added to the family the following year, we’ve had to wait a few years for the opportunity to present itself.
Finally, earlier this week, I convinced my wife, Michele — who isn’t a huge fan of canoeing — to try a raft trip with our kids, now ages 9, 8, 5 and 2.
We made the easy 45-minute drive up to Happy Mohawk Canoe Livery on the White River near Montague, where we rented a raft — basically a giant inflatable boat that easily fit our family of six, along with a dry bag loaded with towels, snacks, suntan lotion and bug spray, and a cooler packed with pops and juice boxes.
We loaded our gear onto an old school bus for the 5-minute ride to Diamond Point, where our driver hauled our raft down to the water. We piled into the raft, which our driver said was impossible to tip.
We’ll see about that.
Actually, he was right on the money. The raft is a perfect way to carry a family down the river in complete relaxation. There’s no fear of capsizing, or running into any trouble other than maybe bumping into a few logs along the way.
I sat in the back with a paddle and attempted to guide us around the many obstacles the river tossed our way. Honestly, I didn’t have to do much other than keep our nose pointed downstream. The raft floats with the current and bounces harmlessly off anything in its path.
My wife was able to sit back and relax, while the kids scrambled over each other. My 9-year-old daughter found a spot where she could lay out and soak up the sun, while the two boys sat perched in the front of the boat, reaching over to dangle their hands in the water or reach out and try to touch passing logs.
The boys each had a small paddle and were able to “lend a hand” whenever they wanted.
We found several shallow sandy spots to beach the raft, get out and let the kids splash around in the chilly water. They had a blast chasing minnows and jumping into deeper holes, playing catch with a football and exploring the shore.
Even with a few stops, we completed the trip in a little over two hours.
I’m sure the river is packed on nice summer weekends, but on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we were passed by maybe a half-dozen canoes (which move quite a bit quicker than the raft) and a pair of kayaks.
I’m all for adventure, and a little challenge, but every once in a while, it’s nice to be able to kick back, relax and enjoy the ride, and a trip down the river in a raft proved to a perfect way to do just that.