That damn old bridge across the Plover River

The Plover River originates in Langlade County, flows through Marathon County at which point it becomes navigable. You can usually kayak-canoe throughout Portage County before entering the Wisconsin River at Whiting. I found a good put-in point for my kayak near the town of Bevent, in the southern part of Marathon County very close to Portage County. In paddling upstream, I approached an old bridge. The river on the other side was quite wide, but it became narrow on the side where I was. That in turn created a forceful current coming at me which I was unable to penetrate. It made me so angry I returned by ground a couple days later and had a devil of a time finding it. But I did find it, and this damned old bridge got me one last time, as I walked across it.

June 8, 2015

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There are three main sections to the Plover River, one of which is in the Bevent area. I paddled by kayak in the Bevent area, first upstream and then downstream.

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There is a wonderful put-in for the Bevant section in Bevant at the Hwy 153 bridge. There is a nice grassy path that leads to the put-in spot, and ample places to park. It is a private property and demands respect. Shortly after the put-in, you will go under the bridge through what one expert, Mike Svob, describes as “a couple of small wavy drops.” I would learn these small wavy drops were impenetrable. I chose not to use this put-in because I would first go downstream and then have to paddle upstream through these “small wavy drops.” I did not want to o that.

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So I decided to put-in further downstream. I put-in where shown, then battled my way against the current upstream about to the line in the upper right, then coasted downstream to about the line at the bottom left of center, near Shawnee Drive. I could tell that was my southern location because I could see the cars on Pinery Rd. which parallels the river fairly closely. Then I battled my way back to the put-in and got out, mission complete. The “Old Bridge” gave me trouble, as I’ll discuss in a moment, so I had to portage through it by foot, dragging my kayak to get to the other side.

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I took this latter photo shortly after putting-in. As you can see, it was a beautiful day and the river seemed quite placid. But the current was moving swiftly as I paddled upstream, far stronger than what I had encountered to that time on the Wisconsin River. The water level was fairly low in most places, which I am told is normal, but thankfully the water was very clear and I could see through it well enough to weave back and forth most of the time and avoid grounding. But I did go aground I would say maybe five times, pushing off easily back into the water. My experience was to follow what I thought was the strongest current because it seemed the water was most navigable there, having dug a bit deeper into the bottom. Going back upstream this strategy proved to be a tough slog, but doable.

So let’s take this trip.


Like I said, a very nice put-in area. In looking at the water out there, you can see it is fairly low. The dark spots are the vegetation at the bottom. The bed was fairly stoney, in some places rocky, otherwise sand and lots of deadfall, some of which can run you aground, especially when the current takes you over there. Again, each time I ran aground I pushed off easily. This was my first time on the Plover. I learned a lot about kayaking on this trip, mostly the hard way, through trial and error. I will remind you my kayak is a Wilderness Pungo 120, though I have been told since by an expert that most kayaks would have a tough time against this current.

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This is a look upstream from the put-in point, looks easy enough.

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I am now heading upstream and am approaching what I guess the pros call “riffles,” meaning in this case a patch of ripples. Ripples, eh! What I learned from these riffles is that the current is more powerful through here. I got through these well enough but I was sweating I will tell you. This would be the first of many upper body strengthening exercises I got on this day!

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I’m not well-versed on wild plant life but I know beauty when I see it. Now for another lesson. When trying to take photography of something while heading upstream against a strong current, hustle on up with the photo because the current is going to twist you around a little bit. Ha, you can tell I am a rookie, eh?

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The water here was fairly placid, and for reasons I am not smart enough to explain, the current seemed to decline quite a bit. I enjoyed paddling through here fairly effortlessly. You can see how wild, secluded, and unspoiled the area is, very peaceful.

“Paddling Central Wisconsin” says, “(The Plover is) for much of its length … a northern Wisconsin experience.” I saw a rather large Bald Headed Eagle flying across overhead but was not fast enough to get a picture of him. What a beauty. It’s mid August, and you can also see a touch of fall color atop one of the trees.

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Here I am approaching what appears to be a very old bridge. The current flowing under this bridge and perhaps 30 yards beyond would prove to be the “death of me.” In fact, as you’ll see, this bridge and I went face to face several times, and I now call it that “Damn old bridge.”

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I tried at least 10 times to get through these “riffles” to the other side of the bridge, which seemed quite calm. I never made it. I tried going through the center, to the right, to the left, I backed up and tried to power my way through the middle. The best I did was make it to where I could almost reach one of the steel beams holding up the bridge, but I could not quite make it and back I went, backwards and sideways.

I finally surrendered, got out of my kayak, and walked in the water under the bridge to the other side. As an aside, I was never in danger of tipping over, but was not always in control either! I just rode it out until my paddling would have some effect.

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Walking my kayak to the bridge and then under it was no small feat. Here you see a shot of the rocks on the bottom. I had to weave my way through this, trying to a find a path where I could get steady footing. Fortunately, the rocks were not slippery. But between dragging the kayak, weaving my way through the rocks, and contending with the current, it was quite an experience, just had to be a bit careful walking through the rock. While the water was fairly shallow, in a few places it was above my knees and I am 6 ft. tall. I think it went above my knees where those lovely “riffles” were!

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This is a look from the other side. It doesn’t seem like much, but I can tell you that I used every muscle I had as I unsuccessfully tried to power my way through. At times I was not moving an inch while paddling as hard as I could, other times I would maybe gain an inch, and then swoop back. I don’t think I was doing anything incorrectly, as I came at this sweetheart from every angle I could find. My closest approach was to go through the center, but I just could not get close enough to the beams in the bridge to grab one and pull my way through.

I was so frustrated by this bridge that the next day I went to Google Earth to see how I was going to get into that bridge by ground. Boy oh boy, did this turn into a “life and death” excursion! I figured I had two approaches,


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I went back the next day, found the two routes in, and trucked my way through hill and dale to find this damn bridge. Neither of the two approaches were easy, though one infinitely more easy than the other.

Both properties hosting approaches to the bridge are private. The one to the south of the river is closest to the bridge, and a family lives there. The one to the north is owned by a family in South Carolina who rents out the land for farming. I tried the one to the south first. But I wanted to get the owner’s approval. No one home. So I went up to the other approach having to go around and up to Hwy 153 and then east a bit. I drove down a road until it ended. Fortunately, there was a home there and the owner was there. He explained the property I wanted to go through was not his, but that he did not think anyone was there. He said there was sort of a road cut out to the bridge. You can see that “sort of a road” on the Google Earth. He urged me to try it.

So, I said okay I’ll try it. Well, I made a few mistakes. First, Google Earth satellite images are not current. There was much more corn being grown out there than appears on this photo. Second, “sort of a road” was really an exaggeration for much of the trip in and out. My SUV was mowing down grass as high as the hood. Third, I recommend against going into this kind of wilderness in shorts and bedroom slippers! You cannot even believe the beating my legs took. How stupid I was --- my problem was I just shot out of the house to get here without thinking it through. Finally, it would have been nice if I would have been accompanied by someone. There was no cell signal here and I’m telling you I was out there, way out there, alone. Thankfully, my SUV was new, but it was an Acura, not a Jeep, so I did not know whether it would take this ride sitting down. At least I knew I had enough gas, the one thing I did right!

So here I went. I wish I would have taken more photos, but I was so focused on finding the damn bridge, even though I had my camera, I did not take photos to show you what I walked through. I will only tell you my bare legs took a shellacking from all the prickly things in the wilds.

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Here’s how I entered, heading west, in the SUV. Not a bad road at all, I thought. This will be a piece of cake. Shortly thereafter, the road disappeared and ahead of me was an open field that had a fairly good decline. To the left was the corn and the forested area, so I had to forge my own road through what seemed available. I stayed close to the corn but you cannot stay too close because sometimes there’s a ditch there. The road I was building was quite bumpy, and I had to go very, very slowly.

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After a struggle, some sort of road reappeared, but this photo lies. The grass in the middle was often above my hood. But note how I am now in an area where it’s me, the corn and the trees. The “quality” of the road worsened as I went on. As I went in there, I could see my Google Earth view was worthless. There was much more corn here than the view shows. I figured I had to stay between the corn and the trees as the trees lined the shoreline of the river, and that damned old bridge would be in there someplace.

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If you look at the Google Earth view you can see I should have been in open fields by now. In retrospect, I believe the corn was growing all the way to the west and south, always hugging the tree line. The red lines show the route I think I took. I was finally allowed to turn to the east, which I figured would take me toward the bridge sooner or later. Meanwhile, there was almost no sign of a road. I was building a new one.

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Then there was a small break in the trees and holy mackerel, there was that stupid damn bridge. My sick sense on direction was correct. I was quite proud of myself. Man was I close. So I kept heading east for a bit, but the forested area just got thicker and thicker. So without knowing where I was in terms of the idiot bridge, I stopped, parked under some evergreens, and decided to forge my way through on foot, in my shorts and slippers!

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This photo lies. Walking through that grass was easy, but under the forest canopy, I’m telling you there was every kind of thing you can imagine on the ground, including some kind of berry that resembles blueberries, but as prickly as prickly can be, tearing holes in my bare legs at will. I had some difficulty with my bearings, but correctly headed south toward the river and came up on it. After sinking in the mud with one slipper on one foot, I took off the slippers and walked into the water. I could see the current, did not want to fool with it anymore, so I tried to hang on to long branches of trees to get out far enough to see if I could find the damn bridge. The branches kept breaking, but I finally got out there far enough to see there was no bridge. What? Where is that stupid bridge?

I walked back to the west a bit but again the forest thickened up on me and there were no signs of paths. In the mean time, my legs are taking a beating and I said, yet again, okay, defeated by this stinking bridge, I’m getting out of here. It took me a bit to find the car and out of there I went. I had fallen a couple times in the brush and I could feel my arms starting to itch like there was no tomorrow. By the time I got back to the car, my skin was starting to pink up and break out. It’s been a long time since Boy Scouts, but I figured poison ivy for sure. My arms itched, almost a stinging itch, all the way out.

I started to head for home, head hanging low and legs battle damaged. I did see the bridge, but from a distance --- unsatisfactory. Then I said no, I’m not taking this any more, I’m going back to the guy’s house on the south side to see if he’s home, and if he’s not, I’ll take my chances and figure out how to get in there by myself and hope I don’t get shot!

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So now I am trying to approach from the south side, at the bottom of the photo. You can see a driveway and a house.
When I got to the house, praise the Lord, a new car was there and the owner was just walking through the door after finishing his day at the plant. I said, “You ain’t gonna believe this.” He laughed, and replied, “Oh yes I will.” Anyway, I explained my dilemma. He said the bridge once was a crossing between a single farmland on both sides of the river. Years ago he bought five acres on the south side and the other owner kept everything on the north side. He walked me over to the west side of the house and showed me a road he and his truck had carved out which would go directly north for a short way, and directly east for a short way right to the bridge. Wow! Pay dirt, and he told me to enjoy myself.

Oh yes, I explained what I thought was the poison ivy issue, he looked at it, and said it was not poison ivy, that it was something on the tips of various vegetations in the woods that causes the itching etc. He said it would go away fairly quickly. He was right. It was gone by the time I got home. What a great guy.

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The road was more visible than is shown in this photo, but this is heading north directly to the river.

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This is the road that turned to the east to the bridge.

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By golly, there she is people, that damn, stupid, idiot bridge. I almost could not believe my eyes. Perseverance does pay off I guess, even if I am battle scarred.

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Have you ever seen such a stupid bridge? Ha! So now the question arises, can I walk on her to try to get some photos of that damn current below? Well, I’ve come this far, so here I go. Here are some photos of the current.

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As I and my kayak approached the bridge while on the Plover, this was the left side. The current doesn’t look like much, does it? But every time I tried to get up this side with my kayak the current would take me to the shore, turn the boat and send me downstream a bit.

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Here’s the current on the right side as I approached the bridge. I don’t think I ever made it through much of this. You can see how shallow it is and believe it or not, for my kayak, this current was impenetrable, at least by me.

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Here was the center. After trying the left and right a few times, I decided to back away, build up a head of steam, and drive right through this and at least get to the bridge and grab one of those steel girders. I almost made it once. All the other times, the current just laughed at me and pushed me back. On occasion, I was in the middle, paddling as hard as I could paddle, heading straight for the bridge, and not moving one single centimeter. Once my strength started to give, back she pushed me. Argh.

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This looks through a hole in bridge to the water below. To the right of this hole, upstream, the water is very calm. Yet beneath the bridge you can see the water is starting to roil. And as it moves just a few more feet downstream, it roils even more. I would later learn that I should not have become so frustrated. First of all, the Plover is a tough river to paddle upstream. Second, if you look at the bridge from the backside, you can see that a “wide” river changes into a “narrow river” as it squeezes through the bridge. That’s what causes the tremendous force. A seasoned kayaker told me I never had a chance to get through that.

The gentleman who allowed me to use his property to study this bridge said when the water is high, like in early spring, the water has been as high as to within a foot of the bottom of the bridge, and in fact forms two rivers through here.

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While standing on the bridge, I looked across to the north side, and sure enough, there is a rudimentary path to the bridge from that side. I surely never found it and that locks my jaws to this day.

That said, victory at last.

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Oh yes, but the damn bridge had to give me one final kick in the butt before I left. After shooting the photo of the path across the way, my right leg stepped on a weak plank which broke and my leg fell through. Fortunately my left leg was on the cross panels and held. You can actually see the curved area where my knee went through! I broke my kneecap ten years ago. At that time, it required heavy duty surgery to put the knee cap back together. Thankfully, this time just cuts, bruises, and a lot of “military vernacular” coming out of my mouth. This damn bridge got me one last time.

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Back to my car, get me out of here, and take me home. When I got home, I showered up again, got a brewski and sat out front. I admit I had to laugh at myself, but frankly, I was pleased with myself for having found the old damn bridge. I felt like I had just finished one of my combat air reconnaissance missions over Laos! What a riot.