Wisconsin rivers from the road and sometimes from the kayak

Wisconsin River
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Tomahawk to Merrill

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These next photos were taken on a ride on Rt 107 between Merrill in the south and Tomahawk in the north. It travels right alongside the Wisconsin River in this stretch. Looking to the east of Tomahawk, you see the Wisconsin River flowing to the southwest and then west when as hits Tomahawk, after which she takes an abrupt turn to the south toward Merrill. Here’s a few looks of the ride on my days out here in summer and fall.

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The Wisconsin River here is flowing to the west and is very close to Tomahawk.

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Here we are just a bit downstream.

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This is just a bit more downstream. That is the Bridge Inn on Deer Park Rd. very close to Bus. Hwy 51, which is just outside the left side of the photo.

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This is downstream from Tomahawk, about 7.5 miles to the south of the town along Rt 107, after the Wiscnsin Rver turned to the south.

Continuing downstream from Tomahawk on Rt 107.

About 11 miles south of Tomahawk I came upon the Grandfather Falls Dam and Hydro Plant. I did a story on it, “Grandfather Falls, it can be a wild stretch of river,” I’ll just show a few shots here.

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This is the Wisconsin River above the dam, looking northward.


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Then the dam.


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This is the front side of the Grandfather Falls Dam. It looks like it has seven gates. This dam was built in 1938.

As I continued south on 107 during the fall, I took these shots.

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Camp New Wood County Park

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This is a shot downstream the Wisconsin River shot from the area of the Grandfather’s Fall Dam. The river is quite low at this point.

Lake Alexander, Merrill: Kayak ride

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Council Grounds State Park is located just on the western side of Merrill, about 30 miles above Wausau. I launched from here.I had my mind set on going paddling my kayak north on the Wisconsin River up to Alexander Lake Access 2 so I could weave around the islands up there. Heading north, I generally stuck to the west side and then on the return snuck through an alley in grass cover, as you’ll see, between two islands to get into the channel on the east side of the river, and then back into Lake Alexander which, for reasons I will convey soon, pooped me out so much I had to land at a dock behind a home, hitch a ride to get my car, return and get me and my kayak out of there.

I tell you, every time I go out on my kayak, I learn lots of lessons. For this trip, I learned that I need to check wind velocity and direction. It turned out to be about 15-20 knots from the south. I did not know that until later, though I learned something was not quite right when I was out there. I really need to learn to do better planning.

It was late September 2013.

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Now please people, give me a break. Here is the put-in at the state park. Look at that placid water. What a perfect day I thought. So I hopped aboard and out I went. I headed to the west a bit and got into the southern portion of Lake Alexander.

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Now I knew I would be going upstream the Wisconsin River and expected to have to do a bit of work. I have gone upstream this river in the Wausau area plenty of times and have had no trouble. People tell me the river runs slowly through here, north to south. So I was on a river where I thought the current flowed north to south, but I had a wicked wind behind me from the south. Now you can see just a bit of a chop, but nothing significant, though I certainly lost that placid look.

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I was now on Lake Alexander and had turned straight north. Still a bit of a chop but not much to worry about. But what I did start to notice, and this picked up steam as I headed north, was that the waves appeared to be moving to the north, which I thought odd since the current ought to be flowing south. The wind was at my back, and oddly it was far easier to paddle than I had anticipated.

I’ll now show you a series of photos all the way up to the Alexander Lake Access 2. Note the chop seems to grow and grow, and frankly I was happy but a little bewildered by how easy it was to paddle and how fast I was able to move to the north. The scenery was beautiful and I was taken with photography. By trip’s end, I would feel dumber than dirt!

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Just above Lake Alexander, if you look at the Google Map image, you will see a small island. That’s where I am at this point. I guess we can call this chop. In a kayak, I call them small waves. Nonetheless, I’m heading north and it’s still easy to paddle and I’m moving right along. I’m still enamored with the scenery, but in the back of my mind, I’m still wondering how it was I was moving along so easily upstream. Dufus!

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How’d that rock get there?

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I’m now starting to approach the islands just to the southeast of Alexander Lake Access 2.

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On this side, the west side of the islands, this grass lined almost the entire shore and the areas in between the islands.

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According to the Google Map I had with me, there were supposed to be some cut-throughs to get to the east side of the islands. I was a bit too far to the west and saw nothing, so I figured the Goggle Maps were old and the grass had grown in to block the way. I should have been able to go right between those two islands, I thought.

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This is a shot of Lake Alexander Access 2. So I made it to my objective. I would later learn I had gone about 2.5 miles and had done so in just over an hour. For me, that’s fast traveling, against the current and all. Hmmmm.

Okay, objective met, let’s turn around and head back to the state park. This should be a fast ride I figured, given the current in my direction. Numbskull!

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Well, okay, a good chop, I still call them small waves. Even a motor boat would be jumping around a little bit. And yes, it was getting harder to paddle, and I felt the wind blowing briskly in my face. In any event, I was aggravated about the cut-throughs so I made my way over to the eastern part of the river closer to the islands.

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I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and have always loved my Bills. We had a fullback in the day named Cookie Gilchrist, and when he went piling through the defensive line, we would all holler, “Lookie, lookie, here comes Cookie.” That’s exactly what I said when I saw this cut through. It was a small one, easily missed from the other side of the river.

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This was a riot. I was laughing out loud. Look how placid the water is. I knew from my maps that I would be going through a more narrow area between the islands and the mainland, so expected more smooth waters.

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And the water did smooth out. You can see a pontoon boat in the center of the photo.

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And there they are on the zoomer, a family out for a nice day on the water, a fisherman closer to shore behind them.

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They had a cut-through big enough to handle their rig. How did I miss that when going upstream? Now I’m getting mad at myself. The Google Map was right on and I missed it.

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You could drive an aircraft carrier through that cut-through! Well good, I thought, at least I know it’s there now for sure.

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I’m still heading south --- downstream --- between the islands and the mainland, water pretty steady, moving right along. Man, what a great maneuver this was. Ha! I forgot what was coming --- Lake Alexander again.


Now, I came across a building of some sort on one of the southernmost islands in the group up here. I took some shots but still have no idea what it is or why it’s there.

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At first I thought that was sand piled on top. But it’s not. It’s cloth of some sort.

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The building is made of wood planks.

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The best I can figure is this is or was a fairly large hunting blind.

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Okay people, I had exited the sheltered area between the islands and the mainland and now was out on the Wisconsin River at the northern end of Lake Alexander, heading downstream, into the wind. I hope you can see that I was now in some pretty rough water. The kayak could handle it okay, some splashing around, no problem there, but I was now going against these larger waves and against the wind. For every paddle sequence I moved about an inch, if that. I not only started to tire --- I had been out about 2 hours 15 minutes, with 2 hours usually being my limit ---- but I could see I was not moving, I was not making any progress. I figured I had at least a mile to go to get back to the state park, where my car was parked. I started to say, no way.

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Obviously I’m no seaman, but those waves got up to at least a foot, perhaps a bit more. You are looking at the eastern shore of the mainland.

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I was passing by what looked like a neat tavern, and thought about heading over there and trying to get a ride back to my car. Let me tell you, I had a great fight trying to steer the kayak in that direction, and again was making almost no headway.

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I was not in a state of panic, but I was getting very tired and look at that --- I call that a swell. I knew from my motor boating days in Maryland that if you go down the center of the swell, you risk getting tipped over. I did not think that would happen here, but every time I tried to cut across the waves, they just threw me back away from the tavern, so I surrendered. My objective now was simply to make it by whatever course I could take to the mainland. I saw a bunch of houses ahead and tried to shoot for them.

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This shows about how I exited the island-mainland area and intended to head down stream the Wisconsin back to the state park. No way José. I shot for the tavern but could not make it, then just did what I could do to get over to the shore area. Then I came upon a home with a marvelous dock, stopped, got out, lifted the kayak onto the dock, walked out to Rt 107 and hitched a ride from a trucker to the state park. I got my car, drove back, hauled the kayak up some hills in the backyard up to the driveway, uploaded and left.

I got home, and I have forgotten how many brewskis I had. Boy did I sleep well. I should have left the owners of the home and dock a note of thanks. They have a marvelous property.

So I learned a lot from this ride!