don photo

Paddle The New Year In

By Don Mueggenborg

The sun was shining bright as I looked out the window in time to see my friend “Peanut Butter” drive up in his little black truck – canoe firmly attached. I grabbed my paddle and PFD and joined him. It was New Year’s Day, about 8 AM. We were on our way to our favorite put in on the Des Plaines River. It was warm for Jan. 1 – about 35 degrees.

We were soon on our way upstream. Some of the trees still have the frozen snow on their branches. A few birds but most had gone south. Up to Hennebry Creek (it was frozen over) so we made a hasty paddle back to Lemont. At Dave’s house, we unloaded the canoe. His wife had some hot chocolate and cookies. Perfect way to start the new year.

To the north, on the Chicago River over one hundred paddles joined Ralph for their New Year’s adventure. One year I joined the group for a little while. I saw a man with his big dog in the canoe. Then, a family with two kids in the boat. I watched as some people made the portage at the first dam, slipping and sliding on the snow and mud. I turned around and decided it may not be a good idea. The forest preserve sponsored the trip and helped with shuttles after several years.

One year it was about 10 degrees or more below zero. The trip was called off but that did not stop some paddlers. The forest preserve decided that it was a safer idea to honor Ralph at the spring trip. We were fortunate that we never dumped. Being improperly dressed, we would have had a problem even though we stayed near the shore.

Ralph’s New Year’s paddle never had a serious problem, although I understand an elected official did dump, but there were security following along the river in a golf cart and the official was soon wrapped in blankets and on the way to a warm vehicle. Yes, no harm no foul or just plain luck.

It was fun but BE PREPARED. You can never tell when one of the worms will reach up and push your boat over. It happens to the best of paddlers.





A very large jar was filled with water. A lot of ice was added. Coins were dropped to the bottom. You were told to put your hand in the water, count to five or so and then pick up the coins. You could not – in that short period of time, your hand was so cold that you could not close the fingers to pick up the coins.