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Pesty Log

Oct 22, 2014
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This post might be a longer read than it is worth. But, now that I wrote it...

Steve and I paddle the same, 7-mile stretch of the Patuxent at least 20 times a year. The stretch, Bowie to Queen Anne, is a muddy flatwater with 1-2mph current, is about 15-30 yards wide, and has plenty of timber to navigate around. Given its location in a highly developed part of Maryland, it is amazing there is no development visible from the river. You'd think you were in the jungle, except for the highway noise.

We spend hours on this little stretch. We are not fast, and are good at finding ways to go slower. In high water, we are off paddling through the woods. Sometimes we pick trash. And for the last year or two, we've spent a lot of time creating paths through strainers. We used to have to get out of the boat ten to fifteen times to surmount strainers. Two years ago, Steve got an electric pruning saw. He's on his third saw now, a Milwaukee M-18 with an 8" bar, which is a heck of a tool. And Steve wants to cut everything he sees. It has made a big difference. Last time out, we only had to get out of the boat twice.

This is a tale of a pesky log we encountered while deconstructing a strainer. On this trip, we'd brought, in addition to the M-18, a come-along winch and lengths of stout cord. A lot of time we run into logs that are caught up in a strainer but are floating. There's a limit to how much we can move these logs while leaning out of the boat and grabbing with our hands. We can't do much with bigger logs. That's why we brought the winch. And, it worked. We made good progress wnching logs out of the strainer. But what were we to do with the logs? We set them floating down the river. I was up on the bank working the winch and Steve was in the boat tying the line to the logs

The position of the boat, the girth of the pesky log, and the current combined to give Steve fits while he tried to attach the line. The log had a girth of about 15" and was ~20' long. It took him at least 20 minutes and 40 cuss words to get the rope around the log, which easily floated free when I started winching it towards me. The winched end of the log then burrowed into to some other logs that were down against the bank. The free end floated downstream and became jammed into logs there, and it was stuck. We couldn't move it until we freed logs on the downstream end. So 30 minutes later, we sent the pesky log floating off with the current. We were both impressed by the opening we created through this strainer, packed up the gear and resumed downriver travel, feeling victorious.

We recognized the next strainer, where we'd previously opened a channel in the center of the river. That opening was now blocked by logs that had moved in during the last high water event. Big logs. Too big to cut with the M-18 and it was now later in the day and we didn't want to take the time to again set up a winching operation. We started to open a new hole on the left side. The canoe was parallel to the strainer with Steve leaning out the bow and cutting some 4" diameter limbs that had accumulated there. I was working to hold the canoe there when I felt a substantial nudge. Darn if it wasn't the pesky log, caught up with us and being pesky again. It swung around parallel to the canoe and we realized we had to give up trying to make a hole in the left side. We could have gotten through, but the pesky log would ensure we couldn't get through the next time, and there was nowhere to move the pesky log. We were able to push our way back to river center and with Steve slicing away smaller timber we were able to create enough opening to pull the boat through.

My dad used to tell me, "wherever you go in life, you're always going to run into one lemon." The pesky log was the lemon of the day. But we survived, and we'll be back.
I frequently think about cutting the timber from a local river. However, I'm very hesitant to cut trees in the water because of the risk of getting pushed and pinned underwater. In particular newly fallen trees with the crown intact seem unpredictable.

It sounds like you are using good judgement. Stay safe.
I buddy and I just attempted to do what Chip and his friend did. We were trying to clear a large pile of floating debris from our local river prior to an annual paddling event. All the floating stuff was jammed in a large tree that was undercut and fell blocking the entire river. It didn’t help that we’ve had several heavy rains that caused a swift flow which really jammed things up.

Unfortunately the water level was too deep for us to stand in the river so we worked from the canoe using my buddy’s electric chainsaw. While we made some progress it became clear that the job was beyond us. We reported our failure to clear the log jam and the race organizer told us he would hire a tree service to complete the job. Apparently he has done this before. I sure wish I could have watched how they did this. Now I know why loggers in the old days just used dynamite.