No doubt the first thought that comes to everyone's mind after a big snow is, "Hey, let's take a float trip."
The snow and cold we had just before Christmas conjured up memories of an unforgettable winter drift many moons ago. It was a canoe trip we took after four inches of powdery snow fell overnight, on a creek that's rarely floated even in spring.
This was The Winter of '79 when it seemed snow was on the ground from Thanksgiving to Easter. My pal Hog Ears and I were living the life of luxury in our backwoods bachelor cabin that we rented for $50 a month smack dab in the middle of a thousand-acre spread. A fireplace and wood stove kept us cozy this harsh winter.
The end of the pavement was almost at the edge of civilization. Then it was four more miles of bad gravel road to our cabin.
We woke up at dawn after yet another round of fresh snow. When you're 22, taking a float trip after four inches of snow sounds like a totally swell idea. Out the door we went in our warmest clothes to slap tire chains on my '68 Ford pickup and Hog Ears' 1970 Chevy Suburban, blue in color speckled with rust.
Our 17-foot green Coleman canoe stuck out through the rear doors of the Suburban with Hog Ears at the wheel. I followed, bumping along over the snowy county road in my pickup. We were bound for Beaver Creek, a little-known gem in Missouri that flows into Bull Shoals Lake.
We dropped my truck at the take-out, and I hopped in the Suburban with Hog Ears for the drive upstream to the put-in. We stopped where an old iron bridge crossed Beaver Creek and unloaded the canoe. It was easy to slide it like a sled down a steep bank to the water. At the snowy creek bank, we loaded the boat with our lunch, life jackets and a waterproof bag of dry clothes just in case.
Before we shoved off, a car stopped on the creaky iron bridge. A woman leaped out and gave us a round of applause and cheers.
"Wish I was going with you," she hollered 30 feet above us.
This was our first ever snow float. We were mesmerized soon as the current grabbed the canoe and carried us gently downstream. Fresh snow with covered the ground with nary a human or animal foot print. Snow was heaped like scoops of vanilla ice cream on the boughs of pine and cedar trees. Bare branches of hardwoods were outlined in white.
In this world of snow, the water of Beaver Creek appeared almost black. But when we stared straight down, the creek was clear as can be. We had the time of our lives.
Fast forward three decades and now Hog Ears has moved to Alaska, and I've relocated to another small cabin, this one on Beaver Lake. One day another canoeing buddy and I were telling float trip stories. I mentioned our snow float 30 years ago and my friend was intrigued.
Back then both of us were on the back side of 50. Taking a snow float still sounded like a pretty good idea. We vowed that after the next big snow, we'd do a snow float.
The forecast one chilly evening promised four inches of snow overnight. We were giddy, packed and ready for a wintry float-trip adventure the next day. Instead of four inches we got about four flakes. Our snow float got put on the back burner and never happened.
More snow is bound to fall this winter. For paddlers who can get to the river safely and are prepared for the conditions, taking a snow float may create memories that last a lifetime.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected]