This weekend Sage and a buddy loaded their (several hundred pound) wooden raft into the back of our pickup truck and we headed to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, an 8,600 acre nature reserve here in the Driftless. The event was a Traditional Wisdom Celebration and Rustic Raft Rally, and the two homeschoolers had spent the previous weeks designing, testing, and perfecting a river raft to enter in the competition.
The challenge: to build a river-worthy raft using only natural and biodegradable materials; then navigate 2 1/2 miles of winding Kickapoo river. Crossing the finish line, teams had to be on or in their craft, with at least 1/2 of their bodies above water.
We even enticed our neighbor Alan (a traditional skills enthusiast, maker, and tinkerer extraordinaire) to come. He gave the boys most of the logs they used to construct their raft, so we dropped off a schedule of events thinking the day might be right up his alley.
We were right.
And while we drove the 45 minutes to the Reserve from our valley, Alan arrived by bicycle (of course he did)! He departed at 4 am, as one does, in order to arrive in plenty of time for the 9 am start. (Despite biking, he still managed to beat us there by nearly an hour.)
Although we went to the Reserve for the raft rally, the day offered so much more.
From wood carving to willow weaving demonstrations; flint knapping to cold forging; beekeeping to maple tapping talks; herbal remedies to a pit-cooked traditional meal, it was our sort of day in every possible way.
Best of all, this is our community. We saw lots of old friends (and made a few new ones), and whiled away the day talking, learning, and doing.
By mid-day, it was time to launch the rafts! Seven teams entered in all.
The entrants ranged from hastily lashed creations (enthusiastically thrown together at the last minute by scout troops) to gorgeous peg-and-beam constructions carefully engineered in the weeks leading up to the event.
And off we set, some by raft, some by kayak and canoe. Departure was chaos, as a few teams tested their rafts for the very first time and were surprised by the true buoyancy (or lack thereof!) of their craft, but within a few minutes things settled out and the peace of the river enveloped us.
From a functionality perspective, Sage and his friend’s raft were in the top tier. These two were among few teams who managed to ride above (rather than in) the water, standing up and poling the length of the route. Along the way were clusters of family and friends, cheering on all the teams as they passed. It was a sweet scene.
A couple of hours after putting in, Sage and his friend (and the six other teams) crossed the finish line: cold, wet, tired, and happy. Prize money was involved, keeping everyone smiling right up until the chilly finish.
Then it was time for more talks and demos, more visiting with old and new friends, and an exquisite pit-cooked meal.
At last, it was time to head home. Nearly 12 hours after we arrived at the Reserve, we dragged ourselves back to the truck: dirty, well-fed, over-sunned, and over-tired.
We headed home and collapsed into bed… some of us still smiling from the events of the day.