By Mark McCauley
Aug. 6 was a good day on the Pine River, and maybe the best of the summer.
I didn’t rent any boats, but I was able to assist a man down the river and on/off the landings; he’s in a wheelchair. My new friend, B.j. Bredeson, is paralyzed from above the waist and down. I’d never done this since founding Pine River Paddle and Tube in 2015 and was fortunate that business was slow enough to give this the time it deserved.
I’ve always had an interest in using the Pine for “river therapy” sessions. This short paddling trip really helped to reinforce that it’s a great idea. We have the two handicap-accessible landings, one at North Park and the other at the old community center. So, that was our route.
We figured out how to get him out of the chair and in the kayak. (I informed him that I have wrestling experience and could lift him up if needed — LOL.) We found a bond at that point. He didn’t need too much help but I was able to make it easier on him. This guy isn’t about you doing things for him and is impressively self-sufficient.
Down the river we went! He was feeling out how to stay balanced on the water by using his hand against the brim of the boat because he couldn’t use his hips. It wasn’t long until he had found his balance and started in with the paddling. He was comfortable enough within a few minutes that our conversation switched from kayaking skills to talking about life.
My friend told me how much he was enjoying this experience, and you could see he felt some freedom. I told him about my idea of doing this as therapy for people and he said that’s exactly what it is. I’ll also admit that it’s my “therapy,” too. It’s just a little more enjoyable when you don’t have the chainsaw along to clear brush and downed trees from the river.
We switch the conversation to how we are going to approach the rapids and landing area. This is right after a young man asked us if it’s safe to jump off the footbridge and I told him not to with a good explanation of the danger. One minute later we heard a big splash behind us. Kids … .
We conquered the rapids and were both safely on the landing. I could tell his heart rate was up and really enjoyed it.
Eventually we got off the landing and back to his car. There we discussed some future paddling adventures that we could do together and I’m really looking forward to it.
This was a practice run for when “Discover Wisconsin” is filming in Richland County. Stay tuned for the episode in February 2020!
Mark McCauley is the owner and operator of Pine River Paddle and Tube LLC, which is open spring through fall in Richland Center. Rental rates for four hours are $25 per kayak, $50 per canoe and $12 per tube. For more information and reservations, call (608) 475-2199 or find Pine River Paddle and Tube LLC on Facebook.