Laura’s first Cedar float was also her honeymoon cruise. Fellow floaters welcomed her with a shivaree, a mock serenade of clanging pots and pans. “It seemed very unusual,” she admits, “and I’m up for that.”
Their family tradition firmly established, the Hugheses somewhat reluctantly took charge of the event when other organizers stepped away. “We didn’t want to see it die,” explains Laura, “and a lot of other people didn’t either.”
Solitude and Solidarity
This stretch of the Cedar is almost entirely tree-lined, a narrow corridor of wilderness within an extensively farmed landscape.
The annual float bypasses most of the riverside communities, which often feature slack water, dams, and other hazards.
Only the occasional bridge, power line, or riparian homestead serves notice that civilization lurks just beyond the foliage.
Over five days, paddlers on the 24th annual float log over 60 miles by river (and at least 20 by car or Jamboree) through parts of four counties en route to the final takeout at Janesville.
From Otranto to Osage the Cedar offers an array of limestone bluffs, many pocked with caves and adorned with ferns and vines. Black dirt and coarse sand predominate as the river widens farther south.
Sunlight bathes wildflowers and grasses where the canopy opens to a larger sky.
Wildlife abounds: bald eagles, waterfowl, songbirds, deer, muskrats, and turtles. Encounters with river otter and beaver aren’t uncommon.
Sandbars are littered with clamshells, the former occupants of which likely served as dinner for hungry raccoons.
With the current brisk and the water mildly turbid, courtesy of abundant spring rains, paddlers can only speculate as to what lies beneath the surface, though the occasional fisherman hoisting a catfish or bass offers evidence.
The group covers 8 to 19 miles by river each day. Some choose to rise and retire early.
“The other group” lingers around campfires or local watering holes until well after dark and seldom stirs until well after dawn.
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