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Never Underestimate the Power of a River

By Don Mueggenborg

A fast current – a good ride. You go flying down the river faster than you ever have.

June 2015.   The spring season was wet. There was rain almost every other day. The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon had rain forecast, but the rain held off until after the race. The Mid-America Canoe Race had a downpour right before the start, but after a 20-minute lightning delay, the rain stopped and the day was great.

But it continued to rain on and off.   Then on the night of June 15, it poured. Some areas got 4 or 5 or even 6 inches of rain. Rivers rose higher than they had been all spring.

The Fox River was closed. Yellow tape closed parts of the Naperville Riverwalk. Time for caution! In fact, we marveled at the fast current flowing through overhanging branches while at the riverwalk. I had never seen the DuPage so high and fast.

If I understand correctly – 3 people rescued Tuesday from the DuPage in Naperville – Three more on Wednesday and another on Thursday.

Rescuers were put at risk because some people did not use good judgement.

In high, fast, and/or cold water, always wear a PFD.


  1. When the rivers rise, tree branches that were high over the river now become flow-throughs (strainers). Water goes through the branches, you do not!
  2. With fast current, you do not have the control you have at a normal river level. You cannot avoid those branches.
  3. There are no banks – water now flows through the trees that were on the banks. The swift current means you and your boat will be pinned against a tree before you can get to shore. (One year, my partner and I rescued a couple women who had overturned in fast water during a race – we drifted with them for over a mile before we were able to find a place to get them out of the water.)
  4. You do not have much control on an inflatable raft or tube. (The rivers to raft, such as the Wolf in Wisconsin or the Vermillion in Illinois, do not have overhanging trees.)
  5. Small inflatables are not whitewater quality and are not intended for use in whitewater or fast water.

It seems to be the rule, the fastest current always brings you into the overhanging trees.

When you get heavy rains, narrow streams like the DuPage River in Naperville will rise fast – while streams with a wide flood plain such as the lower Des Plaines tend to rise slowly.  If you want to paddle after a heavy rain, stay away from narrow streams.









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