Tags: tours

Actually I have been most of my life. Few have ever heard of Johnny Panther Quests or even the Shiawassee Flats. Here is a link to a crew that came out and captured the essence of what "Johnny Panthering" is to me. Is this the lightning strike I've been waiting for for nearly twenty years? If not a direct hit, you can certainly smell the ozone in the air! Thanks to "Under the Radar" for exposing my passion and playground to others! http://utrmichigan.com/episode-320
Lucky to be alive! Looking back on some of the past Fourth of July Holidays, all I can do is smile. Following are a few flashbacks to a time far less inhibited and far more bullet proof. A girlfriend and 2 buddies put in above Bay City through JFM’s practice track in my 14’ flat bottomed john boat powered by a 1962 Johnson 3HP motor. It was still a long ride downtown as we literally surfed boat wakes into the beach, swerving at the last moment and heading back out to do it again. We didn’t do it because it was fun; we did it to keep that little boat from getting swamped. There were many big boats making huge wakes and we had little freeboard. We talked a good friend into “escorting” us back to the beach where we launched after the fireworks. We tried to stay in the small shelter of his boat’s “shadow”. He wasn’t impressed as we inadvertently drove through the pilings. My little boat with its shallow draft went over the tops, his through the middle. We made it back. Carried the boat and gear back through the woods in the dark, and loaded it upside down on the roof of my baby blue Gremlin. Good times! Another year my girlfriend and I were out in the Flats all day. It was smoking hot, she was fair skinned and over it. I offered to drop her off, with the promise of picking her back up for the fireworks. I went back out into the swamp and enjoyed the rest of my afternoon with no complaints. As I returned for the evening festivities, I spotted a Team Garage friend and asked if he would pull me skiing. He said no as I pleaded I’d been roasting in the swamp all day and a little slalom skiing sure would be nice! He finally relented and dragged me down the river. I crashed trying to see how high I could spray a bridge wall and knocked the wind out of myself. As I climbed back into Roger’s boat he yelled; “Leonerd yer bleeding all over my boat!” Seems I had split my heel open on the ski and was bleed pretty good (bad?). We wrapped a towel around it and secured it with a shoe lace. The skiing was worth it! I idled into town in my little 14’ boat with my foot propped up on the seat back. I picked my girlfriend up and she asked what happened. I told her it was just a little flesh wound. The next day I went to the Doctor’s to get stitched and he asked why I waited so long- I told him I didn’t want to miss the fireworks! I HATE needles! Imagine getting stitches in the heel of your foot, not fun. When he got done, I asked what I owed him. He said; “Nothing, it was too much fun watching you squirm. Next time don’t wait so long!” Flash forward thirty years. I had a couple from California out on a mini-marathon trip on a smoking hot 4th of July. We went as far as the water would allow and then some. We went bushwhacking through weeds chest high. I was trying to get them to the Bad River. By the time we got back to the boat we wear soaking wet with sweat and covered with all sorts of seeds from the weeds and grass. They said they enjoyed it, I’m not sure I believed them, but I did! We idled back into the marina at the conclusion of one heck of a boat ride. I offered to take them as guests to the fireworks which they eagerly accepted. We idled through the yachts, pontoons, and ski boats in my 16’ “big boat”. After dropping anchor in the front row with fireworks exploding overhead, the husband looked at his wife and said; “This is better than Disneyland!” Many things have changed since those humble early days of Johnny Panthering on the 4th of July. I am so lucky to be alive and don’t ski much anymore on the Saginaw River- not to say that I wouldn’t, just not in the same spots we used to!
I’ve been playing in the swamps of Saginaw since I was a young boy. Collectively known as the Shiawassee Flats, I’ve hiked, biked, boated, and ridden my motorcycle on the ice through the labyrinth of channels, ditches, rivers, and creeks. For me it’s like going to church, or recharging my batteries- as Don used to say; “I feel like a million dollars!” There have been times when I wanted to disappear for good out in the swamp, my heart full of sorrow and pain, but almost always I feel a presence or power that surrounds me. I can feel Don, my Dad, and others looking down at me, smiling, urging me to savor the moments and get back on course. When I started Johnny Panther Quests nineteen years ago, I thought I’d be killing it within five years- doing it full time and selling franchises. Well, I am not even close.
My wife has put up with me chasing her, my dreams, and passions for over twenty years now, and frankly, I am a lucky man to still be married. Every year I’ve told her; “This is gonna be the year, I can feel it!” and it doesn’t happen. It’s a long quiet ride home from the CPA’s every spring. I have had many positive experiences sharing my “ecotours” with others over the last eighteen years professionally. Some of my guests have been world travelers, and claimed they saw more wildlife in one afternoon with me, than on safari in Africa. Others have told me the experience is invaluable for students, seeing the impact of man, urban sprawl, and climate change, not to mention history. These comments make me proud of what I do and share, but unfortunately don’t pay the bills.
2012 was full of challenge. I had no “real job”, and the water level and finances were moving the wrong direction. My saving grace is I was able to spend some quality time with the boys, and be ready on demand if need be to run trips. Strapped for cash, advertising was on the back burner. Logistics and overhead play a huge roll in taking people out on adventures which usually last 3-5 hours. Licensing, inspections, insurance, fuel, propellers, and vehicle upkeep require a lot of time, effort and cash. But this year it happened. We’ve had the same friend do our taxes for twenty years now. She’s seen us good, bad, and downright ugly. She said when I gave her the gross earnings this year she knew we would show a profit! Was it enough to pay our bills and support a family? NO! But it was a profit!
For years I have had people telling me I’m never going to make it. In my mind, I made it a long time ago. I am hopeful that I will again be the primary bread winner and can give back to my family like they have given to me. I don’t think they will ever fully understand the energy and love of life I experience when on an adventure trip. But if I can pay the bills, make them smile, and eliminate some stress in their lives, I will consider myself successful! So whether it’s an afternoon in the swamps of Saginaw, or a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I feel blessed and privileged to be able to share it. This is gonna be the year, I can feel it!
I'd like to share a little taste of the 2013 Hangover National ice ride in Michigan with some friends. Every year on New Years Day we get together and ride. Some years are bigger than others. This year, because of the climate change, we were forced to drive north to Houghton Lake. Only a fraction of some years riders drove up, but for those who did, it was big fun. Click the link to see what some the best motorcycle riders in the nation did for fun the first day of 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAnyTXZ3Dp4
This is what I saw in my backyard last week, December 13, 2012. Not sure what kind it is. Yesterday it was 50 degrees on December 16. Anymore, it’s not unusual to sneak a ride or two in at the club this time of year. To me, what IS unusual is the duration of the mild weather. I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of climate change here in good old Mid-Michigan. This year the water in the Shiawassee Flats was 3 feet below “normal low” consistently through the summer. Likely some lack of water can be attributed to the overzealous dredging of the St. Clair River mouth, but certainly we have not seen the precipitation we used to receive. Of course with the lack of rain we have had a lack of mosquitoes too! My little part of the world has changed dramatically climate wise, and it’s pretty hard to supplement my income plowing snow when there isn’t any. If this keeps up, I may need to consider kayaks to show off the Everglades of Michigan. Boat rides often morph into boat walks when our spartan Johnny Panther boat’s draft exceeds that available. This year I walked up river channels I used to water-ski up! I love Michigan and its seasons, and make the most of all of them. It seems to me that winter comes later, and leaves earlier every year. This year it was 80 degrees in March for about a week! It really screwed up the flowering trees and fruit crops. This year we didn’t experience the “snows” of May and June, the cottonwoods shedding their fuzz balls. Couple these changes in my little piece of heaven with those around the world and it presents a pretty dramatic view of our changing environment. At this rate it won’t be long and I’ll be able to offer boat tours year round. I love the seasons of Michigan, but I feel like we are staring to lose winter…