The Beginning

The splash of canoe paddles lift and stroke the air as our guide expounds facts that float around me like duckweed. I am on a free paddle into the Great Swamp, an event that I attend for many years. I am filled with joy to be in such a Valhalla seeing birds, frogs, and turtles freely weaving  through their busy lives. This year, a barred owl sleeps in a tree high above the river. I am amazed to be so close to its perch. I come to the Swamp as a guest, but the seed is planted – one day I will come back under my own power.

Finally, after many years, I do. This time, I’m free to explore! The only limit is my arm strength which I’ll admit is quite puny. I paddle and rest, paddle and rest. It’s all fine with me, after all, I’m finally a full-fledged Swamp Rat!

My first goal is to see all of the Great Swamp. I study maps, drive around on unfamiliar roads, and put into the Swamp wherever there is a hint of passage.  I do sections at random as I balance on logs and practice my forward bends under fallen trees. I see great blue herons, king fishers, king birds, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hawks, eagles, painted turtles, crayfish, ermine, mink, deer, fox, otter, and beaver. I see button bush, lizard tail, swamp marigold, flag, pickerelweed, ash, swamp maples, silver maples, alder, oaks, and gazillions of dragonflies and swallow tailed butterflies and that often adorned me and my kayak.

When the fall came around that year, I kept putting my kayak in the garage with the sad thought that this, this is my last paddle. Instead, I kept reloading it for my next, last paddle. Reluctantly, I put it away in November that year, thinking there must be some good reason that people don’t kayak in December. What foolishness!

Paddling in a gentle snowfall must be the quietest, most peaceful of all experiences watching as the world turns white, and the water moves sluggishly with the cold. I learned that ice was the enemy of the kayaker, but  not always!  An edge of ice was fine and can even treat you to astounding sights. Like the time I saw a silky mink dive through a hole in the ice, coming up with a floppy fish, a memory that frequently replays in my mind as I paddle past that very spot.

This is my twelfth summer paddling the Great Swamp as well as adding rivers and swamps in fourteen other states. I am now poised to begin a quest to kayak all fifty states – Kayak 50.

My partner, Peter and I will start and end our paddle in the Great Swamp – the birthplace of my love of kayaking. We are so excited to explore the many wild and breathtaking waters of the United States as well as take part in publicizing the need for their protection and preservation. We invite you to come along with us through our blog or join us – we’re bringing an extra kayak!

 

 

 

 

Ten Mile River into the Housatonic River, CT – Paddling from NY to CT

This is one of my all time favorite paddles! Joined by good friend Christian, we dropped our boats in NY near the local fishing shop. The beginning of this trip is filled with rocks and boulders that can be troubling in low water.  We ran it at 650 cfs (USGS at Gaylordsville for the Housatonic) which is the lowest you can paddle it with just the occasional scratchy bottom. We were greeted with a surprise at the put in – a baby snapping turtle!

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Once underneath the bridge at Hunt’s Country Furniture, the beauty starts ramping up with class I and II mixed in with lots of quick water and amazing greenery!

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In calmer waters, flag (wild iris) was blooming.

DSCN0895The feeling of remoteness continues as we approached the most difficult rapid of the run. Both Christian and I have swam it, Christian tops out at three times, twice in very cold weather. I was proud to run it successfully for the first time! The first picture is from the top and the second from the bottom.

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This is a video of Christian running the rapid.

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The junction of the Ten Mile into the Housatonic is a lively and challenging boulder garden that’s about a quarter mile long.DSCN0929 (2)

DSCN0931In the Housatonic, the pace continues with more rapids alternating with areas of quick water, then a section of calm water before a few more rapids followed by another class III.

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We also saw about 20 turkey vultures gathered to the side of the rapid – waiting for food to surface?

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Christian ran the rapid successfully…

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This paddle is so special in part because it’s not always accessible, but in larger part because it combines so many different types of water in a wild and scenic setting.

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Cacapon River – West Virginia

The excitement was building for weeks.  Memorial Day weekend! Where to go? The northeast has a plethora of paddling choices.  Within five hours of home, we have southern Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, all of Rhode Island and Connecticut as well as most of Pennsylvania, the Adirondacks and many other fine rivers in NY, and parts of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. After much enjoyable pondering, I chose two rivers in West Virginia, the Cacapon and Back Creek.DSCN0744 (2)The Cacapon River has its source in Lost Creek which mysteriously disappears underground in a stealthy move before reappearing a mile downstream as the Cacapon, continuing for 81 miles until it joins the Potomac.  We paddled from the Cacapon Bridge to the Route 127 Bridge a 12 miler.  Be forewarned – the shuttle was 60 miles(!), but worth it. The topography of eastern West Virginia is defined by long, shapely ridges making for an interesting driving experience, a bit like the weaving and bobbing of Double Dutch.

DSCN0905 (2)The Cacapon has much to commend it, from the emerald water to the mature oaks, birch, tulip, sycamore, basswood, silver maples, slippery elm, etc to the interesting geological formations, an intriguing waterfall and fun rapids!DSCN0797The rapids are mostly class II with three ledge drops, rated class III. The first one took us by surprise as it’s just past a tight meander and there’s no time to re-position if like I was, on the wrong side.DSCN0802 (2)One section follows the ridge line where trees obscure the view, but make it more charming.DSCN0759 (2)Even though I had read about it, I was still awed by seeing Caudy’s Castle:

DSCN0817Words fail to capture the peace and tranquility of paddling a beautiful river on a warm day filled with the promise of a whole summer’s worth to come. Paddle On!DSCN0790 (2)