All posts by Diana

Diana has been an avid kayaker since 2004. She started out as a dedicated swamp rat, flatwater, contemplative paddler, and slowly added other aspects to her kayaking primarily in regards to white water and year-round adventuring.

State 2 of 50 Minnesota: Otter Tail River

Blog entry written by Peter:    An easy and rustic paddle in western Minnesota that ended with some excitement – and heavy industry!
Date Paddled: August 2, 2016
Nearest City: Fergus Falls
Put-In:  County Route #1 (canoe access site)
Take-Out:  Mt. Faith Ave.   (canoe access site)
Duration: 5 hours
River Miles:  11.5
Shuttle:  easy 4.2 mile bike ride
Weather:  sunny, 80+ degrees
Difficulty: flat water, class I & (easy) class II; toughest rapid at power plant (class II+) can be easily portaged.
CFS:  We ran it at 780 cfs with no scraping; could probably be run at lower levels.

The Otter Tail River provides a canoe/kayak route of over 150 miles in rural western Minnesota, coursing through many lakes and reservoirs on its way to joining the Red River at the North Dakota border. Though not the most beautiful or wild part, this section of the Otter Tail offers a lot of bang for the buck, especially if you’re doing a bike shuttle, as we were.  It’s also convenient to I-94 and the small city of Fergus Falls, where we found a delightful campground (albeit lacking in showers) in the city park at Pebble Lake.

After dropping the kayaks at the put-in on county route #1,  I moved Vincent to the take-out on Mt. Faith Ave. on the outskirts of Fergus Falls and pedaled the easy 4 miles back to where Diana was waiting, and by mid-morning we were on the water!

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The first part of the river corridor meandered between tree-covered banks with the occasional home set back but still, unfortunately, fairly visible.  But as the paddle progressed, the meanderings took us to more remote territory, though the trappings of civilization were never far away.  At times  river’s meanders brought us to open corn fields, only to lead us back into the woods at the next turn.

The Otter Tail moved us along swiftly the entire way; nowhere did we encounter stillwater that forced us to paddle to make progress.  However, as the day progressed, the river became more interesting, with easy class I and class II rapids and the occasional tree or strainer to avoid.  While most of the rapids were mere riffles or small, easy drops, with the occasional wave train, there were a few that required focus and some maneuvering.

The day started out clear and warm, and by mid-afternoon the hot sun and warm water made for ideal swimming conditions.  Diana picked a spot with what seemed like moderate current for a cooling dip, but soon found that the current made it impossible to swim in one place, so I towed her kayak along while she drifted in the swirling waters.  Later, she also found a painted turtle which allowed itself to be captured, examined, and photographed.

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The first significant obstacle we encountered was the remnant of a dam that seemed to require scouting, so we got out of our boats to take a look.  The foot-high drop turned out to be easy to run. From downstream, the broken concrete structure resembled a wrecked locomotive or tugboat – a rather odd sight in this setting!

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The biggest obstacle came near the end of our paddle, when we came upon the large industrial site of a coal-fired power plant located alongside the Otter Tail.  It was here that we found the toughest rapid, a drop, in two stages, of several feet in a narrow channel constrained on the right by a retaining wall next to the power plant.  Careful scouting seemed in order, and we decided not to run this one as we had neglected to bring our spray skirts and it seemed likely that we’d get quite wet if we ran this class II+ drop with open cockpits.  So we hauled out and carried our boats up some steps, across the railroad tracks, and in 200 yards or so we found a put-in right below the rapids.

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From here it was an easy half-mile to the take-out, where it was my turn to cool off in the refreshing but still-swift water.

Though it certainly was not a “wilderness” paddle, nor even really very remote or wild-feeling at any point, the Otter Tail was an easy and generally peaceful paddle with nice, if not spectacular, scenery and some wildlife, which included many birds.  We saw the usual kingfishers and blue herons, as well as egrets, cedar waxwings, an osprey, and an immature bald eagle.  And while the banks were mostly blanketed in grasses, there were wildflowers such as fireweed and a yellow-dandelion-like flower on a long stem.   All-in-all it was a lovely and leisurely 5 hours on the water.

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A Visit with Aquabound/Bending Branches

After long and hard use for the past eight years or so, my Aquabound Carbon Fiber paddle showed up one day at the take out with a quarter moon cut-out.

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I emailed the company a picture and explaining that I’d like to come pick up the paddle in person since our Kayak 50 quest would be bringing us to the paddle-friendly state of Wisconsin. Representative, Brian B., was extremely helpful – yes, they’d gladly do the repair for a modest cost and would I be interested in a factory tour?

Would I ever! Boy oh boy – the thought of that tour really helped when the long miles stretched between NY and Wisconsin. Since I was a little girl I loved seeing my dad make and repair things. It seemed like so much magic – a few tools, so wire, nuts and bolts, and, viola, fixed!

Aquabound was acquired by Branches LLC some years back, a maker of wooden canoe, and later, kayak paddles. So we were in for a double treat!  We first learned about the Aquabound side of the factory.

IMG_2504Brian, our congenial guide, showing us paddle stock

The paddles are made as a pair since even with a high degree of automation, there is small variances in manufacture. The paddles are paired together though the whole process of shaping and forming the shaft, ferrule, inserting flotation, and putting on the blades.  I really liked that! Each paddle, no matter how much it looks like another, is actually an individual with it’s own variations – sounds like my definition of kayak paddlers!

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The neat and tidy factory was filled with machinery that was often made specifically for paddle manufacture or had been adapted from a previous use. The workers, who are more like artisans, have over the years tweaked the designs and functions to fit the job. This was especially true in the Bending Branches part of the factory where some machines use motors that have been around since WW I!

The Aquabound paddles are all made to order – from an order of one to thousands. I recently bought a new paddle with a small diameter shaft as my primary paddle. To think that it came in as an order of one is just SO cool! By the way, my hand is about seven and a quarter inch, palm to middle finger, but I find the smaller shaft much more comfortable and can’t wait to feel the difference when winter paddling in bulky gloves. I’m 5′ 6″ tall – not too small either!

The wooden paddles take much longer to make, so there is some stock on hand.  They are just a work of art!

Thanks to Brian and the Aquabound/Bending Branches team for their tour and amazing contribution to paddling fun and adventure!

State 1 of 50 Wisconsin: Platte River

Solitude and Wildlife
Date Paddled: July 31, 2016
Nearest City: Platteville
Put-In:  Baker Ford Road
Take-Out: Big Platte Road
Duration: 3.5 hours
River Miles: ~9
Shuttle in miles: 5.5
Weather: Sunny
Difficulty: flat-water, riffles, Class I/I+
Cfs: 250

Our first “official” paddle of Kayak 50! After many long and tiring hours of driving we finally arrive and are ready to put in. Peter biked an easy shuttle of 5.5 miles as I contemplated our adventure while sitting in my beached kayak. The long months of planning, ordering gear, organizing, and dreaming were finally paying off!

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I walk down the bank and check the Platte. It’s running well for this late in the season with sage green water alternating between quick, Class I and I+ rapids, and just a bit of flat water mixed in.

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DSCN1974The river was alive with wildlife (l to r): beaver (evidence), green heron (very secretive), bald eagle nest (eagle spotted beforehand), mystery mammal  (muskrat look alike), egret, and swallow nests.  We also saw great blue herons, cedar wax-wings, yellow finches, and many more!

While not normally a big fan of garbage, I’ll admit that this car was a bit of an exception. The fact that it was incorporated into the stream bank through long years of “flattening” surges, had me contemplating a topic that comes up every so often: When does graffiti become artifact/of archaeological interest? I actually hate to admit that the dates from the 1800’s at the top of Kaaterskills Falls in the Catskill Mountains of NY have (in my mind) actually passed into that realm. Oh, did I mention – they are chiseled into the rock. This car? What do you think?

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I should mention that we saw this sort of “bank stabilization” along other rivers. There is some lively discussion about chemicals leaching into the water, along with mounting evidence that this sort of hard surface actually creates small eddies that further erode banks. Natural riparian zone plant natives do a great job as do beavers in rivers that are slow enough for them to slow down even more, not the case here on the Platte.
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As we continued our paddle under big skies and fun rapids, we counted our blessings. One down, forty-nine much anticipated and mysterious paddles to go!

 

Countdown

Just a quick blog to let everyone know that we’ve been working like busy bees trying to get all our belongings taken care of and getting all our gear together.

Here is a picture of the highly successful tag sale at Peter’s:

IMG_2422Material possessions certainly have a way of multiplying! It was off to the storage locker – happily with a view of the Great Swamp in Wingdale.

We were in need of a very pricey kayak rack that could carry our kayaks vertically from our Sprinter hitch. Peter and his friend John, both Princeton engineers decided that they could make one at a fraction of the cost. Eureka – it works! There will be further iterations to allow for more kayaks, but this will be our model for the first leg of the trip for 6-8 weeks. It holds two kayaks and at least one bicycle, probably two.

DSCN1588 DSCN1600                                   Kayak rack design –  patent pending

We also had to purchase various gear such as new seat backs and knee pads for two of our fleet of four Perception Swifty/Sport kayaks. Our costliest purchase was a DeLorme Inreach Explorer GPS and Satellite SOS device. It will allow us to have contact wherever there is sky access for when our cell phones are useless.  I had thought of it as a safety precaution for us, but have since realized that the benefit also rests with two-way communication for 90 year old mom emergencies and of course our collective five children.

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We will soon, I hope, have a map up on our blog that will show our progress.  The GPS will “ping” every so often and update our map! It’ll answer that famous question, “I wonder where Peter and Diana are now?”

We’re off to Indiana for the National Insulator Show starting on Thursday of this week (we’ll leave Wednesday). Then we’ll paddle in Illinois on our way to the Aquabound factory in Wisconsin.  We’ll have a tour of the factory on Monday (can’t wait!), and paddle in the afternoon.  We’ll head west to Colorado, paddling convenient states on the way – haven’t chosen our route just yet.  From Colorado, we’ll head up to Washington state to pick up my daughter, Claire, who will be joining us for a few days of paddling. We’ll meander up into British Columbia in the company of our friends Christian and Jen.

We plan on being back in the NY area around mid to late September and enjoying the fall in New England, then south and southwest for the winter months.  Plans are flexible! After all, we’re retired!

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)

 

 

Fall Stream to Vly Lake – Adirondacks

A nine mile paddle is always a wee bit tiring, but add some hefty dashes of wind and current and it makes for a collapse-into-bed experience! Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

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Fall stream was recommended to me years ago when I contacted the local ranger to ask about a different river.  He quickly understood the type of paddle I adore – small, meandering, and quiet. “How about Fall Stream? Have you done that one yet?”

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It was time to revisit this paradise and even though the leaves of summer weren’t to be seen, it was even more beautiful than I remembered! The gentle meandering made for glimpses of far mountains interspersed with closer views of sentinel pines and spruces.

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The evidence of beaver engineering were everywhere with lodges in abundance and a couple of big projects going on! Interestingly, the lodges were much higher than those near home and many were still clothed in their winter mud more than their summer, peeled bark look.  My guess is that the much colder weather in the Adirondacks means more insulation!

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I was growing a bit tired by lunch time as I hadn’t felt very fit in the morning with a nagging throat issue.  We floated in the crook of a meander and shared some cheese and crackers and cashews. I knew it was important to Peter to get to Vly Lake and I was trying to be a sport about it, but my resolve began to melt when we headed into a pretty stiff wind for the upper section.

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The view at Vly was worth the effort though with diamonds dancing on the water’s surface.  We spent a few minutes enjoying our accomplishment and then headed back with appreciated assist! Our lunch spot came up in what seemed like minutes and then the wind died and we were back to paddling.

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I had that familiar moment when the sun changes angle and I think, “Huh? Already?” or some such profound thought! The day was passing and now heading toward evening. How long had we been on the water?

When I’m paddling, I don’t often think about time until the sun’s angle nudges me and somehow I’m always surprised. Can it be that I’m still on this earth and tied to the kind of destiny that contains sunrises and sunsets? Part of me must be convinced I’m already in heaven in an endless day of joyful beauty that stretches into eternity. It’s always a bit of a shock to realize that there is mundane things to think about like is there enough daylight to get to the take out and what will we do for dinner.
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Thankfully, we have plenty of daylight at this time of year and dinner was at a restaurant we had enjoyed on a previous trip.  Then it was time to fall into bed: stiff-muscled, exhausted and happy with the kinds of visions that didn’t include sugarplums and fairies, but did have the gentle sounds of water dripping off the end of my paddle.

 

Swift River, Massachusetts

 

Great Swamp – Pawling, NY

It was a fine Saturday in Pawling, NY. The river had been recently augmented with .86 inches of rain creating spring- like water levels on February 28th. Peter, Christian, and I were excited to paddle a reach of the Swamp River that is inaccessible during most of the year. As an added bonus, the temperature was hovering around 60 -time to go!

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We put in on Corbin Road in Pawling – a first for us and what a beauty! Once through the difficult phramites section with some quick and fun water, we enter a section with long meanders housing mallards. They fly in an explosion of strength, straight up from the water, in the same way that’s captured people’s affections for millennia. Their quacks are augmented with the clicks and chatter of blackbirds and pileated woodpecker drums.DSCN9632

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As we pass under the bridge at River Road, our usual put in, we are faced with one of the most lively runs in the Great Swamp.  With banks barely wider than our blades, the swift water moves us along at a decent clip, while we spy emerging skunk cabbage on the banks.

DSCN9627Once through that channel, the river opens up and the views become Adirondack-like with boulders and hemlock reaching down the embankment. We enjoy looking at the flora clinging to the boulders, seemingly unaware of their precarious position.
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Spying the Appalachian Trail boardwalk up ahead, we are surprised to see that the area is dammed up with a large beaver lodge, new this year. 

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This brings us to a huge phramites area.  If it weren’t for knowing how invasive this non-native is, we could enjoy it’s beautifully swaying reeds more readily. This plant is taking over wetlands at an alarming rate in the process dispossessing cattails and other essential food and shelter sources for indigenous birds and mammals.

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We also have our most difficult area to get around at the end of this section with the phramites root sections clogging the channel. We portage over a fallen tree and rock our kayaks over a couple of other obstructions.

We came to the bridge at Old Pawling Road, where we usually pull ou,  but in our enthusiasm thought we’d paddle all the way to Wingdale, another couple of miles. We hadn’t realized the first section was so long. Tired, with light dimming, and some apprehension, we paddled on. This brought our total up to about eight or nine, rather a long one in the Swamp.

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The last section narrows down a bit with a large tree obstacle to deal with and then it’s the land of turtles with an exciting section where I saw a green heron three years in a row.  One of my favorite birds, it flies as if auditioning for a Disney movie.

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Multiple channels mostly created by the beaver with snags providing cavities for nesting birds, The bluebirds and red-tailed hawks love this section of the swamp and we see both. The ridge to the west always makes me think of bob-cat since it looks like a prime area for them with its long views and rocky crags.

We’re paddling through paradise!