Wintry Thoughts

Bend, Oregon

What does a kayaker do when white mounds of winter line every road and rivers run cold or not at all? It is a trying time, to sit and watch as the numbers come in: 32 or 22 or worse, freezing hopes. I watch Mt. Bachelor and the Sisters turn white, avalanche, turn white again.

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Back in New York, I would know what to do, where to go to get my fix of open water, the same rivers that are known from warm forays. That is the key. To propel oneself down a river with rapids, as they all must have to stay open, with no experience with its particular foibles is foolishness. Some would argue that even with experience, it’s still kinda crazy. Less so in the northeastern U.S. as the rivers are wider, with more forgiving edges, eddies and shallows close at hand.  Here, the rivers are cold and swift, off on an important mission – there’s no lollygagging.

Then there is the question of trees. They do have a tendency to jump right into the middle of things especially with the heavy snows bending their backs or filling their long needles with rounds of white.

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The stated goal of Kayak 50 is to paddle in all fifty states. Of course I expected to learn as I paddled rivers formed differently, surrounded by unfamiliar habitats, and subject to water and light propelled at strange angles off intriguing surfaces. Quite surprising, the actual experience. Cross currents from bouncings off cliffs, rock walls, and boulders alarmed me. Most I found not too deep, fairly safe to ignore. The trick was to keep the flow of the river in mind, estimate the percentage that was errantly bouncing, and viola – safe or not safe was the answer. Safe meant, keep on paddling, unsafe that there was maneuvering to do to stay out of the cross movement.

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Then there were upwellings. Upwellings occurred when there was a bounder or other obstruction under the surface of the water. I think of them like an animal track, letting you know about something furtive that may or may not be there. These mushrooms of still water are eerily unsettling. It’s hard to gauge the depth of the water, generally they are deeper than you think, but occasionally you find yourself hung-up, often with the indignity of facing upstream. Worse case scenario is a dump/swim, pretty chilly in most rivers in the northwest at any time of year.

So the dreaming goes on – waiting for the ice to melt, days to grow longer, spring rains. That magical time when the world once again leaps into motion. Flows and floods, rain and rapids, the call to join in the ancient dance of water and watercraft, the tranquility and the action, together again.

 

 

Bend, Oregon: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

We’re in Bend! Our plans meandered to the west as we came to grips with the fact that the wide-spread drought conditions in most of the US have left the rivers unhappily low. Our hopes to paddle in the southern states in the fall/early winter followed by the south western states evaporated, but we flowed into Bend where Peter and I have been considering moving after our Kayak 50 quest.

We rented a wonderful apartment in Tumalo, an area north of Bend. This is our incredible view:dscn4582-2

Two of the Sisters, extinct volcanoes, as seen from our balcony
Two of the Sisters, extinct volcanoes, as seen from our balcony (zoomed in)

Bend has a huge ski resort, Mt. Bachelor (9,068 feet),  that is filling up nicely with snow at 94 inches – 7.8 feet! Peter will soon check it out. A big snow storm last week left about a foot of snow where we are in the high desert – very unusual for this area where most of the moisture falls on the mountains. They effectively help contain and define the moisture laden coastal area of Oregon, known locally as “the valley.” This high desert has the advantage of sunny/partly sunny (300) days, with out all the rain and dampness of the coastal areas. Compared to New York, there are much milder winter temperatures that dance around freezing for a month or so and then warm up into the higher 30’s and 40’s starting around mid-January.

We recently spent a few days with Claire for our early Christmas with her in Portland. It was great to watch Scrooged, exchange gifts, and feast on great food. What a heart-warming delight! img_2057The drive (about 4 hours) was a real treat too, filled with snowy desert and the mists of the Columbia River Gorge.

Mount Hood seen from 197 about 40 miles as the crow flies
Mount Hood seen from  route 197 about 40 miles as the crow flies
Misty morning driving east on the Columbia River Gorge
Misty morning driving east on the Columbia River Gorge

We’ve also spent quite a bit of time looking at homes and land in the area, especially Sisters, a small community a bit further north of sisters_origwhere we’re staying. It’s lovely and quaint. While the quest for a new home can be quite wearying, it’s also exciting to imagine a new life. We’ve already had  a fun preview while attending a Christmas party given by the local kayaking group. It’s great to know we have a place to share our passion! Looking forward to checking out a Sister’s church for Christmas Eve.

Our hearts reach out for our loved ones at Christmas, those with us and those who have crossed over into another life, united in love. Sending you love and thanks for reading our blog and coming along on our Kayak 50 adventure! Wishing you a…..merry-christmas

 

State 18 of 50: PA (second paddle): Clarion River

Mild, western PA river with small ledge drops and quickwater
Date Paddled: 11/8/16
Nearest City: Clarion
Put-In:  River Road
Take-Out:  River Road
Duration:  3 hours
River Miles: 7
Shuttle:  bike
Weather:  mostly cloudy, 50’s
Difficulty:  quickwater, class I
Cfs:  600

With no need to rush home from western Pennsylvania. we decided to seek out another river to paddle.  The Clarion, flowing generally north from the hills NE of Pittsburgh toward the Allegheny River, came up in our search as a class I/II river that actually had enough water flowing!dscn4433We made our way several hours north from the Yock, meandering through the rustic hills on windy back-country roads, for a peaceful, if unspectacular, paddle on the Clarion.  The section we selected provided an easy bike shuttle on adjacent River Road; the section immediately upstream looked more enticing (better rapids and scenery) but presented a far longer and more difficult shuttle.dscn5383We shoved off early in the afternoon careful to dress warmly for the shallow but quickly-flowing waters of the Clarion, under cloudy skies, and brisk air and water.  The paddle was relaxing, looping back and forth between nice forested hills.  We saw a few kingfishers, mergansers, an eagle, but no signs of people, though River Road was almost always close by on the right bank.This is the kind of paddle that makes you think that it’s way better than being at work! Next time we visit the Clarion, we’ll be sure to paddle the section upstream where it’s designated a Wild and Scenic River.

State 18 of 50: PA: Youghiogheny River

 

Classic white water river through a deep and scenic gorge
Date Paddled: 11/7/16
Nearest City: Uniontown
Put-In: Ramcat Road boat launch (Confluence, PA)
Take-Out:  Ohiopyle S.P.
Duration: 3.5 hours
River Miles: 9
Shuttle: rail-trail – 8.5 miles
Weather: 60, clear and sunny
Difficulty: quickwater, class I, II, II+
Cfs: 830


(Peter)  The Youghioghenny, or “Yock,” as it’s referred to locally, has held a special allure for me over the past two decades.  Regular trips across the country have  frequently led me across its path on I-70.  I had even cycled a section of the rail trail that accompanies the Yock dscn5333on much of its convoluted 134-mile course roughly northward from its headwaters in West Virginia and the western panhandle of Maryland, and on through the rugged hills of southwestern Pennsylvania to its confluence with the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh.  Set in a deep and lovely gorge (one of the deepest in the state), the Yock had cried out as the perfect way to earn our Pennsylvania state sticker.dscn5341Fed by a reservoir and several significant tributaries, including Casselmans River that joins right near our put in, the Yock generally holds its water well into even a dry fall.  This year, however, it was touch-and-go: the week prior we had passed through, hoping to paddle, only to find the water a bit below recommended levels.  The blessing of a little rain in the intervening period boosted the water level just enough that we directed ourselves back to SW Pennsylvania to give it a try.  From our previous attempt, we knew we’d have a peaceful, wooded campsite, fully furnished with warm bathrooms and showers pretty much all to ourselves, which made the decision much easier.dscn5329And we were rewarded by about as nice a paddle as anyone could expect in the Northeast in November.  With a beautiful day ahead of us we decided to leave my bicycle at the take out in Ohiopyle State Park and go directly to the put in just north of the village of Confluence.  A friendly couple from Ohio was putting in at the same time, but we saw no one else on the river.  After exchanging pleasantries and getting some reassuring information about the river and its rapids, we set out into the fast current and faced a nice class II rip just around the first bend.dscn5322And there were many bends, as the Yock weaves its way through a maze of hills that rise as much as a thousand feet on either side of the river.  On the left bank we were accompanied by the rail trail, part of a trail network stretching from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh and beyond.  On the right bank is an active CSX/AMTRAK rail line, so our reverie was occasionally interrupted by the rumbling, clanking and shrieking of mile-long freight trains working their way up or down the valley.dscn5331The water was clear and crisp, and afforded reasonable warning of the many rocks that lurked at or just beneath the surface of the fairly shallow river.  And there were many rocks in the numerous easy rips and rapids that were interspersed by calmer stretches that never really stopped moving us right along.20161102_152134-3The rapids were fairly easy to navigate at this low water level, save for bouncing over or off a rock or two – at higher spring levels I would imagine that most of the rocks disappear and large waves become the source of entertainment on this stretch.  The next section of the Yock, from Ohiopyle to Bruner Run (featuring class III rapids), is the busiest whitewater river section east of the Mississippi.  The upper Yock, runnable in spring only, is a famous class IV/V run.  And right in Ohiopyle, with official permission on certain days, expert kayakers are permitted to shoot the 18-foot falls (pictured below).

20161102_144922The shorter days of fall brought the shadows of evening upon us early as we paddled the final miles beneath the steep hills.  The rapids picked up a bit in frequency and intensity as we approached the end – we knew that if we missed the take out there was a waterfall just around the bend!  But with a few hours of shadowy daylight left we found ourselves at our destination. I set out on my 40-minute rail trail ride while Diana explored the little touristy village of Ohiopyle and awaited my return with Vincent.dscn5350

State 17 of 50: OH: Little Miami River

Pleasant paddle on designated Scenic River
Date Paddled:11/4/16
Nearest City: Xenia
Put-In: Oregonia
Take-Out: Morrow at Miami Canoe
Duration: 2.5 hours
River Miles: 7
Shuttle: Bike path (rail trail on east bank)
Weather: 50’s with water temperatures colder, calm, cloudy with some sun toward the end
Difficulty: quickwater, flatwater, class I
Cfs: gauge height 5.0 feet – has water all year

(Diana) The Little Miami is one of those rivers that after you’ve paddled it you totally get that it’s better to be on just about any river than it is to be working.  A pleasant paddle under misty conditions, the Little Miami’s main feature for us was that it had water in a drought-filled year! dscn4264This is because much of it’s water is from a deep lake which has a deep aquifer. This is another one of those hard-working rivers that sees hundreds of people
during the summer months and come Labor Day… suffice it to say, we, the deer, and assorted birds were the only ones enjoying the water.

I was greeted by a heron who was clearly accustomed to people in his unflinching glace. Most people’s concept of Ohio is one immense cornfield with some silos thrown in.  Yep, that’s pretty much it! That’s why the few areas on either side of the state that break with the monotony are so well used.  The day after this paddle was unseasonably warm and sunny and I hiked the Little Miami Gorge (while Peter attended an insulator show) and it was filled with people! Young and old, college kids, you name it – it was actually quite shocking and frankly not very enjoyable, but hey, I get it – it’s all they’ve got! I digress….

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The current is lazy overall, but in a few places there are some class I rapids like under the new highway bridge. The left-over signs warning of construction and danger fill me with a bit of foreboding especially since I can’t see around a right sweep just past the bridge. While scrutinizing it, I catch some movement in the rapids:
Which brings me to some thoughts I often have when I see deer from my kayak.  They are incredibly majestic! I am always excited to see them and even though they can be a nuisance in suburbia and a devastator of habit in the wild, they still have a very special place in my heart.

One a similar note, while I’m also not a fan of highways, I can certainly appreciate the beauty of architecture and line:

Note my kayak on the bottom left
Note my kayak on the bottom left for scale
Only part of the old bridge was taken down
Only part of the old bridge was taken down leaving an interesting anomaly on the left.

As I slide easy through the rapids, more hype than substance now that the construction is complete. I paddle along appreciating the quiet misty river resting on this late fall day.  It’s hundreds of canoes are neatly stacked on the river banks, the heron and deer reclaim their territory. I am again honored to be part of this watery world.

 

 

 

 

State 16 if 50: VA: Shennandoah River (South Fork)

Mountains, cliffs, wildlife, relaxing fall paddle
Date Paddled: 11/1/16
Nearest City: Front Royal
Put-In: Rileyville – Island Ford Road (mile 16)
Take-Out: Bentonville boat launch (mile 28)
Duration: 5.5 hours
River Miles: 12
Shuttle: Downriver Canoe
Weather: 55 warming to 65, sunny, calm to light breeze
Difficulty: very few stretches of flatwater, quickwater/class I and one class II, many minor ledge drops
Cfs: 400

(Peter) There are few things in life that are certain, especially when it comes to being able to count on any given river to have enough water in it to paddle.  So finding the Shenandoah to be paddle-able in this dry year was not only a delight, but it furthered our realization about how little we know about the hydrology (water flows and cycles) of rivers.  Turns out, much like the Niobrara (in Nebraska), the Shenandoah is continually replenished by underground flows.  In fact, we were told that in places a significant part of this river’s flow is actually underground in the Karst formations of Appalachia.  So when other rivers in the region had barely enough water for a game of pooh-sticks, we found the Shenandoah waiting for us with adequate, if not generous, flow for this fine fall day.dscn5274I contemplated a bike shuttle for this outing, and it would have been a tough one, with a serious climb up from the river, followed by ten miles on a windy (both pronunciations) highway with no shoulder.  Fortunately, I found a ride from a local outfitter right at the take out in Bentonville who, though he had officially closed for the season only the day before, happily offered to shuttle me back to Diana at the put-in.dscn4138Once on the water we found the Shenandoah to be a fairly quick-flowing river with easy rapids scattered here and there and one tricky (class II?) drop that provided only a moment of anxiety before we splashed successfully through.dscn5274The river winds through some steep forested hills, but in places the terrain opens up enough for a few centuries-old valley-bottom farms, making for very picturesque scenery.dscn4224

 

State 15 of 50: NH (second paddle) Campton Bog

A beautiful wetland hidden in a broad valley beneath impressive mountains.
Date Paddled:   Oct. 16, 2016
Nearest City:   Plymouth, NH
Put-In & Take-Out:  Beech Hill Road
Duration:  3 hours
River Miles:  3 flatwater miles 
Shuttle:  (none)
Weather:   sunny, 50’s
Difficulty:  flatwater; one beaver dam to climb over
Cfs:  n/a

(By Diana)
I discovered this gem of a paddle years ago in the Quiet Waters AMC series of books. The New York and New England guides were written by John Hayes and Alex Wilson and I strongly recommend them for flatwater locations and easy out and back rivers/bogs. I’ve visited the Campton Bog 7-8 times as it’s location, just off Interstate 93  and down the road from the White Mountains National Forest Headquarters (also worth  a visit), makes it a surprisingly wild find in the midst of a busy area.

The bog sets behind a low dam with pristine waters stained brown with tannin.  The clarity and cleanness of the water shows gradations of darkening tannin as the water deepens. The tannin is what made areas like the Catskills and Adirondacks centers for the tanning industry, a natural element found abundantly in many trees, especially so in hemlocks.dscn3980All the times I’ve put-in run together in a splendid welcome. I feel at home, but not the home where furniture is never moved and conversations are predictable, but one that changes, revealing a rainbow of moods. The large boulder to the left of the put-in is like a loved auntie, adorned in a variety of bonsaied plants, all marvels in tenacity and gracefulness.dscn3986Rounding the end of the stillwater, two sentinels protect the next segment. These white pines firmly established on a center island are a glory to the tree-world.dscn3994I study some sundew growing in the spaghum mats and sweet gale edging the uplands containing black spruce, maple, and oak. Cavernous plants are bizarrely interesting! They digest unsuspecting insects entrapped in sticky hairs like the sundew or perhaps become entrapped in the small pond of the pitcher plant. This adaptation probably came about due to the low nutrient level in the acidic bog waters that needed some “supplements.”

Sun Dew
Sundew

The next passage is a bit hard to find, guarded by a formidable beaver dam. Portaging seemed the only viable method of gaining the far reaches so – up and over. dscn4008-2I feel the rising anticipation as the far fall colored world slowly is revealed. The mountains rise 1000 feet from the water in a amphitheater of color. The golden yellows, russet, evergreens, and occasional red rest on the mountains like a cosmic grandma’s quilt.

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The only signs of humans are the nesting boxes provided for the wood ducks. Even those can’t detract from the feeling that I’m the only person to wander here privy to the secrets of Campton Bog.

State 15 of 50: New Hampshire: Androscoggin River

A pleasant and easy any-season paddle in the northwoods of New Hampshire.
Date Paddled:  Oct. 15, 2016
Nearest City:  Berlin, NH
Put-In:    NH 26 bridge in Errol, NH
Take-Out:   Bridge along NH 16 at 7 islands
Duration:  4.5 hours
River Miles:  9 miles
Shuttle:   local outfitter in Errol
Weather:   mostly cloudy, 50s
Difficulty:  flatwater, quickwater, class I & II rapids; somewhat rocky in low water
Cfs:  975

When virtually all the other rivers in New England are rocky and un-runnable, the Androscoggin will invariably still have plenty of water, as it drains a large watershed in western Maine fed by large lakes.  So during this particularly dry year it turned out to be one of the only places where we could dip our paddles in a New Hampshire river.  But even the Androscoggin was feeling the effects of the drought, running at barely 60% of its normal flow level for this time of year.

After a cold night camping alongside the river, we took our time getting started in the morning, as the temperature didn’t hit 40 until well past 10 am.  Good fortune brought a significant wind shift with warmer air just as we were pushing off around 11:20 from the landing in Errol, and we enjoyed temps rising  into the 50’s and eventually 60’s as the day progressed.  Unfortunately, though, this meant a bit of a headwind at times, a bit of a nuisance when the current waned.  dscn3957After a fun push-off into some easy class II rapids under the bridge at Errol, we had to paddle our way through several miles of flatwater before the current resumed and we had some fun class I & II rips to run.  Because of the low water level, there were plenty of exposed rocks along the way, and enough dark and stealthily ones lurking just below the also-dark surface to require some vigilance, especially in the quicker parts.  Finding a channel or route with enough water for our kayaks was never a challenge, but in this low water condition a good bit of maneuvering was required to keep from bouncing off or over the rocks in some of the rapids.  In higher water we would expect the challenge would be less from rocks and more from bigger waves.dscn5170The highway runs parallel to the river for much of the way, so cars and trucks were often seen and heard on the right bank…a bit annoying. Otherwise the scenery was lovely, if not dramatic, as the fall colors were not too far past their peak.  There were distant views of the White Mountains, and common avian residents including herons, kestrels, and, of course…a kingfisher or two!dscn5162We pulled out at seven-islands so as to avoid an extended section of flatwater behind the Pontook Dam several miles down river.  This recently remodeled dam diverts much of the Androscoggin’s flow through penstocks to power turbines downstream – unfortunate because immediately below the dam is a two-mile stretch of excellent class II+ rapids.  Scheduled water releases (on summer weekends) and easy access from the highway make this a popular local whitewater spot,  but this mid-October day saw only a meager allocation of water spilling over the dam and trickling through the rocky stream bed below, so we headed off to find another day of paddling.dscn3920Footnote:   This remote region also contains the Umbagog Lake NWR, a vast lake/river/wetland preserve with copious wildlife and a floating island bog!  Also nearby for paddlers are the Rangeley Lakes, a chain of large, interconnected (easy portages) lakes surrounded by forests and mountains.  As well, many of these waterways, including the Androscoggin, are part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile water route that passes through 4 states and Quebec on its way from Old Forge, NY to Fort Kent, Maine.

State 14 of 50: Maine: Bog Creek Flowage

When the rivers are running dry…there’s always water in the bog!
Date Paddled:  Oct. 13, 2016
Nearest City:   Bangor
Put-In & Take-Out:  boat launch above dam – East Beddington Lake Road, Beddington (off of ME 9)
Duration:  4 hours
River Miles:   4 to 5 miles of exploration on the flowage
Shuttle: none – out and back
Weather:   Cool, sunny, windy 10-15 N, NW
Difficulty:   flatwater, some navigating around tree stumps and submerged rocks; possibly confusing shoreline
Cfs:  n/a

In search of some river in Maine with enough water to paddle, we found ourselves in Beddington, a tiny community about 40 miles east of Bangor, where the Naraguasgus River was alleged to be flowing at a passable level.  Upon arriving there, however, we found an ankle-slashing river. Frustrated at being led astray by erroneous online information, we searched far and wide for something – anything – to paddle in Maine. Our fortune was about to change.

Lo and behold, literally on the same road we used to scout the Naraguasgus, was a fine little backwater behind a small flood-control dam on aptly-named Bog Brook.dscn5140The day was still bright and, though chilly and a bit windy, offered the chance to see some nice fall colors, some migrating birds, and other wildlife on an easy out-and-back adventure.  We had a wonderful launch site that promised the possibility of a remote and beautiful camping experience as well.   On our way to the flowage, we were taken with the amazing sight of blueberry fields in their fall colors:dscn3782We maneuvered Vincent into position, unloaded our boats and equipment, and shoved off into the clear but shallow water of the lake that stretches south for several lazy and irregular miles behind the dam.
dscn5124Set as it is in the low hills of eastern Maine,  this flowage offers pretty but limited views. The scenery was enhanced by the dramatic clusters of tree stumps that jutted several feet above the waterline, as well as patches of standing snags.dscn5145These sat in stark contrast to the deep blue skies reflecting in the crystal-clear, wind-rippled water, and the oranges and yellows emerging from the green foliage on shore.

We paddled between, through, and around many of these bizarre remnants of the forest that predated the flooding of this land as well as some interesting rock formations under and near the surface of the water. We were treated to an osprey nest – an intriguing placement as their nests are usually up higher.dscn5130Since the water was tannin filled and stagnant, there were an abundance of bog plants such as sundews, bog rosemary, dwarf cranberry, and bog laurel, but my favorite was the cotton grass, gaily dancing in the wind:
Our Kayak 50 quest has been recently filled with many meanderings as we try to locate places to paddle in this dry/drought filled year. Bog Creek was a pleasant surprise that flowered out of our disappointment.

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State 13 of 50: Vermont: Connecticut River

Three states and nice scenery on a lazy river on a lazy day.
Date Paddled:  Oct. 3, 2016
Nearest City:   Brattleboro, VT
Put-In:  Vernon, VT – boat ramp below dam
Take-Out:  Northfield, MA – boat launch
Duration:  4 hours
River Miles:  6.2 miles
Shuttle:  difficult (but fortunate) hitchhiking
Weather:  mostly sunny 60 deg.
Difficulty:  Flat / still water in a wide channel – no obstacles!
Cfs:  2000 +/-
(By Peter) In a normally dry fall it can be quite difficult to find rivers in New England that have adequate flows for paddling.  Even the reservoir-fed Deerfield had provided us with a limited dam release that forced a curtailed excursion two days earlier.  So on this date the Connecticut presented itself as the closest of very few viable options in the state of Vermont. dscn3439Several things made it appealing, not the least of which was finally being on a river that I had crossed on highway bridges so many times and in so many places for more than five decades.  It also provided a rare opportunity to paddle in three states in one easy day.  We’d already done the Montana – Idaho daily double and now this trifecta was hard to resist and to top it off, the sky was perfectly reflected in the clean waters.dscn3448After a bit of a delay waiting for Diana to bravely complete a challenging shuttle back from the take out in Northfield, we set out a few hundred yards below a large but rather old- and mundane-looking dam. This is just one of many on the Connecticut’s 400-mile length from the Canadian border to tidewater.  It seemed as if only a base-line flow was being released from the dam and the current eddied and swirled lazily as we shoved off into the surprisingly clean, clear and deep water.
The shoreline was largely undeveloped, and while we heard some mechanized sounds of civilization at times in the distance, this section of the Connecticut seemed very remote.  We saw a nice variety of birds, from various small songbirds and sand-piper-like birds to many of our now-familiar water-lovers such as kingfisher, osprey, heron and bald eagle.dscn3458The river eased past the remnants of an old railroad bridge, a domino-like progression of concrete piers stretching across the broad channel, some trailing bits of steel hardware or cable from their crumbling crowns.dscn3462-2

dscn5108 Fortunately, headwinds weren’t an issue and the paddling was easy and relaxing as we made our way back and forth between Vermont and New Hampshire, then finally south into Massachusetts, where Vincent, our trusty diesel coach, awaited us at the boat ramp in Northfield.