Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Update 13

Hello again, everyone!
We left you all as we packed up to head out on the river for the first time. On April 23, we said our goodbyes and walked out of North Woods, paddles in hand, lifejackets strapped to our chests, and stepped off of a dock onto the Clyde River and into canoes to begin our journey. It was a bittersweet moment leaving North Woods, our home for more than a month, but adventure sat ahead in a canoe of its own, beckoning to us. Accompanying us was Kevin, an experienced river guide from Maine, who would stay with us until April 27.  So, off we went, into the captivating world of the water and wind.  On the dock, just before setting out, I took note that the wind was blowing the WRONG WAY, a significant disappointment, since on our practice days the wind blew upstream and we were about to fight both wind and current going up the Clyde; but so it went, and the first day was fantastic, with the only casualty being Malcolm’s water bottle, which was lost at our first lunch site.

We set up camp on the riverside in the evening and slept well after a good first day.  On our second day, April 24, we woke up, got ready, and picked paddle partners. Everyday we tried to paddle with a different person to keep our trip fresh and varying. We continued paddling up the Clyde, eventually reaching Island Pond, where we had a snack consisting of Cheddar Bunnies (a big treat, in my opinion) and brownies from a local store (a treat enjoyed by all). We paddled across the pond amid wind and waves, and took out at a beach on the other side. We experienced our first portage between Island Pond and nearby Spectacle Pond, where we enjoyed a lunch of homemade hummus and tortillas.
On the other side of Spectacle Pond, we took out again and portaged along trails to the headwaters of the Nulhegan River, a marshy area filled with beaver dams.  The next day, April 25, began with navigating log jams and beaver dams on the Nulhegan. At times we had to pull the canoes over the dams (a fairly difficult task considering that each canoe was carrying a very heavy load of boxes, buckets, backpacks, and pack baskets) or wade through the water to clear the way. As we progressed through the day, the river turned into a never-ending zigzag of oxbows, each one looking almost identical to the last. We camped with the plan to begin lining the canoes down the rapids in the morning. 
On the morning of the 26th, we tied everything to the insides of the canoes so that, in the event of a canoe flipping in the rapids, we wouldn’t lose anything. As we approached our first set of rapids, Kevin deemed them safe enough to run, so we paddled.  It was a bit nerve racking for me, even in minor rapids, since canoes always seemed so tippy before coming to Kroka, but it turned out pretty great and everyone enjoyed the short run of easy-ish rapids. Unfortunately, we came up on more difficult water that we needed to portage around. After portaging and paddling a few short distances, we got to where we could line down the river. 

Lining, for any that may not know, is walking the canoe through the water using primarily the upstream painter (rope tied to the upstream end of the canoe) from on or near the shore. Fortunately, it was a nice warm day for getting our feet wet, as we all ended up off of the shore due to the dense alder thicket on the bank. The day ended with a final paddle and long portage on trails to camp. On April 27,we bid Kevin farewell, but not before doing a short distance of lining and ferrying across the river in the morning. Though we had one teacher depart we had some other things appear. We were resupplied with food and gear, but most notably and most importantly, our Andrew and Michal, who brought tales of the pond at Kroka and other adventures.  They arrived just in time for our cuddle-puddle. It was a cold day, so we all felt the need to crawl into our sleeping bags and get into a big pile. Andrew and Lu left for a short time to set up our gear pickup for the next day and returned with, yep, you guessed it, PIZZA! And along with the pizza came, to some disappointment, SNOW! 

So our first liveover (non-travel day on trail) was spent huddled up, ready for the return of the sun. On the 28th we awoke to a thin blanket of snow. We portaged a short way and put in and, for the first time, we used our new cedar-canvas canoe.  It was great to now have our entire fleet of canoes and our entire group present. A short time later, we came out onto the Connecticut River. We had now reached our main highway, our main route, and our way back home to Kroka. We stepped onto New Hampshire soil for the first time since February 1, where the group waited on a playground for the re-supply to be picked up from the Vermont side of the river. After a snack, we got moving on the river again and moved at a much faster speed than we had ever moved on trail before, while doing significantly less work. On April 29, we spent a full day on the Connecticut River, the first of many to come.  We knew we would be arriving at Guild Hall Dam, a breached dam, sometime around mid-day, where we planned on portaging. As we approached a bridge crossing the River at Guild Hall, we noticed a short span of rapids. Everyone ran them and the occasion seemed uneventful and fun. As time passed, however, and no dam ruins were reached, we realized that the rapids had, in fact, been the dam. Once again, though, we had to give up one of our teachers, and Andrew said goodbye and headed back to Kroka. That evening, we camped on the Vermont bank in an oxbow. As the canoes were being unloaded, Conor was rocking our new canoe back and forth. The boat tipped and swamped and Conor was standing waist deep in the water. We all had a good laugh. Apparently his rain pants even kept him partially dry. Later in the evening, Polly, the dog musher and guide from Maine who had showed us a slide show at North Woods and who is Kevin’s partner, came with her dog, Nola, to teach us for a few days. Her specialty was outdoor baking and we had some awesome desserts the next few nights. April 30 was Malcolm’s birthday. 
We portaged around Gilman Dam and paddled down to Moore Reservoir, where we spent our first night in New Hampshire since January 31. Along the way, Noah found an abandoned River Rat inner tube, which he towed behind the canoe. To celebrate Malcolm’s birthday, Polly showed us how to make a cake in a Dutch oven. Needless to say, it tasted good. On May 1, we paddled the rest of the distance down Moore Reservoir and then portaged around Moore Dam. We ran out of water, so we stopped at a house on the riverside to get water. As we waited, Noah tried out the River Rat and lounged in the water for a few minutes before we continued on. We camped on the New Hampshire bank of Comerford Reservoir across from a graveyard that night.  On the 2nd, we finished paddling down Comerford and portaged around the dam. The portage trail on the downstream side of the dam was so steep that Josia attempted to sled down the grassy slope. Silly Josia. We then camped on Nine Island, which was where Polly left us from. I paddled with Polly to drop her off on a road on the Vermont bank, where we basically traded her for Tom. 
It’s unfortunate to see teachers leave so quickly, but their lessons always stay with us. Tom, however, would be with us for the rest of the expedition.  I paddled back to camp with Tom and immediately we began learning how to tan leather from him.  He showed us the solution of mayonnaise, soap, and water in which the raw hide would soak overnight. We used the hides from the deer that Everett had found (as road kill) and which he had scraped as well as some hides that Tom brought with him.  
On May 3, we had our leather tanning live-over on Nine Island and we spent the day bouncing people up and down on trampolines of leather (in order to stretch it). In the afternoon, Nat Trip came and told us about the history of that part of the river and the confluence of the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers where Nine Island is situated. He talked about the nearby upstream dams (especially Comerford) and their significance for the area. It was a very interesting listen. On May 4, we continued our journey south, portaging around McIndoe and Dodge dams and negotiating weird currents in “the Narrows”, an area where the river’s current twists and turns a lot in a very small space between cliffs and a piece of land jutting out into the river. Apparently, last year’s semester was warned of a large whirlpool to be avoided in the Narrows. They were forced to portage because of higher water levels. We were safe, though, and they proved only to be a small adventure. We camped that night on Howard Island. In the morning on May 5, Lu told the story of Cinco de Mayo (one of Mexico’s several independence days) and how the Mexican army unexpectedly beat the French out of Mexico at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. At lunch, we pulled off to the bank and Malcolm launched into a nostalgic speech about how he had been coming to that spot for the past few years with the Kroka Paddlers’ trips. He had fun there. Meanwhile, a helicopter was obnoxiously swooping down and going in circles around a big section of river that just happened to include our spot. It turned out that in a nearby town, there was a monster truck rally going on. We could hear the trucks roaring and the crowd screaming. Lu and Josia stopped at Robie Farm just before arriving at camp to pick up milk, bacon, and ice cream. We were happy campers. Tom also set up smoking stations for the hides. The smoking finishes the tanning process. The leather would be ready for moccasin making the next day. On the 6th, we had another liveover and Lisl came to teach us how to make moccasins. Later, at dinner, the idea was proposed that we wake up in the wee morning hours and do a moonlight paddle. 
We planned to be out of camp by 3:00 AM, but we took a while and were late to leave, so we got on the river at 3:05 AM instead (we weren’t that late). The moon was big and bright and we had a lovely quiet paddle in the dark. We got to watch the sun come up around 6:00. It was a little bit cold and we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so we stopped on the New Hampshire bank, where there just happened to be a fire pit, and made a fire and ate granola around it. That may have been the best breakfast we’ve had yet!  Since we had an early start, we arrived in camp pretty early. We camped on the New Hampshire bank in a nature preserve with lots of trails near Dartmouth College, where Lu had gone to school. After it became apparent that we were in a frequently hiked public area of the woods, we moved our camp to the island directly across. On May 8, we portaged around another dam and arrived at Sumner Falls, which we portaged around and camped just south of it. 
On the morning of the 9th, we paddled back up to Sumner Falls where we awaited Misha’s arrival and the beginning of our white water day. We played a canoe game called “Yummy Fish” in which every canoe tries to capture all of the bailers and throw ropes from the other canoes. It was a fun game. Somehow, Everett’s paddle ended up in the boat that Conor and I were in after a brief fight for our throw ropes. Eventually, Misha arrived with two canoes, wet suits, and other gear. We all prepared our canoes with flotation devices and suited ourselves up and got onto the water. First we learned about rescues (and forced canoe flipping so that other people could practice rescuing us), then we learned about bracing.  Everett, Michal, Dean, and I all flipped our canoes practicing bracing (whoops).  We practiced running a wavy portion at the end of the rapids on the side channel before running the main channel. After lunch, we carried the canoes up to the start of the rapids and ran them down the main channel. It was nerve-racking for some of us, but everyone did awesome. We repeated that run another time before assessing the side channel, which is probably where the “Falls” comes from in “Sumner Falls”. Everyone decided that we wanted to run the slightly more difficult side channel and Adam volunteered to direct everyone from the pile of rocks in the middle of the river that splits the current. No one flipped on any of the real runs and we all had a super great time. We went back down to camp and did laundry in the stream next to us. 
On the 10th we got moving again. We passed by and stopped at an island where we found wild leeks, which we picked and cooked for the next few meals. We traveled on and stopped in the late morning at Path Of Life Gardens, which we toured.  The gardens are an artistic representation of the stages of life. One of the stages was “Adventure”, which was depicted by a huge hemlock maze (we all got lost). “Ambition” was a small hill with a path up it. The sign that said “Ambition” also had arrows pointing around the hill that said “Less” and arrows pointing up the path on the hill that said “More”. The Path Of Life ended with Death and, shortly afterward, Rebirth.  It was a very silent, meditative experience. That afternoon we arrived at MacLennan Farms, our campsite for the next two days. The owners of the farm were dogsledders and had Siberian huskies, with which some of us got the privilege of working. They even let us pick their surplus asparagus crop.  On the 11th, we had another liveover. Roger Haydock, an amateur geologist, gave us a geological tour up Mt. Ascutney.  Roger sure was a character. We had a very enjoyable day listening to him and having him point out the differences in the rocks, soil, and vegetation as we moved up the mountain.  On May 12, we all did service at MacLennan Farms. We all divided up and worked on various tasks, like being distracted by tons of fluffy dogs.  Some of us filled in dog holes (I swear, they dig like badgers), others cleaned out dog pens, and some cleared out river cane in the stream nearby. The owners, Alex and Kathy, served us lunch. It had been so long since we’d been exposed to the now foreign food of the outside world. There were bananas and pineapple, apple cider and cold cuts. We considered it a rare treat.  We got back in the boats after lunch and headed out again, but this time we only went a short distance. We unloaded on the New Hampshire bank near Jarvis Island, but instead of setting up camp, we divided up food and headed out on our own for overnight solos.  Most of us followed a stream and camped near it. Most of the group fasted the next day, the 13th, during the solo. It was a great time to think, meditate, sleep, explore, or work on projects. Everyone returned from his or her solos in the evening on the 13th.  
We spent May 14 on the river. It was a long day, but we reached Bellows Falls in the afternoon.  We portaged through town (long portage) and put in on the south side of the dam. We reached camp at the confluence of the Cold River and the Connecticut River in an exhausted state.  On the morning of May 15, we said our goodbyes to the Connecticut and began lining up the Cold. We were lining in some deep water, so we were fighting a difficult fight with the rapids on our feet.  Eventually, during a ferry, a canoe swamped and gear went floating downstream. Malcolm had an adventure swimming down chasing and rescuing the gear. After that mishap, we began portaging. The system of leapfrogging our gear became the most useful method, so we’d carry our gear for about a kilometer, go back for the canoes, and repeat until we’d reached our destination. We got to end the day with a short section of paddling and lining, along with pushing canoes over beaver dams in an inflow that we followed to find camp. We camped on an island in a beaver pond right near the river. On the 16th, we continued lining until we reached Alstead.  Lisl dropped by while we were still lining. We had seen Nathan the day before just before we paddled into camp at the beaver pond. We took out at Alstead and began our final haul back to Marlow.  During our lunch break, two Kroka vans almost passed us by, but they saw us and stopped to say hi.  They were taking the San Diego Waldorf School out for an expedition.  The portage ended in East Alstead, where we put into Lake Warren and paddled out to Pine Island, the last campsite of the expedition.  Just after camp was set up, a surprise thunderstorm rolled in.  There is definitely something special and unique about thunderstorms in contrast to any other rainstorm. The rain subsided after about a half hour and clear skies returned.  In the morning on the 17th, we reflected on our final stretch of travel, our final camping spot, and the expedition we had just experienced. We paddled across Lake Warren and began our last portage home to Kroka.
We arrived at Kroka around midday on May 17. So ended our amazing expedition. We’ve been cleaning up and getting back into the swing of things here. The new pond is really cool. It feels good to be back, though we all miss our trail and river lives. We will be sure to get the most out of these next few weeks here.

We’ll be keeping all of you posted. Until next time,


Candids from the river:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mr. Dean I found you on facebook not trying to be creepy but nice beard! I saw you lifting a canoe. We need to keep in touch.