Connecticut River 2020: Jeannette’s First Death

Coronavirus has everyone doing strange things. For J and me, it was deciding to take a vacation without the kids. I think E (my oldest sone, with whom I do all my adventuring) was genuinely hurt that I sent him to stay with the grands while J and I got to go paddling. I guess I’ll have to make up for it by taking him out on a bunch of trips in the remaining months of the season. Oh, darn!

I intended this to be a four or five day trip. I wanted to find something that offered remoteness, and a close-in river experience with lots of oxbows and wildlife spotting opportunities. That meant the northernmost section of the river. What I didn’t count on was exactly how bony it would be, and how quickly that would cut our trip short. In the end, we got only two days of the trip done, but it was an amazing few days. I asked my wife to write the rest of this post because she’s a better writer than I am, and I enjoy getting out of my own head and hearing things as she experienced them.



He: Do you want to take a multi-day paddling trip?
Me: I don't want to tip over. I'll go if I won't tip over.
Readers, I tipped over.

It was a four-hour drive up to our start point in northern NH, approximately a mile south of the border with Canada. Along the way we dropped off my car at our presumed stopping point and drove on to the starting point together. He said we were going to “glamp” the first night at a campsite he booked through AirBnB. By that he meant the car was within walking distance. I also tried out hammock tent for the first time. I’m not fan, it made me feel incredibly claustrophobic. But I’m glad I at least tried it for the sake of research.

Day One

We put in at the Canaan, VT launch. (We knew it was Vermont, because people were wearing the obligatory pandemic masks.) It started off pleasantly, gliding through the serene summer day, but shortly along the way we hit our first rocky bit. As a novice to water travel, I have never, ever paddled anywhere with a noticeable current or rock obstructions. In retrospect, it was fairly tame as rocky bits go, but I had absolutely no idea what to do. Therefore, I promptly bumped into a rock, tipped over, and swamped my canoe. This is not the journey I was looking for. C advised that in the rocky bits to let the current provide the momentum and use the paddle to maneuver. I’m starting with so little experience, that, yes, that had to be articulated. I also point this out so that it can be known how awesome I was at handling subsequent rocky bits.

Most of the river was serene and shallow. As an aspiring naturalist, I had plenty of opportunity to soak in the wildlife. I picked out various bird songs and enjoyed watching the little flocks of killdeer, the river’s sea gull, darting over the water’s surface to catch bugs. I saw the unmistakable soar of a bald eagle and enjoyed watching the osprey crisscross over the river high above, sometimes carrying a fish, perhaps to a nest. (The second day, I managed to see the osprey actually swoop down into the river and snag her fishy prey.) The lush crowns of large ferns and flowering joe pye weed and golden rods dressed the river banks in verdant, early August glory.

We stopped for lunch on the rocky beach of a little island in one of the oxbows. I took a little nap (needed as a result of my hammock research) and then investigated some of the flora growing among the rocks. I was especially delighted to find wild mint in flower, a favorite of pollinator insects.

The afternoon offered a change of pace as we encountered more rocky bits and our first bit of quick water as we passed under the bridge in Colebrook, which I faced with skill and dexterity compared to my start of the day self. Dare I say, it was even fun? Since C had allowed time for “vacation” to part of our plans in addition to “extreme physical challenge,” we stopped mid-afternoon at our campsite, which he nominally reserved. (We’re not entirely sure reservations mean anything at these sites.) We tied up our canoes, set up camp, and enjoyed a refreshing swim in the water which had been inviting us all day. I took some time to jot down some of the day’s nature observations in my journal, while C made some food. The reason I agree to these kinds of vacations is because he does all the planning and cooking and setting up and taking down. I just help here and there. It was an entirely lovely summer evening of a perfect vacation day.

Day Two

Expecting more of the same, we set off on the second morning passing through some light showers and under one of the many famed covered bridges. After another rocky encounter, the river opened into farmland. A group of cows even mooed their salutation. But then we began to come upon rocky bits with increasing frequency. At first it was a little fun dodging rocks and riding quick water. We even went through a bit of a rapid, which I aced and C tipped over in. We had some laughs and some scooching out of minor rock catches. Eventually, though, we found maneuvering to be increasingly difficult. Our boats were starting to get more scraped and bumped than seemed like a good idea. There wasn’t enough water around the rocks to allow ourselves enough leverage to paddle through the obstacles, so we had to get out and walk the canoes with the rope. Apparently, this is called “lining.” I distinctly felt like I was walking an obstinate cow, though. (Not that I’ve ever done that, but it’s what I imagined.) C had gotten up ahead of me as I’m significantly slower at picking my way around slippery rocks with an obstinate cow/canoe. I was glad he did, because he flagged me down in time to stop off at our second campsite, which was just before the falls of the former Lyman Dam.

We were both grateful for the respite, and the campsite was an absolute gem, nestled in a hollow just up from the rocky beach. We were cold and soaked and grateful for the hot chocolate packs in our supply. I was much appreciative of C’s masterful campstove system. After an early dinner, we walked around on the rocky beach enjoying the geological and plant diversity. The gray sky teased us with promises of rain, but I told C that if we set up a tarp and planned for rain that it would blow through. I was right. The next morning delivered sunshine.

Day Three

Ever since our arrival at the Lyman Falls campsite, we looked at the river ahead, knowing that our next phase would include more lining. We didn’t even bother getting into our canoes in the morning, we just started the slow walk. The water level was only on the very edge between being able to paddle and really needing to walk it, which made for an extremely frustrating experience. Deepish bits with current were constantly interrupted with rock obstacles, so sometimes we carried the canoes, and sometimes they carried us. C sort of hung on to the canoe and let himself ride with the current whenever he could. After about an hour an a half, I was so frustrated that I just decided to paddle what I could. So I would maneuver what I could, then walk a bit, then maneuver. However, this process proved to be momentous in the end. I was coming through a fairly swift section, but misjudged a small catch of large rocks for quick water and came smashing up on them. I was so annoyed and realized that I would have to get out of the boat in order to get off of the rocks. Somehow in the process, I ended up standing in the water, holding my partially swamped canoe over me as the water rushed by, and thinking, “I really need to work out more.” I did manage to right the canoe in a stable position to begin to pump it out, but the triumph of the moment was drowned at the sight of my paddle floating away beyond my grasp–the one thing not securely fastened to my boat. At that moment, I decided that this wasn’t fun anymore. Thankfully I did have a spare paddle, but I barely needed it. We walked our canoes to the nearest resting place and pondered our next course of action. We had only come 0.7 mi in 3 hours, with no sign of river conditions changing. We were in the middle of a river in a very rural area; there are no ubers or taxis or shuttles. Had C been alone he might have persevered further down the river, but I had hit my physical limit. I knew this, because whenever I do, I cry. And I was crying. I just knew I was dead. So there’s that. C was brilliant though and messaged the AirBnB host of the first night’s campsite, and she cheerily agreed to come rescue us! We were near enough a road that we were able to lift the canoes out of the river and carry them to a place where she could pick us up, alongside one of NH’s many ATV trails. She was our hero of the day, throwing all our gear in her truck and hauling us back to our starting point and C’s car, regaling us with hilarious stories along the way. I venmo’ed her some cash for the effort and buckets of gratitude. So here we were back at the beginning and the planned itinerary fading from possibility. C suggested we just get an AirBnB somewhere, but we were both feeling a little bereft to abandon ship so abruptly. Since the Lyman Falls campsite also had road access, we decided to go back to that lovely spot and camp one night more. Or shall I say “glamp” since the car was within walking distance. Since we were glamping we decided to live it up and have orange soda and roast marshmallows and *gasp* even have a small campfire! We were actually awake late enough to see stars come out. It was the perfect ending to a rocky day. And that night the rain did indeed come. (Because we didn’t hang the tarp, I’m sure.) In retrospect, it’s a good thing we did end up at a lovely AirBnB in the Vermont mountains for the next night, because that’s when the remnants of Hurricane Isaias blew through.


I’ll pick up where J broke off. This also was the moment (at the next AirBnB) where we discovered together the joys of a burger and ice cream after a tough wilderness journey. And this discovery would be tested in our next wilderness journey, wherein Jeannette experienced her second death, bought on by her comment,

I don’t feel like I’ve had enough outdoorsing. What if we were to go hiking…

Connecticut River 2020: Fails and Wins

I learned a lot on this trip about the limits of my boats and of my skills, mainly related to how much rock bashing these boats really can take, and how some of my accessories really perform. I’ll talk about the damage to my boat, first.

The Fails

I cracked a stringer. This is the second stringer down from the gun’l, one of the thinner ones. It looks like the crack doesn’t go all the way through, and I’m thinking I’ll just leave it? Apart from sistering in another length of stringer there, I’m not sure how I would repair that without re-skinning the boat.

I’ve worn holes in the nylon. In one instance, a tiny pebble worked itself between the keel and the fabric, and then worked itself out through the fabric leaving a hole in the bottom of the boat. Meanwhile, the goop is pretty much scraped away from most of the keel and bottom two stringers, leaving the nylon weave exposed and, I presume, not waterproof. I mean, even the dye is gone from there.

My tether clips failed. While lining, I found my clip suddenly and inexplicably detached from the boat. I noticed just in time, and immediately removed the clip and tied the line directly to the pad eye with a bowline. This is the clip I was using. Looking at this picture I can see how if you rotated it to the left, counter clockwise, it would push the gate open against the after end of the pad eye, allowing the clip to slip off. Next time I’ll skip the clip and just use a knot, or splice a line on there.

I skipped the flotation. I should have taken the trouble to set up the extra flotation (pool noodles) but didn’t. I never do, because I’m usually on flat water and it’s a pain to lace those noodles in and out all the time. Fortunately, I wasn’t in a self rescue situation, but I might have been as I did swamp the boat several times. It’s really time to figure out a system for making those noodles easy to take in and out so I’m more likely to put them in.

The Wins

I had my tube of Aquaseal. I’m so glad that back when I built these boats I put a tube of Aquaseal into the first aid / emergency kit, and that I’ve never left for the water without it. I never expected I’d need it, and then I did. And I had it. I also had duct tape. I didn’t need it this time, but the lesson is learned; don’t cut corners, and don’t take your conditions for granted. Also, thanks to Brian Schulz at Cape Falcon Kayaks for this simple, yet sage advice on how to put together an emergency kit for paddling trips.

Everything in the boat was buttoned down. Again, following Brian Schulz’s advice, we made sure to properly packed, roll, and bungy our drybags into the boats, with the bungies running under the straps and through the D rings. We clipped in our ditch bags, and secured our spare paddles with ball bungies. We also secured our water bottles and anything else in the boat under bungies, or in bags tied to the boat’s ribs. Consequently, when we swamped or tipped we never lost a single thing except the paddle J let go of that one time, which wasn’t a disaster because we had both had spares, and the spares were secure. We encountered another couple on the same trip we were on who lost half their gear down river and had to end their trip right then and there. I guess I sound a little smug. It’s because I am.

These boats are tough. I only built these boats a year ago, but I’ve put them through a lot. I’ve used them almost every other weekend on local day paddles and overnights, and multi-day trips in Maine and New Hampshire. I’ve not been gentle. They’ve been pulled up sand banks, they’ve bashed against rocks, and they’ve been dropped and tossed. I think they’ve held up amazingly well.

And let me say, everything I did right I did because I paid attention to Brian. Check out his fantastic video series and other resources at Cape Falcon Kayaks, and also on Instagram and YouTube.

On the Connecticut River with the Boy

E and I went for a paddle this past weekend on the Connecticut River. It was the first time I’ve taken him on a multi-day paddle since our trip on the Allagash a couple of years ago.

On day one, we put in at the Newburry-Haverhill bridge access in VT/NH. Since it was late (we couldn’t leave until after work) we couldn’t make more than a mile before having to stop. I thought we were picking a stealth spot, but where we pulled over we found a latrine. So this was a site, but it wasn’t listed.

It’s also worth noting that this was E’s first time setting up his new Hennessy hammock. So proud.

This stretch of the river isn’t terribly beautiful, IMHO. The river is wide and lined with farmland and summer homes. Where the river opens up, it’s crowded with recreational boaters. Ski boats, bass boats, pontoon boats. So it feels more like a party than a relaxing paddle through the wilderness. Still, the first morning I got to wake up to this:

On day two we hit hard headwinds the whole way. Still, we made seventeen miles to our next site where, exhausted, we stripped out of our wet clothes and set up camp in our underwear, made dinner, and turned in. He hadn’t slept well the first night, so I gave him some Unisom and listened to him wind down.

He’s deaf, but he wears a cochlear implant which he brought so he could listen to music in his hammock. I lay there listening to him sigh and shift in his bag while he played music. And then his light snore told me he’d knocked out.

On day three E was feeling tapped from the hard paddle of the previous day. But he was feeing motivated to get to the car, so off we went, fighting more headwinds all the way back. As tough as this paddle was in some respects, his high fives at the end and his snuggle hugs for the next several days tell me that he feels satisfied and connected, in spite of the bad sunburn we both got because i’d forgotten the sunscreen. Sorry, bud. I’ll remember next time.

Here’s E paddling in his hoodie to avoid aggravating that sunburn. Poor kid.

Oh, the Anticipation!

New England in March is a fickle tease. And this year February seems to have joined in the terrible game. It’s been warm enough for enough time that I couldn’t help pulling out the boats in anticipation of ice-out. The local rivers are free, so local paddling definitely is in the cards. But expeditions on the rivers of Main would be premature.

So I’m using the time to fabricate a canoe trailer for biking to put-ins after staging my vehicle. I’m making it of aluminum square bar and parts from an old jogging stroller.

And this weekend J was on spring break, so of course we wanted to find some snow. I suggested a hike, so off we went to the Whites for an afternoon stroll up Little Haystack in the Pemigewassett Wilderness. It’s the highest J has done, at 4700 ft.

I know what you are thinking: my wife is both gorgeous and a badass. And you absolutely are right. Shout out to you, bae.

Autumn on the Saco River

I took the weekend to paddle on the Saco river in New Hampshire and Maine in my Cape Falcon 66 SoF canoe. Two nights and 22 miles from the outfitter’s to the take-out at Lovewell pond. I left work early Friday and arrived around 4:00. The outfitter helped me stage the car, and by 5:00 I was on the water.

The nice thing about this river is that apart from a few fee spots, and a stretch where everything is private and posted, you can camp on any accessible flat of land along the bank. So the first night I got just past the River St. bridge and around a bend when I found a perfect spot for the night. It was a long, broad stretch of sand with a view to local hills in the distance.

The next day I continued to Swan’s Falls, past Walker’s Bridge, past a bit of fast water, and on to my final camping spot within a few minutes’ paddle of Lovewell pond. The “fast water” was pointed out to me by the outfitter on his map. It really was just a brief spot of turbulence, barely a class one. I say this so that anybody reading this who knows the stretch and wants to take issue with my characterization of it can have the proper context and excuse me from ridicule for calling it “fast water”.

I’ll also briefly document some of my gear successes and failures:

  • I didn’t bring enough socks, or the proper footwear. For the future, I want a pair of shoes that I can wade out in and easily slip off while getting into the boat in order to avoid having to sit in mud. Tevas aren’t it.
  • I didn’t take care to waterproof my feet in the boat, which didn’t work out well in the cold rain. Until I can afford a proper dry suit, I’d like to try some knee high waterproof socks. That won’t take me into serious conditions, but I expect it’ll do for a lazy weekend paddle like this was.
  • The hammock really is a three season affair. The night got uncomfortable, even with my down bag and lots of layers. To make the hammock four season I’d need to invest in an underquilt, which is half the price of bottom dollar four season tent, and half as satisfactory. Best not to try to push the hammock into duty it isn’t meant for.
  • Next time I’ll bring heat pads for the feet. I don’t know what it is about me and cold feet. Circulation?
  • My new 750ml Toaks pot is amazeballs. It’s just right for a Knorr meal and a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. And I’m really digging the penny alcohol stove I made this spring, though I have yet to dial in exactly how much fuel I need to use at a time.
  • I’ve been toying with putting together cheesecloth bags to slip over the open top of my pot so I can catch food bits when flinging my dirty water out. They’d be reusable, and easy to slip away into a plastic baggy to pack out. My pot is a little less than 12.5” in circumference, so I’d need about a 6.2” – 6.5” bag to fit snugly around the lip. I figure I’ll make these since what I make specifically for my pot, maybe with a shock chord sewn in, will work tons better than what I could buy.

Oh, and I should mention how much I still love this canoe. I made a new yoke, which I still have mixed feelings about since it isn’t super comfy, either on my back when in the backrest configuration, or on my shoulders in the yoke configuration. I can add padding to address both issues, but before I do that I think I’m going to try making a new one, which I think I need to do anyway for the following reason.

Brian Schulz suggests a single pin at either end to lock the yoke in place when using as a back rest. In this configuration the pin sits outboard, locking the yoke against the butt end of the rest (I know, a diagram would help here). When placing the rest amidships as a yoke, the pins sit inside the gun’ls, pushing them slightly outward. What I’m finding is that where I need a positive lock is in the yoke configuration, not the backrest one. What’s happening now is that as my boat spreads out over time, the yoke has a tendency to slip inside, especially when I’m pushing and pulling on the boat to flip it, lift it, or adjust it on the car. So clearly I have some work to do to get the yoke and backrest to work as I’d like them to.

Another thing I’m finding is that I despise getting dripped on while using a double bladed paddle. I’m considering putting a skirt over the forward portion of the boat, using leftover nylon from the skinning, and perhaps this also would help protect my cold-prone feet from the weather. Not sure how this would work, but it’s rattling around in my brain.

Cape Falcon 66: Maiden Voyage, Part Two

Day 1

We arrived at the Telos checkpoint some time between 11 AM and noon, and continued from there to the put-in. We were extremely well organized, imho, but set-up still took longer than I’d have liked because we needed to set up the noodles, and then we had to herd all the people and gear into the boats. If we did this again I know we’d do it in half the time.

It needs to be said that these boats are head turners. Pretty much everyone checks them out, and lots of people comment: “Did you make those??” “They are so beautiful!!!”. I actually dislike the attention. I know they are beautiful, and I like people to notice. But I would rather not have to actually talk to people about them.

The first day we wanted to make good time down the lake, because we still thought it might be possible to see the tramway where the now defunct logging operations left a couple of steam engines which sit there rusting to this day. But that would have been a fourteen mile trip, and by day two that clearly was too much for The Reluctant Son. Nevertheless, we pushed through heavy afternoon winds to our first campsite, where The Devoted Son took a swim and fished.
– Christopher

Day 2

The first day had been exhilarating, but also intense as the afternoon wind kept getting stronger. The waves on the lake were whitecapping, and our boats slapped over them with a splash. I had more fun than i thought i would, but we also quickly realized that this was a lot for Marlowe and hooked him up to a tow rope pretty much for the entire trip. By the time we had gotten to our campsite, we were exhausted from the last bit of paddling against the wind. Our original plan had been to paddle to the top of Lake Chamberlain, but we decided to circle back around and make our way more gradually to the launch point. This whole waterway had been used for logging way back. And at different places you can see wreckage of abandoned equipment. On the morning of the second day, we crossed the lake (about a mile) to an abandoned farm, which had been used to support the loggers. After a fun exploratory stop, we set out again into wind that was becoming stronger as the day progressed. We crossed the lake again and made our way to a campsite where we had lunched the previous day and had some time there to chill out and swim.
– Jeannette

Day 3

It had rained in the night, and the weather was cloudy, quiet, and calm. We didn’t have far to go, so enjoyed a more relaxing paddle complete with tracking a loon. And then we came back through Chamberlain Bridge where we had begun. We figured that we covered around 17 miles total over the three days.
– Jeannette

Cape Falcon 66: Maiden Voyage

As promised, the boats got finished in time for the family trip to the Allagash in the North Maine woods. In another post I’ll share some about the trip, but here I want to talk about how the boats performed, and what I want to do to them going forward.

Weather and Waves

Telos lake was a good first test to understand how these boats deal with wind and chop. Six to seven mile per hour (avg) winds and white caps in the afternoon are pretty typical, making the mile-long crossing from one side to the other a ton of fun. The sheer was just about right to keep us dry without getting blown around, and the bows were full enough that I never worried about taking a dive into a wave. Further, they felt stable. At no point did any of us fear a capsize, as we learned to time our paddle strokes to brace against the swell and keep the bow pointed upwind.

In calmer moments in the early mornings or toward sunset, we ghosted along at a good clip without much effort at all, our paddles barely making a splash. I found that I could keep course pretty well. But when I switched to using a single bladed paddle in my own boat I found that kneeling to one side to paddle while heeled was hopeless. First, it didn’t feel super stable, and with so little boat in the water I basically was a spinning top. But since the boats are narrow, I had no problem shifting back to the center line. With the bow back in the water, I tracked again.

EDIT (21 Aug 2019): The single bladed paddle is just fine. I got used to it, refined my paddling style, and now I really enjoy switching position and paddling style. My otter tail is a bit long, but I make do, and maybe that’s motivation to make a new one.

Using a Single Bladed Paddle

Single blades are slower than double blades, of course, but it was nice to have the option to change my position. I even tried the double bladed paddle while kneeling. And the back rest made a comfortable platform for it, though the dry bags got in the way of my legs that far back, and I think the boat performed better with my center of gravity farther forward.

Accessories

  • For flotation I doubled up on standard 2+” X 5′ noodles (4 / boat) to exceed Brian’s specs. I just found that buying more of the smaller noodles was less expensive than buying fewer of the 4” noodles. This was more of a psychological measure on this trip though, since we didn’t really have time to practice rescues and the conditions weren’t such that I was worried about it.
  • I missed trying out sails and outriggers, which I wanted to do on this trip but just didn’t have time to build and test. The back rests were a gesture at the final product as I had to throw them together the night before we left, and still was modifying them at the put-in (my wife was amused that I’d brought a circular saw, drill, driver, and sander).
  • One thing I wish I’d had is a platform on which to mount things like our action camera, and probably loads of other stuff that I’ll think of later. So a board running under the forward rescue loops would have been nice.
  • In the pictures you’ll notice that the boys had rods mounted in the boat with them. That was just a section of PVC pipe secured with ball bungies. The system worked well for them, and they experimented with different positions.

What’s Next?

I’m not super convinced of the outriggers that Brian builds (all respect to the great master, I’m probably wrong). I think I talked before about how I think I can build outriggers that aren’t tuned specifically to two particular boats. But one of the reasons I decided to skip the outriggers on this trip is that they do, as Brian admits, tend to clutter the boat. Further, even if I can build outriggers that are fully boat agnostic, they still won’t be easy to rig on the water. Here’s my summary of requirements, then:

  1. Installable and removable while paddling
  2. Do not require removing existing accessories (e.g., back rest / yoke)
  3. Fully boat agnostic (the same outriggers can be put on any two boats)
  4. Minimize clutter in the boat

I’ve go some ideas about how this would be possible. First, to be truly boat agnostic the outriggers would have to attach at the center line of the boat. Perhaps the back rest / yoke could be set up to allow this, while still providing a platform for sitting. This will require some experimentation. If there’s a removable thwart running under the forward rescue loops, then perhaps this could serve the same function for the forward outrigger. Again, this will require further thought and experimentation.

Another thought regards the noodles. I can’t leave these in as some might, since the interference with stacking, multiplied by four boats, would make car-topping unwieldy. What I need is a quick way to install and uninstall them. I’m thinking that 1/8” shock cord, with clips like a cargo net, would do the trick. Also, I like the idea of a toggle rather than a clip or a ball. I found some HDPE rod to try this out, but right now it’s a lower priority.

Cape Falcon 66: Launch Day

Tuesday came. The goop having cured for the obligatory forty eight hours, I rushed home from work, stopping at the local hardware for screws. The Devoted Son had stayed back while the family went on to the lake, so he could help me with the final task: rub rails. These were a throw-on. I plan to varnish them with the full seven coats, along with the gun’ls. But that will have to be later, since I don’t think there’ll be time between excursions for any coat of varnish to dry.

Upon mounting the final canoe onto the car, I headed off with the boy and another friend who had stopped by to help. The rest of the story shall be told less my usual thousand words.

Cape Falcon 66: Goop

Gooping is a straightforward process as long as you stay organized. This time, the family wanted to get involved. The 11 yo was upset because he missed the chance to dye his own boat, so I made sure he was involved in the gooping process. And my oldest also wanted to be involved, because he’s a devoted son. Together, we got all four boats fully gooped in just about four hours. Of course, I had them watch Brian’s course on gooping before letting them help. See, Brian? Your course is so clear and understandable that a child can do it.