I’ve not yet aged to perfection. I still have a little of that accomplishment/acquisition blood in me. Having had our exciting though short-lived trip down the upper Allegheny, I wanted to do something major even if just a little major. I wanted to go up to Kennedy to get on the Conewango Creek upstream from where we had joined it years ago. We had already decided that the Cassadaga Creek presented too many issues of getting in and out or finding our way through the marshy parts. The Conewango is larger. And on Saturday when Karen’s son Jordan (getting to be baptized into the tradition of transporting us to or from paddling as Kyle and Chelsea had in the past) drove us to Kennedy, we learned it was not only larger but also significantly overflowing its banks.
We found that the road to the public ramp was closed because of the flooding water and, in case we were considering something stupid, a state trooper showed up just then to tell us the whole area was under water and we might consider getting in at Frewsburg. He must have known that we were all wondering what would happen if we drove around those barricades and found a way to get a canoe into the creek!
Two things: We had already paddled the Frewsburg part of the creek and we took this as a closure to getting onto the water that day. At least that is what we thought at the time.
Our second day of adventure in 2014 took us back to where it all began in 2001. It was a short drive to Red Bird Corners in Sinclairville, NY, and one of the public access areas to the Marden E. Cobb Waterway Trail. My family used to live 1.5 miles up hill from this crossroads. I remember thinking one day when I was driving home that one could put a canoe in the creek there and paddle for months and get to New Orleans. It took me some time to find out that Karen was up for that adventure though we knew right away that we could not go all at once. The trip would have to be many years long, a segment at a time.
When we walked to the creek’s edge, it was clear that a lot of rain had fallen. The creek was swollen and moving fast.
Old friends back at the edge of Cassadaga Creek where it all began.
The swollen waters at Red Bird Corners
Karen studying the map for where to go next. Upstream to Cassadaga?
We wondered if we could get in above that point, perhaps even at Cassadaga Lakes, so we went on a drive to various put-in areas and found the water everywhere was over the banks, making once dry land into marshy land. We could not see how we would get in or get out. Finally we ended up at the lakes behind a fire department building where there was a place we could put in but the journey ahead somewhat resembled the Okefenokee swamps. Karen wondered if we could even find the main channel. And the wind was blowing hard upstream, a scenario we all too well remembered from our last day on the Ohio River last June. It is really NOT fun to push against wind in a canoe.
Completing our reconnaisance, we drove to Allegheny Outfitters in Ashville, NY, and treated ourselves to some new neoprene gear. Karen purchased some pants and I purchased a shirt. It’s always fun to add a new item to our gear. I remember the first year we purchased something special for our trips. We bought paddling gloves. I felt so professional! Since then we have purchased or been given wet suits and booties, tiny cook stoves, new sleeping bags and, of course, the canoe and paddles. It dawns on us periodically that we are seasoned canoeists! There were yet challenges that would confront us the next day that reminded us to stay humble, gear or no gear, experienced or not. We went back to Karen’s that afternoon and prepared ourselves for a two day trip starting at the headwaters of the Allegheny.
When we began this journey, we were both in our 40s. The idea of reaching for a goal like paddling in a canoe to New Orleans from Western New York seemed like something we could actually grasp some day. Of course, we laughed about the idea that “someday” would be when we were 90 years old and just barely able to push the canoe into the Gulf of Mexico. For me, the trip was about accomplishment and acquisition. Each year I wanted to paddle further each time we went out. Even though events like moving to New Mexico, and back six year later, or dealing with the death of parents kept us from getting out on the water as much as we wanted, the goal of getting there someday was always the prevailing metaphor.
In the last three years, I have felt a distinct shift. The aging process is part of that shift but even more is the process by which we do not acknowledge the new frontiers of aging. For instance, in an effort to be ship shape, I joined a gym in January 2014. I was getting stronger and muscles I did not know were there were popping out. And then one day, after swimming 1/4 mile doing the crawl, my back seized up. It had been up and down for several weeks. I had taken drugs which, along with a little stress at work, landed me in the ER one Friday afternoon. I went to physical therapy which I think helped but it would take a long time. Finally, a week before my departure to meet Karen in Columbus, Ohio, I called and told her I could not/should not do a big trip, far from medical care, not knowing how I would fare.
So, what our minds won’t do for us, our bodies eventually will. They will tell us to change our ways and our thinking. My body sent that message loud and clear. But because we have learned over the years that this is no longer about achievement but about process, we have learned to go with the flow. It has even become a deeply spiritual journey for both of us. So, we opened ourselves up to other options for the week we had both set aside.
We decided to try paddling the upper Allegheny River, ABOVE where we had put in years ago at the Kinzua Dam. We were excited because the river is wild there instead of dammed for navigation. There are little rapids to make the trip exciting. It had been many years since we paddled the wild part of the river from Warren, PA, to the first dam. Karen and Mark had done some reconnaissance a few weeks earlier and reported that the water was high but there were places to get in a bit downstream from the headwaters. So we were set to go on Thursday and start a new kind of journey while still adding to contiguous miles we had already paddled. It all seemed perfect. We were adjusting. And that is what life is all about.
You will see in my series of posts coming up that Karen and I did not make it to the Ohio River last year. We set the date and I bought my airfare for mid-May. But something never seemed to set right with the trip. Our usual enthusiasm was lacking. Neither of us did much to prepare ahead of time, though I did use the trip as my excuse to discover Sam’s Outdoor Outfitter (www.samsoutfitters.com) on Rt 12 outside Keene, New Hampshire. “The Biggest Little Store in America” is on the way from our home in Massachusetts to our daughter’s new home in Vermont and I had been looking for an excuse to stop in and explore this mini REI/EMS type outdoors store. I came away with a new UV protective shirt and a variety of new dehydrated dinners. But these things have yet to be used because our trip took a detour last year. Detours are certainly part of life and it is best to accept them with grace and see what unfolds on the alternative route. I wrote several blogs back in May and now, nearly a year later, I am posting them with this post as my introduction.
Now I can clear the decks, so to speak, for our 2015 plans.