First Night

The day has gone very smoothly. Karen’s drive to Cincinnati and my flight to Cincinnati were easy and we happily met at the airport. From there we had another three hours or so to get to Rome Indiana where we got out of the river last year. We stopped across the river from Louisville in New Albany and found a burger place for dinner. The rest of the drive brought a heavy downpour that had mostly stopped by the time we pulled into the park in Rome. We had gotten previous permission to camp here but were uncharacteristically daunted by the large family party going on with music, beer, horseshoes, etc. We felt like we were crashing a party that might go on all night and weren’t sure how to proceed. Our hesitation was quickly overcome by the approach of the guest of honor from the party. Noah was being feted for his retirement from coal mining. And he quickly said: “I know who you are! You are those ladies paddling down the river.” We were fast friends. Before long we were offered a covered shelter with electricity and met Hawk and Tim as well. All we can say is that we continue to stand in awe of the grace and hospitality we receive along the way. For those who worry about us….this hospitality is what we live for and what keeps us going. We are tucked in now for the night, hiding out from the skeeters. Tomorrow we head downriver.


End of day two

My apologies to those who may be trying to follow our journey on the blog. I have had some technical problems. But for now let me tell you we have had to splendid days on the Ohio River. Each daywe have peddled 25 miles so we have paddled a total of 50 miles. The river over all has been very good to us. The weather overall has been very good to us. We had a bit of a thunderstorm today but we were able to take cover for about 30 minutes and then get back out on the river. Late in the afternoon the wind kicked up so badly that we had to spend about 2 1/2 hours on a river café.  Somehow we managed! We have found great people along the river as usual. Last night we stayed in an RV resorts. Tonight we found a bit of dryland to camp along the river.  Perhaps our favorite quotes of the trip so far is the young man at the RV resort last night who when we referred to ourselves as old said “there’s not an ounce of old between the two of you!”  We took it as a great compliment. So I’m going to sign off now. It’s very hot and humid and we’re going to try to sleep a few hours before setting off very early tomorrow morning and what we hope will be calm waters.

A Paddling Festival

logo-ohioriverwaySeldom in the years we have paddled have we run into other paddlers.  We have seen a few kayaks but that was way back on the Upper Allegheny.  A couple of years ago we came across some guys who paddled out onto the Ohio River with us for a little while.  They were just playing around and keeping us company for a bit.  It was fun.

Now, as we plan the 2015 adventure, we have learned the the city of Cincinnati has a paddling festival in the middle of June so we are hoping to join a whole bunch of other paddlers and maybe even join a race. Click here for information on the Ohio River Paddlefest.

It’s fun to think of doing something like that.  John and I lived in Bainbridge, NY, on the Susquehanna River for three years but I didn’t paddle then and seldom thought of the river.  Bainbridge was the end of the General Clinton Canoe Regatta held every May.  I can’t believe that I was not interested then.  Maybe someday Karen and I will do that canoe race which starts in Cooperstown, the headwaters of the Susquehanna.

I’m sure there are many canoe events that we have never heard of…but we have a commitment to get down the Ohio River so the other festivals may have to wait a few more years.

Making the decision

Meteorologist Mark still reported that the rain would stop early or mid-day on Friday so we decided to plan to go to the headwaters of the Allegheny and put in at Coudersport, PA. We packed Thursday night, realizing that with the exception of the amount of food and water we usually take, packing for one overnight is as time-consuming as packing for a week. But we knew it was worth it. Friday morning, we headed out to the headwaters to meet John, a friend of Karen’s who would take her van and pick us up the next day. We passed over many creeks, some of which we had canoed years ago, and realized that the previous two days of rain had significantly added to the water level. Hum. When we picked up John he seemed impressed that we were going but not concerned. As we made our way up the road to Coudersport, John started noting the river’s level. About every five minutes he said: “Wow, the river IS high.” After about five of these comments, even I became concerned.

Arriving at the put in point, the river was, according to Karen, at least a foot higher than when she and Mark were there the previous Sunday. It was raging down the narrow channel which was only about 15 feet wide. Should we or shouldn’t we? The preparations til that point had involved a lot of consideration and many miles of driving. We recalled our discomfort some years ago when we put in in Pittsburgh when the river was near flood stage. We had a blast in the end…and did we ever put miles on our trip that year! This time was different; very narrow with tree branches overhanging the river and rocks and trees in the river.

To go or not to go? We went. Of course. It was very different from our experience on the Ohio in Pittsburgh. We shot down the river like a flume at Disney Land with Karen in the rear trying to steer and me following orders as best as I could.  It was both terrifying and exhilarating.  We had little time to think of how to handle the bends in the river and the overhanging trees.  A far cry from the paddling on the Ohio River in 2013 when, on our last day, we had to really push it to get one mile in one hour due to strong head winds.

John said he would try to get some photos of us passing under the covered bridge, a bit under two miles downstream. So, we pushed off and the water ripped us downstream faster than we had ever gone. We knew there would be none of the familiar quiet, contemplative conversation or opportunities to take photos. We were in for some of the most intense 18 minutes of our lives. As Karen said, we were out of our league. She in the stern was trying to steer us around obstructions and shout orders to me as to which side I should paddle. “Don’t paddle for speed,” she shouted, “just for control.” I laughed at one point when she politely asked: “Would you paddle hard on the left now?” I yelled back because it was hard to hear: “Forget the polite words. Just tell me: ‘Paddle hard on the right!'”

About 2/3 of the way to the bridge, Karen pronounced that we should not be doing this. I, perhaps surprisingly to her, acquiesced quickly. For one thing, I pictured at some point having to grab something with my recovering left arm and permanently damaging it. For another, I thought my daughter Chelsea might appreciate me living to September 27th when she and Brent would be married. While we had already made decisions to detour from our appointed paddle on the Ohio River, it was humbling to realize the need to do it again. But this was clearly not the time or place to be on this body of water. In retrospect, we might have been about to put in farther down river where it was wider. We still don’t know where we would have been able to camp because everything was so soggy along the river. For some reason, this leg was just not meant to be.

Fortunately, John was right there at the covered bridge waiting for us so after ducking under the bridge and bashing into it a bit, we were able to paddle hard and get aground again. It was exhilarating and fun, to say the least. However, if we wanted to shoot down waters like that, we should have been in a raft with helmets on!  Not in a canoe.

Going with the flow….

IMG_3244When 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.

The Ohio River Still Waits for Us

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 ( 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.

Frozen Rivers

We are already into the second week of February.  Soon Karen and I will start calling each other and emailing our lists and ideas for our next journey on the Ohio.  But right now that seems a long way off.  I have remarked in the past at the many changes that have taken place in Karen’s and my life since we first set out in a canoe in 2001.  And the changes just keep on coming. 2014 was full of changes. Our daughter was married on September 27 in a beautiful outdoor wedding at their home in West Windsor, VT.  Karen and Mark were integral helpers in making that a special day.  It was great to have another excuse to see them in the same year. Though you will read in forthcoming posts that Karen and I did not make it to the Ohio River in 2014, you will learn that we still had some canoe adventures. The day after the wedding we got to enjoy a group paddle on the Connecticut River. Ten of us took a leisurely trip on the river for about three hours.

After over ten years of working for Habitat for Humanity in Santa Fe, NM, and then in North Central Massachusetts, I started a new job in Claremont, NH, last week working for an agency that helps build stronger families from before the children are born.  Claremont is very much like Jamestown, NY, where Karen lives and where I worked for 17 years.  I find it interesting how we come back to what is familiar. I have worked at the new job for only 7 days but I like it and think it is just right for me at this point in my life.  But I have to say that one of the most fun things about the new job is that I have to cross the Connecticut River at least twice a day to get to it.  And sometimes by covered bridge.  I never imagined ever having a job in a place that meant I would be crossing rivers via covered bridges.  Pretty darn cool, eh?

It has been a cold and snowy winter in New England. We have not had it as bad in Vermont as the folks in Boston but at our home in Lancaster, MA, 40 miles west of Boston, the piles of snow are immense. We move our household belongings into storage at the end of the month and I cannot even imagine how we will pack a U-Haul with all that snow in the driveway but I guess we will figure it out.

The Connecticut River near Windsor, VT.

The Connecticut River near Windsor, VT.

Meanwhile, I enjoy driving over the frozen Connecticut River and seeing the changes each day. Mostly it is frozen over completely but there are a few spots where the water is not frozen. Last Friday when it was minus 15 degrees when I drove to work, those spots where there was water created a fog machine of sorts. The evaporating water instantly turned into frozen mist as it rose from the river. It coated nearby trees with a bit of frost. It was beautiful.

So here’s what I don’t know. When will the ice break up? What kind of damage will it cause? I remember one stop on the Allegheny River years ago where the residents enjoyed showing us photos of the damage the ice did to docks and riversides the previous winter. There is lot of ice on the Connecticut. If it cuts loose all at once it will do some serious damage downstream. I hope it won’t and I also hope I get to see it literally breaking up and flowing away. That will be a first for me.

So I am grateful for the daily reminder of river life. In New England, river life is more about the bygone days of the industrial revolution. On the Ohio, it is about the transportation of goods and lots of coal. But there is still the air of the bygone days as we pass abandoned coal powered plants.

And finally, I am grateful for the promise that Karen and I will have many more hours of paddling and talking and catching up on all the changes that are taking place in our lives.