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.

Next try

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!
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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.

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.

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.

Back in Pittsburgh

We returned to Pittsburgh last night for a comfortable stay in a motel by the airport before Maggie flies out today and Karen returns home with Wonder strapped to the top of her car.  We have many people to thank for their support along the way and we will spend time in the next weeks writing about that so please stay tuned even though we are off the river.

Most especially, we want to thank our families for supporting this wild journey of ours.  Our husbands have supported this journey for ten years usually thinking we are brave and sometimes crazy.  Our children, we think, always think we are crazy.  Karen’s husband Mark has served as our meteorologist and reconnaissance man using Google Earth to seek out places to camp ahead of us.  Maggie’s husband, John, is our anchor at home, sending encouragement and prayers our way.  Chelsea, our IT person, keeps up the blog as we travel and Kyle got up at 5:15 am to transport us to the river, then spent 5 hours to come pick us up.  Kira and Jordan (as well as Chelsea and Kyle) just roll their eyes as they hear our stories and tell their friends about our trips…and we laugh at that and find support as well.

We think of  all who have tuned into our blog and who have prayed for us and hurrayed for.  We thank you for that encouragement and support.  Today we will begin to think of how and when we can get into the Ohio River in Powhatan, Ohio, and continue this journey which has become a metaphor for our lives in so many ways.

May 2011, final day

We made it 110 miles down the Ohio river this month!  We have reached the end of this leg of our journey, and are sad to leave the river for the time being, even while we are glad to dry off!  We had breakfast of tea and chocolate, then paddled the rest of the way to Powhatan,where we were picked up by Karen’s son Kyle.

Heading home with “Wonder”, which is what we have named our new red canoe because we wonder about things all along our journey, and because we think she’s Wonder-ful!

May 2011, day three

Thanks to the generosity of a boat club, we were able to spend last night indoors, and woke up to a bit of sunshine.  The rest of the day, however, was very wet. We had to wait out a thunderstorm under a bridge in West Virginia!

We are spending the night in the basement of a Catholic church in Bellaire, Ohio, after paddling about 35 miles.  Thank you to Father Dan for taking us in on such a rainy night!  Now, time for some dehydrated macaroni and cheese…yum.

The Boathouse

Taking shelter under a bridge!