Thursday, May 8, 2008


About noon on Wednesday, I headed out for some kayaking on the Connecticut River, and hopefully find a little peace of mind. The trip was to put in in Sunderland, and float down almost 13 miles to the Elwell Conservation area in Northampton...

A couple of Sunderland scenes, on the drive up.

The brilliant morning sky was now turning cloudy by the time I got to the launch area. But it stayed reasonably bright the rest of the afternoon.

The river had dropped several feet over the past couple of days, but the current is still flowing at a pretty good clip. The water was pretty cold, I'd say in the 50 degree range. It is still life-vest weather, for sure. The kayak, and I, were ready for the trip.

My first kayaking trip of the year, I was a little nervous starting out. But not long into the trip I was able to relax, and watched Sugarloaf Mountain drift away into the distance.

I let the current carry me along, and didn't need to paddle. The roar of traffic over the Sunderland bridge began to fade. The chirping birds, gurgling of water along the banks, and sipping of the last of the coffee, became the dominant sounds. Oh, and the occasional deep breath and relaxing sigh...

According to the GPS, the current was carrying me along at a steady 2.4 miles per hour. I had allotted the whole afternoon for this trip, so I lazily drifted along without paddling, trying to clear my head of all the clutter of the land-lubbing world. One of the benefits of the strong current, is that it has a tendency to turn the kayak sideways, where it has the most surface area to push against. So I pointed the nose at the bank, sat back, and watched the blossoming trees slowly march by.

The quick drop in water levels left about 10 feet or so of muddy river bank exposed in layers, and still wet. The high water mark can still be discerned where the lower branches of the trees go bare, the leaves torn away by the churning waters. In some places the trees' roots are exposed, giving an interesting cross-section look at a full tree, top to bottom.

So it went for about 2 hours of listless drifting. I didn't see or hear another soul, house, or car the entire time, and had the river completely to myself, sharing it only with the occasional hawk circling above.

I made my way into a little cove on the bank, out of the current with trees hanging overhead. I had brought the fishing pole, and decided to cast one out to see what happens. I wasn't expecting too much from the cold and still deep river, and I wasn't disappointed in that respect. Not even a nibble. That's ok, catching fish wasn't really the point today...

Approaching the Mt. Warner section of the river, there is a salient of land that the river has to go around. Here the water spins around in whirlpools and eddies, as the force of the currents push against the banks. On the south side of the salient is a small beach area, where I thought I'd take a break and stretch my legs a bit.

Unfortunately the river had other plans; here it actually swirls around, and runs with some force back upstream, on the eastern bank. I had to struggle out of this counter-current I suddenly found myself in, and avoid getting sucked into a dark little cove nearby from where no kayaker returns.

I finally made it to dry land, and hauled the kayak ashore. There was a riverside trail nearby, and I set out to explore it a bit. On the other side of the trail is some farmland.

The songs of a Brown Thrasher kept things lively as I marched along and encountered a cool swing, which must get some good use in the middle of the hot summers.

I paused here for a bit, before deciding to head back. Getting closer to the small beach, I could see a spot of orange color through the trees. Hmm....natives...

I came around the bend of the trail and emerged onto the beach. But strangely, in those few minutes the visitor had already gone. I checked the camera to make sure I didn't imagine it.

It was time to cast off for the second half of the journey, and I paddled away, looking back occasionally. There are no crossings in the stretch of river between Sunderland and Northampton. But there are some power lines crossing high over head, in two spots.

Here and there was evidence of the rivers strength from the past couple of weeks. Trees jammed up against each other, and giant piles of driftwood on the upstream side of islands.

The Holyoke Range came into view in the distance...

I now began to see signs of civilization here and there. Some occasional houses,

Some walkers.

Some campers.

Some fishermen.

And some kids playing country music, just a little too loud. I could have done without a Carrie Underwood song stuck in my head...

Getting to the Hadley area, the water had by now lost a lot of it's strength. The current had slowed and the water flattened out, into a smooth plate of glass.

I finally came to the final bend, and around the "HoneyPot" of Hadley. Soon the double bridges of the Norwottuck Rail Trail and The Coolidge Bridge were visible.

Destination reached. Peace of Mind, found.


Mark T. Alamed said...


Mary E.Carey said...

Another fantastic post. And the cloud picture was amazing.

Anonymous said...

That a was a great trip. Excellent photos and commentary.

Tony said...

Thanks you guys, glad you enjoyed the post...