Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 4: From the Summer Street Bridge to Shay's Boat Yard and Dighton Rock State Park.

Day four began with cloudy skies over the Taunton River at around 8:30 a.m. DJ and I were excited that the current was at our back, and that there would be no portaging, but less excited about the prospect of rain. The first landmark we reached after going under the Summer Street Bridge was a railroad bridge, while next came the spot where the Nemasket River flows into the Taunton --- if one has time, the Nemasket will lead the paddler to the eastern seaboard's largest alewife run, the Royal Wampanoag Burial Ground, and the site of Tispaquin's village (Tispaquin was one of King Philip's allies during King Philip's War). Soon after came the Titicut Street Bridge, featuring some rapids which we ran successfully (but only after running the camera over to the other side). Throughout this stretch birds sang and flitted back and forth between the forest on either side of the river as we passed underneath; an osprey flew overhead; and Great Blue Herons stood motionless along the banks, hoping to catch a minnow or two unawares in the water below.

From Titicut Street we continued to follow the current downstream, passing the Rt. 28/18, Plymouth Street and Vernon Street Bridges (we thought it would be appropriate to name this fourth day of the paddle the "Day of Bridges," with a grand total of 18). The rain held and we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful, forested upper reaches of the Taunton. After several more bends in the river we reached the Rt. 495 bridge (we could hear it before we could see it), and shortly after we spotted an otter, the third and last of the passage. From here it suffices to say that the river continues to be both beautiful and forested, for the most part, until Rt. 24; meandering past the Rt. 44 Bridge, the Church Street Bridge, and the South Street East Bridge. We saw many more Great Blue Herons and other birds, including an osprey or two more, and came to the conclusion that one Great Blue Heron that stayed just ahead of us for something like two hours was a Wampanoag spirit that was strying to lead us astray (though it in fact continued to lead us the RIGHT way). We started to feel like we were settling into a groove or rhythm in our paddling; the action of paddling and switching every so often began to feel automatic. This was probably good because we still had many miles left to paddle (the day's total was around 25).

We saw a cool factory-turned-condominiums development right by the South Street East Bridge, and also discovered that the tide was with us (as the river becomes tidal at this point). We stopped for lunch somewhere between here and the Rt. 24 bridge, hopping up on a bank of the river for a pleasant break. After Rt. 24, the passage became more urban --- for example, we were able to stop and use the restroom of a McDonalds along Rt. 44 --- the Wampanoag highway running parallel and just hidden by riparian growth from a modern suburban highway.

From there we passed from the outskirts to near the center of Taunton, passing under several more bridges. We had to paddle under two separate railroad bridges, both including what looked like liquid natural gas pipelines, and continued past the Oakland Mills Ponds. Past the Plain Street Bridge and the Weir Village Riverfront Park, the river began to open up and take on a more salty, oceanic feel, and on our right side, we were surprised to notice that several factories of the Bacon Felt Company ("America's First Felt Maker - Since 1825") were being demolished.

From here the Taunton broadened out even further and began to be bordered by beautiful tidal marsh. It had definitely started to rain, softly but relentlessly. We paddled past the Taunton Municipal Lighting Company's Flood-Cleary Drive Station on our right; continued past the Three Mile River, and finally reached where Center Street crosses the river on a green one-lane bridge, the last real landmark before our final destination. At this point, however, the tide began to turn against us.

The tide continued to turn as we passed under the bridge and settled into the last stretch of the Wampanoag Canoe Passage. The Taunton River had achieved its widest point so far, contrasting greatly with the claustrophobia of Stetson Brook during the second day --- the increased amount of water, however, was now working against us. We craned our necks desperately for any sign of sails that might mark where the yacht club would be, but in vain. We hugged the side of the river to avoid the strongest part of the incoming tide, only cutting across when we had to. After passing the mouth of the Segreganset River on our right and turning a final corner, we finally spotted the yacht club and congratulated ourselves. The last paddle to reach Shaw's Boat Yard seemed to drag on forever, but finally we made it and dragged the canoe up to the parking lot, victorious.

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