Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 4: Summer Street Bridge to Shay's Boat Yard (Justine Selsing)

I was a little nervous heading out for the fourth day of our paddle. My arms (and psyche) were already sore from all the lifting, shoving, and “threading the needle” of the day before, and the little hints Nik had been dropping all morning about “hoping the tide would be with us” weren’t helping my already-anxiety-prone mind. I had serious doubts about my ability to paddle for 27 miles – or to paddle any amount of miles going upstream. However, I showed no signs of inner panic as I calmly spread Grey Poupon on the sandwich I would eat for lunch (if in fact I made it to lunch) and bravely boarded the minivan that would take us to the day’s launch site.

Nik’s dad and adorable Corgis helped us stock our boat with all the appropriate gear (this time with the added bonus of Ziploc bags for our lunches; no swampwiches today, as delicious as they were) and we pushed out into the river.

“I hope the tide will be with us,” Nik announced for the final time.

“Me too,” I said.

“It probably won’t,” he added casually.

This day, as Nik knew from his prior experience, was to be the Day of Many Bridges. We were told to expect to pass under 20 to 30 overpasses, and were also expected to obtain photo documentation of each and every one. The first, less-than-thrilling instance came within a few seconds of launch.

Breathtaking. Luckily, the visual interest of the scenery promptly increased dramatically as we passed by an improbably-placed memorial wreath. There it was propped, fully upright, against an exposed branch. Was it positioned there purposefully? Were we at the unlikely scene of a fatal canoe collision? Or was this just the serendipitous final snagging place of a wreath swept from its rightful position by the flooding a few months back? Nobody knows.

Still contemplating that mystery, we wandered under some important-looking power lines that were actually buzzing with…electricity, I guess. On the very top, a hawk had made its nest – we saw at least one flying to and fro, and birdwatcher extraordinaire Greg Keches swore he saw a second one nestled inside. We pondered the dangerousness of the habitat choice – was this a risk-seeking hawk? – but then electrical engineering extraordinaire Greg Keches reminded us that the hawk would have to be grounded in order to be electrocuted by the lines…or something.

Then we discovered the telephoto lens in Nik’s dad’s camera bag! All photo-taking hell broke loose. The zoom turned out to be extremely helpful when we sighted a couple great blue herons (photo courtesy of nature photographer extraordinaire Greg Keches), an oriole hanging out in a shrub, and a swimming cormorant (photos courtesy of moi).

We passed by many more bridges, including one being revamped by friendly construction workers. Then it got really hot. I jumped in the water by myself because everyone else was too lazy. I admit I was slightly afraid of the possibility of a spontaneous snapping turtle attack for the first few minutes…okay, for the whole time…but I composed myself and even performed a cormorant takeoff routine at the behest of Nik.

That’s what they look like. When they take off. Anyways, we paddled a little more and chowed down on our nice and dry sandwiches, but the grueling seafaring life was taking its toll and we found ourselves hungering for more. Solution? What else?

Nik showed us what is apparently a common riverside attraction (there was a path leading up from the river's bank) and we, like so many before us, headed to McDonald’s for our trans fat fix. I was informed only afterwards by nutritionist extraordinaire Greg Keches that the “milkshake” I consumed had no actual dairy products in it. Apparently they’re made of potatoes. I will say no more about the emotions I experienced and likely repressed after learning this information but the concept did feature prominently in my thoughts over the next few days.

We then passed some other stuff, like the indoor skate part extreme sports athlete extraordinaire Greg Keches and I both recognized from our past. We also passed the Bacon Felt Factory Nik recognized from last year – oldest felt company in America – and he insisted we were “close.” I was not excited because at this point in the trip I knew not to trust a single word out of Nik’s mouth about time frames.

It soon became clear, however, that we were getting close when the river started to run against us. We had hit the tidal section of the river, and that tide had turned. I was lucky enough not to have to paddle through most of this, and happily telephoto’d from the middle seat.

However, I did switch into the front seat for the last mile or so of upstream struggle. And although I would like the following picture to appear as few times as possible on the internet, I am allowing it to be included here as evidence of how NOT EASY this part of the paddle was. The last few moments before reaching the marina dock seemed like an eternity.

And the results (for both me and sternsman extraordinaire Greg Keches):

After recuperating, we took a few more celebratory pictures before heading back to Hanover.


Throughout our four days on the river, we continued to see signs that the river was a place largely ignored by the general population. Only on the first day, close to the ocean, did we see any other paddlers on the water. For most of the trip, it felt like we were the only ones who ever saw any of these stretches of river. At each bridge we passed under, I thought about how the pedestrians and drivers who pass over see that river every day – but only that tiny piece of it. For them, the river only exists as a few hundred meters of water that they catch a glimpse of before it bends out of sight.

We were riding along the old superhighway as we passed under the new ones. The Wampanoag people, as Nik told us, used to use this entire passage as a major route of transportation. Now, just getting through the whole thing is a struggle, hellish at times because of the fallen trees and shallow areas. There’s been no reason to clear the passage because it’s obsolete in our day and age. We don’t need it to get to and from work every morning. We don’t need the passage for travel or for any part of our daily lives, and because of that, most of us have forgotten about how important our water resources are. If we continue to ignore where our water – and all our resources, for that matter – comes from, we might find some of those natural resources slipping or being taken away from us.

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