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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Paddling together, in both a canoe and in life

  • Wearing her wedding dress and veil, Nancy Gero paddles the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where she met John Jenkins for their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and dozens of paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Wearing her wedding dress and veil, Nancy Gero paddles the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where she met John Jenkins for their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and dozens of paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Escorted by her father's cousin, Ron Roberge, right, Nancy Gero, center, greets her sister and maid-of-honor, Summer Oliver, after arriving to the Tilton Island Park via canoe along the Winnipesaukee River on Saturday afternoon, August 31, 2013. Gero paddled along the river in Tilton to the island where she and John Jenkins held their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond, they were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Escorted by her father's cousin, Ron Roberge, right, Nancy Gero, center, greets her sister and maid-of-honor, Summer Oliver, after arriving to the Tilton Island Park via canoe along the Winnipesaukee River on Saturday afternoon, August 31, 2013. Gero paddled along the river in Tilton to the island where she and John Jenkins held their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond, they were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Following their wedding ceremony, Nancy Gero and John Jenkins walk through a tunnel of paddles created by and dozens of paddlers at Tilton Island Park. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Following their wedding ceremony, Nancy Gero and John Jenkins walk through a tunnel of paddles created by and dozens of paddlers at Tilton Island Park. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Rubber duckies and balloons trail a tandem canoe Nancy Gero and John Jenkins paddled together following their wedding ceremony in Tilton on Saturday, August 31, 2013. Dozens of paddlers in canoes and kayaks met at a boat launch in Tilton and paddled along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where the wedding ceremony took place. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Rubber duckies and balloons trail a tandem canoe Nancy Gero and John Jenkins paddled together following their wedding ceremony in Tilton on Saturday, August 31, 2013. Dozens of paddlers in canoes and kayaks met at a boat launch in Tilton and paddled along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where the wedding ceremony took place. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Harland Alpaugh, of Wilmington, Mass., taped a bride and grrom to the top of his helmet for the wedding of Nancy Gero and John Jenkins on Saturday afternoon, August 31, 2013. Dozens of paddlers in canoes and kayaks met at a boat launch in Tilton and paddled along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where Nancy Gero and  John Jenkins held their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Harland Alpaugh, of Wilmington, Mass., taped a bride and grrom to the top of his helmet for the wedding of Nancy Gero and John Jenkins on Saturday afternoon, August 31, 2013. Dozens of paddlers in canoes and kayaks met at a boat launch in Tilton and paddled along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where Nancy Gero and John Jenkins held their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Blake Martin, the best man, drains water from a canoe after flipping it at the start of a paddle along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park  for a wedding ceremony for Nancy Gero and John Jenkins.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Blake Martin, the best man, drains water from a canoe after flipping it at the start of a paddle along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park for a wedding ceremony for Nancy Gero and John Jenkins.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Wearing her wedding dress and veil, Nancy Gero paddles the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where she met John Jenkins for their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and dozens of paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Escorted by her father's cousin, Ron Roberge, right, Nancy Gero, center, greets her sister and maid-of-honor, Summer Oliver, after arriving to the Tilton Island Park via canoe along the Winnipesaukee River on Saturday afternoon, August 31, 2013. Gero paddled along the river in Tilton to the island where she and John Jenkins held their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond, they were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Following their wedding ceremony, Nancy Gero and John Jenkins walk through a tunnel of paddles created by and dozens of paddlers at Tilton Island Park. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Rubber duckies and balloons trail a tandem canoe Nancy Gero and John Jenkins paddled together following their wedding ceremony in Tilton on Saturday, August 31, 2013. Dozens of paddlers in canoes and kayaks met at a boat launch in Tilton and paddled along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where the wedding ceremony took place. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Harland Alpaugh, of Wilmington, Mass., taped a bride and grrom to the top of his helmet for the wedding of Nancy Gero and John Jenkins on Saturday afternoon, August 31, 2013. Dozens of paddlers in canoes and kayaks met at a boat launch in Tilton and paddled along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park where Nancy Gero and  John Jenkins held their wedding ceremony. Both avid boaters for 25-30 years, the two met during a boating club trip 11 years ago. Both are from Raymond and were joined by family, friends and paddlers from around New England to celebrate their wedding. Following the ceremony, John and Nancy departed the island in a tandem canoe and paddled to River Front Park, a place Nancy helped raise money for through her boating clubs.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Blake Martin, the best man, drains water from a canoe after flipping it at the start of a paddle along the Winnipesaukee River to Tilton Island Park  for a wedding ceremony for Nancy Gero and John Jenkins.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

No one expected anything different. Not really.

Not from Nancy Gero and John Jenkins, the couple who paddled into each other’s hearts a dozen years ago.

They met paddling and they grew close paddling, so why not paddle to the wedding ceremony, paddle to the reception, paddle on their honeymoon?

They got married Saturday at Tilton Island Park, just past noon. They walked as one under an archway of paddles, formed by the 100 or so guests. Then they hopped in a canoe for the short ride to the town’s River Front Park and the wedding reception.

Notice a theme here?

“That’s Nancy,” said Gwen Whitbeck of Mason.

“Very appropriate,” said Conrad Nuthmann of Lunenburg, Mass.

“This encompasses everything in her life,” said Sue Sanborn of Nashua. “It’s Nancy’s personality, the Cinderella dress, and then she paddles off.”

They live in Raymond but love to kayak and canoe around here, on the Winnipesaukee River in the Tilton/Frankin area. They fell in love doing what they love, as members of groups such as the Merrimack Valley Paddlers and the New Hampshire Appalachian Mountain Club Paddlers.

She’s a 48-year-old mechanical technician, he a 65-year-old manufacturing manager.

But, in reality, they’re paddlers, with 17 kayaks and rafts and canoes at their home, and a group of friends tied closely through the sport.

They are Class 4 paddlers, meaning they’re really good. They’ve tackled the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon and challenged themselves throughout New England, in Maine, Vermont and Western Massachusetts.

Saturday’s ceremony only made sense.

“We wanted to get married by doing something memorable,” Jenkins said, the day before the wedding.

Added Gero, “We’ll go downriver and there will be lots of rapids on the way. There will be enough to get wet. It will be fine for beginners and technical enough to provide excitement.”

The excitement – and laughs – began shortly after 10, at the boat launch near the Holiday Inn Express. There, with kayaks and canoes gathering, it wasn’t merely a case of man overboard.

Instead, this was best man overboard.

His name is Blake Martin, he lives in Andover, Mass., and he’s a skilled kayaker.

But for the wedding, he chose a canoe, which tipped and left him with a soaked white dress shirt and soaked tie, draped around his shoulders like a scarf.

“I was distracted,” Martin said. “I was thinking of what I am going to say for the toast.”

Gero wore a white wedding dress and flat shoes. She had her nails polished for the first time in her life, a direct reflection of her outdoor spirit.

She was asked if she worried about falling in the river. “No,” Gero said. “It’s just water.”

She lifted her dress slightly, pinning it against her hips so it wouldn’t drag on the ground. Then she lowered herself into a purple canoe, decorated with white flowers.

About 40 boats escorted the bride down the river, through a narrow stretch surrounded by tall trees. Jenkins and 55 other nonboaters later drove to the island, connected to Main Street by a footbridge.

Jenkins arrived at the park early, as did a few friends who arranged flowers under a gazebo and moved benches for the guests due to arrive. Jenkins looked sharp, far younger than his age, in a tux with a gold tie and gold vest, his full head of silver hair slicked straight back.

Soon, the paddlers could be seen from a pair of bridges, one designed specifically for foot traffic to the island, the other an old railroad bridge with tracks covered by weeds and time.

The colorful cast of characters floated past, spaced apart, one by one.

There was the guy with the one-piece pajama-soft tuxedo, the shirtless guy with the red tie, the woman with pinwheels spinning in the gentle breeze, the guy with the pin-striped suit above his synthetic rubber pants and shoes, and Martin, the best man, with his white shirt miraculously dry by this time.

They knelt in canoes and sat in kayaks, and they docked along a rocky shore and climbed up onto a grassy area.

The bride?

She waited in the back of the pack, a distant figure, glowing white, reflective in her canoe near a patch of reeds.

An air horn blared at 11:55 a.m., signaling that Gero was on her way. She paddled beneath both bridges, her smile shedding light on an overcast, humid day.

Helped out of her canoe, Gero stood with her late father’s cousin, Ron Roberge, who would walk her down the grassy aisle because her dad had died from cancer last year.

The guests formed two lines and held paddles above their heads, tilting them inward to form a long, narrow archway to the gazebo, 50 yards away.

Moments before entering this tunnel of love, Gero said, “This is the most fun wedding I’ve ever been to.”

They were pronounced man and wife at 12:10 p.m., then moved into their limo, in this case a sandy-colored, two-person canoe lined with flowers and reading “Just Married” on its side.

Before leaving for the reception, Gero was asked where they’d honeymoon. She said Maine, where they’d relax, visit Portland, go fishing.

“And maybe we’ll grab a rafting trip while we’re up there,” Gero said.

Then the couple paddled off, together in their element.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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