Active Outdoors: The Perfect Way To Wash Off Mud Season

  • Whitewasher. Whitewater is the best way to wash off Mud Season,and a commercial whitewater rafting trip is the perfect introduction to whitewater. (New England Outdoor Center photo)

  • The Cure For Mud Season. Forget about heading south. Whitewater paddling is the best-ever cure for melting snow and Mud Season blues. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Kayak Class 1. A whitewater paddling clinic starts easy, on flat water. You have to learn to walk before you can run. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Kayak Class 2. Your first ventures onto flowing water will be someplace small and safe. By the end of your first clinic, you'll be able to paddle whitwater with your new friends. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

For the Monitor
Sunday, April 16, 2017

While the Deep South (that would be Massachusetts and points south) enjoys a fleeting, semi-mythical paradise called “spring,” those of us lucky enough to live farther north (or who come here to play) get “Mud Season.”

It’s true that the occasional “spring” day appears (about as often as Brigadoon), complete with blue skies, warm temperatures, singing birds, etc. It’s just sometimes hard to appreciate all that when you are sunk crotch-deep in icy, bottomless mud. If you have trouble envisioning real Mud Season, you are welcome to try walking my driveway from house to mailbox. It looks like Sherman’s entire army, caissons and all, just marched through it on their way to Atlanta.

Personally, I’d like another couple of months of spring skiing. But, that said, I can welcome Mud Season because all that melting snow runs off to fill our rivers. Which means Mud Season is really “Whitewater Season.”

Paddling a raft, kayak or canoe on bouncy, splashy water is the perfect way to bring a smile to you face and wash off the mud. Never tried it? Think it looks a little scary? Good, hold that thought because whitewater isn’t something you can just jump into on your own. Well, you can, but it’s likely to be a life-limiting activity. What you really need to do is get with trained, experienced teachers who can help you start safely and sanely in what can be a lifetime sport.

Fortunately, New England has three whitewater paddling hotspots in Charlemont, Mass., Errol, and around the Dead, Kennebec and Penobscot rivers near the Forks and Greenville in central Maine, where dams provide predictable flows all summer long and expert guides and instructors make it so you can progress easily and safely on the path to becoming a real whitewater aficionado. If you start now, you’ll be experienced and really ready to wash off the mud next “spring.” Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Whitewater Rafting: Your Gateway Drug

If you want to experience the thrill of whitewater without a learning curve, a commercial whitewater rafting trip is the way to go. The rafting companies have this down to an art form; they keep you safe, comfortable and having fun, and their services are well worth every penny.

There are too many rafting companies to list easily, but you can find a complete list at EasternSlopes.com and search “rafting.”

This may be the best family outing ever. Even the most surly teenagers will put down their phones if you hand them a paddle. This is also the way to start if you think you are too old (shame on you) or not strong enough to paddle on your own. Once you’ve tried whitewater, you are going to want to do it again.

Paddling classes

The same dam-controlled rivers which allow rafting all summer also provide a place to learn whitewater paddling skills in a kayak or canoe, or even on a stand-up-paddleboard (SUP). Summer is the perfect time to begin learning so you are ready for next whitewater season.

Basically, you sign up for a beginner class and go from there. Even if you are an experienced kayaker, fast-flowing water is a different game and you need to crawl before you and run. Learning in safe, easy increments is the way to go. If you are just starting out, it’s best to take a two-day or even three-day clinic. The repetition will get you on the water more quickly and confidently.

The goal of a multi-day beginner clinic is to get you to where you can paddle Class II whitewater (splashy, bouncy, but not scary) with some confidence. Then you are ready to get out and practice with other paddlers on a river.

My advice is to keep taking clinics until you reach a level paddling any whitewater you want to paddle. I’m following my own advice this year. I’m a very slow learner (I over-think things), but I’ve progressed to the point where I can do Class II confidently and some Class III features (which are bigger, bouncier and splashier and require more skilled boat handling than Class II). But I wouldn’t say I’m a Class III paddler – yet. This is my year to break into that world.

In the past, I’ve taken several multi-day whitewater clinics from Zoar Outdoor on Fife Brook in Charlemont. They’ve been wonderful experiences and I’ve committed to a weekend Class III clinic at Zoar Outdoor in May.

Great Glen Outdoor Center offers beginner and advanced whitewater kayak clinics on the Androscoggin River between Berlin and Errol. I’ll be getting on the water with them in June. They have a short video clip on their kayak page which shows what Class II whitewater feels like.

On July 16 and 17, I’m headed to Greenville, Maine, for a two-day clinic on the Penobscot River with Northeast Whitewater. Greenville at that time of year is just wonderful. Em (my sweetheart Marilyn) and I are combining this with a stay at the AMC’s completely refurbished Medawisla Lodge.

If you were looking for a getaway, any of these three locations would allow you to go rafting one day to get a taste of the fun, then let you pop right into a kayak course and begin a lifetime of river paddling.

Anyone care to join me? Seriously. Try it! Drop me a line at the email below if you have any questions

(Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email him at timjones@easternslopes.com.)