Active Outdoors: Green means go for river paddlers

  • An instructor shows the author how to handle a bouncy wave train on Fife Brook in a spring whitewater paddling clinic at Zoar Outdoor. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Heading down Fife Brook on a sunny spring day in a whitewater kayaking clinic at Zoar Outdoor. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Sunday, May 13, 2018

River paddlers around New England just can’t wait to see more green. No, not green lawns (which need mowing) or new leaves (which will eventually need raking). What they’re looking for are specific rivers shaded in green on the American Whitewaters website (click on river info in the top bar, and click on the state you want to see on the dropdown map). The site displays real-time data from rivers across the nation.

If you see a kind of orangy-pink, it means that specific section of that specific river is below recommended paddling level. If it’s shaded blue, that means the water is above recommended levels. White means there’s no gauge on that river and you have to extrapolate from nearby rivers or, better yet, go look for yourself. Green means go!

It was a slow start for paddling so far. The unusually cold, often snowy early April weather left the paddling community in a state of semi-hibernation. Suddenly, though, things started changing for the better. Temperatures are slowly climbing, snow is melting in the mountains, we’ve had some good rain and the forecast is calling for more.

A lot of favorite paddling rivers have turned green and are likely to stay green until the rains stop.

Green means it’s time to paddle. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Zoar paddling

This past weekend, I took a two-day whitewater kayak paddling clinic at Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, Mass. If you are going to try a sport with inherent risk and a long learning curve – skiing, surfing, windsurfing, whitewater paddling – it’s my opinion that you should do it in safe increments with good instructors. The instructors I’ve taken classes from at Zoar (this was my fifth clinic there) have been consistently excellent, and I highly recommend the experience.

I’m an experienced whitewater kayaker. So were the three other students in the class, but all four of us learned a lot from Steve, our instructor. The first thing we had to do on Saturday morning is demonstrate that we could roll our kayaks. The air temperature was still in the 30s, the water temperature barely above freezing, and, trust me, intentionally flipping a kayak upside down was a chilling experience. (Can you say “ice cream headache?”). I rolled on my third try – my first successful roll of the year.

We spent the rest of Saturday on high water on Fife Brook practicing ferries, eddy turns, peel outs and the various paddle strokes that make whitewater paddling so much fun. On Sunday, after some dry land theory, we paddled the Miller River, a new one for all the students. Two absolutely wonderful days on the water!

There’s always a conundrum around taking lessons after a long layoff (I hadn’t paddled from September to early April). Do you practice a lot before the lesson (therefore getting better at doing things wrong)? Or do you jump right in at the start of a new season and take lessons? I opted for the latter course and found I didn’t have the strength and stamina I’d have had after being on the water more. There’s no right answer to this – I think your best choice is to take a lesson whenever you can and get what you can from it.

I have to confess that the other students in the class were all better than me. I’m used to that. They did stuff I didn’t dare do. I’m used to that, too. But I was also the oldest person in the class by more than a decade and I’m pretty proud of the fact that I kept up and didn’t really hold anyone back. You don’t have to be young and foolish to enjoy the fun of whitewater.

Zoar Outdoor has a lot more paddling clinics scheduled for this spring and summer. You can also take lessons from Outdoor New England in Franklin, and Great Glen Outdoors or Northern waters, which both run classes all summer long on the Androscoggin between Milan and Errol.

Try it. No excuses. If you aren’t sure how you feel about whitewater, take a rafting trip and try it out. No prior instruction needed.

Tick talk time

It’s been all over the news recently how bad the ticks have been already this spring. They started early despite the cold weather and are going strong.

That’s why I was on high alert on an overnight camping trip last week. Sure enough, at the end of a day of tramping around and setting up camp, I found two large brown dog ticks on me (both crawling, neither embedded) as I checked while getting ready for bed. If they’d been the smaller, more dangerous deer tick, I might not have found them as easily. A tick check has to be a careful process. Evidently, I hadn’t been quite careful enough about sticking to the center of the trail and sealing off my body with clothing and DEET.

Don’t make that same mistake! Wear long pants and shirts, preferably treated with Permethrin (Insect-Shield), tuck your pants into your socks, your shirt into your pants, and give a spritz of DEET based repellent at your ankles, wrists and neck. Better safe than sorry!

The trick is to not let ticks keep you prisoner inside, but don’t completely ignore the dangers they pose, either.