Throughout my childhood, my parents organized canoe trips on local rivers. They would invite their friends, who would bring their children, and we’d take the entire day to explore someplace new.
What began close to home – the North River, the South River – spread to points all over eastern Massachusetts. We canoed the Concord and the Ipswich to the north; the Bass and the Plymouth ponds to the south. Each trip had its memorable moments: the kids who stayed warm in garbage bags after their parents capsized the canoe; the dad who was left stranded over the cold autumn water, dangling from a rope swing; the dam my high school friends and I almost drifted over at the end of one particularly long trip.
As a child, I was spared the logistics, but I still remember the stress of wondering whether an aluminum canoe would actually remain lashed to the top of a Toyota Corolla for the duration of a 50-mile highway trek. This was back in the days when woven cinch-straps weren’t so readily available.
As an adult, I’ve mused about organizing similar excursions for my own circle of friends. I’ll begin to consider what such a trip might entail, and then back away quickly. Even locally, it seems like a lot of work. There are so many variables – the tides, the wind, the weather in general. Rounding up the right number of boats and PFDs (personal flotation devices are required by local law). Towing boats, staging vehicles for one-way trips, choosing a date that works for everyone. Headache!
Not that there aren’t alternatives. A number of local organizations offer guided excursions for canoes, kayaks, and SUPs – on our local rivers and plenty of other appealing places as well. Some of these trips are the Bring Your Own sort – you show up with your boat and PFD, and then follow the leader on a pre-determined course. Others are Full Service. You show up empty handed and they outfit you with everything you need.
Historically, I’ve turned my nose up at the “outfitter” excursions. They’re more expensive, and what fun is a paddling trip if you don’t arrive exhausted from the stress of organizing it? But I’m beginning to see the light.
This spring my mother asked if I would like to accompany her on a kayaking trip on the Green Harbor River, led by Mass Audubon. It would take place on a weekday morning, while my son was at school, and all we’d have to do was show up ready to paddle. The cost was around $40 per person. Her birthday was approaching . . . and after an brief internal dialogue along the lines of “I could borrow a second kayak and take her there for free,” I remembered that it was HER birthday, and perhaps it would be nice just to give her what she wanted. I signed us up.
The excursion day arrived, and with it, a horrible forecast. Driving rain, thunder, lightning . . . all expected before noon. The trip was cancelled . . . but quickly rescheduled for two weeks later. Could we still make it? Yes!
When we arrived at Peter Igo Park in Marshfield, we found that our guides had already unloaded the kayaks at the edge of the access path. PFDs were provided, so we just had to find ones that fit us. Paddles had already been carried to the dock. We were offered a choice between single-person or double kayaks, and once everyone had selected their boat, we worked as a group to haul them to the water. And then for the next 2.5 hours, after a brief skills tutorial, we enjoyed an informative and relaxing paddle up and down the river.
Let me stress the word “relaxing.” I didn’t realize how much “just showing up” would make a difference. We saw osprey; we saw herons. Our guides told a little bit about river ecology. There was talk of a Snickers bar, too, but I never saw it. And at the end, we were encouraged just to leave our gear in the trailer and go home. It was a very pleasant morning, and well worth the cost.
Both Mass Audubon (massaudubon.org) and the North and South Rivers Watershed Association (nsrwa.org) offer paddling trips on our local waterways. You can find current information on their websites. NSRWA is hosting a Kayak Tour on the North River on August 6th. Statewide, Mass Audubon offers something nearly every week. For those who want to do even less work (no paddling), be sure to check out NSRWA’s weekly Pontoon Boat cruises.
by Kezia Bacon
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com