Twas the night before Paddling, when all though the group,
Not a board was ready, not even the soup.
The glue was drying on the boards with air,
In hopes that morning would soon be there.
Our paddle trip started early in the summer as just an idea. We didn’t have our own paddle boards yet and we assumed we wouldn’t be able to get off work for a whole week together. The more we talked about it, the more it became real. We started building our own boards just so we could do this trip (and continue to paddle afterwords, of course!). The last piece for our boards came in the mail the day before and after packing our dry bags with food and clothes we laid down the foam and attached our deck rigging before heading to bed.
We got up early on Sept 20th to a cold dew covering the ground and grabbed a breakfast of champions (donuts and coffee) before heading to the river. We spent some time adjusting our bags so that they would fit just right on the boards. This was the first time either of us had been on a SUP/camping trip, so we weren’t quite sure how it would work out. We both managed to fit everything on our boards and set off down the river. We leisurely paddled down the river as the sun warmed the air. Just about noon we arrived at our first portage of the day. It was a small broken low head dam that could potentially be hazardous to an unsuspecting paddler. There were no markings, but we had scouted the entire river in the preceding weeks, even paddling some of the sections with whitewater on them for fun! We took out on river right and unloaded our boards. We did all of our portages in two trips; one for the bags and one for the boards. Our homemade boards lack the lightweight and great handles of some of the factory made boards on the market. After a little snack, we continued on our way enjoying the day and paddling at a good, steady pace.
Less than a mile ahead we came upon our second portage of the day, the hidden dam just east of Montpelier. We had hoped to cut down the slopes just after the dam but it proved to be too steep with a solid boulder field rapid in the way. We continued down the road a ways until we thought we could paddle the rest of the rapid and make it down the river bank in one piece. We jumped back on the river bumping into rocks in this shallow, fast moving section of the river; and that’s when it hit us! The rocks jumped out of the water and started eating away at our boards! By the end of the rapid we each had a couple gaping holes in the bottom of our freshly-finished-the-night-
Just after the rock garden we didn’t so successfully navigate through, we met up with the TV news crew. We did a quick interview with them and continued on our way with them chasing us down the river to get that perfect picture for their news story. Click here to view the WCAX news spot that ran that night.They even outfitted us with a go-pro for some sweet footage. Unfortunately at our third portage we attempted to switch memory cards with them and the card somehow got dropped into the river never to be seen again. They took a little more footage to make up for their loss while we continued on through downtown Montpelier. At the 4th portage of the day we walked right be a grocery store and headed inside for some duct tape in an attempt to fix the holes in our board. It didn’t stay on for long. I think gorilla tape would have been a better investment! After a leisurely lunch on the banks of he river in Vermont’s state capital we headed out of town looking for a campsite. We found a great campsite with a small grove of trees and very few mosquitoes right near the a fun ledge. Its always easy to sleep when you can hear running water.
The morning was chilly, but it quickly warmed to a comfortable paddling temperature. We were about a mile above the Middlesex dam, which brought us to a section of the river we knew very well from guiding river trips on it all summer long. We enjoyed a nice relaxing paddle with no further portages and good warm weather. We really enjoyed the day and didn’t have to be cautious on any unknown rapids. We just floated and enjoyed ourselves. We even stopped at a gas station for a water refill and ice cream! We arrived at our campsite early in the evening and found beer and water waiting for us on the picnic table! We planned to stay out the river outpost we used for guiding tours all summer because we knew the location, had permission and we had access to a picnic table. What luxury! We setup our hammocks and tarps preparing for a heavy rain all night. We set down to dinner and were really hoping we’d stay dry all night when one of our coworkers drove up and chatted for a bit. He actually unlocked our box trailer for us to seek shelter in. We wisely moved all our stuff into the trailer and slept in there while it poured for several hours throughout the night. It was the greatest feeling to wake up warm and DRY with the sun trying to peek through the clouds.
We started the third day with dry stuff and a little extra water in the river which made navigating the shallows and little easier and helped push us along. The sun never did come out and the day was cloudy, damp, chilly and windy. What can you really expect at the end of September? We had a short paddle to the Bolton Dam, which we knew was going to be a long portage. We did two trips about a mile each way. During our portage we surprised the heck out of a guy along the trail who was digging up saplings. He seemed confused to see a couple people out there with paddle boards. My guess is he had no idea what a SUP was! We had a good laugh about the random old man stealing trees from the woods before getting back onto the river. It was just about noon when the sun came out for a brief moment and lit up the entire dam as we were taking off. What an incredible view! We had a leisurely paddle until we reach the dreaded Bolton Flats. The Bolton Flats was a brutal section of the river where we had a strong wind right in our faces for several miles. I swear the water on the surface was moving upstream. This section had almost no gradient and no turns so there was no protection from the wind and the water was barely moving. The only option was to put our heads down and paddle our hardest to keep from being blown back upstream. We didn’t take any breaks until we made it to Richmond.
Day four was another cold and cloudy day; but we added two people and a dog to our party. They met us in the morning with the fully loaded SUPs and a dog on top of the pile. It was great to have some new energy to get us through the day. By this point in the trip, the river had widened and the current was slower and lazier; meaning more paddling for us. We also encountered some more headwinds throughout the day but several turns in the river provided some protection. Towards the end of the day we arrived at the Essex Dam, which required a fairly lengthy portage.
For JJ and I it was nothing new we were already pros and loading and unloading our gear. We laughed as the other two figured out the best way to carry their gear. We all made it through the portage without problems and continued down the river enjoying the easy ripples the shallow water under the damn provided. JJ and I decided to remove our fins for this section, knowing what was ahead. We once again laughed as Emma got stuck on rock after rock in the shallow water. We paddled through beautiful rock gorge where we saw a beaver in its beaver dam on a rock shelf. We continued another mile or so until we found the perfect campsite.The trees grew sideways towards the river and we were in the back corner of a field. We had plenty of space to spread out and sideways tree trunks to sit on. We ate early, and went to bed as the sun went down and the temperature plummeted to just above freezing.
We had a slow morning because no one wanted to get out of bed it was so cold. We led the sun warm the air a bit before getting back on the river around 10am for our last day of paddling and it was a lengthy one. We paddled to the first Winooksi Dam where we had another long portage, with some bushwhacking involved to get back down to the river. We had to go so far past the cliff faces that we never even saw the bottom of the dam. At least it had warmed up by then and we were all in shorts and t-shirts again. We didn’t waste much time because we had about a mile before our last portage at the main dam right in the middle of Winooski. We exited above the falls and walked right down the main street to the other side of the dam. Once again we didn’t linger knowing we still had several miles to go and it was already early afternoon. We were all ready to be done and paddled full steam ahead through the slow moving waters and head winds right into Lake Champlain. JJ’s dad was waiting for us at the boat launch saying that it was the best place to get out, but we just had to paddle all the way to the lake (another 500 yards) and then around the corner to the beach. Little did we know all the wind we encountered on the river would just get worse as soon as we entered the lake. At the end of 5 days of paddling, we were tired but we gave it all we got to get to that beach. It just wouldn’t have felt like we completed the journey if we quit early.
We stopped at a local sub shop for dinner before driving back home. We dropped everything on the porch and headed to bed. The rest could be dealt with the next day. We were exhausted. We paddled 65 miles, portaged 9 dams, battled headwinds and cold temperatures for 5 days and neither of us would hesitate to do it again! In fact, our next trip will be even longer!