by Melinda Rowlands
I haven’t been receiving any reports or stories from anyone in town these past few weeks, so you will have to endure another of my stories to fill up some space in the news. I guess if you object you could always send along a story or news report to help fill up the paper the next time around. (There would be a smiley face at the end of that statement if we could print such icons in the newspaper.)
Part One of my Rapid River Kayaking Adventure
I’ve been cleaning out and reorganizing the library at church for the past couple of months. It has been nice digging through some of the old books and finding some lovely little treasures. This past week I stumbled across the book “Only Parent” by my favorite author, Louise Dickinson Rich. Some of you may recall one of her more well-known books, “We Took to the Woods,” about her life on the Rapid River in Upton, Maine.
Years ago, a number of my friends and I headed out for western Maine to enjoy one of only two river releases that they use to have each year on the Rapid River — the focus of so many of Louise Dickinson Rich’s books. The “put-in” for kayakers involved miles and miles of driving logging roads before you reached the water and started a mile and a half of flat-water paddling across The Pond in the River (a flat stretch of the river between the Richardson Lakes and the beginning of the Rapid River which ends at Lake Umbagog). While paddling the flat-water section of the river, my friend Rich told me all about Louise Dickinson Rich and her home “Forest Lodge” that we would be passing by once we reached the beginning of the Rapid River.
Pond in the River ends at the Lower Dam, an old wooden building set on top of log cribbing. This structure marks the beginning of the Rapid River. As soon as we passed the dam I could see Forest Lodge. We were miles from any roads and even more miles from any public roads or other marks of civilization, but here stood her house right on the banks of this incredible river. I was instantly in love and quite determined to read all about Louise’s life as soon as I returned home.
The Rapid River is one of those great rivers where there are very few eddies during a big-water release. You have to “read” the river as you paddle and quickly decide which path to take as you head through the rapids, avoiding hydraulics and holes that can flip and hold you and your boat indefinitely. We traveled through class III and IV whitewater before we reached “Smooth Ledge,” a popular picnicking spot, I later found out, of Mrs. Dickinson Rich and her family. It was also where all the kayakers were stopping to eat and play on this particular day.
While I ate my lunch, my friends gave me the full report of what lay ahead on the river. One of the first sections we would encounter contained a hydraulic called the “Jaws of Death” and the next section of the river after that was called the “Devil’s Hopyard.” If you made it successfully through the aforementioned sections then you were rewarded by the abrupt ending of the rapids as the river leveled off and ended at Lake Umbagog. I was told that the “Devil’s Hopyard” is no place to take a “swim,” so stay in your kayak, don’t flip over, and if you do — make your roll to upright your boat no matter what. These are things you love hearing when you are at a point in your trip of no return.
After lunch and some play time in our kayaks around Smooth Ledge, several of my kayaking buddies headed down river as my friend Sharon and I began to carefully pick our way around the Jaws of Death and through the Devil’s Hopyard. We were nearly through the Hopyard when we came around a bend in the river and saw our friend Rich without his kayak, sitting in the middle of the river on a rock, bent over vomiting. We quickly found an eddy and pulled in to assess the situation before we continued any further. Apparently Rich had flipped while going through the Hopyard and had been unable to roll back upright, had pulled his skirt, bailed out of his kayak, hit a rock and (we found out later) broken his collarbone. Fortunately, our friend, Joey, and another couple in a small pontoon-style raft, were already starting a rescue. With some rope, they were able to get Rich to the side of river and load him and his boat onto the “cataraft.” I’m sure the pain was terrible but, knowing Rich, it was far harder for him to learn that he wouldn’t be able to do any more kayaking that year. He was back in top form by the following kayaking season, though, and ready to join us for another trip down the Rapid River. On the next trip; however, it was me who was going be in trouble.
To be continued in next week’s news column …