Do you have a friend you paddle with regularly? Better yet, someone you've paddled with for many years? If you do, cherish them, good paddling buddies are hard to find.
My most long-time paddling buddy is Biff. I remember the first time we went on the river. It was a late fall day on the North Oromocto, and the colors were fantastic. Biff remarked that the scenery could have come out of an oil painting by Renoir.
It was my maiden voyage in my first boat, a Coleman, high-tech at the time. I remember enjoying the rock gardens we paddled through, culminating in a side-slip down the face of Gaspereau Falls, grating over its shallow rock face at a jaunty angle into the pool below. It all seems so big in my memory now, yet the same stretch of river seems so mellow and ordinary today. I prefer the memory myself.
Pete is another long-time buddy. He sat in the same Coleman of mine the first time I sailed down the Miramichi. We've journeyed down the Miramichi several times since. The last time we went down was after a terrific nor'easter, and the water was high and scary fast. We nearly filled 'er in the standing waves at Burnt Hill, not in the first rocky turn, but in the haystacks of the second set in front of the lodge. We muscled the boat to the bushes by the shore and bailed her out, because I knew we'd never make it down the last chute half-full of water. Thankfully, it was a warm day in the sunshine, we didn't have to worry about catching a chill.
Lately, well the last fifteen years or so, I've been paddling with two fellers I met on the Internet, Scooter and Hal. I remember telling my father I was going down to Maine to paddle with someone I'd met on-line, and he was alarmed, to put it mildly. He warned me that I didn't really know these people, and goodness knows what these strangers might have in mind. Perhaps he had recently watched “Deliverance.” Yes, we've had some adventures, but all has turned out just fine so far. I'm grateful to them for letting me join their gang and introducing me to other New England paddlers as well.
Still, you have to be careful who you paddle with. I remember going on the river quite a few years ago with two acquaintances who will remain anonymous, Joe and Jim. I didn't know a third person was coming along until it was too late.
The first indication that all would not be well came in the deadwaters leading to the main river. Jim finished his first beer (yes, he brought along liquor. It happens.) Rather than stowing the can in a bag for proper disposal at the end of the trip, he held it in the water by his seat, let it fill up, then watched it sink to the bottom of the stream. I don't pretend to be an angel, but that's something I never do.
We proceeded down the river, and after he had enjoyed a few more cold ones, his alter ego appeared ... a crazy maniac, acting on destructive impulse, impossible to control or stop. Believe it or not, this alter ego has a name, known to his friends, but I won't utter it here. I'll call him Mr. Hyde.
We pulled ashore at a landing, and Mr. Hyde spotted a building up on the bank on the level in the trees. He staggered up to it. It was a dilapidated cabin, roof sagging and green, with windows open and the door ajar. Maybe it was a little on the derelict side, but it could still serve as an overnight shelter for hunters and fishermen, or paddlers wanting to get out of the rain and change into something dry. Someone valued it, for sure.
Anyway, something snapped in Mr. Hyde's beer-soaked brain, and he started flinging chairs and dishes, sheets and whatnot out of the window frames, ransacking what was still of any value in the shanty. My pleas to stop, to get the hell out of there, fell on deaf ears. I could only watch, and soon I went down to the boats alone. I couldn't leave, I might strand my fellows, wicked or not, a day's walk out of the forest. I hope nobody sees us, I thought.
Finally, after the fever and liquorlust subsided somewhat, I managed to persuade him to get back in the boat, and we set back off downriver. I never went paddling with him again.
Yes, I am guilty by association. I guess I should have known Mr. Hyde would be coming along. I don't feel good about it, but I learned my lesson. Choose your paddling partners wisely.
May the wind be with you!
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