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OC1 Topher Reynolds, Tom Wilhelm, c2g, Mike McCrea
Celebrating Tom’s birthday with a long daytrip down the low-water Gunpowder a select group of Duckheads undertook a familiar run surrounded by familiar faces. This familiarity may have imparted the day’s zen-like quality. Although it is true that you never paddle the same river twice my canoe seemed to know the way; I needed only point the bow downstream and the boat magically picked clean lines seemingly on its own, with minimal guidance or correction necessary.
Hazards of the day were few. A single riverwide strainer soon after we launched, easily portaged. A complex sweeper-strainer-limbo combination, easily portaged. Or inadvertently run.
Paddling in the lead I came upon this tricky piece of wood and current and, still in a zen-like trance, backpaddled to a crawl to cogitate the possible passage and consequences. The potential route was tight and would require threading the needle and executing a series of must make moves, in current, all in the blink of an eye.
The portage, on the other hand, was a convenient dry-foot cobble bar pull-over. Deciding at the last second that discretion was the better part of valor, especially this early in the trip, I opted to portage.
Or not. By the time my slow moving thought processes had reached that decision I was in the current and was committed to the compressed slalom run through the woody peril. Once again my trusty riverhorse picked perfect lines and when I finally opened my eyes I was sitting in an eddy on river left, dry and upright.
Looking upriver I espied c2g next in line and calculated that I could set safety for him and, once he was through, play paparazzi for Tom and Topher. Taking station immediately below the deciduous dilemma I hid the throwbag behind my back, not wanting to present a distracting visual whammy.
C2g picked his line, slalomed the tightly spaced uprights perfectly and waited until there was but one remaining obstacle to play tree hugger. Catching a sweeper trunk at gunwale level in the meat of the current c2g refused to let go of either his boat or the tree, performing a beautiful slow-motion back layout until he was stretched in midair, hands grasping the tree, feet grasping the boat and nothing between his body and the water except air and gravity.
All good things must come to an end, and c2g’s Flying Wallenda impersonation was no exception. Compelled to perform his dismount when the upstream gunwale finally submerged, c2g executed a final half twist and affected a face first splashdown. I launched the throw rope even as he hit the water, but he had self-rescued before the rope released from its arc and dropped across his boat. Call it poor decision making on my part throwbag or camera? Camera or throwbag?
I think I’ll buy one of those cheap waterproof disposable cameras and attach it the throwbag. I’d hate to miss an opportunity to capture c2g’s next hang-in-there-baby move on film.
Tom and Topher had no such difficulties, catching the easy eddy and hauling their canoes across the gentle beach. The question remains if a c2g falls in the river and no one takes a photograph did he really make a splash?
The remainder of the trip and most of the trip remained, as we had gone perhaps two miles at this point was tranquil and increasingly pleasant, as Sailor Jerry and friends made appearances at frequent muckle ups and we reached the Sparks take out as darkness descended.
The Sparks take out is fast loosing favor as a preferred access point. The once benign egress on river left has become increasingly difficult and the pull of the earth seems especially strong in that localized area. The mud and wet snow did little to improve my traction as I attempted to haul my canoe up the hill, and the fifty gallons of water that somehow accumulated unnoticed in the stern was a definite impediment. Sailor Jerry, although now a good friend and boon companion, didn’t help much either.
Somehow, with more than a little help from my friends, the boats were racked and gear was packed and my canoe was delivered to the top of my snow-covered driveway. A final toboggan ride down the drive and another day of Duckhead merriment drew to a close.
Denouement I awoke early the next morning with Sailor Jerry still very much on my mind to find my canoe still sitting in the middle of the driveway, full of frozen, mud-covered gear. But, ya know, I can’t think of a better way to say “Happy Birthday Tom”.
To the take out - Back out Masemore to Mt. Carmel and turn left. Take Mt. Carmel to the T intersection at the end and turn right (south) onto York Rd (Rte 45). Take York Rd south, pass Belfast Rd entering from the right and turn left onto Sparks Rd. Take Sparks Rd over the Gunpowder to the parking lot just across the bridge.
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