Trip of a Lifetime
By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest
A Note to the Reader
It's April 1st, 2001. April Fool's Day. Ed, Brenna, and the rest of
the gang from "Friends
and Lovers" are on the Battenkilleverybody's first time on
moving water after a long winter. Things are looking pretty good. So
far, the shakedown cruise is going fine, but Ken still can't get rid of
the feeling that Linda's wolf-dog is out to get him. Could he be right?
A reminder: This is a work of fiction. Ed and Brenna's
Battenkill isn't exactly like the real thing, and this article is
not a river guide. If you're planning to paddle the real
Battenkill, get a copy of the AMC River Guide or some equally
authoritative volume. 'Nuff said.
January 16, 2001
Sunday morning was cool and cloudy. Three
vehicles rolled north through the village of Arlington, Vermont. All had
New York plates. All were carrying canoes. Ed and Brenna's Ford pickup
was in the lead, their aging Tripper lashed securely to the crossbars of
the home-made rack. Brenna was driving.
Ed gazed out the window. Red Mountain rose high in the west, tendrils
of mist drifting down its steep shoulders. In the valley below, tourists
and locals filed out of white clapboard churches. The tourists pointed
their video cameras at the canoe-laden convoy. They smiled and waved.
The locals trudged to their cars, their hands in their pockets. They'd
seen canoeists before.
A pothole swallowed the Ford's right front tire, bouncing Ed and
Brenna hard against their seat belts. A sign on the side of the road
reminded them that they were driving on "Historic Route 7A."
"'Historic Route 7A'? Damn right it's historic!" Ed spluttered. "Bet
that pothole's been there since the Revolution!"
Brenna had her mind on other things. Alerted by the sound of
squealing brakes, she was watching Pete and Karin Neary's Explorer in
the rear-view mirror. Pete had swerved to avoid the pothole that had
claimed the Ford, nearly wiping out a family on mountain bikes who were
struggling painfully along the highway's narrow, rutted shoulder. The
father shook his fist at the rapidly-disappearing SUV. He was shouting,
too. Brenna couldn't hear what he was saying, but she was pretty sure it
wasn't "Have a nice day."
The Neary's Explorer sped ahead impatiently, closing the distance
until it was no more than a couple of car lengths behind the Ford. "If
Pete get's any closer," Brenna grumbled, turning her attention back to
the road, "he's going to have our Tripper for a hood ornament. That'll
be one hell of an April Fool."
"I suppose Ken's still back there somewhere," said Ed, rolling down
the window and looking over his shoulder to see if he could catch a
glimpse of the silver Caravan with Ken's old Blue Hole OCA and Brick
Johnson's Dagger Legend on top. "Yep. There he is. Missed the pothole,
too." Ed wondered how Ken was coping with Fenris. Linda had promised to
give the wolf-dog a tranquilizer, but even if Fenris was on her best
behavior, Ed didn't imagine the atmosphere in the Caravan was very
"Not my problem, though," he thought, and went back to surveying the
spring landscape. Now and again he caught a glimpse of the Battenkill
off to the left. It was an impressive sight. Flowing almost even with
the top of its banks, the placid summer trout stream had been
transformed by meltwater and runoff into a turbid, gray-green torrent.
Earlier, after dropping off Linda Carney's Jeep Wagoneer at the take-out
in Shushan, they'd stopped to scout the weir above the Tackle Box
bridge. Water was pouring over the low dam, with a powerful reversal
extending downstream of the drop.
"She's pretty ugly today," Ed had said when he first saw the weir
from the bridge, watching a good-sized birch log spin round and round in
the backwash. "Maybe we'd better plan to portage." After he'd walked
upstream for a better look, however, he'd decided that it was runnable
near the bank on the right, and Ken and the others had agreed.
Now they were approaching Roaring Branch. Usually a subject for
wisecracksthe stream was little more than a trickle in
summerit was living up to its name today.
"Just look at that!" exclaimed Ed. "Bet Brick wishes he brought his
"Yeah, well, we're gonna have to warn the guys to watch for strainers
under the cutbank on the right, just below where the Branch comes in,"
Brenna reminded him. "Even Brick. He wouldn't want to drown in a little
Class II drop, would he? He'll be mighty disappointed if he checks out
in anything less than Class V."
In no time at all they were at the Fish and Wildlife parking area. It
was a good thing Vermont trout season didn't open for another week,
Brenna thought, watching Pete and Ken drive in. The three vehicles just
about filled the small lot.
As soon as their feet touched the ground, all the men headed for the
bushes. Karin winked at Brenna. "Guys just can't hold their water," she
said, nodding in the direction where the men had gone. But her joke fell
flat. Brenna, too, was looking for a shrub to shelter behind. "Better
now than later," she said. "A wet-suit doesn't make this any easier."
"You got a point there," replied Karin, and followed Brenna's
Soon, after a short struggle with wet-suits that seemed to have
shrunk during the long winter months, everyone was dressed and ready to
go. Canoes rested on the ground. Spare paddles were stowed, float bags
topped up, and car doors locked. Ed eyeballed the group. Everybody's
life-jacket was zipped. That was good. He could still remember watching
Brenna being drawn into the massive standing waves of the Blue Ledges
with her life-jacket only half-closed. The minutes until he knew she was
safe had been some of the longest of his life. They'd been even longer
Ed went over to her, took her hand, and together they walked down to
the river bank. They stared into the deep, swirling water, breathing in
the pungent smell of spring. The meltwater-swollen current tugged at
partially-submerged alders. Ed thought of the line from
T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages":
I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown godsullen, untamed and intractable
"Except that this river isn't brown," he said suddenly, breaking the
"T. S. Eliot, right?" said Brenna. "Great minds think alike,
I guess." And she giggled, remembering the river at other times, and in
other places. Warm, quiet June evenings on gravel bars. Trout sipping
mayflies from the sap-green surfaces of still pools. A mother whitetail
deer and two fawns drinking in the shallows, not in the least disturbed
by a freight train"Freight train?" she said to herself. "God, was
it that long ago? It was!"rattling over a stone-pier bridge
"Remember?" asked Brenna quietly. And Ed, not needing to ask what,
replied, "Yes," and, just for a moment, they embraced and kissed.
"Hey, guys!" called Linda from the parking lot. "This is a river
trip, you know what I mean? Let's get going!"
Pete and Karin put in first. They ferried across to the opposite bank
and parked their green Mad River Explorer in a small eddy below an
almost-submerged rock. Brick and Linda took their places in the Legend,
Brick in the stern and Linda in the bow. Linda began coaxing Fenris into
the boat. At first the wolf-dog hesitated. Then, without warning, she
leapt in, nearly rolling the canoe over. Brick braced frantically.
Fenris settled down behind Linda, squatting on her haunches and looking
back at Brick, her tongue lolling. Linda drew the bow out into the
current and leaned downstream. The boat pivoted round. In an instant,
they were away down the river. A little distance below the put-in, they,
too, pulled into an eddy near the opposite bank.
Next, Ed and Brenna slid their Tripper into the water. While Brenna
held the canoe, Ed got into the bow, facing upriver. Then Brenna knelt
in the stern. They peeled out and paddled downstream, picking a holding
eddy below Brick and Linda.
Ken was the last to leave. He splashed his Blue Hole into the water,
hopped in amidships, and headed downriver, a big smile on his face. Pete
and Karin left their eddy and followed him, as did Brick and Linda. Ed
and Brenna brought up the rear.
"Isn't it great to be on the water again?" Karin shouted. Ken grinned
in silent agreement.
The four boats continued downstream in easy Class I-II water, losing
no opportunity to play the river. Ed surrendered himself to the
pleasures of the moment. The canoe moved like a live thing beneath him.
Water surged around the bow, and the boat quivered in response to the
ever-changing thrust of the current.
Meanwhile, Ken was catching and leaving a succession of tiny, almost
imperceptible eddies. Sprinting ahead, he pulled even with Brick's
purple Legend, now bobbing in the shadow of the shore eddy along the
right bank. From her place amidships, between Linda and Brick, Fenris
sat very still, her pale yellow eyes fixed on Ken. She turned her head
to follow him, her face an expressionless gray mask. Ken felt his hair
stand on end. He stepped up his stroke rate. Soon he was alongside Ed
and Brenna, who'd just leap-frogged into the lead. In the distance,
there was a bass rumble. It reminded Ken of the sound of heavy traffic.
"Hear that?" asked Brenna. "That's Roaring Branch. Good name, right?
Well, just after it comes in, the river makes a sharp turn to the left.
There's a hell of a cutbank on the outside of the bend, and a big rock
smack in the middle. Bound to be a strainer or two on the right, and at
this water level the rock'll have a pretty good-sized hole below it. You
can sneak through the high-water channel to the left of the big rock, or
you can cut the rock close on the right, but whatever you do, stay out
of the strainers!"
Ed and Brenna hung back, repeating their warning to each boat as it
came up. One by one, the canoes negotiated the bend, each one spurning
the high-water sneak on the left for the more challenging route to the
right of the big mid-stream rock. Ed and Brenna went last, making a snap
decision to drop into the hole, surf across the standing wave at its
downstream end and peel out on the other side.
After a breather in the shore eddy below the drop, they continued on
downriver. Before they knew it, the current had carried them to the
Route 313 bridge. Then the Battenkill turned west. Soon steep hills rose
on either side of them, as the river cut its way through the Taconic
They stopped for lunch at the West Arlington covered bridge. Cloud
blanketed Big Spruce Mountain, towering high above Norman Rockwell's old
studio. Linda and Brick spread natural cashew butter and banana slices
on whole wheat bread. They poured mint tea from a thermos. Pete and
Karin contented themselves with imported salami on sourdough, washing it
down with Chianti.
Seeing the bottle of wine, Ken winced. He chewed his ham sub in
thoughtful silence, remembering the day on the upper Sacandaga when he
cracked two planks and three ribs in his prized Old Town Guide. It had
been a low-water trip at the end of the season, and no place for a
wood-canvas boat. Still, he'd made a flawless morning run, following the
thread of deep water right across the bony river and back again, time
after time, without touching once. Then he'd had a can of beer with his
lunch. The afternoon had been a disaster. A single, lousy can of beer!
That was all. But he'd lost his edge, and his timing had deserted him.
He hit one rock after another all the way down to the take-out. It had
been months before he'd finished repairing the damage to his boat. He'd
never drunk anything stronger than tea on a whitewater trip since.
For their part, Ed and Brenna had their usual riverbank lunch: Swiss
cheese slabs on a baguette. They boiled water on the little Svea and
shared a pot of Darjeeling tea with Ken. Fenris gnawed on a beef knuckle
"Look!" said Ed suddenly, pointing with the heel of his sandwich to a
rift in the clouds above Big Spruce Mountain. "Blue sky!" By the time
everyone was ready to head back to the boats, the clouds were breaking
up everywhere. Soon the paddlers were under way again. Ed and Brenna had
swapped places, with Ed taking the stern. As they crossed into New York,
a shaft of sunlight illuminated the dark slopes to the north. They'd had
the river to themselves so far, but now they saw fishermen by the
dozens. It was April 1stthe start of trout season in New
York. "April Fool's Day," Ed muttered to himself, and shook his head.
He'd been outwitted by quite a few Battenkill trout over the years. "If
that isn't just about perfect!"
To be continued
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All