Saturday, May 18, 2013
Within a short drive of more than half the population of Maine, and with the only reminder that civilization is near being the sound of traffic on Route 1, is a special kayaking adventure that will come to many people, as it did to me on a recent paddle, as more than a surprise. It's a reminder that even in the most unexpected places, another Maine resource is just waiting to be explored.
I had seen the occasional kayaker in the Androscoggin River just below the bridge that carries traffic on busy Route 201 between Topsham and Brunswick, and had filed away the thought that there could be some interesting paddling awaiting there (not to mention there were always fishermen on the banks or on the water).
I realized that I was in for a treat as I put in my kayak at the convenient and well-marked municipal launching site just below the bridge on the Brunswick side of the river.
For a paddle of a few hours, or a full day if you have the time and energy, the stretch of water running for about five miles down to Merrymeeting Bay stands ready to reward you with surprising variety, landscape and exploration opportunities.
I would suggest that you check your tide chart so you can plan your trip to coincide with the ebbing tide and return upriver on the incoming flow, as the combination of the river's rush to the sea and an outgoing tide can combine to make the return trip a little strenuous, as I found out on my recent day on the river.
And for you longtime canoeists who might be new to kayaking, it's worth remembering that a long paddle can be made a lot easier and less energy-consuming if you constantly remind yourself to exert more pressure on your paddle by pushing with your upper hand than by pulling with your lower -- counter-intuitive for some of us old-time canoe aficionados.
But, believe me, it'll pay off.
As I pushed away from the launch site I couldn't resist paddling upstream to the rapids just below the dam, to both enjoy the view and briefly ride the swirling water downstream as the perfect start.
Passing under the old railroad bridge, I watched a couple of fly fishermen casting expertly in the shadows of the old structure and had a momentary flashback to a night more than 50 years ago, when I accepted the dare of a couple of college chums and walked the tracks from one side of the river to the other -- hoping the train didn't run at midnight!
My first pleasant surprise was the sight of the several islands that seem to literally fill the river: Cow, Cornish, Driscoll and some smaller ones around and upon which one could spend a whole day exploring. And except for the traffic sounds in the distance and the warm water, you can almost imagine that you're somewhere in the North Maine Woods.
A kayak is the perfect craft for this stretch of the Androscoggin River, as sandbars abound and some of the passages between and around the islands are only a few inches deep. I'd encourage you to meander among the mixed-forest islands.
But the bay was my destination, so I headed northeast past Mustard and Freyer islands into the opening expanse of Merrymeeting Bay, where six rivers converge to form a 9,000-acre wonderland of mud flats and sandbars, where wild rice and pickerel weed flourish.
(Continued on page 2)