Russ Moody on Webb River. (Contributed photo)

Hidden away in the rural community of Carthage, except for locals Webb River is relatively unknown.  Three exceptions are whitewater boaters, avid fishermen and Russ. 

 Each spring, scores of enthusiastic paddlers converge on the Webb as soon as ice is out for some excellent Class II/III whitewater.  A free flowing river, it is unique in that a comparatively large watershed keeps water levels elevated long after other mountain freshets are impassable.  

I first “discovered” the Webb in the spring of 1989.  A friend and I were returning from a paddling trip on Sandy River.  Traveling south from Weld on Route 142, we crossed a bridge over a stretch of engaging whitewater.  Shortly after, two more long rapids appeared beside the road.  Expeditiously halting our journey, we set up a shuttle and accomplished a first run.  I’ve been hooked ever since completing about 100 trips.  

This spring has been an exceptional one even for the Webb.  Regular rainstorms and heavy snowpack have kept it at a runnable level for virtually the entire season.  As usual, my outdoor club, the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society, scheduled a couple of trips.  Wallowing in my semi-retirement status, that was insufficient for me. 

I have a wild card, my old friend Russ Moody.  If I qualify for Webb Head status, Russ is the Webb River God.  On a recent trip, I asked him how many times he’d paddled it. He paused for a moment and responded, “So many times, I don’t know…hundreds for sure.” 

Not only does the prolific Mr. Moody paddle the Webb but he’s the unofficial caretaker.  He and a friend painted a gauge on a bridge abutment at the bottom of Schoolhouse Rapid in the tiny hamlet of Berry Mills. Regularly used by paddlers and fishermen, it’s the primary indicator of conditions on the remainder of the river. When new obstructions and hazards materialize, they often miraculously disappear shortly after Russ detects them.   

The U.S. Geological Survey maintains gauges on many rivers and streams throughout the country and they are available online.  Apparently unaware of the Webb’s significance, they’ve omitted that important waterway.  However, I have a system.  If the online gauges for nearby Sandy and Swift Rivers are high, history tells me the Webb will soon follow.  

When indications are positive, my next step is to text Russ.  This may be a shocking revelation for some as my reputation as a technology resistant Luddite is notorious.  In fact, it was only recently that I realized what a text was.   That people actually send them while driving is both amazing and frightening.   If something is important enough, I adapt.  Russ told me that the quickest easiest way to reach him is by text, so that’s what I do; hoping of course that he’s not driving when he responds.   Not much of a typist with my thumbs, I write something like, “Webb today at 11?”  A man of many words, his response is normally, “OK.” 

Since April 19th, Russ and I have completed that ritual five times.  We’re not wearing the river out and we both agree that our durable plastic kayaks will outlive us, but we may be wearing ourselves out.  Not youngsters, he’s one of the few people that I boat with that’s older than I am.  I sometimes worry that when we’re observed paddling, witnesses may suspect we’re escapees from the local home and report us to the geriatric police.   When the river is at flood, dementia may be their concern. 

Our most recent outing on the Webb was typical.  A beautiful sunny day, we met next to the last rapid.  The same spot where my friend and I left a vehicle 30 years ago.  Commenting that the actual water level was higher than anticipated, we noted that there were a few obnoxious blackflies but they weren’t biting. “It won’t be long,” Russ commented.  Leaving his car, we drove a short four miles north and carried our kayaks about 150 yards through the woods to a steep narrow rapid.      

That’s where the entertainment began.  Both of us caught a surf on the initial descent.  The Webb is a perpetual series of fun rapids.  Dodging rocks and surfing waves two old men tumbled down the meandering river for about five miles.  We’ve found the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon, Webb River! 

When we finished, Russ retrieved his rod and began fishing.  He doesn’t keep the fish taking nothing but satisfaction from the Webb.  

The author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham.  Visit his website atwww.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected]. 

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