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Joe's Brook

Saturday May 25, 2013
Kayak: Hugh Pritchard, Ryan McCall, Tom Rogers, Paul Carlile
C1: Alden Bird
Organizer: Alden Bird
Difficulty: advanced WW
Level: medium
Gauge (cfs): 3500
Author: Alden Bird

I have always preferred a river to a river section. This dichotomy extends, I believe, to my own start in the sport as a slalom racer, during which time the difference between paddling miles up and down a single slalom training rapid was always quite clearly juxtaposed against that for which it was considered training: paddling a whole length of river, or at least the parts acceptably white.

In hang gliding, the dichotomy persists between ridge soaring, whose practitioners remain aloft in uplifting winds on a single ridge before landing in a familiar field, versus cross country flying, whose pilot soars as high as he can before leaving familiar ridge and field to fly across many such local instances, refreshing himself on what uplift he may find, until he must finally land. To be setting out, to be pushing away from shore, to be paddling always toward the next horizonline -- this is the appeal of running other than a short section of river.

But a long river in itself would not do, only a long river with constant constriction and descent. I have always preferred rivers whose rapids are linked together continuously, requiring one who would descend them to join together many complex moves to reach the bottom. This is the promise of the technical challenge of an unending slalom course writ large, spiced with the element of real danger.

As I have gotten older and become both less engaged in paddling, and also more appalled by the river's danger, I have become less enamored of the very epitome of the unrelenting river such as I once preferred. I no longer aspire to paddle the fabled 15 miles above Banks, Idaho each summer, or to make my eddy turns among trees.

Now the river's passage through a deep gorge is more striking than its effect on my central nervous system. Now it would seem more striking to me to witness a river advancing through varied geographical rooms than than through varied hydrological terrors.

Joe's Brook, in its ten mile descent from the height of the land in Danville, whose residents view both the White and Green Mountains, is as long a steep river descent as may be found short of Quebec and long of West Virginia. It is Vermont's class four crown jewel, and we were lucky enough for it to run on Memorial Day weekend of this year.

Yet it may well as have been winter. On this late May morning, we put on to hail, portaged and paddled through rain, and strapped boats on in snow. No matter the aberration, but both Paul and Tom completed successful personal first descents of Joe's Brook.

One long portage was made in the early part of the river around a dangerous log. This portage, up and down a steep, loose bank, reminded one of how effective a conveyance through wild places is a river. Another portage was made around the steep rapid beneath the covered bridge, and a future portage will no doubt be made by the canoeist around the big roadside slide after the most recent scarifying descent, yellowing the rocks with plastic.

The promise of a river and not a river section is that we may one day remember all of its many rapids well enough that we may confidently link all of its moves together while staying in our boat and while leading our friends. Joe's Brook constricts frequently enough -- yet has water infrequently enough -- that this promise remains there for me.

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