Canoe Adventures

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Winter Daytrip on the Ware River
by: Matt Hopkinson

Put-in: Rte 67, Barre, MA. Maybe a mile south of Barre Plains, turn right after a white fence into a gravel pit. Take the railroad bed to the right, find a small cart path on the left. Cozy little put-in.
Take-out: At the Rte 32A brdige in Gilbertville.

A cold winters day found Scooter and Hal on the banks of the Ware River once again. Dressed in farmer john wetsuits and outer gear we headed out. We scouted the river while doing the shuttle and all seemedto be open water. We both wondered though, if there were going to be any ice shelves today. Ice shelves are great fun. It wasn't very long before we came to the first one, not long and the ice was more a sluggishly mixture than anything. Sweat formed on our brows as we plowed through the soup to the open water at the far end of it.

We made some good time occasionally stopping on shore for a break. Wetsuits are great to keep you warm but those zipper designs have a lot left to be desired! Continuing on we eventually came to another ice shelf and took the same approach of forcing our way thorugh the slushy mess, taking turns in the lead. Occasionally we'd have to rock our canoes back and forth to break through the thicker sections. More open water and then the third shelf appeared. It stretched down a long straight run of the river, the banks high. This would be a tough one.

By now we had made enough progress downriver to not think about going back so we started to ice break once again, it was beginning to be old hat. As we made our way the ice got thicker and thicker and the task became hard, then difficult, then impossible.
Scooter wields his pole
Not having any kind of axe, or pick to poke into the ice we tried our paddles, which slid across the ice. Then we tried poles, but they punched through into bottomless water. Finally, after some discussion we made a bold yet stupid move. Stepping out of the canoes but hanging firmly onto the gunwales we started sliding our canoes forward. Keeping torso over the canoe meant we would fall into the canoe if the ice broke. It was arduous work pushing a seventy-five pound boat over ice. There were plenty of patches of thin ice and a yell of "Holy Shit" and the sound of something heavy hitting the canoe was one of us starting to break through and landing face-first into the boat. I swore that by the end of the day I'd have the imprint of the seat on my forehead!!

Nothing like soup on a cold day
It was soon lunchtime and the hiss of canoes sliding over snow gave way to the hiss of stoves roaring and water heating. A hot meal on the ice is always a treat and this one didn't dissapoint us at all. It wasn't long before we were belly warm and ready to move on.

We moved on pushing hard and constantly worring about the ice under our feet and the constant bending over the canoes was hell on the ol' back. To top things off the ice soon turned into a slushy mess, the firm ice was covered in a layer of saturated slush. Not counting on this I had worn an ankle high pair of Chota's, not meant for winter weather and it wasn't long before my feet were iced up and numb. Hal had a pair of neoprene booties and silk socks and quickly offered them to me. Shedding my dripping wool socks and Chota's my bare, wet feet formed ice crystals all over them and I had to dry them with a towel before donning my new shoes. In the neoprene they quickly heated back up and it was off again, swissssshhhhhh as the canoes slide over the ice.
Making good use of a space blanket
And so goes another good day of winter paddling
Hal's feet fared no better in his sopping wet hiking boots. He changed his socks, wrapped them in pieces of his space blanket and put his shoes back on over that. His feet were toasty warm too. Time stretched on forever and we slogged through the hostile environment. Through the trees I could see a brick building rising in the sky. It dawned on me suddenly that I knew exactly where I was. Stopping I turned to Hal and said, "Isn't there a dam just ahead?" Hal must have remembered about the same time and gave a yelp. No wonder the river was frozen over. If a tree had been handy I think he might have slammed his head against. Pushing the boats to river left we skirted around the dam and found a glorious view of open water as far as the eye could see. The rest of the day was a great paddle. The current picked up and we came down through quick section of water, the sun sparkling, warm on our faces. Boulders were strewn through the river and were crowned by piles of snow. Snubbing our way down this section I followed Hal as he seemed to know the way better than I. Hearing a yell from ahead I had a feeling that Hal had lost his pole and rounding a rock I saw it sticking in the air wavering back and forth in the current. I was able to eddie and pole back up for it. As the daylight waned we spied the take-out. We quickly loaded the boats and headed for the pizza joint across the street as dusk began!

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