Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

The Shepaug River
By Betty Wiest

Saturday, April 12, 2003

It was raining. It rained the day before and it was still raining at 7 a.m.—and we were supposed to go paddling on the Shepaug River in Connecticut. The weathermen predicted sunny skies for the afternoon—and they were right.

Six of us made our way up to Washington Depot, Connecticut. I was the lone female, but one of the guys (Bob, Ed, Harris, Lee, and Don) said, “We don’t look at the male/female thing—you’re just a paddler.” That was good news. I thought I would be resigned to watching the campfires.

Frankly, when I woke up on that Saturday, I thought I was a bit crazy thinking that this was a good idea. Was I out to prove something to myself? Maybe in some way, but I wasn’t sure. Was I up to the level of paddling this river demanded?

When Harris picked me up at my house, I was pretty well organized and ready to go. A few final last minute items and I was all set—since I was not using my own vehicle, it’s always a bit different.

With Harris driving we made our way to the Park and Ride lot by the Palisades Center on Routes 87, 202 and 59. It’s a good thing Harris was at the wheel since I would still be waiting at the “official” P&R lot. There was no sign where we hung out to wait; a good omen was seeing Lee Filkin's’ car with his canoe on top. Yes! Bob had some reading material on the river that provided some insight to the area.

All during the trip to Washington Depot it rained—sometimes hard, sometimes just a drizzle—but we decided to be optimistic.

Everyone met at the take-out area to arrange for leaving two cars for the final shuttle once we finished our paddle. A few boats were transferred to other vehicles and we made out way to the launch site. A quick pit stop and bakery shop purchase on the way was all that was needed.

The write-up was perfect and lived up all to the descriptions of the areas we paddled through—“the fantastic scenery, miles of fast, clean water, and no dams or portages”—that’s the Shepaug River! There were exquisite hemlock cliffs that towered a few hundred feet above us. “With the scenery to look at it can be difficult to concentrate on the water. The river is a springtime river and the water runs high and fast March thru April.” There were so many bends and boulders in the river.

Maybe that’s why I felt like a ball in a pinball machine. It was a constant focus on avoiding the rocks. Ten points for every rock I avoided! The big bonus award? One thousand points for not going for a swim.

We came to a huge tree that had fallen in the river. And while another group toyed with how to get beyond it, we took a break taking in the calm stream meeting the conflux of the Shepaug, the fresh cuts of two trees by local beavers, and a rope swing reminiscent of summer swims. Then it became our turn to get beyond the river; hugging river right most of us go through. I went river left thinking I could get under the high part of the fallen tree. The current moved my kayak horizontal to the tree and I found myself “walking” with my hands to maneuver underneath it. Two attempts got me through!

We all did very well. I personally felt exhilarated by the trip. It was a personal challenge in taking my experience to the next level.

Our paddle ended in a glorious day! Perfect skies and a perfect paddle with some terrific paddlers!

Time for some chow. Thanks to Bob Rancan for an après-paddle gourmet campfire meal of peppers and cocktail frank kabobs. Hmmm, yummy!

Looking forward to the next outing on the river.