Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Ramapo River 2003
By Betty Wiest

April 6, 2003

Under the surface of the water lives Achelous, The Greek God of Rivers. He must have decided to invite some company this cold Spring April day…a distant cousin, Poseidon, whose famous rages are what causes storms at sea; and Aurora, Goddess of the wind. The three of them decided to play with us on Sunday, April 6, taunting us and teasing us from the minute we launched our boats just north of the Mason Jar in Mahwah. Were they so hungry that they caught a few of us unaware and pulled us into the depths?

You can always count on the swift running waters of the Ramapo in early spring. The Ramapo River is a tricky little river—a ribbon of water flowing over rocks and sandbars, under tree limbs, testing and challenging to all who dare paddle her.

We started the day with thirteen paddlers (Betty, Harris, Fred, Carlton, Lee, Ed, Mary Ann, Joel, Donna, Kathy, Jeff, Mary and Steve) not counting the five who decided not to join us because of the temperature and wind. In hindsight, were they the good-decision makers? Who would have thought that when planning this event, the day before was rainy and cold, and the day following our outing we would see four inches of snow. So actually, we had a beautiful day—sunny sky, but just a little cool.

Just a mere few hundred feet from our launch area, the river claimed its first victim. And no wonder. With a tree limb overhanging the most treacherous sliver of current—to the left a wide sand bar—leaving the only water to be paddled pushing against the riverbank underneath this extended limb. The choices? Duck under the limb and paddle your heart out: don’t stop! But it wasn’t long before several paddlers were reacting to cries of “Save me! Save me!”, rescuing Achelous’ and Poseidon’s first prey. Caught in the strainer nearby, others were entwined in the branches looking for runaway paddles—definitely not recommended.

We paused while everyone got their bearings and change of clothes. Two people decided not to continue on. Harris generously lent his extra clothes to Carlton who go wet in the rescue but in his trooper style, swallowed his pride and decided to continue on. Overheard in the conversation, “You have to take off ALL your wet clothes!” I put my telephoto lens away.

Underway once again, we paddled on. The river was high and flowing fast. Cold, and very clean, the water had its normal rifles and flat areas.

It wasn’t long before two more from our group were drawn by the Greek God’s strong hand. The tandem-experienced paddlers were a bit shook up by the hand fate dealt them and, after finding a secluded area to change clothes, decided not to continue on. Now we had lost four people to Achelous. What kind of omen was this?

Down river we paddled past the quiet serene landscape. But it was also marred by debris in the river. We could have opened a sporting goods store with all the array of balls we saw—volleyballs, basketballs, beachballs. Tennis anyone?

We stopped for lunch at the first portage by the private house and abandoned airfield. A few other paddlers not in our group stopped for a few minutes to chat but then went on to experience the river. We relaxed a bit. I had a delicious cup of hot, herbal spice-flavored tea from Fred.

On the river once again. The landscape was bare with tones of tan and brown, the trees just bursting with buds waiting to show their full garments. The traditional Canadian geese, wood ducks and mallards dominated the sky and flatwater. But there was an exciting moment when we saw an osprey with a fish in its beak. What a treat—for the osprey and us!

The home stretch. At one of the last bridges, remnants of Hurricane Floyd with branches spanning between bridge supports almost competed with our final spurt. A quick visual convinced some of us to hug river right and some of us to hug river left.

Memory fades at this point but the Greek God, Achelous, was not to be denied. Another tree paddlers were casualties, all canoers. So close to the final hurrah!

At last we landed at the take-out behind the Oakland Municipal Complex. The day was still sunny. We all felt tired but exhilarated. Too late to get a picture of our triumphant group. Next time I’ll remember to take the group photo at the beginning of the expedition.