Saturday dawned cool and overcast. A friend from my life of 22 years ago had emailed about a kayak trip she and her husband were organizing on the Contoocook River. I hadn’t seen her in years though we had emailed and spoken lately. Being the social butterfly she is, there were roughly ten other folks who had responded to the invitation. I didn’t know any of them but thought this could be fun.
The Contoocook River originates in southwestern New Hampshire from Poole Pond in Rindge. It flows north for 71 miles to the heart of the state, Concord,where it joins the Merrimack River, which flows south and eventually into the ocean in Newburyport, MA. The significance for me is that I grew up in Newburyport, on the Merrimack and now live in the Contoocook River Valley where I cross the river many times a day and as it flows through my surrounding towns. I love to think that if I put a message in a bottle to my former self, set it adrift from here and raced to the shore, I might find it floating by back at my beginnings.
The importance of this confluence of water for the Indians and early settlers was the ability to move north and south throughout the southern part of the state by water. There are many dams along the way built by the settlers to harness the natural energy of the Contoocook. Covered bridges dot its winding route.
I had never been to this part of the river and was looking forward to its journey through farmlands and villages. The trip was originally touted as nine miles going with the current. We were to meet at the Contoocook River Company parking lot where we would end up. The company would drive us with our kayaks to the starting point at Contoocook Village. When the number of attendees dwindled, it we agreed to put in at the Village and leave one car at the end of the trip to drive us all back.
I arrived early. The parking lot behind the old depot was jammed with people shopping at the impromptu farmer’s market. I found a spot and waited. Next to the depot and market was an ancient covered railroad bridge. The river looked narrow and full but lazy below.
The four of us set off. I had met Dianne’s husband, Russ only once before, years ago. He was our “guide” having done this trek a few week before. As we set out he explained that the trip to the Contoocook River Company was nine miles but he had parked a “couple” of miles further north at Contoocook Park. The river was full from the recent rains. We drifted along comfortable with the flow, taking turns floating together to chat. Turtles sunned on submerged trees, Cormorants fished the middle of the river while Great Gray Herons and ducks patrolled the shore.
After an hour we pulled up at a bridge to picnic. Just as we sat down, voices announced the arrival of a fleet of canoes and a family party. They stalled at our landing and let it be known they were planning on picnicking exactly where we were settled. We pulled our kayaks to the side and sat back down to eat. Our space was rudely invaded; they pulling their aluminum canoes ashore and gathering around our little pine knoll overlooking the river.
We beat a hasty retreat and the climate of the river’s edge shifted from farmlands fragrant with fresh cow manure to cottages dotting the banks. Every home seemed to have a pontoon boat. When we spotted the River Lady, pictured above, I couldn’t resist grabbing a shot.
At mile nine, my butt was sore and falling asleep from sitting on the hard seat of my kayak. (Note to self: bring a cushion next time!) Russ assured us it was just a “mile or so” farther to the boat landing. The river became wider and the water faster. While it was never dangerous, paddling to stay straight, became more a challenge. After four hours, the landing was in site and the thought of standing upright drove us to the end. A lovely fall day of exploring.