Autumn Paddling in New England, Part Four
Explore the Connecticut River during peak autumn foliage
I thought all the wild sections of the Connecticut River were behind us, but south of White River Junction, Vt feels more wild than up north, with dark conifers towering on both sides. There is also the highest concentration of endangered species in Vermont or New Hampshire; home to the globally endangered Cobblestone Tiger Beetle, which lives between rocks on islands in this stretch.
After a week on the river we are ready for Sumner Falls, our most challenging rapids and a year-round whitewater playground. We portage the majority of our gear downstream to the beach after the falls and run the rapids in an empty boat, just in case. We easily pass through the majority of the rapids, but can’t escape the last standing wave and our boat quickly fills with water. For the first time in the trip, my heart is truly racing and we just barely escape the wave’s clutches.
Torrential downpours and winds gusting to 50mph (we later find out that there was high risk of tornadoes in the area) hit us and we seek refuge in the tipis at the Path of Life Sculpture Garden. We weren’t ready for that storm and our gear is soaked so the next morning we lay out everything to dry and walk up from the shore to the Harpoon Brewery to eat lunch and wait.
As we pack up and push off from Harpoon, it feels like the adventure is already over, hitting a climax with the rapids and winds yesterday and confident we can make it to Massachusetts in time. We start to relax, lazily paddling onward, warm in the bright sun of the day. We both fall asleep in the boat and awake unsure of which way is downstream.
We spend our last night at the newly built Windyhurst campsite. The Windyhurst logbook has only 10 entries and I come upon a report from a pair from Rutland, Vt who did a very similar 10-day canoe trip: “Massachusetts border today to pull out. Long Island Sound next year. Why don’t more people do this amazing trip?!!” I agree, it’s the perfect balance of challenge and comfort, human and nature.
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is the last big landmark before the take out. The power plant is imposing and steam rises eerily from the warm water outflow. There used to be a statue to welcome you, but it was flooded when they built the Turner’s Falls Dam. With no sign marking our passing into Massachusetts, we go a little way past our take out, backtracking for the first (and last) time in the trip.