fall paddling in New England

Canoeing in autumn. Photo: Steve MacLellan

Photos and words by Ian MacLellan

We are paddling in New England, the Connecticut River to be exact. This is the fourth day, and my friend and I have fallen into a sort of rhythm: wake up, paddle lazily down the calm river, enjoy the foliage, take a break, repeat until night and then set up camp.

The section below Gilman Dam used to be famous for its threatening rapids and waterfalls, but it will forever be etched in my mind as the “Five Dam Day.”  The river is very slow in this section and it feels more like you are paddling through an extremely long lake and every portage takes you to a new lake.

Every dam has a sign on the down river side, telling you to seek higher ground if the alarm sounds because the water level is about to rise extremely rapidly. At dam number fout, just as we were repacking our canoe after the portage, I hear a siren. I frantically look all around me, “What should I grab? Where should I run???” Petrified I jump across the rocks to Arlin. Arlin chuckles before telling me it was just a police officer’s siren. Disaster averted.

Flat, still water and perfect foliage are starting to become routine, and it feels as though we can paddle South at three to four miles an hour forever. Our senses start to heighten as well, allowing us to notice the multitude of bald eagles on the river. We both pick and choose our dream river houses that dot the shoreline.

One of my favorite parts of the trip so far is how the river transports you into tranquil wilderness, even when you’re less than a mile from a road. I left the city life behind to go on this trip. Along with leaving my my computer, I tried my best to keep my cell phone off for the entire trip. I made it to day four before I turned it on to text my girlfriend so she knew I was alive. Of course, as soon as you turn on your phone and reconnect there is a deluge of emails, Facebook messages and voicemails. It’s all very overwhelming and breaks nature’s spell. This trip is about getting away and experiencing a new part of New England and my emails can wait. We go to sleep at 8PM and wake up at 7 a.m., following the sun not a clock.

Six days into the trip, we’ve had absolutely perfect weather, but on day seven it’s going to rain.

paddling in New England during fall

Paddling the Connecticut in autumn brings about bright colors.

Dispatch One of paddling in New England.
Dispatch Three of paddling in New England.
Dispatch Four of paddling in New England.