John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 08.15.01
Fool's Hollow, Quebec


Kayaking Vermont's Black River

Bass and I slide our rented kayaks into the Black River just outside of Coventry, at the Fish & Game access on U.S. Route 5.

In this part of Vermont, the rivers run north and that's where we're headed at 8:30 this Monday morning.

I'd wanted to explore the Black River for years -- the last time the opportunity arose I had wrecked my lower back and couldn't make the trip.

Norman "Bass" Bessette, a Newport homeboy now living in Sacramento, had arranged to rent our twin 11-foot Del Rios from Jim Reed of Up the Creek Paddle Sports and he obligingly hauls us and our two rigs to the F&G access.

The Black and the Barton rivers feed into the South Bay of Lake Memphremagog in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Both are snakey and slow and none too deep in high summer.

Jim gives us quick how to get in and out lesson, tells us where the two portages were located, and what to look for. We slide the kayaks down the river bank and are quickly away.

We soon hit the first tree snags and drag our kayaks across the fine sand. Bass does right well and it looks so easy I take my digital camera out of its waterproof ziplock bags.

Bad mistake.

Soaked up to my ass but with no serious camera damage, I follow Bass downriver. Despite the low drone of highway traffic, it's peaceful and green on the slow-moving creek in the warm morning sun.

At the next tree tangle the water is substantially deeper -- five feet or more. We back-water, gingerly disembark, and drag our craft past the snag.

A little caution is advised here, should you choose to make this trip: beware the shore muck at the far side of the second portage.

Here's Bass, one foot in the kayak, one cheek on the deck -- the sucking sound is coming from his left leg sinking knee-deep into the soft stuff.

We resume our quest for South Bay. Riverine residents we meet include a Great Blue Heron, a sand piper-looking bird, nervous ducks that rapidly takes to wing, various other winged creatures, a large muskrat. We do not see the legendary serpent of Lake Memphremagog, though from time to time we spy suspicious bubbles coming from the river bottom.

Here's a little whining: our arms and shoulders tire, the lactic acid builds up, and we wonder aloud just where we are in our journey.

Jim had said it would take about three hours, although some folks took four or more.

An hour has passed.

It's about four miles by pickup truck from Jim's rental spot to the F&G access, but because the Black is snakey, it's many more miles by kayak.

We press on, enjoying the outing, marveling at the sheerness of the rock facings on the south riverbank. For some reason I had always believed it flat and swampy.

You can kid yourself when you run the Black that this is the way it was when the redman held sway here, and you can envision people in birch bark canoes quietly gliding alongside.

But when you near the Airport Road, the reality of the 21st century smacks you right in the kisser. There, high on the skyline, are the monster trucks and machinery of the massive landfill operation of Waste USA Inc.

You have to wonder just how secure are the so-called impervious membranes that supposedly line their monster pits.

We reach the Airport Road bridge and there, standing by his blue pickup truck, is good old Charlie Tetreault, digital camera at the ready.

He makes photographs and offers to haul us and our kayaks back to Jim Reed's place. We opt to follow the river to its encounter with Lake Memphremagog, and thence north to the F&G access just outside of Newport, at the old city dump site where I once spent part of each Saturday morning many years ago.

We slide through the cattails and lilypads into South Bay and paddle north towards our rendezvous with Charlie and a six pack of cold beer.

I see the house where the Silver Fox and I lived with three of our four sons after we married in 1959, and the boyhood home of the late Peter Paul Handy, an old friend who decades ago drank himself to death.

And there's Charlie, camera at the ready, and I feel a surge of adrenaline and paddle madly for the shore.

Bass, many thanks for a great idea and a fine time on the river. Next year, my treat.

You can reach Jim Reed at Up the Creek Paddle Sports at 1.802.777.0989 & 1.0802.334.7350.

Jim rents 9-foot Bandits for $5/hour, $19/half day, and $28/day.

He has larger single and tandem Wilderness Systems kayaks and Mad River canoes for rent, and assorted other gear.

If you want to paddle your own rental kayak, or canoe, give Jim a call. Tell him the Log Cabin Chronicles sent you.