Gently Down the Stream

Last weekend’s highlight was a New Jersey Pine Barrens canoe trip with Amy and her church group, via Pine Barrens Canoe Rental. The canoe rental place itself seemed an anachronism: a building and a shed nestled in a clearing of cranberry bogs, nowhere near any rivers. That’s where we signed waivers and paid the rental fee, then waited, in the shade of the shed, till the little bus pulling a rack full of shiny aluminum canoes pulled up with our number. From there, it was a twenty minute drive through the forest, down sandy dirt roads and past campsites full of tents and RVs, to Hawkins Bridge, where other canoists and kayakers were setting off into the shallow, muddy river.

Amy and I were in one canoe with a cooler, with me in the back to steer. Canoing is fairly easy to manage, though we were rather zigzaggy with our occasionally unsynchronized strokes. The water beneath us was cool and dark, tinged deep red from iron-rich soil and cedar trees. (Apparently the forest was the site of an ancient iron ore bog, and once supplied refined iron to revolutionary troops.) Being shallow for the most part, this river was called the “Wading River,” a popular site for casual canoers. It was a joy to cruise over the ruddy waters, listening to birds sing, cruising beneath a green pine canopy, overtaking inner tubers and other canoes, and being overtaken by the occasional kayak. Sometimes a tree branch would loom low, and we would lift oars and duck underneath it. Fallen trees provided formidable obstacles, which could tangle you up quite unceremoniously if you didn’t steer clear. We did get stuck in a mess of tree branches which had virtually dammed up the river at one point, but some clever shifting of weight and an extra foot out the canoe for leverage got us free and through. We never once capsized. :)

Only three things marred the experience: (1) Multiple inner tubers: people who use an extra tube for an ottoman, floating perpendicular the river, taking up space and leaving little room for boaters to row through. Worse were the ones who like to grab on to the back of your canoe and laugh about “hitching a ride” while you sweat and row even harder than before. Do it to your friends, but not to a stranger on the river, leeches. (2) Yelling preteen boys: the ones who scream at each other in their broken voices during their watergun fights, or make crude jokes and macho all-star pro wrestling war cries as they try to race other canoes who think of overtaking their over-loud shouting matches. We’re trying to enjoy the nature and the birds singing, so I’d rather these kids go back to Lord of the Flies where they belong. (3) Obnoxious canoers who ask you for a helping bump, then right after, push you off back into the sharp, dried branches of a fallen pine tree while saying a hurried “Thanks.” Nuff said. I’m just glad I came out of that with just a cut finger.

We stopped at a few beaches and sandbars along the way to rest tired muscles and eat lunch. The other folks enjoyed swimming in the river, but I decided to pass on that, not fully trusting waters redder than the Nile in Exodus. Myself, I’ve always been far more comfortable in open sea than on rivers or lakes.

The endpoint of the trip, Evans Bridge, came about three hours later, where another canoe rental truck met us, loaded up our canoes, and brought us back to the rental center, where we changed. A fun day, and canoing helped me exercise muscles I never even knew I had. Ow, my lower back.

Photo of a stop on the canoe trip.