I’m paddling around in the pool at St. Elizabeth’s College on a Saturday morning. It feels kind of strange to be back here. I was dating my wife when she attended this school. The nuns make everyone who attends the school take swimming lessons, so Carole spent some time in the pool also. She did OK, she swims pretty well.
I’m a little nervous. I don’t really know anyone except Ellen and Jack so I keep mostly to myself. Neval paddles over and introduces herself. She’s great, really enthusiastic with a huge smile that takes over her entire face.
We talk for a little bit and she asks where I have been paddling. I tell her that I mostly paddle in Ken Lockwood gorge since it is so close to my house. Neval doesn’t like the Gorge much. She had a bad experience in there and isn’t real keen on repeating it.
Neval tells me that she is going to run the Moodna tomorrow with a group of her friends. She says that it is mostly a class II/III creek with one class IV that can be walked. I’ve never paddled a river with anyone from KCCNY so I jump at the chance and tell her OK. The way I figure it, AW lists Ken Lockwood as class III+ so I should be able to handle it.
I pick Neval up at her place the next morning. She has an apartment in Bernardsville and I’m driving right past her place so it’s not very far out of the way.
We meet up with the rest of the group at the Mahwah rest area on the NY thruway. Neval introduces me to Eddie Snutes, who will be leading the trip, Dan Spencer and some long-haired kind of scraggly guy named Jimmy D.
Eddie is eyeing the boats on my car a little suspiciously. He says that the red boat looks pretty slicey to him. I don’t have any idea what slicey means but it doesn’t seem like Eddie thinks it’s a good thing. Neval’s boat is also red, so I decide that it must be her boat he is talking about as we head off toward the river.
We all take a look at the last rapid as we drop our cars off at the takeout. I’m thinking that it looks a little bigger than Ken Lockwood and starting to wonder if I haven’t made a mistake.
Eddie starts to question me when we get to the put in. He wants to know what other rivers I’ve paddled. I tell him the Musconetcong and Ken Lockwood. He tells me that I must have paddled the Lehigh but I shake my head no. Just the Musconetcong and Ken Lockwood. Ed then asks me if I’ve got a roll. I tell him that I can roll in the pool but I’ve never tried it on the river. Eddie doesn’t look happy.
We start to put our gear on. It’s early March and the water is pretty cold so we are all layering up. I’ve got an old dry top that I bought second-hand with my boat. I’ve never worn it on the water before so I’m hoping it works. I’m also wearing an old pair of nylon running sweatpants. I figure they look enough like drypants so maybe no one will notice the difference.
The river starts off with a section of fast-moving water but there aren’t too many obstructions. Its easier than Ken Lockwood and I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable but I’m finding out that there isn’t much “dry” in my drytop.
We pass a small wave and I wait in an eddy as everyone takes a turn surfing in it. I watch as Neval flips and rolls right back up with a big smile. She laughs and says that the water is really cold. I don’t want any part of that.
We round a bend and get out to scout a big dam. The dam drops down maybe 15 feet at a 45 degree angle. Big rooster tails shoot up here and there marking obstructions we don’t want to hit. We decide to run the dam on the center right side. Eddie goes first, drops over the horizon and appears in an eddy on the right. Neval follows him and then it’s my turn.
My mouth is kind of dry as I approach the drop. It’s a little nerve-wracking not to be able to see where you are going until it’s too late to do anything about it. I don’t want to hit whatever is causing those rooster tails.
My boat starts to slip sideways as I start down the slide. I paddle frantically on my left and right trying to straighten the darn thing out but to no avail. The water isn’t deep enough for me to get any kind of stroke with my paddle.
Down I go and slam into the water at the bottom of the dam at a funny little angle but it works out alright. I’m still upright. I paddle hard to try and get over into the eddy with the rest of the group. The current is kind of strong and I’m worried that I might not make it. The thought of displaying my incompetence fuels my paddling even harder and I manage to make it into the eddy, just barely. Maybe nobody noticed how much of a struggle it was for me.
Below the dam is a little flat spot where the water is deeper. Jimmy offers to spot me while I try a roll. I shake my head no. Its cold, my top isn’t working all that well and I don’t want to have a swim if I can avoid it. I’ll try a roll if I flip but there’s no way I’m going in that water deliberately if I can avoid it.
We continue downstream and I’m actually doing pretty well. I mostly stay in the middle of the group and follow Eddie’s line down the river. It’s a little busier now but still doesn’t seem all that difficult.
We come to a longer section of flatwater that leads us to the next dam and get out on river left to scout. This dam drops only about 5 feet but is much steeper than the last one. There is a huge wave a the bottom of the dam and it looks a little sketchy. No one in our group has run it before so we take a little time throwing branches and stuff over the dam to see if they wash through.
Everything does and it looks OK to me. Its kind of scary but I’m thinking that we can run it. Its sort of similar to the Penwell dam on the Musconetcong and I’ve been over that so this should be OK.
Eddie is unsure and reminds us that we’ve all had a good day so far and that the water is cold so lets not push our luck. It makes sense so I’m a little relieved when the group decides to portage.
Except that the only way to enter the water below the dam is to get into your boat on the concrete abutment and drop maybe 2′ into the current below the dam. I’ve never done anything like that before and I’m worried that I’ll flip, but I get into my boat, take a big breath, and drop of the concrete into the water.
I get a little thrill as I drop off and come right back up. I didn’t flip and it makes me feel good to have accomplished the manuever despite my hesitancy. I’m feeling a little full of myself as we continue on.
We paddle around a bend and pull up on a little sandy beach on river right. Eddie tells us that the next drop is “Hells Teeth” or something like that and says it the only class IV drop on the river. We all leave our boats to scout the drop before proceeding.
At least some of us do. In a rare show of common sense I’ve decided that I’m not running the drop and carry my boat through the woods on river right to the eddy below the drop.
Hells Teeth looks like a nightmare to me. There are two big holes at the top of the drop then the main current is split by this abandoned bridge abutment. The water piles up in a huge pillow on the abutment, then races to the left before crashing into a nasty hole. I can see myself flipping in one of the holes and getting pinned on the abutment. No thanks
Eddie says that he has seen someone get really worked in the hole and suggest that we set safety. Dan and Neval both decide that I’m being fairly prudent and aren’t running the drop either. That leaves Eddie and Jimmy.
I climb into my boat and wait in the eddy hoping I won’t have to pick up any pieces. Dan and Neval stand on the rocks with their throw ropes ready. We signal Eddie that we are set and he pushes off into the current.
Ed’s bow comes up as he crashes through the first hole above the bridge and we can see him working right to dodge the next one.
He’s flying along in the raging current as he approaches the abutment. To my surprise, Ed stays out of the main current and slides to the right of the abutment. He works his boat into a little seam of water, drops over a few rocks and arrives safely in the eddy with me. I’ve never seen anyone deliberately paddle over rocks before and I’m just a little in awe.
Jimmy follows Eddie’s line and he too arrives safely in the eddy. He’s really stoked and energetically relates how huge the holes seemed at the top, and how the current was really rough and pushy.  He says it was a blast. I’m terribly envious and hoping that I’ll be good enough to run something like that someday.
There is a huge boulder in the middle of the next drop. I mean the thing is the size of a bus. The river makes a turn to the right and the current follows the turn and slams into the rock.
I start down the drop paddling hard to river right, but it’s not very deep and the current is pushing me inexorably toward the rock. I start to get nervous and paddle even harder but I’m still sliding towards the rock. I’m not going to make it and prepare myself to hit the rock sideways.
Except I don’t. My boat catches on the pillow of water in front of the rock and I slide effortlessly to my right and past the boulder. Dan is waiting in the eddy behind the rock as I drop into the eddy line. My boat is all over the place, my bow comes up and I almost flip but I fight it back down and manage to stay upright.
Eddie catches up and says he was a little worried about me when he saw me headed into the rock but was glad to see everything worked out. I was a little worried about it also and am even gladder that it worked out.
The river has really picked up since we portaged the 2nd dam. I’m much busier than I ever was on the Ken Lockwood. The current is faster, the waves are higher, and there’s not a lot of time to make a decision about where to go next but I’m having a great time.
Eddie runs the last drop above the takeout bridge left center. I’m confident enough now to pick my own line and run almost up against the river left bank. The current is really ripping as I sweep down the drop. Up ahead, a group of rocks lies directly in my line. I hadn’t really counted on that but am able to manuever my boat into a little slot, punch the hole below and reach the bottom.
Jimmy D follows me and tells me that he liked my line. I feel pretty good about that.
I’m starting to feel the cold as we reach the takeout. I’m soaked beneath my drytop and my pants are dripping. I’m thinking that I should invest in some better paddling gear as I thankfully change into my dry clothes
I thank Eddie for watching over me, load our boats up on the truck and head for home. Its my 1st KCCNY trip and I had a great time.