The map showed a wavy blue line for Cassadaga Creek. This could be good news, heralding an intriguing paddle down a winding channel. Or, it could be a sign of gridlock, with trees, washed away by spring floods, piled up at every bend in the creek. Fortunately for my husband and I, Cassadaga Creek is part of the Marden E. Cobb Waterway Trail, a paddle trail that is maintained as a clear passage by the Chautauqua County Parks Department.
On a cool summer morning, we plunge into the gently flowing channel with the trepidation of explorers heading into the unknown. We were Lewis and Clark, rowing in uncharted waters without Sacagawea or the rest of the Corps of Discovery. Of course, we didn’t have a year’s supply either, just enough for one night. And, these waters were not uncharted. A map, in a plastic bag, lay secure under a bungee cord on the deck of my kayak. Still, the tingle of anticipated adventures to come was unmistakable.
The channel was narrow and sometimes the bushes, which protruded from the banks, came to brush our shoulders. We moved forward easily, rounding curve after curve. Gradually, sunlight began to filter through the lush forest to warm our bodies and make the trees glow the green of a freshly harvested sweet pepper. The chirps of goldfinches filled our ears as they fluttered between the bush-fringed banks. Combined with the gurgle of the water passing obstacles and the splash as our oars cut the surface of the water, all we heard was birdsong. We had escaped the limits of time to slide down the river into the wilderness of the 19th century, far from the noise and bustle of the 2000s.
Eventually the channel widened to 20 or 30 feet, but it never stopped meandering. We glide easier, propelled by a gentle current as we develop a rhythm in our paddle strokes. Smoothed by the rippling current and rhythmic paddling, we began as we rounded a bend to find deer, standing in the stream, drinking. They were even more frightened than we were and they jumped on the shore and into the woods.
I placed my paddle in the water behind my kayak and used it as a rudder to navigate the turns. By letting the current carry my boat, I was able to relax, let go of everyday stress and focus on the views along the coast. I floated past blooming wild lilies, delicate tree roots exposed by erosion, and turtles basking on partially submerged logs. We pass under a few road bridges, but otherwise there are no signs of civilization. A muskrat or beaver poked its slippery furry brown head above the waterline and quickly scurried to the safety of the creek bottom. We were trespassing on their territory. In the split second of recognition it was hard to tell which animal was looking at us. Both are abundant along this stream.
After 5 hours and 13 miles (and plenty of breaks) we reached the boathouse along the shoreline and gratefully beached our kayaks. Like explorers of yore, we had earned a rest for our weary bodies. Lewis & Clark didn’t have the luxury of a 3-sided shelter to provide protection from potential rain, but we did. Nor did they have a lunch bag filled with steaks to roast over the fire, and foil bags of vegetables and potatoes to roast on the coals. Like today’s explorers they didn’t have to rough it.
The next day we continue our journey down the river to find new discoveries at every turn. But tonight we ate heartily and savored a warm summer evening around a campfire before snuggling into our sleeping bags inside the lodge to dream like adventurers.
Grab a copy of “Take A Paddle – Western New York Quiet Water for Canoes & Kayaks” (www.footprintpress.com) and you too can become an explorer.