Looking at a topographical map we can sometimes deduce what might be a good flat-water paddling stream. Sometimes we’re flat-out wrong. A stream that’s crossed by topo lines gets vetoed – likely to be white-water. A stream that’s narrow and convoluted like a squirming worm also gets voted out – likely to have blow downs and log jams.
So we pick a stream that passes these tests and launch our kayak or canoe, hoping for the best. That’s what we did in researching our two new “Take a Paddle” books. Most times it worked out well but every once in a while it didn’t. The most memorable of those was on Tonawanda Creek. I launched near Attica and paddled north 5 miles to the next bridge. I had to portage once around a log jam but within an hour I had covered the distance and traded the kayak to Rich. He continued north on Tonawanda Creek while I shuttled the van to the next bridge, 5 miles upstream. We each had walkie talkies to stay in contact.
We had gotten them earlier in our research when I sat at the designated meeting point along the Tioughnioga River waiting for Rich to come downstream. Unbeknownst to both of us, where I sat was along the shore of a large island. Rich picked the far channel to paddle and glided downstream undetected. As darkness fell we both realized something had gone wrong – but what? Eventually, in pitch darkness, Rich hauled out to a nearby road and I canvassed the roads along shore and finally found a glimpse of a paddle. We reconnected, wet, tired and hungry but relieved. A better communication system was a must.
But, back to Tonawanda Creek. Again, I sat along shore, expecting Rich to glide by in about an hour. After 2 hours Rich didn’t appear and he wasn’t answering his walkie talkie. So, I drove in circles around the creek, repeatedly calling – still no answer. I knew I was in range at some point so again, what was wrong? Was Rich unconscious somewhere or pinned under a strainer? Or were the batteries in his walkie talkie just dead? After 4 hours I was panicky so I went to a nearby house to ask the people if I could use their phone to call 911. They calmed me down and told me that the stretch Rich was paddling was choked with log jams and that people often stumbled out exhausted wanting to use their phone. They talked me into waiting one more hour.
So, I returned to my post along shore, thinking all sorts of horrible thoughts. Three minutes before the fifth hour was up, an exhausted, mud-covered Rich stumbled out of the woods without his kayak. He had endured a never-ending series of portages up and down steep mud banks to get around log jams. And, his walkie talkie batteries had died. He led me back into the woods to retrieve his kayak, poised below another log jam. I dragged it out to the road, we heaved it onto the van, and vowed to pay more attention to the power levels in our walkie talkie batteries. And, to never paddle Tonawanda Creek between Attica and Batavia.
Moral of the story: get copies of the “Take a Paddle” books and you’ll know what you’re getting into before heading downstream. And, no, Tonawanda Creek between Attica and Batavia will not be found in either book.