While canoeing isn't something you can do just anywhere, and it's true that you will require at least a length of river or a small pond if you're going to hit the water, opportunities for paddling are abundant here in New Hampshire.
Years ago while living in downtown Nashua, my husband called me while he was out shopping to announce that he'd bought a canoe. I couldn't have imagined what had prompted that spontaneous purchase, and where for that matter we were going to even use it. Little did I know that a few blocks from our apartment there was a small ramp to put in our boat on a section of the Nashua River.
We took frequent excursions out toward Mine Falls Park and wherever we would get our canoe to go, stopping long enough to have a picnic or throw in a fishing line or two. Sometimes it would take a little while (or some squabbling) before our paddling was in sync, but once it was the sound of the oars dipping and rising from the river was hypnotic. Then we would paddle back home along to the soundtrack of chattering birds and the distant hum of cars out on the highway. Our little city trips had the power to turn stressful days into vague memories, and viewing a familiar place from the water is a curious and magical thing. It takes you out of time for a bit and you can fancy yourself an early explorer, or at the very least an adventurer - if just for the afternoon.
Imagine the transformative powers of an early summer trip through northern New Hampshire waters along the shorelines teeming with wildlife. It's a great time of year to slow things down and explore New Hampshire from a new vantage point.
New Hampshire boasts 1,300 lakes or ponds and 40,000 miles of rivers and streams, offering nearly endless opportunities for water travel.
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This Overboard 15-liter Waterproof Dry Flat Bag will help protect your wallet and other valuables in the event your canoe makes an unexpected turn. $29.95. http://tinyurl.com/r3na5s
A life vest or personal flotation device (pfd) is an absolute must for any safe boating adventure. $29.97 http://tinyurl.com/pcpvq9
Styles, sizes and prices vary greatly for canoes, so you'll want to do a lot of research before purchasing. The Adventure 14 canoe by MadRiver can be yours for $650. http://tinyurl.com/ckkxod
You won't get very far without at least a couple of these. The Mitchell Cruiser 52" canoe paddle ($97) will help you get where you're going. http://tinyurl.com/opdycl
Lucie (LaPlante) Villeneuve's fascination with canoe travel started in the late 1980s, about the time rivers started looking safe enough to jump in. Positive family experiences in New Hampshire, several Canadian river expeditions and a degree in outdoor recreation and environment education from Plymouth State University solidified Villeneuve's decision to start a guide service in 2003 to help people of all ages experience outdoor safety, fun and learning. She currently lives in Conway with her husband and 6-month-old boy, and owns and operates Outdoor Escapes New Hampshire LLC that offers custom guided adventures in New Hampshire all year-round.
What is special about canoeing the Androscoggin River and the surrounding area? This area has opportunities for both novice and expert paddling, and I consider northeastern New Hampshire a true wilderness with very little development during the last century. During summer it's my favorite place to put myself to feel close to nature as it was before Colonial times - for a day or as a multi-day camping getaway. In the southeast part of the Northern Forest, which stretches to Alaska, the upper Androscoggin watershed smells of spruce and fir trees, and moose are often seen feeding on aquatic plants. Spotting birds such as a belted kingfisher or an osprey diving for fish is always exciting. It is also common to see bald eagles soaring above and trout teeming below. At night it's so dark I can see the Milky Way and occasionally the Northern Lights (arora borealis). From my tent I hear loons calling and moose sloshing in the water, and fall asleep thankful for this wild place.
Is there any particular piece of gear or equipment that canoers should have on hand that many beginners wouldn't think to bring? If there's one thing not to forget, it's good footwear. These could be synthetic sandals with full hook-and-loop straps, but my favorite is booties that cover ankles, which protects them from rocks and keeps out the mud. In cooler weather or when I want to keep my feet warm and dry when getting in and out of a canoe or kayak, I wear large, tall rubber boots over my hiking boots. They're also good to have to make trekking into the woods, camping and portaging on longer river trips safe and comfortable.
What challenges does a first-time canoer face? A first-time canoer needs to learn the function of gear and equipment, safety precautions, paddle strokes, communication skills, self-rescue techniques and navigation - controlling direction and speed and choosing the safest route through a body of water where they may have to deal with obstacles and challenges such as rocks, wind, other boaters, river current, log jams, dams, sunset, etc. It's best to start with a lesson from a qualified guide in order to learn safe and efficient habits from the beginning, especially if you're in a boat with a partner.
This article appears in the October 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine