Thursday, September 18, 2008

2008, Sept. 18 - Paddle to "The Rift" crossing back into the US Briefly

The wind is down, the sun is up, and we leave the dock today heading to “The Rift” – a cleft in the rocky shore between Canada and the US, a little under 30 minutes paddle from here in these conditions.

In a kayak, I am sitting much closer to the water than in a canoe, and due to the strong sun, and clear water, I almost feel like I am flying. I can see clearly to the bottom, in some places 15 feet down, but in many places we paddle in even more shallow water. The bottom grass waves slowly back and forth and the small fish dart away as the boat’s shadow passes over. The sun beams into the depths and creates these psychedelic rays of light that dance as the surface slowly undulates. I stroke and glide, stroke and glide – silently sliding along this special membrane where the water meets the air – flawlessly, and without gap or vacuum. Sitting the way one does in a kayak, my legs and feet are concealed beneath the spray skirt, and the geometry of the thing makes me think I’m half submerged walking slowly along waist deep in the water.

Today there are no other boats on the river and we have the place to ourselves. Tomorrow is Friday, and the weekend boaters will inevitably arrive. But, for now, its just a canoe and a kayak and lots of other empty docks exploring the sun sparkled jewels that are these Thousand Islands.

We thread our way through a few smaller islands, than follow the northern shore of Howe Island eastward until, very unceremoniously, and with no specific markings we spot the telltale gap in the rocks that marks the entrance to The Rift. There is only a simple sign on one shore with a 9 on it – indicating that boats should stay under 9 km/hour when traversing the shallow gorge. As soon as we get within 50 feet of the entrance, the current grips the boat’s hull, and there is no reason to keep paddling. Simple and small motions of my feet adjust the rudder keeping the boat in the main channel, and we are literally flushed down stream.

Both sides of the rift have steep rocky banks – with a few docks, precariously clinging to one side. To our right is Canada, to our left is the US. From the river view though it is impossible to tell the difference. For years this area has been a smuggler’s route – its remoteness and permeability are well suited to foggy, night time crossings. First for slaves moving north, then for alcohol during prohibition moving south, and now from my reading, immigrants coming south. There is no sign of these activities in our daytime paddles, but who really knows what goes on after dark. The long time local residents here have great stories to tell.

In a wide spot, we come across a heron fishing in the marsh, looking for minnows and frogs. In another wide spot, we surprise a band of geese – slowly gathering strength and drive to make the long flight south to warmer wintering grounds.

On our way home, the wind builds, and we cross a few bigger channels where the lower water levels have changed the benign river current into disturbing dancing water - jumping up in tepee shaped cones, or swirling in circles, contrary to my planned direction. We must take care when crossing eddy lines and the tips and ends of islands as these currents can spin and capsize a boat before you know it.

Luckily, we return safe and sound to the quiet back dock at Pumpkin Island via Lover's Lane in just over 2 hours and surprise two deer that have come down to the water's edge to drink. They take a furtive look at us, think for a second, then dark back into the protective forest canopy and the heavy underbrush of the Ash Island shoreline.

(Click on any image to enarge it, then click the back button to return to the blog)

Wind was from the north east today - an unusual pattern for around here - so we took the opportunity to paddle down wind to "The Rift", a cleft in the rock that forms a section of the US/Canadian border. This channel of water is less than 40 feet across and is hidden to all except a careful map reader and navigator.

Along the way we passed lots f marshy spots. Where there is marsh and frogs and minnows, there are Great Blue Herons.

Hearing and seeing a Heron in early flight, up close is an experience not to miss. Flying directly overhead, above the small craft in which I was paddling, is astounding. The large ungainly bird makes a few precise movements, and it is aloft. Two to three large beats of its 6-7' wing span and it begins to soar.

This goose was waiting with a small group to bunch up and head south. I noticed when I zoomed in, that he had been banded for tracking purposes.

The bridge under customs at the border. With tractor trailer trucks idling above our heads, we floated under this double roadway bridge that leads motorist's to and from Canada. Silently, and un-checked, we paddle over the border just beyond the bridge. This passage is well known now to be a significant smuggling location during prohibition.

The narrow Rift between the US and Canada in the middle of Hill Island.

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