The map showed a squiggly blue line for Cassadaga Creek. This could either be good news, portending an intriguing paddle down a twisting waterway. Or, it could be a sign of logjams, with trees, washed by spring floods, piled at each bend in the creek. Luckily for my husband and me, Cassadaga Creek is part of the Marden E. Cobb Waterway Trail, a paddle-way maintained as a clear passage by the Chautauqua County Parks Department.
On a cool summer morning, we launched into the gently flowing waterway with the trepidation of explorers heading into the great unknown. We were Lewis and Clark, paddling in uncharted waters without Sacagawea or the rest of the Corps of Discovery. Of course, we weren’t carrying a year’s worth of supplies either – only enough for a single overnight. And, these waters weren’t 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 at times bushes, overhanging from the shores, reached to brush our shoulders. We pushed through easily, rounding bend after bend. Gradually sunlight began to filter through the lush forest to warm our bodies and set the trees aglow with the green of a ripe, freshly picked sweet pepper. The chirps of goldfinches filled our ears as they flitted among the bush-lined shores. Combined with the gurgle of the water moving past obstacles and the splash as our paddles cut the water surface, bird chirps were all we heard. We’d escaped the bounds of time to glide downstream in the wilds of the 1800s, away from the noise and busyness of the 2000s.
Eventually the channel widened to 20 or 30 feet, but it never ceased to wind. We glided easier, propelled by a gentle current as we developed a rhythm to our paddle strokes. Mellowed by the undulating stream and rhythmic paddling, we were startled as we rounded a bend to find deer, standing in the creek, drinking. They were even more startled than us and they leaped to the bank and dashed into the woods.
I placed my paddle in the water behind my kayak and used it as a rudder to steer through the turns. By letting the current carry my boat I could relax, let go of daily stresses, and focus on the sights along shore. I floated past wild iris in bloom, delicate tree roots exposed by erosion and turtles basking in the sun on partially submerged logs. We passed under a few road bridges but otherwise, no signs of civilization. A muskrat or beaver poked its slicked down, furry brown head above waterline than quickly darted to the safety of the creek bottom. We were invading his home turf. In the split second of recognition it was hard to tell which animal was eyeing us. Both are abundant along this creek.
After 5 hours and 13 miles (and abundant breaks) we reached the lean-to along shore and gratefully beached our kayaks. Like explorers of long ago, we had earned a rest for our tired bodies. Lewis & Clark didn’t have the luxury of a 3-sided shelter to provide protection from potential rain, but we did. They also didn’t have a food bag bulging with steaks to grill over the fire, and tin foil pouches of veggies and potatoes to roast in the coals. As modern day explorers didn’t have to rough it.
The next day we continued our journey downstream to find new discoveries around each bend. But this night we ate heartily and savored a warm summer evening around a campfire before snuggling into our sleeping bags inside the shelter 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.