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2 Days on a River in a Brown Canoe

posted Oct 11, 2011, 6:32 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Oct 11, 2011, 6:32 AM ]

Many, many years ago, I saw a book, “Three days on a river in a red canoe” on Reading Rainbow, and I thought that sounded so darn cool and exotic – canoe camping! Not just driving up and putting aroung on a lake or river, but actually arriving by canoe! Then, I had the good fortune to marry a man with a canoe! After several years of saying, “someday we should go canoe camping,” we had a friend tell us about his recent trip on the Shenandoah river, and the description sounded just right. We decided to do it.

We left Friday early afternoon. We drove about 2 hours to the South fork of the Shenandoah river, just south of Front Royal, VA. (This is pretty much due west of DC). Skipping the boring details of arriving, we put into the river at “Mile 16.” The really popular portion of the river is numbered from 1-44, with nice signs on the river so you know where you are. We then paddled about 1.5 miles to camp in the George Washington National Forest. You can do what is called “dispersed camping” anywhere on NFS land – which means, “sure, camp wherever you want, just don't leave a mess and don't expect a toilet.” We found a really pleasant spot to camp across from some beautiful cliffs. The river was advertised to have “crystal clear water,” which we took with a grain of salt. We've never seen a river in the East with even remotely clear water. But they were right – even in the fairly deep parts of the river, you could see right to the bottom. It was funny to actually see the fish. Anyway, the scenery from our campsite was gorgeous. I never saw a mosquito. Our food turned out well, and our kids were cheerful. About halfway through dinner, I looked around and thought, “This is perfect! This is exactly what I wanted to do!” And then I laughed at myself that my dream life involved no table, toilet or electricity. But only for a little bit :)

We got the kids to bed long after bedtime and enjoyed heading to bed ourselves (canoeing is better than backpacking because you can bring an air matress!). Some point in the middle of the night, we woke up to the sound of rain. We were puzzled because there was no rain in the forecast, nor indication of it as we'd gone to bed. And when we woke up in the morning, we could still hear the sound of rain, despite the clear sky. It was water condensing on the forest canopy overhead and dripping down. It really threw us for a loop – but at 10:00, when we hit the water again, we could still hear it.

On day 2, we padded 10 miles, including some “rapids”. The river was on the low side, so most of the rapids were spots where intrepid paddling was required to avoid getting stuck on a rock. Marriner is an impressive canoer. He was avoiding rocks before I even knew they existed – and I was sitting in the front! (Marriner here: we did run one class 2 rapid which is advertised as a 2 foot ledge. It wasn't quite that big, but still enough that we are proud of ourselves!).

How did the kids do? Really well. Lige enjoyed helping paddle with our emergency paddle. He also pumped water through the filter (first time we've used it. Lige pumped 4 L in about 5 minutes, it was pretty neat). Ellis played with her pool noodle paddle a lot the first day. The second day she was more tired and did a lot more relaxing and looking at nature. Lillian was the real hero of the event, who had fun just sitting up front and running her hand through the water, blowing bubbles with her wand, or pretending like she was an American soldier looking for Red Coats to shoot. (Serious.) In fact, at one point we passed some people with a house on the river out enjoying the perfect weather. They waved to us, and Lillian seemed to wave back – but we heard her say, “Oh, some red coats! Bang bang.” Glad they didn't know there were being shot at. In the end, all the kids thought it was fun.

If you need more proof, here are the pics :)