I launched from the Southeast corner of Lord Sterling Park in Sterling. The Passaic goes a ways further on up into Basking Ridge. Beyond Osborn pond the River is really a small stream, and doesn’t look passable via watercraft. The stretch from Lake Osborn to where I launched passes through Load Sterling Park. I considered making this part of the trip, but with potentially lower water levels in the summer, I thought it might not work. Also, I’d have to portage over several beaver dams. I’ve had a special relationship with beavers since I was a kid in New Hampshire, and I didn’t want to disturb them.
I had planned to leave on Friday, and postponed to Saturday based on weather reports. Friday night I went to bed with a fever. This was not a surprise. In the past before big adventure days I’ve sometimes had fevers or the runs. The great day cycling Big Sur or the first night of my trip in Liberia come to mind. When I was younger I saw this as unfortunate, then later as a test of my resolve. Now I understand it a cleansing – purging and burning off certain impurities to prepare me for the day ahead. It feels almost ritualistic, and by morning I am fine.
About 4 AM on Saturday the heavens erupted with heavy sustained rain and thunder. I shut off my alarm and decided to see how things are in a few hours. In the week leading up to this trip, I had a strong feeling all would be fine for a Saturday launch. The storm didn’t seem to fit in with that, but come 7 am. the rain had stopped and I felt clear that it was over. We drove to the launch site, and I realized on the way that the timing was perfect. The brief heavy rain had swollen the river. I now had a little speed below my craft, and some added depth over the shallow parts I had scouted. The sun would soon follow.
For the start I experienced the lush and misty depth of old Jersey forests.
Jersey forests are really a treasure to roam. They have a phenomenal variety of trees – species typically found from down south up to northern New England. The underbrush is just as varied. The sunny days are joyous and provide a great speckled light show in the foliage. But in the mist and grey skies the subtle differences amongst greens begin to radiate – revealed as an incredibly rich palette. Right in front of me, with eyes adjusted, I am witness to a truly great display.
There are trees that have fallen across the river – every hundred yards or so at times. I had thought beforehand that this might require a lot of portages, significantly slowing my pace, perhaps to a crawl. But I am elated to find that people have gone through and cut off what were the top branches, leaving a narrow path around, opposite the trunk. There is a clear way through, and it’s a fun one, a mellow slalom. I’m reading the river, its currents, eddies, the occasional hiding obstruction. It’s a joy to be on a river again.
I only had two portages in the first stretch. The first was for a tree that covered the river from bank to bank – 2’ above the water at the sides and 1’ in middle. I pulled up parallel to the low point, got out of my kayak and straddled the trunk. I pulled the kayak over with surprising ease and the craft held tight to the trunk in an eddy while I jumped back in. It was surprisingly quick and good fun.
The current I’m guessing is about a mile per hour, and I’m paddling well. Soon I cross under a very old stone railroad bridge that seems to rise to an improbable height. It has the appearance of a relic from ancient times, yet I understand it is still in use. This is the start point of the first drop. The sloped banks of the river rise up from a few feet to 30 or more and the pace of the river quickens. It’s a lot shallower – I can see bottom – and it’s full of rocks. Without the morning’s downpour, I’d be scraping a lot. Reading pillows, eddies and rocks sticking up I cruise through for about a mile. It’s exhilarating – one word pops up over and over – wheeeeee!