I’m out of the rapids and into the flats and meadows of Sterling, headed south to the Passaic River County Park. This is a gracious stretch. The river still has a good current from the rain. I’m paddling under the angular arches of fallen trees – occasionally portaging over trees that completely block the river. There are trees that offer a path through dense sections of smaller branches and floating masses of logs. I developed a technique where I reach far forward with my paddle, securing it on both ends to whatever I can and then pulling my craft forward. It’s like a reverse bench press and it works surprisingly well. Best of all, it’s a lot faster than a portage, and it keeps me engaged with the river.
As I make the turn east just above route 78, I’m in the Passaic River County Park. This is a truly wondrous stretch. The sun has come out. The trees bending over the river are radiant in their shades of translucent green and I float through them at every turn. The river seems broad and shallow, and the sun seems to make it translucent through to the bottom. I can’t see the bottom, but I can sure feel it.
The water has risen up over the banks and the swamp maple tree trunks are now in the river. It’s great fun to paddle around them. There are so many, I can only imagine this stretch in full fall foliage. Trip anyone?
There is a stretch along the Warren Township Planning Incent. Don’t let that mouthful of a name dissuade you from visiting. This is a good sized track of meadows and forest with the Passaic passing through. The light, open space and general grace of the land is delightful. It’s the section of the whole trip where I feel most connected to the river, it’s very alive and I am welcome paddling over it.
I continue along with a good current, into what should be a much more built up area. But again, while there are a few stretches of houses, a ball field and a sewage treatment plant, deep forests are the overwhelming experience.
As I get closer to home in Chatham, the bridges and other surroundings become familiar. I pull under the Stanley Street Bridge at Stanley Park and beach my kayak. I check my phone for the first time. It’s 1 p.m. I have just covered 17 miles in 4 hours. I had hoped to go this far in a day. Doing so in 4 hours with portages and log hops is a stunner. It’s an expansive day – I feel like I’m soaring through – this unknown wilderness opening up in front of me at every turn. Wow.
I call home, and my wife Maia and our boys James and Chris ride down to join me for lunch. They bring water and cookies. I regal them with stories and we walk along the river bank. After hugs a plenty, and with my legs working normally again, I’m back in the kayak. It’s time for what I now call the Chatham Chop.