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Paddling places that weren't what you expected

Glenn MacGrady

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Feel free to interpret this topic as a paddling destination that was better than you expected or worse than you expected, or one (or more) of each.

I was quite disappointed in the Okefenokee Swamp when I first paddled it from the east entrance near Folkston, Georgia, in 1984. My disappointment was probably affected by my high expectations and erroneous mental images of the swamp. The east entrance begins with a long slog up a straight artificial canal, which branches off into various water trails and dead ends. It's all flat, not much scenery, not much interesting vegetation where I was, and I saw almost no wildlife. There was nowhere to land except an occasional chickee platform. Boring. I never went back to that east (main) entrance again until 2010.

The west entrance to the swamp from Fargo, Georgia, is much more interesting to me with lots of cypress and tupelo trees and alligators, plus some interesting dry land.

About 20 years ago, a canoe outfitter near Colleton State Park on the Edisto River in South Carolina (something Kennedy) advised me to forget about the Okefenokee and go to the Sparkleberry Swamp at Rimini, SC, instead. He said it was like the difference between Olive Oyl and Helen of Troy.

Truth!

The Sparkleberry Swamp far exceeded my expectations and is one of my favorite five places of all time that I have paddled. The Okefenokee wouldn't make any of my lists other than a never-again list. (Maybe the internals of the Okefenokee are more interesting, but the thought of camping on chickees turns me off.)
 
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Sparkleberry.. I did love camping in the OKE but understand the boredom of that eastern canal.. Floyds Island is probably the most interesting place I have ever camped on and its flat square in the Okefenokee. Hardly a chickee. A real island.

I couldn't figure out the allure of paddling amongst leafless trees but granted it was winter.
 
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Sometime in the '90s I was returning to NY from The WeNoNah and Trek factories with a load of new bikes and boats. I kept seeing signs for the Wisconsin Dells. I got off the interstate, put in somewhere, paddled upstream for a couple of hours. Meh.
 
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On my first trip to the canoe trails of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge I was surprised by how short the paddles were and how much time was spent on portages. By the end of the trip I was in love with the place and accepted it for what it was. I got pretty good at portaging.
 
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My youngest daughter was in a military family in 2014 in Guam when I visited for several months. She had been there for several years and had joined the Guam Outrigger Canoe Club. During my visit I paddled with her and the club on 4 different early morning training sessions. We launched before dawn and paddled for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It was unlike any other paddling experience I ever had - paddling off shore in the Philippine Sea on slow rolling waves before dawn, watching the sun rise over the island, paddling while curious porpoises circled the canoe. Unlike several of the locals I did not go into the water to swim with the porpoises.
 
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The French river is full of history, of the type that particularly interests me. It is also full of people and excrement. Poop covers almost every port and shoreline. I saw more people in three days than actually live in my town. I won't be back.
 
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The French river is full of history, of the type that particularly interests me. It is also full of people and excrement. Poop covers almost every port and shoreline. I saw more people in three days than actually live in my town. I won't be back.
Similarly I first paddled Algonquin many moons ago in October and found it so beautiful and devoid of crowds I started tripping there with my own family. Autumn colours, frosty nights, wolf howls, cavorting otters, shooting stars...I couldn't believe we could enjoy so many lakes all to ourselves in a wonderful time of year. But somehow the secret got out, it was only a matter of time. Even pushing further into the backcountry did little to relieve the stress of finding an unoccupied campsite at the end of the day. And then there were the signs of selfish stoopid slobs. Let's not go there, so we didn't either. Trying summer tripping was more of the same, the really good mixed with more of the bad. Our four kids grew up paddling there. After they left family tripping for their own funner times my wife and I continued alone, looking for those unspoilt quieter peaceful lakes and trails. We found some July thru October but eventually just let it go. We moved on but I hope that park provides many many others good memories well into the future.
In the best of times, when it was better than I had even imagined, it was like travelling thru pre and post contact history.
In the worst of times, when it was far worse than I could ever believe, it was like wandering thru a city park during a garbage strike.
 
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I’ve found sections of South Saskatchewan to be somewhat of a hidden, unexpected treasure. Cool, crystal clear water, endless beach islands and sand bars, decent fishing and NO motorboats. It even has trees! It’s tucked away in a deep, wide valley and you’d never know that up top sits the worlds bread basket if you’d miraculously been beamed down.
Blew my mind my first time there.
 
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I did the moose river bow trip in Jackman, Maine several years ago. Attean Lake is beautiful, even the 1.5 mile portage to Holeb pond was alight. BUT the moose river itself was mostly slow with high mud banks and the occasional beaver. It got more interesting when we hit Attean lake again with beam winds so strong it made my canoe skid sideways. I don't need to repeat that trip.
 
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I did the moose river bow trip in Jackman, Maine several years ago. Attean Lake is beautiful, even the 1.5 mile portage to Holeb pond was alight. BUT the moose river itself was mostly slow with high mud banks and the occasional beaver. It got more interesting when we hit Attean lake again with beam winds so strong it made my canoe skid sideways. I don't need to repeat that trip.
Its been a while maybe five years since the last trip but the Moose River is a delight.. I never encountered high mud banks but several playful riffles. I hated the Missouri for high mud banks so I figured I would notice.. The water levels must have been extremely low for you.. Actually the last trip was in flood..
 
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Probably just my own experience, but the Saint John in Maine was terrible. After paying for day use fees and camping fees on top of that, then for the shuttle in it was a pretty expensive trip. For that I expected some sort of wilderness experience. But somehow, even though the side roads were closed due to mud season, a pack of yahoos in diesel pickups showed up in camp about 2AM and sat there in a stupor shining their highbeams directly into our tents. Then after about 20 minutes it soaked into their peabrains that the site was occupied. Rather than leave, they shifted over and set up their camp by the light of the running diesels in the middle of the boat landing and didn't shut them off until the last beer was finished.
 
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Its been a while maybe five years since the last trip but the Moose River is a delight.. I never encountered high mud banks but several playful riffles. I hated the Missouri for high mud banks so I figured I would notice.. The water levels must have been extremely low for you.. Actually the last trip was in flood..
It may have been low. That seems to be the trips I've had the last few years. I'll keep my mind open for doing that trip in the future.
 
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Its been a while maybe five years since the last trip but the Moose River is a delight.. I never encountered high mud banks but several playful riffles. I hated the Missouri for high mud banks so I figured I would notice.. The water levels must have been extremely low for you.. Actually the last trip was in flood..
It may have been low. That seems to be the trips I've had the last few years. I'll keep my mind open for doing that trip in the future.

I have to admit I'm a bow trip junkie, 7 times so far. It's the perfect impulse trip, just the right length for a weekend (even a one night), a true loop so zero logistics, lovely scenery. Sure there are some people but I've never had a problem finding campsites. Some mud, yes, but it's navigable even when the river is just a trickle.

As for a place that wasn't what I expected, I'd have to say the Allagash. My first trip there I was surprised by how comfortable and park like it was. The rangers mow the grass in the campsites! I'm good with that, and sometimes I'm in the mood for an outhouse with a skylight. Other times I want to slog through more difficult terrain where I at least feel that I'm in the wild.
 
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