As I've mentioned, the town of Waynesboro is the jump off point for any hikers who would like to rent some canoes and paddle down the Shenandoah River. Our first major issue was deciding which company to rent from. The primary rental company (aqua blaze solutions) sells the canoe to the participants for $600 and buys it back for $220 providing there is no damage to the boat. Since we aren't the Rockefellers, we chose to investigate the other options and found a company called Front Royal Canoe Company who would rent us the boats for $230, bringing down the price per person to a cool $115. Deal.
We organized a group of 6: talula, Novy, Fig, Pepa, powderpuff (Michigan, the only one I have not yet introduced), and myself. The FRCC met us at a town called port republic and we were on our way. 1 hour, literally within the first 5 miles, rob manages to get his canoe pinned against a rock in a rapid. The boat tipped just enough to let in the rushing water and within seconds the boat was completely full of water with all the contents floating down the river. The contents included both his and figs packs, all the food along with the cooler that housed it, all the warm (reserve) beer, and a number of nic-nacs associated with canoeing (life jackets, ropes, paddles, bailors, etc). To add insult to injury, the weight of the water rushing through the yoke, thwarts, seats and gunnels actually bent the canoe in half. I say bent only because I can't say broke. Somehow the fiberglass did not perforate, crack or even crease. Once we all made our way back up through the rapids on foot (so comical) we managed to flip the canoe and rob drug it ashore in attempts to correct the shape of the folded canoe (the S.S. Tumbleweed)
In the meantime, Novy and I jumped back into the H.M.S. Beverage (our seaworthy vessel was in charge of the cold beverages... If another canoe needed a refill, they would simply holler "BEVERAAAAGE" down through the canal and we would dock alongside for beverage services. Considering Novy was the captain (the sleaziest sleaze of the seven seas) and I the first mate, he pulled rank and named our vessel with the Canadian prefix "her majesties ship" (H.M.S).
Camping along the banks of the Shenandoah isn't the most convenient task. While on the trail, camping is fairly easy. The woods are primarily public land which means all you need is a flat spot for a tent or a couple appropriately distanced trees to hang a hammock, this is not the case on the river. Most of the land is private. Camps, cottages, private camp grounds, farms and year round residences make up the majority of the river bank. Because the maps are nowhere near as useful or as accurate as AWOL's AT data book, we were forced to sort of guess how far we had come and how far remained before reaching a public stretch of land or an uninhibited island suitable for camping. Of the six nights we spent on the river, I estimate that we trespassed at least 4 of them. By and large the trespassing can go fairly unnoticed, but knowing that you could be kicked off your camp site or held at gun point by some backcountry farmer was a possibility I found less than comforting.
The river itself was actually a bit dirty in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, the Shenandoah is gorgeous and we had impeccable conditions for a week on the water but one cannot help but notice the plethora of discarded tires and beer cans that line the banks and river bottom. Within the first 15 minutes of launching our boats from Port Republic, we came across a dead floating deer that appeared to have been there for a number of days if not weeks. Yum. The FRCC had also warned us that any fish we caught in the river were unsafe to eat as a result of a mercury spill caused by the Du Pont chemical company in 1930. Apparently mercury is one of those things that doesn't magically evaporate after 83 years. Pity. Despite the warnings I had still planned to treat and drink the river water until we noticed the immense amount of cattle farms that line the banks. Farmers allow their cattle access to the river so they may spend the hottest part of the day wading in the water. Sounds refreshing for the cows but the pods of heifers spewing cow shit directly into the river made me rethink my decision not to carry fresh water.
Without a doubt the most eventful morning of the trip came on day 4. After we had coffee and breakfast there came a crashing counts form the opposite bank. As we peered across the river to see what all the commotion was we took note of the 70 foot cliff that faced our camp site. Upon further investigation we noticed that a light brown colored animal was flailing around in the overgrown foliage. It was a young doe that had fallen off the cliff. We speculated that it had either made a fatal miscalculation in footing or had been chased off the rock face by a predator. Coyotes have been known to run deer until exhaustion and if I had the choice I would certainly nose dive off a cliff before I was eaten alive by a pack of small mangy dogs.
(you may find the following a bit upsetting)
At any rate, the deer was fatally injured but still alive and by this time had panicked it's way into the water. As it hit the water we noticed a plume of red from the rear and mouth of the animal. This would suggest an excessive amount of internal bleeding, only confirming our theory that the animal would not survive. Being that we have a reputation to uphold as the boys of Maine, Rob and Novy took to the canoe while I waded into the water to corner the animal. She did her best to evade us but the back legs and spine were so damaged from the fall that escaping wasn't going to happen. The girls on the bank were instructed to look away while rob delivered the finishing blow with one of our canoe paddles. She went quick. Quicker than if we had allowed her to pass from the injuries sustained after the fall. It was the only escape we could offer the animal. Now that we had a freshly killed deer to deal with.... There was only one thing to do. Spread the legs with a canoe paddle, hoist the deer into a tree, gut it, skin it, and take the back-straps and tenderloins. Why waist it? Something tells me the coyotes eat pretty good around here so we decided not to leave the choice cuts for them. Novy had never participated in the processing of a deer so this episode also served as a tutorial for our Canadian counterpart. With 3 or 4 pounds of fresh venison tightly packed in the ice, we continued our voyage in shock of the mornings events.
All in all, the aqua blaze was a hell of a time. We did 95 miles over the course of 6 days. A light workload of about 16 miles per day. It was surprising how little paddling you had to do to travel 16 miles with a current under you. Not to mention that floating down a sun soaked river with your friends and an endless supply of beer doesn't exactly seem stressful.
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