So when I heard you could camp on the banks of the Connecticut River at Gillette Castle I was determined to do so. When I found out the site was only for people arriving by kayak or canoe I was doubly so. (You can find more information about river camping at the CT DEEP website here.) My kayaking experience was limited to a trip on the Farmington River in Collinsville, but the prospect of paddling along the banks of the Connecticut spurred my imagination. And as luck would have it my good friend Matt, and Swamp Yankee Writing Society co-founder, just happened to own a pair of kayaks.
When I called to check available registration dates for the Gillette Castle site, the guy on the other end of the phone asked if I meant Selden Neck Park. He went on to explain that the Gillette Castle site was a bit touristy and crowded and that Selden Neck Park, which is an island in the Connecticut River, the largest one it turns out, would be a much better destination. Knowing nothing about the river campsites I deferred to his expert opinion, mailed off my check of ten dollars and eagerly awaited my camping permit.
The day of the trip we put in at the Hadlyme Ferry Boat Launch, which is two miles north of the park. We watched the ferry dock as we unloaded the kayaks and packed them with relative ease. I snapped my one and only photo of the trip and then we hit the river.
One thing I noticed about kayaking on a river as large as the Connecticut was the difficulty in gauging distances. On the west side of the river we spotted what looked like an old monastery with a green patina domed bell tower poking up over the tree-line and used that as a point of reference to chart our progress.
Turns out the building was originally the Saint John Industrial School built back in 1907. An instructional school being by definition - a school for educating neglected children or juvenile delinquents committed to its care and training them to
some form of industry, AKA an orphanage or boy's home. Today it's the Academy at Mount Saint John, a clinical day school.
Our campsite was Quarry Knob. It had a small, gravel bank to dock the kayaks and a trail that lead to the site proper, which consisted of a fire-pit, picnic table and outhouse. After pitching camp we had a quick lunch of expired Emerald Breakfast on the Go trail snacks I scored from work and delicious homemade goose jerky a coworker had given to Matt. Eager for more adventure I suggested we take the kayaks and circumnavigate the island.
Near the southern mouth of Selden Creek we entered some wetlands which were home to some Great Egrets fishing for their noontime meal. After some false leads we finally found the mouth of the creek, which was a narrow lane of wetlands on either side. We passed another raptor nest that looked liked it was maintained by some sort of conservation society. The bird took off and cruised over the treetops hunting for prey. I got a better look at this bird and my best guess would be that it was an Osprey. This bird and the previous mystery bird were both far considerable larger than your average red-tailed hawk.
Further down the creek the wetlands gave way to sheer rock faces on our starboard side. Here we came across several boaters making use of the shade to fish or relax. This is when Matt I discovered that constant rowing of a Kayak can hurt after awhile. All along the creek there really wasn't anywhere for us to pull off to rest so all we could do was paddle on. Occasionally we'd take a break and just drift along to rub sore shoulders. Matt had said that creek reminded him of something out of National Geographic and as I watched a Great Egret fly over him I couldn't help but agree with him.
As soon as he decided to go check on them I knew something was wrong and followed him. Turns out our kayaks had indeed floated away. Mine was listing lazily in the little lagoon that had replaced our boat launch. I jumped in the water and dragged it to shore. Matt climbed in it and went off in search of his kayak, which was nowhere in sight. Luckily he was able to retrieve it just a little ways from the campsite.
We both enjoyed a laugh about it all and the prospect of having to call the Coast Guard to pick us up over a meal of rib-eye steaks. Then we watched the billowing smoke of the Essex Steam Train from across the river as the sunset.
In the morning we broke down camp with military precision and hit the river for the return trip. On the way back we were sent off with a fond farewell from a half bevy of swans taking off and gliding over the water. Aside from Matt's second degree sunburn and a deer-tick bite on me - I found 3 total which shouldn't be surprising we were in the area for which Lyme Disease got it's name - I deem the First Annual Swamp Yankee Writing Society Expedition a rousing success.