Tales from the Trail: Exploring the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail

  • Through paddler Cathy (Mumford) Brennan pictured during a trip on the Susquehanna River which, at 444 miles long, it is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States “It’s more of a spiritual thing, just being in the moment,” Brennan said. “I’m not orthodox, or religious, but for me… my spirituality has to do with being out there in nature.” Contributed Photo/Cathy (Mumford) Brennan

  • The sun sets during one of Cathy (Mumford) Brennan’s paddles along the Connecticut River.  Contributed Photo/Cathy (Mumford) Brennan

  • Source to Sea Paddler Timothy Lewis said he helped beta test the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail app, which shows users their location along the Connecticut River, their distance from campsites along the river, images of each campsite, access point locations and driving directions to these access points. Contributed Photo/Timothy Lewis

  • The Connecticut River Conservancy will host a discussion on paddling the Connecticut River Wednesday as part of its ongoing LiveStream! series. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/CATHY (MUMFORD) BRENNAN

  • Timothy Lewis walks his canoe through Bellows Falls, Vermont, during a trip along the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail. Contributed Photo/Timothy Lewis

  • Source to Sea Paddler Cathy Brennan, pictured at a trail head for the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail which goes from the northeastern United States and Canada, extending from Old Forge in the Adirondacks of New York to Fort Kent, Maine. She said this was longest through paddle she has completed. Contributed Photo/Cathy Brennan

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    At 60-years-old, Cathy Brennan said being a female through-paddler is less common in the sport, which can be considered a little more rough. But she said she has no problem safely taking her time to carry her 40-pound plastic kayak, which she bought for one of her first ventures, over portages and “guerilla camping” when needed. She also writes about her trips on her blog, “One Woman’s Solo Kayak Adventures." Contributed Photo/Cathy Brennan—

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Contributed Photo/Tim Lewis—

Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2021 4:16:39 PM

What’s the best way to travel from the US-Canada border to the ocean?

By boat, of course.

The Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail (CRPT) is a series of campsites and river access points spanning more than 400 miles of the Connecticut River through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and traveling along the Connecticut River offers endless exploration, adventure — and a way to “get away from it all.”

Two Source to Sea paddlers who have made this trek themselves, Cathy (Mumford) Brennan and Tim Lewis, will lead the “Tales from Trail” discussion from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. This discussion is the latest episode in the second season of the Connecticut River Conservancy’s “LiveStream!” series, which launched in May 2020 and is led by CRC Events Coordinator Stacey Lennard.

The series has touched on a dozen different topics — from the impact of plastics on the Connecticut River, fish migration patterns and fresh water mussels, or breaking down in-depth discussions on hydropower and FirstLight’s current re-licensing process. Lennard said this paddler’s discussion is set to be the most attended discussion, with over 200 people pre-registered.

Connecticut River Paddlers Trail executive committee members Kristen Sykes, with the Appalachian Mountain Club, and Gabriel Chevalier, with the Connecticut River Conservancy, will also join March 31 to provide a brief history of the trail and introduce the new Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail app, which just released on World Water Day, March 22. This GPS-enabled smartphone app allows paddlers to plan their camping or access points and track their trip in real time. Visit atlasguides.com/connecticut-river-paddlers-trail-map/ to get the guide for yourself.

Lewis, who lives in Connecticut, said he helped beta test the app, which shows users their location along the Connecticut River, their distance from campsites along the river, images of each campsite, access point locations and driving directions to these access points. He will be talking Wednesday about different sections of the river which paddlers of various skill levels can choose to complete over day or week-long ventures.

“A lot of people can find the Connecticut River intimidating at first, when they look at the river and see how the water’s moving,” Lewis said.

Whether you want to ride the entire 410-mile river and portage your canoe or kayak around dams, or just float down small sections, Lewis assured the Connecticut River can be great for paddlers of all levels.

Lewis said he has paddled the entire river, but not in one trip. He had planned an entire trip, but unfortunately a “mishap” in Bellows Falls, Vermont, resulted in a hand injury and he couldn’t continue. He then returned to complete the remaining 95-mile stretch from Bellows Falls to Holyoke on a week and a half long trip.

“I’ve paddled all my life,” Lewis said. “I grew up on a lake in Connecticut. I knew how to paddle, sail, row — all that.”

Growing up in Connecticut at 14 years old, his dad, Richard Lewis, took him on a roughly 25-mile paddling trip from Wethersfield Cove to East Haddam, Connecticut.

“I remember it was during a flood tide, which surprised me because my dad was not always that adventurous,” Lewis recalled. “My sister, dad and I got in and the water was moving fast. I’d never been on moving water before, and then right there I got the bug.”

Lewis took both his sons, Adam and Ben, on a nine-day paddling trip along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Maine when they each turned 14. He and Ben began paddling competitively together in down river races when Ben was just 10 years old. They won the junior-senior division of the New England Canoe and Kayak Association Series in 1998, and the Down River Championship the following year. Now grown up, both Adam and Ben have three children each between the ages of 3 and 17-years-old, and Lewis says he is working to get them interested in paddling.

One of Lewis’ favorite trips, he noted, was on a section of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile marked canoeing trail in the northeastern United States and Canada, extending from Old Forge in the Adirondacks of New York to Fort Kent, Maine. The section Lewis and a friend paddled had them launch in Yonkers and travel right into New York City and got out at the 79th Street Boat Dock.

“I love doing a trip like that,” Lewis said. “If you’re near roads or under a bridge, people are driving by and don’t even notice the river or look at it. Yet here I am on a whole different pathway just slipping along.”

Lewis is the president of the Great Meadows Conservation Trust, a volunteer with the Connecticut River Conservancy and a member of the executive board of the Connecticut Rivers Paddler Trail.

While Lewis paddles sections of waterways at a time, Cathy (Mumford) Brennan, a New Jersey Resident, said she takes about a month off once every year or so to complete entire “through paddles” of different rivers. She has completed six full through paddles since 2009, most recently completing a journey of the James River in Virginia.

At 60 years old, Brennan said being a female through-paddler is less common in the sport, which can be considered a little more rough. But she said she has no problem safely taking her time to carry her 40-pound plastic kayak, which she bought for one of her first ventures, over portages and “guerilla camping” when needed. She also writes about her trips on her blog, “One Woman’s Solo Kayak Adventures,” which can be found at cathyqmumford.wordpress.com/.

Brennan said she grew up on a lake and her mother had five kids so “the second you’re up and able to walk, you learned to swim.” A connection to water and nature has remained a part of Brennan’s life, but when she was a working mother with younger children, she found it hard to make time to foster that connection.

The first time Brennan took a through-paddle trip of an entire waterway was when she found herself “at a horrible desperate point” in 2009, she said. At that time, she was getting divorced from her high school sweetheart while in the middle of being laid off from her job. Her children were also moving out of the house.

“It was the first time in my life I asked myself, ‘what am I going to do?’ so I said ‘I’m going to the woods,’’ she said. “I just needed to get away.”

While she didn’t immediately discover what she wanted to do, she said she was immediately “in a better spot” emotionally. Today, Brennan has since been remarried to her husband, John, and manages three jobs as a paint instructor, a school and landscape photographer and as a teacher at an arts high school.

“I originally did it because I was going to go crazy,” Brennan said. “Now it’s a maintenance thing where it’s great to go once a year.”

While Brennan noted that paddling or camping solo is typically a “big no-no,” it’s become a big draw for her trips. For safety, she has a spot transponder so 10 members of her family are able to follow her along her paddling journeys, but the solitude and connectivity with the river and surrounding nature is “worth the risk” of being alone.

She said she paddles at a comfortable space, making sure to take in the scenes, and stops early if she needs to. If she gets lost, she said there’s no one else to blame or get frustrated with — there’s also no one else who can get frustrated.

“It’s more of a spiritual thing, just being in the moment,” Brennan said. “I’m not orthodox, or religious, but for me … my spirituality has to do with being out there in nature.”

During the discussion Wednesday, Brennan will share information on different campsites and stories from her experiences. She said “campgrounds” aren’t as frequent along the river as compared to smaller “campsites.” For longer trips, she said she tries to get a hotel every five days if she can to clean up and rest. On occasion, she has had do some “guerilla camping” or pull off the river when it’s getting dark and ask homeowners along the water if she could camp on their property.

Brennan said the longest journey she completed was the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail. She has also completed the Susquehanna River, a major river located in the northeastern United States and the mid-Atlantic region from New York state through Pennsylvania. At 444 miles long, it is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States.

Out of all of her ventures, she said the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail is one of the nicest she traveled, with multiple accessible campsites and campgrounds along the way. The full trail is diverse with some sections remote and forest heavy, with others traveling right along residential areas.

To attend the upcoming discussion and all LiveStream! events, participants must pre-register at ctriver.org/learn/livestream/. Information on upcoming LiveStream! discussions and past recordings are also available at the organization’s site, or on the Connecticut River Conservancy’s Youtube Channel: Connecticutriver. Videos are posted 24 hours after the live discussion.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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