West Branch Otter River
The weather in late-May 2021 turned beautiful and the urge for Type 2 Fun was strong, so I checked my map and hatched a plan: I'd paddle the West Branch Otter River and bike back to my truck! The river's level was high after recent rains and lingering meltwater filtering its way out of the hills. Perfect conditions for this rugged, backwoods river.
I began my journey at Pike Lake Road near Alston. The river then descended into familiar territory, with thickets of alders full of spiders for miles. Nothing out of the ordinary for a Misery Paddle Tour, right? The high water levels helped push me along over rock beds and Class I rapids. The fast current even made blasting through brush enjoyable – I just had to duck my head to the deck and plow straight through! That fast current worked against me when it came to dodging log jams and sneaking under challenge logs (those that are just barely navigable without getting out of my kayak). At times the currents pushed me perilously close to beaver-sharpened spears. The fight to not be impaled, capsized by strong flows, and submerged in a strainer was intense.
The West Branch Otter River presented a new challenge I'd never seen before during my Misery Paddle Tours: a waterfall. Otter Falls lay about halfway through the adventure and I had no idea whether it would be a danger, let along runnable. I donned my lifejacket and prepared for the worst, only to find two gentle 6'-8' slides and just enough water to propel me through. What a rush! The most exciting part was doing all of this in a tiny 9' recreational kayak that has no business shooting rapids of any sort, let alone one in the middle of nowhere and bounded by spider-filled alder. This little boat has seen it all.
Following Otter Falls, the river cleared up a bit and the alder lessened. The morale speed boost was immense and even monumental logjams on the way out couldn't slow me down. That or I'm becoming a professional Misery Paddle Tourer, incapable of being slowed by the worst of conditions. All told I completed the 10-mile trip in four hours, plus another 45 minutes to bike uphill back to my truck. A worthy adventure!