Longtime friends travel the Housatonic

Thursday, July 23, 2015

By Melvin Mason on July 23, 2015

Andrew Jimenez, left, and Brian McManus are kayaking the entire Housatonic River from its start in western Massachusetts to its end in Stratford.

 

Andrew Jimenez and Brian McManus are fans of the Housatonic River.

They have used the river to swim, fish and just enjoy days immersed in nature.

Now, the friends and Stratford natives are taking on an unusual adventure, kayaking their way from the river’s very beginning in western Massachusetts all the way to its end back home.

The young men will travel using only their kayaks — and occasionally their feet — for nearly two weeks to cover the 149 miles of river, which starts near Pittsfield, Mass. The journey began last week, but was conceived by Jimenez in March. The two friends were enjoying a few drinks in McManus’s garage when Jimenez asked if he wanted to take on the trip.

“He [McManus] said ‘I’m down’,” Jimenez said.

They then decided to make it a charitable endeavor, partnering with the Housatonic Valley Association in their effort to bring awareness of the river as well as groups working to clean and protect it.

The men, both 23, began their journey on July 15 and in only a few days said they were in awe of the beauty they were seeing.

While Jimenez is more of an outdoorsman, McManus said being on the river for so many days is great.

“Seeing the beauty of the river from top to bottom is really incredible,” he said.

“We absolutely love the river,” Jimenez said. “When you’re out here, you don’t know where you are. You could be in Connecticut or somewhere out west. It’s a different world. It’s been an adventure.”

The adventure also comes from paddling between five and eight hours a day. The most paddling is done when they encounter “flat water,” a slow-moving section, which means the men must paddle longer, which means more stress on their arms and shoulders.

“We did pack Advil,” McManus said. As of Monday, they had not used any of it, but they’re not too worried about the pain. “It’s part of the experience.”

Also part of the experience is navigating through faster waters. Some parts of the river feature class 2 and 3 rapids, which can be even more dangerous while paddling through sections with downed trees.

“We’re not really suited for whitewater rafting. We had some help from the HVA office in Massachusetts. They offered us some advice on rafting,” Jimenez said

Also adventurous is finding a good place to sleep, which can be a challenge. The men started out the trip packing lightly and they endured some cold nights, made colder because they didn’t pack any sleeping bags.

“It’s a really small tent. We’re elbow to elbow,” Jimenez said.

The situation is made more uncomfortable because “it’s five to eight hours of paddling and we smell.”

They also had to be wary of a bear, which made its way to a campsite while the men took a bathroom break. Jimenez and McManus stayed quiet and away from the scene until the bear left. The men have tried to avoid attracting animals, packing dry food and placing it high in trees so bears and raccoons can’t reach it.

The men have also had to use their feet to get around the many dams dotting the river.

Both men admit that they had their doubts about the journey early on. After a cold second night, Jimenez said they questioned why they were continuing.

“We thought, ‘Yeah, why are we doing this?’” he said. “We thought we could sleep in hoodies and sweats. Around that time, we thought, ‘what’s the point of this?’”

But they haven’t stopped, as they realized how much of an adventure it’s been and came to really enjoy their journey.

“When we go to bed at night, we say ‘Man, I can’t wait to get back in the kayak tomorrow,’” McManus said.

There is also the matter of raising attention about keeping the river clean and safe for everyone. While there are some beautiful parts of the river, the men have seen their share of sections heavy with garbage.

“Some parts are jaw-dropping and some parts are polluted with trash. It just opens your eyes and your mind,” McManus said.

Richard Sears, development director of the Housatonic Valley Association, said polluted runoff is one of the biggest issues the Housatonic is facing — runoff from roads, parking lots, roofs and other impervious surfaces. That pollution leads to blooming in Long Island Sound, where the river empties in Stratford and Milford.

He says HVA works with land trusts and water protection groups to help keep the river and its estuaries protected.

Sears says it’s nice that the men care enough to explore the Housatonic and raise awareness to keep it safe for all.

“I think it’s terrific,” he said. “It’s two guys going down the river who love the river.”

Jimenez and McManus expect to finish their journey on Thursday or Friday. Once they’re home, the friends will enjoy the comforts of having a roof over their heads.

Jimenez’s plans include “a shower and big pizza.”

 

 

 

 

 

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