Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trip Report: Tioughnioga River by kayak and tube

Cortland happens to have a nice little river, the Tioughnioga, flowing past it, and I've been meaning to check it out by kayak ever since I've lived here. With the temperatures pushing into the upper 90's and my brother, Johnny, in town with his kayak, this seemed like a good day for a relaxing trip down the river. We wanted my wife, Lindsay, to come also but were one boat short. We decided to fix this by renting a tube and taking turns lazily kayaking and even more lazily floating, with the main goal of cooling off in the river.

Our route
I planned to put in at the Rte. 392 bridge in Messengerville and take out at Lighthouse Landing, a private campground south of Marathon where we could rent a tube. I figured the distance would be a leisurely 7 miles, but this turned out to be an underestimate; the people at Lighthouse Landing, shocked when they heard our plan, told us the distance was more like 11-12 miles and it would take at least 8 hours to cover by tube. After some deliberation, we decided to go for it anyway, figuring that by towing the tube behind the kayaks we could make decent time.

Soon I was effortlessly gliding through the water in the tube, my wife providing the propulsion. After a bit of experimenting with attaching the tube to the kayaks, we found that tying it close behind one kayak was generally best. Pulling the tube was easier than expected for the most part, as long as there was some current to help, and it was even a fun challenge to navigate the kayak/tube combo through the riffles and sharp bends. Of course, hauling my brother through long, flat pools was not so fun, but these were relatively few and far between.

This section of river flows through an area that is far from wilderness, but it still had a nice, natural feel most of the time. I liked the stretch from Messengerville to Marathon best. With Route 11 staying far from the river, the shorelines were populated by big sycamore trees and lots of wildflowers, and the river alternated between short pools and fun little rapids where the water curved around a series of small islands. Once we came to Marathon, roads and buildings started to approach the river more, and the ratio of pools to riffles increased, but it was still a very nice paddle.

Though it was hot in the kayaks, especially when on pulling duty, we made sure to spend lots of time in the water. I even got out of the tube and swam downriver for several hundred yards at one point. It was very refreshing. Within site of the takeout, we found an excellent place to stop, on an island beside a narrow, swift chute in the river, and we took turns floating down briskly on our backs. Thoroughly cooled off, we paddled the last bit to Lighthouse Landing, finishing in just 4 1/2 hours.

This was a really fun trip, and it makes me wonder why it took me so long to get out on the river. I definitely would like to paddle more sections of the Tioughnioga before this winter, and I may even try to eventually cover the whole thing, from Cuyler to Chenango Forks.

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