By the end of "Two Coots in a Canoe," written about the experience by David Morine, bowman for the trip, we learn that is not exactly what happened. The book published by Globe Pequot Publishing (2009).
Central to the trip's experience was where the men spent each night of the 28 day trip. Both men had a dislike for camping so each night they would "mooch" (their word) bed and board from people living on or near the river. Many of them were already known to Morine who had been working in conservation for 30 years. But there were strangers.
Not wanting to leave this crucial detail to chance, well in advance of the trip, a press release about the trip was sent via email to 1,500 members of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. Those who wanted to host the pair replied and arrangements were made. A story about the trip published in a local paper a few days before the two men launched issued the same invitation to a larger audience. Ripping a page from the Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire," "depending on the kindness of strangers," became the trip's mantra for the well-heeled retirees, one a former senior executive with several companies, the other a career conservationist.
As it turned out many of the host were known to Morine, who had spend 30 years working in conservation in the area. However there were people the pair met for the first time when they drove up to pick them up at a beach or landing. Most of the time their Mad River canoe was just chained to a tree as they and their duffels were driven to their night's lodging.
Much of the book's narrative is drawn from the experiences and lives of the people they meet as they paddle south on the river that forms the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. The trip serves as a literary device allowing Morine, himself a Boston-area native who headed land acquisition for The Nature Conservancy for 18 years, to discuss many of the issues facing the pair's hosts such as the demise of farming in New England, the boom in higher education, gay rights, the decay of small towns after their manufacturing base dies and, of course, the river and the conservation efforts to protect it. The old coot persona the two men embrace is on full display when they come in contact with younger people along the way.
Readers of the book who do not live in New England and who are not avid conservationists may find the copious space given to describing the many conservation groups that have formed to protect land along the river from development, their funding sources and the motives of the people who lead them, tedious and boring reading.
Someone looking for detailed information about paddling the Connecticut River will not find it in "Two Coots in a Canoe." While the pair must have known more about canoeing than they let on in the book to even consider such a trip avid paddlers will want to consult guide books on paddling the river for info on what they will find, where to put-in and take out etc., etc.
Treat "Coots" as the color commentary to the game that is really being played in the guidebooks and maps of the river.
In my view, the pair made a bad decision in not bringing a cell phone. They said it was to completely divorce themselves from the electronic world surrounding them. But each time plans changed or to notify their hosts they had arrived they had to walk from where they came ashore to find a pay phone. A real pain when the weather was bad or no phone was to be found. If they did not want the intusion of a cell phone they could have brought one and just buried it deep in their duffels turned off.
More interesting are the pair's take on the lives of the people they so briefly interact with. Ramsay Peard, the Princeton University blue-blood who proposed the trip and stern paddler for the trip serves as the conservative foil to the many decidedly liberal views expressed by both Morine and their hosts.
Real insightful observations are rare from either gentleman but there was this after an afternoon at Dartmouth College: "Living in a college town gives old geezers like Ramsey and me a chance to interact with coeds, and that made us feel young again, like we were still in the game."
The book's prose does not rise to the level of great non-fiction adventure travel writing as practiced by Paul Thoreau and Bill Bryson. But the narrative is straight forward and readable. (Morine had five books to his credit before "Coots" was published but gives credit to Paul Flint "for making everything I write readable.")
The book has a decidedly downbeat ending.
"Two Coots in a Canoe" by David Morine is available from Amazon. My copy came from a local thrift store.