Disclaimer: This river is not in Addison County. Or Vermont, even. It’s dirty, full of industrial debris, and you have to walk across busy streets to get back to the top. Out of five stars I give it half a star, and if it didn’t have one truly fun rapid it would get even less.
Alex Toth falling down in town
Some things are only good once.
“I’m glad I did that, but I’ll never do it again,” you tell yourself. Like jumping off tall cliffs or owning an iguana.
Other things are not even worth doing once.
The Mascoma River in Lebanon, NH at low water is somewhere between these two categories.
Billy Wagner on the one redeeming rapid
(photo: Nicholas Gottlieb)
There's a small group of dedicated paddlers who kayak regularly on "Downtown," as they call it. They love it with a willful blindness that defies reason. Most of them live in Lebanon, and I suspect don't realize what good paddling they're missing in Addison County.
First, I wouldn’t be surprised if a 747 full off concrete chunks and rebar wrecked in the river. There are pointy railroad rails and several drops that land on sharp, manmade rocks. The whole run is shaded by grungy bridges (are there really this many defunct railroads in Lebanon?), and the “fun” rapids feel like certain pins. I took two runs here and broke a boat.
Billy Wagner at a more reasonable level
I’ve heard that at higher water, this is a blast. There used to be an annual slalom held on the Mascoma, though I don’t think they do it anymore. Too many impalements? Waterborne infectious diseases? Either way, I’m glad it doesn’t happen anymore.
“Don’t give it a terrible lampoon,” Nicholas Gottlieb, a local paddler said. “It’s great whitewater.”
Nick is missing a tooth. Instead of a new tooth, he had it replaced with a metal stud that he uses to open beer cans. He can walk from his couch to the river in six minutes and loves it at all levels. The rocks near the put-in have a permanent smear of red plastic from his hull. He’s as credible as they come.
Nick Gottlieb, defending Downtown to the last
(photo: Morgan Boyles)
I, a fair and balanced outside observer with a full complement of teeth, state that Downtown at low water is almost not worth doing even once.
That said, I’ll be back. There’s something about boofing next to concrete walls, grabbing exposed wires in an eddy and pushing aside a dead bird at the takeout that calls to my soul. And, when I finally get tired of the clean, quality rivers of Addison County (okay, they're not always clean), maybe I’ll take another trip to Lebanon.
If you make the same decision, here are the important details. Park at the Taylor Street Lot, behind Peking Tokyo. When the river gets flat, take out on the left. Walk back up Water Street, cross Route 4, then Route 120 (this is definitely the most dangerous part), then back to the car. There's also a tunnel that goes under the parking lot you can take. As always, scout before paddling, as wood and other debris regularly collect here. Wear a lifejacket, paddle an appropriate kayak, and don't paddle alone. If you have more questions, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org