gears (9K)    Cold weather wear 

Rainsuits? Ponchos? Wet suits? Body Gloves? Nothing? What's best anyway?

We had endured four days of steady rain on the Machias Lakes Chain, in Maine's Washington County just west of Saint Stephen. Everything, including us, was sopping wet. It was a late spring nor'easter, the kind of storm that hovers off the North Atlantic coast and spins off counter-clockwise waves of cold drizzle for hours on end.

toprips (53K)
The ledge was too rock-choked to run, and had nasty boulders lurking in the outrace.

We had just exited Third Machias Lake, and the water was bony low after a dry spring. We, that is Scooter and Hal and I, came to a sweet-looking ledge, but there was a curling wave and sharp rocks in its outrace. Looking downstream, the rapids continued unchecked around the bend.

lastrips (63K)
We might have run this if the water had been a bit higher...

These were not smooth rounded rocks sweetly spaced for a calm, controlled descent. They were peppered with sharp rocks of pebbled granite, old hard volcanic rock with rough stubbled skins. They were jumbled so tight that there were no discernable vees more than a quick twitch apart.

Since the forest along the banks was thickly wooded and rock-choked, we had no choice but to line down the rocky trench. The boulders were slimy with green globs of frogs' eggs and brown goops of rock snot.

halline (47K)
Hal lines down the edge of the rapid.

I went first, taking one of the ropes tied to the ends of my boat in each hand. I climbed to the edge of the next nearly level rock, guiding my boat along the edge of the shore.

There was a thick branch at chest level at the edge of the rock. I had to duck under it to get around, and lost control of my boat for a split second. The stern slipped sideways in the stream, out into the quicker current.

In a flash, I too was carried into the thick of the rapid, as my sneakers slipped on the slimy rock. I went under briefly, then came up, let the ropes go and grabbed my boat's gunwale. Thank my lucky stars my boat was still upright.

ken1 (49K)
I keep telling myself to wait until the ice melts later on in the spring, but I never listen. See the blue wet-suit booties? My feet were blocks of ice by day's end.

As my boat rushed downstream into the rock garden, I slid my hands down its length and grabbed the stern. This way, I held it pointing straight down through the rocks. It provided a cushion of safety between me and the boulders.

After a bend or so downstream, my boat snagged sideways on a rock. I managed to catch an eddy and stand upright, and pulled it off the rock to calmer water before it swamped. If my boat had taken on water, I fear it could have tilted upstream, been broken backwards and held tight against the rock by the unrelenting current.

Thankfully, nothing was lost. My paddles and pole still lay in the bottom of the boat, and my gear was still tied in. Since the water was warm, my body temperature was unchanged. No hypothermia.

What's the point of my story, you ask? My clothing, that's what.

I was wearing vinyl rain pants. They filled up with water and slipped down around my knees. I don't know how much they hindered me getting to shore, but I do know they sure didn't help. They were useless for keeping me dry in the rain, and a serious liability in the water.

They're almost as bad as chest waders. I've heard true stories of salmon fisherman meeting an untimely end when the fast water topped their outfit and carried them down the stream. I put the pants in the Sally Ann bag when I got home later.

Ponchos are just as bad as rain pants and chest waders in a spill, and limit arm reach as well.

Maybe I should wear a wetsuit. It'll keep one warm and dry in an icy stream. But I find a wetsuit a real pain when it's time to perform natural bodily functions. I did own a wetsuit, size XL, but felt like Gumby when I had them on, bouncing along in a rubber straitjacket. I sold it for a song.

I used to wear wet-suit booties in icy waters, but would still end up with cherry-red cold feet. They provided no protection either, as I could feel every rock edge on my soles when I stepped out of my boat.

I'm beginning to believe if the water's that cold, I shouldn't be out there in it anyway. I'll wait for warmer weather, and let the dedicated fanatics run between the ice chunks.

The best outfit I've seen in early spring water was a body glove. It covered Buddy from head to toe with no tight confinement, and had a cool hoodie as well.

But I don't need one. I've looked at them in the stores, but they're usually made for smaller folk than me.

I tell myself every spring I'll wait until the ice is off the banks and the water is warm enough for that inevitable swim. Then I don't need any special gear, just my old shirt, pants and sneakers.

See more photos of our 2013 Machias Lakes trip here.

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