Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Let It Rain" Guidebook Review

Beginning in the late 1800’s with the Appalachian Mountain Club of Boston, New Englanders have had a special affinity for the wild rivers of their region, pioneering some of the earliest whitewater sports and continuing to produce boaters of the utmost caliber. While their boating skills often set them apart from their peers in the lower states, due to the vast differences in geology, river types, volume, and climate present in New England, their rivers have largely remained a mystery to modern whitewater enthusiasts. Perhaps it is the New England propensity to keep close their best assets, or the utter lack of need for anyone from New England to boat outside of the region, which have kept many of these rivers shrouded in secrecy, but finally the rest of America can catch a glimpse of the fantastic whitewater found within the birthplace of our nation. Former New England resident Alden Bird explains everything you need to know about the region, faster than Benedict Arnold, in his latest book: Let It Rain: The Whitewater Rivers of New England, New York, Quebec and Ontario.

With the mind of an adventurer and the pen of a great writer, Alden Bird engages readers in a state-by-state quest through the included regions; beginning with his favorite runs in the Delaware Water Gap, heading north through New York and New England and on into the eastern reaches of Canada. Throughout the book, the author makes sure to provide equal weight to the common runs the majority of boaters prefer to tackle, on through the extreme runs over which the majority of boaters may only drool. An examination of most of the recent guide books indicates that writers have either chosen to provide detail on every known run in a state, or a broad but shallow glimpse of the rivers in the vast reaches of America’s whitewater. For Let It Rain Alden sets out to strike a balance between the two approaches, providing readers with over 200 different river reaches, broken into eleven distinct regions, insuring that traveling boaters will never run out of options while local boaters will easily find useful information regarding the many rivers they have heard mention of at their favorite local take-out.

The author approaches each new river with a familiar template, providing “beta” information in a small textbox at the beginning of each run that includes difficulty at various levels, river length, shuttle length, when the river is likely to have navigable water in it and the gradient broken down into mile by mile statistics, so you do not accidentally stumble into large waterfalls, such as the 65 foot Glen Ellis Falls in New Hampshire. Additionally, each river description includes complete shuttle directions and a better description of Alden’s “water” statistic explaining exactly what it takes to get some of these rivers and creeks running, which is helpful in a region that lacks many of the flow gauges that help paddlers in other regions figure out when their favorite run is flowing. Within the regions, rivers are broken down and grouped by drainage and proximity to one another, beginning with the upper reaches of a drainage and progressing through the many confluences to the lower and more voluminous sections that can be run. Each drainage is accompanied with a map that compliments the shuttle directions found in each river’s description, allowing paddlers to easily reference shuttle roads, distances, landmarks, put-ins and take-outs. For each state and a large part of Canada, the author also includes larger maps indicating where each river reach is, a page reference for its description, major highways and interstates, and large cities of interest, which readily allows readers to easily determine the proximity of the reaches covered, either to simply learn more about where they live and boat, or for the planning of the always-exciting paddling road trip.

Each river description is written with a verbal finesse that only an English teacher could craft, that is both informative and engaging. Alden provides a brief description of each river’s characteristics including the general character of the run, any unique geology you will encounter, what to expect to see when you are not completely focused on survival, and any pertinent information regarding major rapids and dangers present in the runs. While the author takes care to inform readers about each run, insuring that paddlers do not find themselves quickly over their heads, he also leaves enough information out to insure that when you finally get on that hard-to-catch Vermont creek, its grandeur will not be spoiled by your buddy constantly talking about the ten different ways to run each rapid and a date by date analysis of each rock shift. This has been a positive trend in recent guidebooks, assuring that readers will feel the same exploratory excitement as each run’s first explorers without all that troublesome hiking to gather beta.

Let It Rain also features high-quality color photographs of almost every run, showing off the geological diversity of the regions, the courage of local boaters, and the character you can expect to find on each river, which can be helpful in jogging your memory if you are in a hurry to bag that next creek and have forgotten every word of this 320-page volume or if you and your paddling pals need something to drool over for the next few days. If you look closely you will find a large quantity of canoeists in these photos, reflecting the author’s bias towards paddlers of the single-bladed variety, but have no fear all you two-bladed boaters, the author’s descriptions reasonably assume your ability to keep up with him and his one-bladed friends while enjoying all that the Northeast has to offer. Rounding out the book is a diverse scattering of independent articles covering many topics, including: technique advice, first impressions of now-classic runs, logistics for multi-day expeditions, wild trip reports, etc., as well as the author’s own literary musings as Alden seeks to enmesh readers in his own unique viewpoint of the symbiosis between humans and nature.

Alden Bird’s Let It Rain: The Whitewater Rivers of New England, New York, Quebec and Ontario, is just the guidebook whitewater enthusiasts have been waiting for to unlock the mysterious rivers of the Northeastern part of our country and beyond, in an easy-to-understand and comprehensive manner. The book’s format compliments that of other recent guidebooks by boasting great attention to detail, crucial information, an active and engaging writing style and photographic prowess that will leave everyone from the hardcore expedition boater to your tri focal-wearing grandmother excited, nervous, and ready to embark on a whitewater journey to the Northeast, inspired by the words of Alden Bird. More information on this fantastic resource can be found at