Fireworks on the fourth – Charles River Edition


<Passerby looks at us as if we have two heads>

“It’s an inflatable Kayak.

<Passerby looks at us as if we have three heads>

“Yes, we’re inflating it on a random street in cambridge.”

<Passerby looks at us as if we’d just landed from a flying saucer>

“I give up”

And that’s how our Kayaking adventure on the 4th started out. Mike and I should have taken the strange looks as an indicator of the day to come, but instead we were far too excited about the prospect of watching fireworks from the river to be paying attention… or to even care if we had been.

We put into the river at the Cambridgeside Galleria, in the little cul-de-sac with the water fountain. We, of course, got a few rather confused looks as we tossed the Bogmaster 3000 over the lip and jumped in. But soon enough we were out into the open river, far from the confused looks of the multitudes of “land lubbers”.

Our first mini-adventure hit us as we paddled out from the Galleria area. Here, we had our opening encounter with a police boat (destined to be but the first encounter of the evening) when we strayed a bit too close to the shore on the Boston side. A state police skiff quickly motored up, slapping up with bow waves and loudly informing us in no uncertain terms that there was a “no boating zone” that extended 100ft from each shore-line.

We made some quick pleasentries with the boat, just to make sure they wouldn’t hose us down with the intimidating looking water cannon, and then got underway towards the massive party happening in the middle of the river.

See… we weren’t the only people who thought that watching the fireworks from the river would be awesome. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of small yachts and fishing boats clogging the waterway around the barge, all of which were armed with grills, booze, and loudly partying people. So, like any friendly people, Mike and I aimed for the biggest flotilla of tied-together boats and set to jump onboard to join the party.

Well, we didn’t quite party with them. And we didn’t quite jump onboard. In fact, we were greeted with one of the coldest welcomes I’ve ever gotten at a party… It wasn’t really a welcome, as much as a, “the fuck? You guy’s’re in a Kayak. You are clearly not rich enough to be near us. Now shoo. Go away.”
Thus, we moved on. We tried another flotilla to see if our previous rebuke was a one-off, or the norm… and it was definitely the norm. So, instead of trying to push our way in where we weren’t welcome, we paddled onwards, looking to find some cool Kayakers, or maybe a spot to just tie up and relax in the sun.

As we paddled around we finally found a small dock that boaters were allowed to pull up to – but it was on the other side of the fireworks barge. Thus, we had to cross through one of the small channels that ran on either side of the barge… channels that speedboats and yachts were using. Channels that may or may not be where we got run over by a massive boat too busy partying to notice us.

We did run into trouble passing through the gauntlet… but not the kind of trouble we expected. Instead, we were caught in a water-war between two smaller power boats filled with kids armed with all manner of water weaponry. We made the mistake of challenging one of them with a water balloon we had recovered, and so when the second boat came by we “took on some water”, thanks to a full broadside from their artillery.

Finally in position to land at the dock, we coasted up and I tied off while Mike headed inland to do some exploration… and to hunt down some water-based weaponry for the BogMaster 3000. While he was playing Lewis & Clark, I relaxed on the dock – taking in the sun and chatting with the two National Guard soldiers who were guarding the dock against non-boaters using it. They were pretty cool kids, but unfortunately I had to push off when a cop came over to remind us all that the dock needed to stay clear so that people could pull up in an emergency. So I paddled out a bit and stretched out, sunbathing myself while waiting for Mike to get back with our artillery.

Unfortunately our woeful lack of ordinance would remain – by the time Mike returned he had scoured not only the Esplanade, but also Newbury street and some of Boyleston trying to find squirtguns with no luck. He had, however, brought back some Indian food. And so we pulled out into the middle of the river and relaxed, chowing down on some excellently spicy food and washing it down with the contents of our beer cooler.

The rest of the day was spent burning up time and exploring, waiting for the sun to go down and the fireworks to go up. We spent some time on “Kayak coast”, relaxing with a whole group of Kayakers who had beached their kayaks a bit past the Mass Ave bridge. Or we tried… they turned out to be almost as unfriendly as the people on the yachts, so we were off again in short order, setting ourselves in position to watch the explosions.

However, the city was not down with having explosions right away. Instead, they were more concerned about the massive electrical storm brewing over Cambridge. The city of Boston actually went as far as issuing an evacuation order, telling the national guard to clear the riverbanks until the storm had passed.

This gave Mike and I a chance to do something that very few people will ever be able to do; explore underneath the Memorial Ave bridge system, where the road goes over the Charles. On any other day the police would be at our throats for piloting a kayak underneath the bridge and around the support pylons – but since everyone was being evacuated, the bridges were considered safe grounds for the many kayakers on the river. And so, we explored.

The network of pylons reminded me of that scene in Lord of the Rings, when the fellowship first enters the “stone forest” in the Mines of Moria. The darkness under the bridges was lightly illuminated by the light of the city, with our headlamps burning the shadows away and revealing more and more of the waterway the deeper we went.

Mike paddled while I used my oar to push away the floating detrius and clear the cobwebs – this place was thick with spiderwebs, though I thankfully couldn’t pick out any of the arachnids myself. I even tried getting out to do some bouldering at one point, to explore the higher reaches of the “forest”, but I unfortunately wasn’t able to get any real holds on the water-slicked concrete.

After about an hour or so the evacuation order was finally lifted (without the storm having broken, of course) and we were able to move back into position to watch the fireworks. This time Mike and I paddled into the middle of the yacht-area, hoping that we could find some kind of bouy to tie up to so that we wouldn’t have to fight against the current while watching the explosions. After a while we found a bouy, but in the least expected place – While looking around, one of the party yachts offered to let us tie off to their anchor to watch the show. Huh. So I guess some of the boaters are nice humans after all.

After waiting another half hour or so, the fireworks finally got underway. And holy crap, they were right on top of us! And when I say “right on top of us” I literally mean “we layed down in the kayak, looking straight upwards to watch them”. It was amazing, with two distinct dangers. First, the rain. You see, when you launch lots of shrapnel and such into a fully-saturated rain cloud it drops the rain. All of it. At once. Seriously, we got a days worth of rain in less than 5min, and it came down so hard that Mike and I had to use our paddles as visors to protect our eyes. The second danger was that same shrapnel… not only did it bring the rain, but it fell down afterwards. And since we were right under the explosions… well, lets just say that I was a bit covered in ash and scorch marks after the show.

But it was worth it. So worth it. The fireworks were amazing, and our seat was second to none. Seriously, there was nothing but open water between the kayak and the fireworks barge, and so we were able to see every launch and feel every explosion. And the show went on for at least 15min, far long enough for us to forget about the rain that had marred the beginning of the show.

Though we did still need to remember to dodge shrapnel.

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