Within a short drive of more than half the population of Maine, and with the only reminder that civilization is near being the sound of traffic on Route 1, is a special kayaking adventure that will come to many people, as it did to me on a recent paddle, as more than a surprise. It’s a reminder that even in the most unexpected places, another Maine resource is just waiting to be explored.

I had seen the occasional kayaker in the Androscoggin River just below the bridge that carries traffic on busy Route 201 between Topsham and Brunswick, and had filed away the thought that there could be some interesting paddling awaiting there (not to mention there were always fishermen on the banks or on the water).

I realized that I was in for a treat as I put in my kayak at the convenient and well-marked municipal launching site just below the bridge on the Brunswick side of the river.

For a paddle of a few hours, or a full day if you have the time and energy, the stretch of water running for about five miles down to Merrymeeting Bay stands ready to reward you with surprising variety, landscape and exploration opportunities.

I would suggest that you check your tide chart so you can plan your trip to coincide with the ebbing tide and return upriver on the incoming flow, as the combination of the river’s rush to the sea and an outgoing tide can combine to make the return trip a little strenuous, as I found out on my recent day on the river.

And for you longtime canoeists who might be new to kayaking, it’s worth remembering that a long paddle can be made a lot easier and less energy-consuming if you constantly remind yourself to exert more pressure on your paddle by pushing with your upper hand than by pulling with your lower — counter-intuitive for some of us old-time canoe aficionados.

But, believe me, it’ll pay off.

As I pushed away from the launch site I couldn’t resist paddling upstream to the rapids just below the dam, to both enjoy the view and briefly ride the swirling water downstream as the perfect start.

Passing under the old railroad bridge, I watched a couple of fly fishermen casting expertly in the shadows of the old structure and had a momentary flashback to a night more than 50 years ago, when I accepted the dare of a couple of college chums and walked the tracks from one side of the river to the other — hoping the train didn’t run at midnight!

My first pleasant surprise was the sight of the several islands that seem to literally fill the river: Cow, Cornish, Driscoll and some smaller ones around and upon which one could spend a whole day exploring. And except for the traffic sounds in the distance and the warm water, you can almost imagine that you’re somewhere in the North Maine Woods.

A kayak is the perfect craft for this stretch of the Androscoggin River, as sandbars abound and some of the passages between and around the islands are only a few inches deep. I’d encourage you to meander among the mixed-forest islands.

But the bay was my destination, so I headed northeast past Mustard and Freyer islands into the opening expanse of Merrymeeting Bay, where six rivers converge to form a 9,000-acre wonderland of mud flats and sandbars, where wild rice and pickerel weed flourish.

Home to several species of endangered and protected wildlife, the bay can variously offer sightings of bald eagles and ospreys, and fishermen will find shad, smelt, striped bass, river herring and salmon.

Perhaps most famously, the bay and its tributaries are favored breeding grounds for Canada geese, herons and other wading birds — not to mention many species of ducks.

My 10-mile trip gave me with a special reward when I came upon three sophomore members of the Cornell University women’s rowing team out for an early-morning workout.

Emily Rosen and Greta Healy were rowing together in one boat, while in the other was their teammate and Maine host for their visit, Alison Totta of Yarmouth. I hasten to add that Ali (as she’s known on the team) and her family are fellow Sugarloafers — not the first skiers I regularly come across out on the water in the summer.

Her dad, Michael, in fact, was rowing a third boat, perhaps reliving his days on the Cornell rowing team, when he competed in both rowing and track as a member of the class of 1980.

Maine sports fans may remember that Ali placed first at the Head of the Charles Regatta in the single sculls competition, as well as at the Independence Day Regatta in Junior A singles. Not to mention that she lettered for four years in high school in Nordic skiing, helping Yarmouth win the combined state championship all four years.

One departing suggestion: Plan your Androscoggin paddle for early on a Sunday morning (if the tides cooperate), so you can end your trip with a visit to the Sea Dog Brewing Co. in the old Bowdoin Mill in Topsham … and then sample or gorge yourself on their sumptuous brunch. It alone is worth the trip.

John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son, Josh, write in Outdoors about places to enjoy beauty only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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