Misadventure Down the Sabine


Canoeing near Hoard on the Sabine River can be slow-going with downed trees and other obstacles.

Stan Johnson

The first word that comes to mind when I think of my “trip” down the Sabine River is, portage. As in unintentional stops where you have to get out and carry your boat. Of course, that doesn’t mean your experience is destined to play out the same way. Chances are, every trip will differ.

For those less familiar with this beautiful regional resource, the Sabine stretches 510 miles through Texas and Louisiana — its lower course forming a boundary between the two states with the upper portion flowing through northeast Texas’ prairie country. Its name comes from the Spanish word for cypress, as in Rio de Sabinas.

I got personal with the Sabine after taking a week’s vacation off work to repair  my 30-year-old canoe (which looked to have been dragged around a parking lot by its previous owner). After days of laying fiberglass, sanding resin, and getting toasted by the sun, I knew it was time to get serious and give it a go with a trip down the scenic Sabine. 

I had the whole trip mapped out. 

With a borrowed canoe for my wife, we would launch from just outside of Hoard, Texas, and slowly float our way about 20 miles to Hawkins,  happily snapping pictures along the way. 

This is NOT what happened. 

The water was lower than I anticipated, which exposed a lot of obstacles — things like  a gas-powered generator and the hull of a long forgotten boat. Once we got on the water though, it was beautiful. The driftwood that lay in our path looked more like modern art sculptures than dead trees. One was wrapped in  a trout line  with bits of trash dangling from its rusted hooks.

As we moved on, the evidence of man faded into untouched nature. And then the portages came. 

A downed tree in the water allowed just enough room to go under — as long as you could clear away all the dead vines that blocked the path. Easy enough, I thought. 

Rowing up to the tree, trusty hatchet in hand, I went to work,  cutting through the vines. That’s when I encountered a cluster of  long spindly legs. Everywhere. 

I hate spiders, but swallowed my squeals of fear and quickened my pace, carefully chopping a path through the vines. Later, I learned my unhappy companions were  long-jawed orb web spiders — completely harmless, but spiders nonetheless. 

Paddling further, we went  over, under, and around obstacles in our way, paddling to the shoreline, hauling our boats out of the water and carrying them on our shoulders before launching once more. We continued this exhausting process several times, until finally, we were stopped cold by two huge trees blocking our path. 

The water was too deep and the banks on either side were too steep for us to pull the boats out and carry them around. Which meant we were stuck. After a brief deliberation, we decided to backtrack  and find a place to camp. Not  far from the spider tree, we settled on  a long dry sand bar, a soft spot for a campsite. We collected wood for a fire and ate our rations. It all seemed a good idea, but we were wrong.

The night was long. Seemingly endless. Full of shifting and rolling and turning, for hours on end. 

Fortunately,  East Texas has a beautiful view of the night sky, with bright stars unobstructed by urban light pollution. 

Despite my discomfort, I was reminded of nights in my childhood when I spent hours lying in my family’s driveway, looking up at stars like these. 

Throughout the night, we heard owls hooting and fish splashing. It made me wish I had brought my fishing pole. The next morning, cooler temperatures welcomed us and made the return trip much easier. 

We packed our things and headed back upstream. Of course, that entailed another trip under the spider tree, and I almost tipped over when one fell into my boat and scurried over my foot. Eventually, we reached our launching point and said goodbye to this beautiful, unpredictable river or, at least, its one-mile patch of portages.

I’ve pledged to go canoeing on the Sabine again, only I’ll do a little more research about where to launch or when to go — and hope for less obstacles.


River Rentals

If you don’t own a canoe, you can still immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the scenic Sabine. In Longview, East Texas Sonar rents canoes without guides for use on the upper Sabine. Rental rates are $25 the first day, $15 the second, and $5 each day after that. 3200 North Eastman Road. 903.633.4648. 

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