Rivers are marvelous things. Like living creatures, they move and change constantly, and most of them seem to reside in beautiful places. Even urban rivers are beautiful.

Rivers are especially wonderful when you paddle on them in a kayak or canoe. Some rivers flow fast and rocky. Real whitewater is nothing to fool around with, and should only be paddled by people with the correct equipment and the knowledge and skills to use it safely. But most rivers have quieter sections of flat water or easy quickwater, where the currents are more manageable and almost anyone can paddle safely.

Like most people in New England, my sweetheart, Marilyn, and I have a river not far from our house. "Our" river has some very serious white-water stretches -- which she avoids, though I'm slowly learning the skills I need to tackle them. But "our" river also has several easier sections that are perfect for paddling on a warm spring or summer afternoon. A couple of those sections can be paddled both upstream and down much of the time, but when the water's high, it's a one-way street -- downstream.

The trouble with one-way paddling is the need to shuttle cars and boats. You have to somehow drop your boats off upstream before you start, and pick them up downstream when you are done paddling. That usually means two cars and a couple of trips between put in and take out. It's a lot of wasted gas.

So, we've perfected the "paddle-pedal," which means one car, exactly half the driving, and some fun exercise as a bonus. Here's how it worked on a recent outing:

The section of river we wanted to paddle is about 8 miles long, following the twists and turns of the river, but it's less than 5 miles by road. We loaded two kayaks and our tandem bike (a solo bike works, too) on the car, drove to the take-out, where we locked the bike to a tree. Then we drove to the put-in, stored our bike shoes and helmets in the kayaks, donned our PFDs, picked up our paddles and launched the kayaks.

At the takeout, we pulled the boats up onto shore and locked them with the bike lock, pedaled the five miles to our car in less than a half-hour, then went back and picked up the boats. If we'd been at a higher-traffic takeout, where we were worried about boats, paddles or PFDs being stolen, Marilyn would have brought a book and a camp chair and stayed with the boats while I pedaled a solo bike back for the car.

The real point is a paddle-pedal adventure involves less driving, takes only one car, and adds another bit of fun to your wonderful day on the water. Try it! Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Scout and be safe

The degree of difficulty and danger on any river can vary greatly with the water level. A river you paddled easily and safely when the water was at low or moderate flow can easily put you in real peril when the current is hammering. And things can change in a hurry.

On the day we paddled "our" river, the water was up and the current strong from recent heavy rains. All the dams on the river were dumping water in preparation for even more rain to come. A quick check of this indicated the river wasn't in flood. And this website showed that the water had risen in the past few days, but not dangerously so. You can use these two sites to check most rivers in New England.

Still, we decided to do the section we knew best and, even then, we stopped at several points along our route to look at the river before we launched. Turns out we had a very pleasant, very easy paddle on the swift current, no troubles at all. Our only problem: the 8 miles of river went by too fast.

But on another section of that same river that same day, three kayakers had not done their homework. They found themselves caught in the heavy current and were swept into the barrel-barrier above a dam. One made it to shore, one was rescued by bystanders, but the third had to be rescued by emergency responders. Bet everyone involved wished they'd made wiser choices.

Rivers change from day to day, make sure you know what you are facing before you launch your canoe or kayak.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com