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Bending Branches

Why Paddling Is So Important

By Kevin Callan

It's that time of the year again. Maps are spread out across the dinning room floor, photos of previous trips have been viewed over and over again, canoe mates have been over for drinks and plans of this season's trips are being staged, and past trips have been fondly reminisced. It's also a time I read through my journal. I found this tonight and thought I would share it with everyone; it tells of why on earth we even plan another trip in the bug infested wilderness in the first place:

A few years back my father found himself in a coma, which caused a great deal of stress to the family. Individuals react to stress in various ways. With me, a massive rash formed all over my body. Of course, I went to the doctor, who then informed me that when the stress went away, so would the rash.

So off I went on a canoe trip in Quetico for twenty-eight days, the day after my father woke up from the coma, looked at me and said, "I'm surprised you're not out on one of your trips right now." Three days into the trip - okayed by my dad, the rash disappeared. More mind-blowing, however, was a half-hour in on the return trip home, the rash came back. And you wonder why I smirk at people who can't fully understand why paddling is so important?

My father understood.
I left for my trip the day he awoke – and he knew why. My daughter, now five, has understood the passion for wilderness paddling from the age of six-months – when she completed her first canoe trip, and loved it so much that she's constantly asking when our next trip is.

My wife, Alana, understands.
She insists our marriage has flourished because of our canoe trips together, but also never questions the times I head out alone.

My friends understand as well.
That's how they've become lifelong friends – we go on canoe trips together. All of us, every culture on this planet, are born from wilderness; and when we return to the familiar, our senses peak and all the ills of society fade away. The rash disappears. My life encompasses anything that has to do with wilderness travel, which is why I do what I do.

If you think about it, there are only two ways us humans could have gotten to the planet earth; we were either dropped here by aliens or we were born from wilderness. Even though the alien concept sounds kind of cool, it’s most likely that the second option is more real. The further away we become from our birthplace, or the more "civilized" we become, the more desire we have for going back to the place we were born and the more craving we have for planning our journey there.

Planning a trip back to our birthplace, to familiarize ourselves with it, is the first step to rekindling our affections. Planning sessions this time of year are generally full of enthusiasm. We all imagine ourselves as the best campers, with the best equipment, and we dream of trips where we have the most sublime sleeps, the sweetest-smelling tent companions, the most fabulous weather, the greatest number of animal sightings, the best best fishing, the most perfect campsite, the easiest portages. And we all dread the moment when its over and we're forced back to our "unnatural" world.



Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including "Wilderness Pleasures" and "The Happy Camper." A regular keynote speaker at major North American canoeing and camping expos for over 20 years, he has received three National Magazine Awards and four film awards, including top award at the prestigious Waterwalker Film Festival. Callan lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the modern-day canoe.


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