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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Weekend Adventures

How To Get Away From It All
And Still Be Back at Work on Monday —
The Story Continues

By Farwell Forrest

June 28, 2005

The last time out, I talked a little bit about miniature adventures, a phrase I've borrowed from writer Richard Frisbie. In a way, the miniature adventure is the antithesis of the Big Trip. Big Trips involve weeks — or sometimes months — of preparation. They often take you thousands of miles from home. And they're hard to do on the cheap. In short, Big Trips require both deep pockets and a whole lot of free time. That can be a problem. Even if you can afford to take several weeks (or months) away from whatever it is that pays the bills, you may have other obligations you simply can't ignore. That's why Big Trips are rare treats rather than regular holidays for many of us. Yet much paddlesport writing gives pride of place to the Big Trip, while almost completely ignoring the miniature adventure. Our own modest efforts are no exception here. In part, this reflects the Romantic-with-a-capital-R conventions of the genre. What outdoor writers are mostly writing about is Escape: escape from the workday world of hour-long commutes, impossible deadlines, and irritable bosses. And Big Trips more than fill the bill. On a Big Trip you really get away from it all.

Or do you? As I just said, Big Trips require a lot of preparation. You can let someone else do the work for you, of course, but this may seriously inflate the Balance Due on your credit cards. And suppose you do it yourself. There's still no such thing as a free lunch. In fact, preparing for a DIY Big Trip is a lot like tackling a big project at work, with all that this can mean. Plans, checklists, and deadlines. Budgets and delivery dates. Late nights and long hours. Even the choice of companions becomes an exercise in human resource management. Your old buddy Bill may be great company for an afternoon on the local river, but are you sure you'll still be friends after spending a month together — particularly when you've heard his story about the big one that got away for the sixty-fifth time? Then there's Samantha. What about her? Can she survive for two weeks without reading The Wall Street Journal or downing her daily double latté? Who knows? And don't forget Jason. He calls to "check up on the kids" at least twice a day. (Who are the kids? One of them is twenty-five and an investment banker; the other's a stained-glass artist whose last piece sold for $50K. He's thirty.) You've even watched Jason whip out his phone while parked in an eddy at the bottom of a drop. What's he going to do when he discovers that cell-phone coverage is pretty spotty in Desolation Canyon? That's anyone's guess.

You get the point, right? Making a Big Trip happen can be a big job, and sometimes — not always, but sometimes — it can feel just like the job you're trying to escape from. Yet if you hand over all the hard work to someone else, there's the credit-card statement to look forward to at the end of the month. Talk about hard choices! That's where the miniature adventure comes in. Think of it as a sort of escape clause in life's contract of obligations. It's easy. It's cheap. And you don't need a lot of free time. Do it right, and you'll be back at work on Monday, rested, refreshed, and ready for anything. Even your boss may notice the change. Then again, nothing's perfect. Miniature adventures also require that you plan ahead. The difference? This is the type of planning you can do on the run, and a lot of things will only need to be done one time. Ever. Once you've stocked your getaway pack, for instance, you're good to go at a moment's notice. Then, if you replenish staple foods and make repairs at the end of every trip, you'll be good to go again and again. It doesn't get any easier.


Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Like I said last time, the miniature adventure requires that you lower your sights. Does this sound too much like giving up? OK. Try…

Thinking Small

Either way, it's the First Principle. We're talking miniature adventures here. You may only be gone for an afternoon. Three days is probably the outside limit. So you'll have to postpone your trip to the Hindu Kush for another time. You'll be exploring close to home, instead. How close? My more-or-less arbitrary limit is 30 miles. But your mileage will likely differ. Depending on where you live, you may not have to travel more than a mile. This doesn't apply just to folks living in the middle of a National Forest, by the way. If you call a port city home, you can often find a lifetime's worth of paddling adventure as near as the waterfront. On the other hand, if you live in a sprawling suburb, don't be surprised if you have to drive as much as 60 miles, or even further. (That's why it's called "sprawl," I guess.) In any case, if you can get where you're going and back in a day, and still spend more time on the water than you did on the road, you've got things about right.

But where should you go? That's up to you. Unless you live near a popular recreation area, you probably won't get a lot of help from guidebooks. Instead, you'll have to do some real on-the-ground exploring. It's just a matter of looking around you. One thing you'll learn right at the outset, though — it's not too easy to do this at 60 miles an hour. That's why the Second Principle in the miniature adventurer's creed is…

Slow Down and Live

That's live as in "live life to the fullest," by the way, not live as in survive — though I'm willing to bet there's a connection between the two. In practical terms, slowing down often means leaving your car in the garage when you prospect for paddling destinations close to home. Often. But not always. One of my first miniature adventures began while I was stuck on an overpass in a traffic jam. I took my eyes off the bumper sticker on the car in front of me ("Think Globally - Act Locally") and noticed a stream that I'd never seen before, flowing through a few marshy acres between a factory and an office complex. The next weekend I was back with my canoe on the roof of my car. Still, you can't always count on a traffic jam when you need one, can you? Better have a Plan B.

I can see a question coming. If you leave your car behind when you scout for new places to paddle, just how are you going to cover the distance? There are three easy answers. On foot. On a bike. With a map. Take the last first. Maps — particularly topographic maps — give you an eagle's eye view of your neighborhood, and now that they're available on CDs, you can store a whole country's worth in a single desk drawer. Don't just glance at them, though. Study them. Zoom in (or use a magnifying glass). Zoom out (or hang the maps on the wall over your desk). Give your quads the same close attention you'd give the small print on a mortgage. It's a great way to learn the earth's secrets. Even after 15 years, I discover someplace new every time I look at the maps of my home county.

What's next? After you've identified a few attractive-looking destinations on your maps, get out of the house and take a look at them. Write up your own guidebook profile. Scout for put-ins and take-outs. Identify parks or other public lands. (You can't rely on quads to show every county forest.) Check out access roads. Search for fishermen's trails and bridges that give you a good view of any drops. Here's where going slow really pays off. And there's no better way to go slow than by walking — though cycling is almost as good. Colin Fletcher called this the Law of Inverse Appreciation: the faster you go, the less you see. On foot or on a bike, you'll notice dirt roads that you'd easily miss while driving past. You'll have time to stand and stare at the gap in the tree line that marks a bog or a beaver pond. You can pass the time of day with the guy washing the mud off a cedar stripper in his front yard — and maybe learn something about the local river while you're at it. You'll even be able to read the names of the property owners on the NO TRESPASSING signs. Sometimes a phone call can pay big dividends here, opening up an area of private land that's closed to the rest of the public.

But what if — as can easily happen — your chosen destinations are too far from your home to walk or cycle? Simply get in your car and drive to a convenient parking place. Then get out and get up close and personal with the landscape, on foot or on a bike. If you do this often enough, you're certain to make a few happy discoveries along the way. When I first started exploring my two million-acre neighborhood, I did my scouting from our truck. Then I rediscovered biking, and I began building up my legs and lungs. Now I make all my local prospecting trips in the saddle, from doorway to destination. It's a win-win situation. These scouting trips have become miniature adventures in their own right, and I often strap a tiny inflatable on my bike for a quick "test paddle," into the bargain. The whole trip then becomes a no-octane, amphibious holiday. There's another bonus, too. My two million acres are much larger than they were when I traveled to and from put-ins by car. Sound crazy? It's not. A thirty-mile trip by car takes me about an hour. It takes two or three times that long by bike. The result? My neighborhood's just gotten two or three times bigger. Moreover, the trip to and from the put-in is now part of the adventure, rather than a dreary chore to get out of the way as quickly as possible. Hurrying down the highway makes no sense when pleasure's your goal. In doubling my travel time, I've doubled the fun. I see and feel and hear and smell much more than I did when I was a prisoner in a steel cage, eating up the road at 50-plus miles an hour. I can scope out the bald eagle circling high over my head. Feel the sting of wind-driven rain against my face. Hear the cheerful Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody of a white-throated sparrow. Smell the perfume of sun-warmed pines drifting over the road from the encroaching forest. I also enjoy the simple animal pleasure of using my muscles to move my body from one place to another. It's a thrill that never fades. That's why I paddle rather than drive a power boat, after all. The good news? When I bike or walk, I get the same pleasure from the trips to and from the put-in.

Slow down and live. It's the weekend adventurer's war cry in the battle against the maddening demands of everyday life. But now that you've found your way to the water, what comes next? It's time to wet your paddle and enjoy the fruits of your labor. And that's the subject of "The Rest of the Story," the final article in this series, coming soon to a computer screen near you.

No chance for a Big Trip this year? No problem. Find your fun close to home. Take it slow and easy. Make every minute count twice. You won't cover many miles on a weekend adventure, but you'll never get a better return on your investment of time. And isn't that what recreation — re-creation — is all about?

Copyright 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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