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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Weekend Adventures

The Rest of the Story —
On the Water

By Farwell Forrest
farwell@paddling.net

July 26, 2005

I've said it before, I know. Still, it's worth repeating. The miniature adventure is the escape clause in life's contract of obligations. It's adventure on your terms, close to home and on the cheap. But it's real-life adventure nonetheless. Every miniature adventure is a leap into the unknown, with all that this involves. Guidebooks only rarely offer guidance, and there's no outfitter to turn to for timely reassurance or good advice. In short, you get no guarantees. To go adventuring is to place your stake on the table and risk…well…what, exactly? Disappointment, at the very least. And possibly more.

But that's no reason to give it up before you've tried it. After all, this is one gamble where it's easy to beat the house. Last time, in "The Story Continues," I outlined two principles in the creed of the weekend adventurer. The first? Think Small. The second? Slow Down. There's just one more: Be Prepared. Not very original, I admit. In fact, it's something of a cliché. No matter. This hackneyed phrase still embodies an important truth. When you travel off the tourist track, you're on your own. The success of your adventure — sometimes even your survival — rests on your shoulders. If you fail, or fall, there's no one else to take up the load. That's a big responsibility, and it's not to everyone's taste. But it can also be liberating. Nowhere is this more obvious than when you're…

At the Water's Edge

Of course, you didn't just drop out of the sky. Several weeks back, you decided to take a short paddling holiday close to home. So you studied your maps and prospected for a suitable waterway. In the end, you found just what you were looking for. Now you're standing at the water's edge and wondering what comes next. You notice that your heart is beating a little faster than normal, and you try to decide whether it's excitement or apprehension. The answer? It's probably a little of both. At least you're in good company. For thousands of years folks have stood looking out across the Unknown, wondering what lay ahead. Most of them have felt the same heady mixture of exhilaration and fear that you're feeling right now. It makes sense. You're happily anticipating an adventure, but you also know that you can't pass the buck if something goes wrong. And you are about to head off into the Unknown. Close to home or not, the pond or stream before you is one you've never paddled.

 

OK. You want to enjoy yourself, don't you? And you want to get back home in time for Sunday dinner, with nothing more than sore muscles and a few mosquito bites to complain about. Showing up at work on Monday rested and refreshed is one hallmark of a successful miniature adventure. What's the secret? There isn't any. Just apply the three principles I mentioned earlier, beginning with…

Think Small

You don't measure a miniature adventure by the number of miles you cover. It isn't a race, and there's no floatplane to meet at the end of the trip. Your weekend escape is a success if it enlarges your world and relaxes your mind and body. Period. If you spend the whole time trying to coax a trout to strike in a pool just two hundred yards from your put-in, that's just fine. You don't have to apologize to anyone. You had a good time, and you got back safely. Nothing else matters. In fact, the best way to ruin a miniature adventure is to try to do too much or go too far, or burden yourself with a long and difficult car shuttle at the end. That's why you might want to try an "amphibious" trip, one that combines cycling and paddling. With a folding bike and trailer and a capacious inflatable, you can even take your land transport right along with you on the water. Then there's no need to return to your put-in at the end of trip. (There's also no need to hide your bike and trailer from prying eyes — or worry about whether or not you'll find it where you left it.)

If you're like most paddlers, though, you'll probably decide to drive your car to the put-in. It's still best to end the trip back where you began it. That's easy if your destination is a lake or pond, or even a chain of lakes linked by short portages. But it's not so straightforward on moving water. The solution? Begin your trip by traveling upstream, then drift back down to your put-in. What could be simpler? No, you won't cover as many miles as you would by going with the flow the whole way. But so what? Mileage doesn't count on a miniature adventure. And there's something else to consider. You're less likely to get in over your head if you approach obstacles from downstream. It's pretty hard to get carried into a sweeper when the current's pushing you the other way, for instance. Since you're probably exploring without benefit of a guide (or a guidebook), that can be important.

 

Does this sound too easy? Some people think so. In a world in which progress is often equated with productivity — another word for doing more work in less time — it can be difficult to break the habit. But your Christmas bonus doesn't depend on how much water you put under your keel, does it? The workaday world isn't called the rat race for nothing. When you take a weekend off the job you probably don't want to speed up the treadmill. You want to…

Slow Down

Take time to inhale the fragrance of the balsam fir at the put-in. Once you're on the water, play a big eddy again and again till you've exhausted all its possibilities. Then give your paddle a rest and listen to the call of a distant loon. At days's end, watch the soft evening light dance on the ripples till the red orb of the sun drops below the horizon. Later, just before sleep claims you, look for the silver V of a beaver's wake in the light of a full moon. Take all the time you need. It's your time, after all. And time is your most precious possession. Spend it wisely. Don't squander it rushing from place to place.

Slowing down also pays other dividends. You won't get into much trouble on moving water if you scout each drop carefully, no matter how easy it looks from your boat. And the slower you go, the more you'll see. (That's Colin Fletcher's Law of Inverse Appreciation again.) There are times when you have to push hard, of course, but the miniature adventure usually isn't one of them. If you find yourself hurrying to get to a campsite ahead of other boaters, you've probably picked the wrong place to spend your weekend. Choose another place next time.

 

That brings us back to preparation and planning. And the most important rule here is to…

Be Prepared

There's nothing new about this. Whether you're paddling ten miles from home or ten thousand, many of the same considerations apply. Have the equipment you need, and protect it from water. (A getaway pack is the ideal luggage for weekend adventures.) Wear your life jacket. Always. Learn how to fix broken gear — and mend broken bodies, too. Drink enough to keep from running dry, in hot weather and cold alike, and be sure to replace the salts you lose in sweat. Wear clothing that keeps your engine (that's you!) from freezing up or overheating.

Most important of all, never forget that practice makes perfect. No matter how many years you've been paddling, there's always something new to learn. Each river, each stretch of seacoast, each beaver pond, has something to teach you. Stay humble. Shun the temptations of hubris. Remember, too, that the most dangerous hours of your life are probably the hours you spend on the road. No experienced driver needs to be told that, I'm sure, but it's easy to forget in the holiday excitement of the trip to the put-in. I've had dozens of close calls on the highway for each one I've had on the water. I'll bet that you have, as well. And amphibious paddlers, boaters who cycle to the put-in, aren't immune. On the contrary. We have to be especially careful. We're freed from the often stultifying confines of our steel cages, to be sure — not to mention the joys of paying record prices for gasoline — but this freedom comes at a price. Make a mistake behind the wheel in traffic and you stand a good chance of walking away from the crash unhurt. Make the same mistake while you're balanced on two wheels, however, and the odds aren't in your favor. There are no airbags on a bicycle. What can you do about this? Practice. Just as safety in a kayak or canoe has much more to do with the skill of the paddler than the design of the boat, bicycle safety is largely determined by the abilities of the rider. It's a challenge shared by both paddling and cycling. It's also their greatest reward.

That's it. We've gone from dreaming over a map to paddling across the water into the Unknown. Call it an escape from the everyday in three easy steps. Think small. Slow down. Be prepared. It couldn't be much simpler. You, too, can get away from it all and still be back at work on Monday. The miniature adventure is open to anyone with a boat and a dream. And that means you.

Copyright 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.






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