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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Breaking Away

Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!
In Praise of Day Trips

By Tamia Nelson

September 4, 2007

It's official: school's back in session in Canoe Country, and the summer holidays are over. There's a new chill in the air in the morning. Curtains of fog linger long in the hollows between the hills, and geese clamor in the cloudy skies. To my mind, this is the sweet of the year. It simply doesn't get any better than it is right now. For many paddlers, though, the fall of the leaf puts an end to boating. Canoes and kayaks come down off the car and go onto storage cradles in the garage, where they're fated to gather dust till Memorial Day.

That's too bad. Sure, most paddlers yearn to make epic trips to far-distant lands, to break away from the everyday routine for weeks or even months. But life often gets in the way of dreams like these. For many paddlers, a weekend is the largest block of time that can be stolen from the hours owed employers and family. And even this may be too much to hope for. What with one thing and another, many weekends are half consumed with can't-be-put-off chores, and precious time is squandered in cruising the aisles of the HyperMart or plodding in endless circles behind a lawn mower. The result is drearily predictable.

Scurrying from doorway to car, the coffee mug that holds her breakfast clutched in a sweaty hand, the harried commuter is brought up short by the unmistakable gabble of geese. Pausing in midflight, she looks up and sees countless birds riding a brisk northerly, flying in a wavering skein that stretches across the vault of the sky. Then, as she watches, the skein unravels. The threads separate, flex, spread out. Living Vs form, break up, and re-form. And through it all, as minute after minute flashes past unnoticed on her digital watch, the commuter stands stock still, enraptured, her eyes fixed on the far horizon until the last bird is lost from sight. Only then does she waken from her trance and hurry on her way, already late, reminded — as if she needed a reminder! — that one more weekend of her life has been squandered. Those geese are going somewhere, she chides herself, but I'm not. It's a melancholy note on which to begin the workweek.


Is this scene all too familiar? Then it may be time to ask yourself …


The answer is obvious, though it's not very heartening. There are just so many hours in any week — or any weekend, come to that. Once you've done what you have to do, there's precious little time left over for what you want to do. What's the solution? Give up work and family? Get real! Give up paddling? Not hardly! What's left? Easy. Tailor your ambitions to the time you have available. If a Big Trip is out of the question — and it is for most of us, most of the time — opt for Weekend Adventures. But what if you can't even get away for a weekend? What then? Simple. Go out for a day. Or a half-day. Or just an hour.

That's all there is to it. OK. It's not really this simple. But what's the alternative? You aren't ready for the La-Z-Boy®, are you? Me neither. So let's begin with Rule Number One: No more excuses. After all, if you want to be able to tell your colleagues "I went paddling this weekend" when you get to work on Monday, you'll have to paddle on Saturday or Sunday. There's no other way.

And now let's see how it's done. To begin with …

Set Modest Goals

Familiarity breeds contempt, at least according to some. Maybe that's why we long for new horizons. But there's another way of looking at things. Familiarity and intimacy are close cousins, and intimacy can open our lives to a lot of happy surprises. There are practical considerations, too. You can't go far from home in a few hours. So if you want to make the most of your free time, you'll need to learn as much as you can about local waterways. But what if you can't find them listed in any guidebook? No problem. Join a local paddling club, instead. Can't find any clubs nearby? Then get a map, get a bike, and go exploring down every side road and byway you can find, keeping your eyes open for ponds and streams. It doesn't take much to float a canoe or kayak, and with a good map (or GPS) to guide you, you'll see more in an hour on a bicycle than you'll see in a year caged in your car. Granted, you probably won't find a wilderness on your doorstep, but truth to tell, wilderness is mostly a matter of perception anyway. It's a human construct, an attempt to draw lines where none really exist, to create boundaries separating the "pristine" from the "despoiled." Of course, few of us would deny that much of our so-called built environment is downright ugly. There's a lot of despoliation around, in other words. But there's not a whole lot of country that can truly be said to be pristine, either. The human footprint can be seen everywhere, if you only know how (and where) to look. The world's all of a piece, in short, and we have to take it as we find it — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Which leads us to Rule Number Two in the day-tripper's guidebook: Get to know your neighborhood. Unless you live in the heart of the desert, you'll probably find floatable water close to home, even if your home is a big city. Then, once you've made sure that you and your boat will both be welcome — it's best to introduce yourself to private landowners before you launch — you're good to go. Better still, if your newfound getaway hasn't made it into the guidebooks yet, you may have it all to yourself. Some folks travel thousands of miles to "experience the wilderness" in the company of crowds of strangers, only to discover much later that they can find wildness and solitude only 30 minutes from their front door.

So far, so good. You've resolved to make the most of your free time — no excuses allowed — and you've started exploring your neighborhood, identifying several floatable waters that you didn't even know existed until you went looking for them, map in hand. But there's another obstacle standing in your way, and it's a formidable one:


We all like to think we're cutting-edge, but in truth not too many of us really welcome change. We don't like to change our habits, either. And if day trips haven't been a part of your paddling life for a while, you may need an attitude adjustment. Some paddlers are happy just following their bump of perception wherever it leads them. They won't need much urging to make the most of every free hour. Others, however, are happiest when they're paddling with a mission in mind. Before they'll go to the trouble of packing their gear for a short trip, they'll want to know that the benefits outweigh the cost. Does this sound familiar? Are you one of these goal-directed paddlers? Then here are a few ways to make sure you always get a favorable return on your investment of time afloat, however short it may be:

  • Botanize or bird-watch
  • Study local geology in the field — and on the water
  • Get in touch with the past: explore the history of your home waters
  • Draw, paint, or photograph
  • Keep a journal of your explorations
  • Map local waterways
  • Celebrate each trip with a moveable feast

Of course, all of these things take time, but it's time well spent. Start by learning to name the parts of the larger world around you. Get acquainted with the trees, wildflowers, birds, and rocks in your neighborhood. Read up on local history and the early years of our sport, then take what you've learned with you when you go out on the water. Rivers and coastlines have been highways for a long time. Once you know what you're looking for, you'll find traces of the past around every bend and at the bottom of each bay.

Do you have the urge to create? Then make sure your watercolor block, sketchpad, camera, or journal comes along with you on every trip. And why not give map-making a try, while you're at it? Kids of all ages are fascinated by treasure maps, and every waterway holds hidden riches. Make your own treasure map. Chart your home waters. Survey wildlife habitat, fishing hot-spots, rocks and riffles, the foundations of old mills, even the remains of sunken roads and homes that were drowned when the water backed up behind a dam half a century ago or more. Since you probably won't find these on any USGS quad, why not start putting them on the map yourself? It's one way of leaving your mark on the world.

Or maybe you'd rather eat. Most canoeists and kayakers welcome any excuse to chow down. In fact, it's hard to tell whether we eat in order to paddle, or paddle in order to eat. Either way, there's no better meal than a floating feast — unless it's a shore lunch. That's alimentary. Even if there's no public beach or deserted island near home that's suitable for a picnic, there's probably a sheltered spot where you can drift and dine. Just hold off splicing the mainbrace until you've made it safely back to home port.

Have I whetted your appetite for day trips? I hope so. Paddling is too much fun to limit yourself to a single annual expedition or a couple of summer weekends. The alternative? Get started exploring your neighborhood. The far horizon begins right at your doorstep. And that brings us to Rule Number Three. It's simplicity itself: Just do it!

Don't let familiarity breed contempt. Aesop got it wrong, anyway. All waterways are creatures of infinite variety, whether they're on the other side of the world or right next door. The difference? It's a lot easier to get back home in time for dinner when you spend a day on a nearby river or pond. So don't let yourself languish in the La-Z-Boy® from Labor Day to Memorial Day while your boat collects dust. You don't need to take a month off work to go on a journey of exploration. You don't even need a whole weekend. You just need a couple of hours. Carpe diem! Seize the day! When Monday rolls round and the geese are flying, you'll be mighty glad you did.

Copyright 2007 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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