One of my fondest memories of Boy Scouts were our canoe trips. The Kinchafoonee Creek near Albany was a local canoe outing and swimming spot for us, but two other trips were particularly memorable. The first was a “fifty-miler,” a trip taken over several days of hiking or paddling that covered at least (you guessed it!) fifty miles. Our troop took on a twenty-five mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River south of Columbus, GA, after it widens out from its descent through the Georgia Piedmont, then moves slowly southward as the border of Alabama and Georgia toward the tristate intersection of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida and a confluence with the Flint River, before meeting the Apalachicola River on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Slow is the operative word. Those two days were memorable, not necessarily for the joy of paddling, but for the amount of effort we had to put in to get to our destination camping spot with a combination of very slow moving current and a contrary wind allowed to whip up waves across the wide river. Thankfully we were not carrying our gear. The next day we were tired and sore, but did the same on the same stretch of water. We persevered though and were justly proud to receive our 50-miler patch. We learned lessons of teamwork and pushing through fatigue and pain to get to our goal, and took away memories that could be talked about many times over.
The second trip was much more pleasurable. We took a several day trip to the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia northwest of Jacksonville, Florida. Both the Suwanee and St. Mary’s Rivers flow from the swamp. The flat-water trip was through an almost prehistoric setting of towering cypress trees dripping with grey-green Spanish moss. I don’t actually remember seeing an alligator, but I am sure some saw us. The paddling was slow and relaxing as our paddles disappeared and pulled through the opaque murky brown swamp water. We camped somewhere on an island in the middle of the swamp where we spent our time exploring and playing knife games (probably severely frowned upon now). The trip was simply spectacular for the awesome surroundings and the chance to be with other boys doing boy stuff.
For many years I was never in situations conducive to paddling, but never lost my desire. About a year after I moved to Redding in 2002, a friend invited me to go kayaking. A few times out and I was hooked (I always was hooked, I just needed the opportunity). Redding has two spectacular paddling spots, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and the Sacramento River, and two hours west is the Pacific Coast. I have now been paddling here for almost two decades, some canoeing but mostly kayaking. The challenges, the peacefulness, and the beauty of the surroundings from those early Scouting experiences, were available to me again, and apart from several periods of injury, I have avidly paddled the waters here, including some highly memorable Boy Scout trips with my son. Although I love the exercise, the joy of being out on the water is what draws me back week after week, year after year. No matter what I am going through at the time, the tangible connection of hand to paddle to water connects me to God’s creation in a way few other activities do. The joy of paddling and the mechanics are topics I plan to return to often in this blog.