Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tent Life

Even though my paddle pilgrimage down the Erie Canal and Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty has ended, the journey isn't over.  One of the experiences that lives on in my mind is "tent life". Sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag on the ground leaves a lingering, even lasting impression.  Each night as I now slide into my comfortable bed at home I find myself imagining the places I camped. Last night I went so far as to assemble a mental list of locations.  A little crazy...not so fast.
What do I remember from tent life?

  • Practicing setting up the tent before the trip.  When rain and dark are approaching, you gotta be quick!
  • The importance of scouting and finding a good location with a slight incline so I am not sleeping downhill.
  • The hope that I wouldn't be near train tracks. I miserably failed. When trains replaced the canal as a primary source of transport in the 1860's, they generally followed waterways which had ruled from ancient times.
  • The need to locate the tent with a view of my kayak for security reasons.
  • The value of a dry and clean tent.  There is nothing worse than packing and later setting up wet gear.
  • Whenever possible set up the tent under a pavilion or roof of some sort.  This solves the previous problem, although the inside of the rain fly is often still wet from human-produced warm mosture in the tent meeting cold exterior air.
  • Are you bored yet?
  • Organizing the interior in a sensible manner: flashlight, toiletries, clothes, p-bottle ( I had to mention that...mine is red so I don't lose it)
  • All the above are the for what prompted this blog: "deep thoughts"!
  • Tent life really does help me appreciate living in a house with a bed and a shower and a refrigerator, and, and, and....
  • On the other hand, tent life reminds me of how much stuff we collect under our roofs which we really don't need.  I think of all the people who don't have housing, food, toilet etc and know if we put our minds and hearts to this task, we wouldn't have homelessness and hunger.
  • Tent life is a regular reminder of how vulnerable and mortal we humans are. Human ingenuity and creativity are magnificent.  But the basic lession I learned while paddling the Mississippi River in 2012 was "We are NOT in control." And equally important "That's a good thing!" Tent life ultimately teaches humility...especially when I set up the tent wrong once again!  

Monday, October 17, 2016


We shall not cease from exploration and in the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.                          ~T. S. Eliot
Exploring is about seeing new places and people.  Eliot reminds us that it is even more about gaining new perspective and vision. St. Paul said, "We see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face."  John shares an even bolder image, "I see a new heaven and a new earth....a river of life."
My paddle.pilgrimage has been about both seeing and experiencing new places but even more about seeing old places with new eyes.  It has been about being more open to the simple, the beautiful, the terrifying and the mundane.
As I approached New York City and the Statue of Liberty yesterday,  I began singing an old Simon and Garfunkel tune which captures the spirit of the journey I have traveled and also the one my great grandparents made from Norway in the 1840's by these same landmarks, up the Hudson, Erie Canal and across the Great Lakes to Wisconsin and Iowa.
"And then I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectantly and I looked back down on me and smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying and high up above my eyes could clearly see the Statue of Liberty.
They've all come to look for America.
All come to look for America.
All come to look for America."

Friday, October 14, 2016

Paddle Pilgrim meets Headless Horseman

My family lived just a few miles down the Hudson River from a hamlet named Irvington after local author, Washington Irving. I remember school class field trips to his lovely cottage on the banks of river. But what I remember most were the fascinating characters in his stories.  Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 100 years to awake to a whole new world upon which the author uses Rip to comment on social change.
My favorite, however, was Ichibod Crane in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This gangly, homely and superstitious school teacher falls for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel. His chief competition is the roguish and handsome Brom Bones.  At a Halloween party Brom recounts the eerie Legend of Sleepy Hollow about a cavalry officer whose head is blown off by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War.
He is said to have been seen riding at night with his head in his hands. 
When Ichibod heads home on his horse,  he must pass through a dark woods and menacing swamp toward Sleepy Hollow. There he  suddenly encounters the huge, menacing cloaked rider without a head.  Ichibod flees in terror and is never seen again.
Where did he go? Could Brom Bones have been the horseman?  We are left to wonder.
I still get goose bumps when I imagine  the tale with thanks to Walt Disney and others who have brought Irving's story to the big screen.  I will paddle by Sleepy Hollow today and will keep one eye  on shore to see if the horseman still rides.....

Boy in the Boat

The recent best-selling book, The Boys in the Boat, tells the powerful story of a group of young American men who row their way into history defeating the powerful German crew assembled by Adolph Hitler for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  At the heart if this larger story is the coming-of-age tale of Joe Rantz, a young man with a  troubled, rough-and-tumble-tumble background who discovers his identity (and wife) when he joins the University of Washington rowing team.
On a team composed of sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, they shock the elite teams from the East Coast and Great Britain and ultimately Hitler's German team to win the Olympic gold medal.  As I paddled beneath the railroad bridge in Poughkeepsie, NY where the boys qualified for those Olympics in a stirring race, this boy had a tear in his eye.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sensory Journey

On the water
In the moment
Not living
In the past
Or future
Hearing birdsong
Feeling the breeze
Smelling the earth
Tasting an apple
Beholding Fall colors
Coming alive

Canal metaphor

I discovered during my paddle down the Mississippi, that "Big Muddy" is the 3rd most visited destination for foreign visitors to the United States behind New York City and the Grand Canyon.  Ultimately I came to view the river as a geographic, cultural, commercial and wildlife "backbone" of the North American continent.
As I prepared for and then embarked on my Erie Canal voyage I pondered the important role the canal played historically in the opening of the West to millions of immigrants. It also  established NYC as the pre-eminent
port city on the East Coast and the # 1 "must see" for visitors.
My first  image of the canal was the "jugular vein" of the 19th century.  While hitch hiking on the tug Grand Erie as a guest of the Canal Corp. on their annual inspection tour, one of the crew shared a much better image. He said, "If Upstate New York is a community, the canal is the sidewalk that makes it a neighborhood."
The canal connects big and small towns with a rural and urban mix and rich ethnic diversity.  And soon she will celebrate the 200th birthday of her beginning. Happy B-day E.C.! Thanks for welcoming me!

Have you noticed?

On my rest, reflect and write day after two weeks paddling the Erie Canal, I would like to invite readers to share their responses to this question: HAVE YOU NOTICED....?
To prime the pump here are two examples from my days on the canal....traveling at 3 miles an hour.
1. Have you noticed how quickly and gracefully water fowl take off and land?
2. Have you noticed the complex and curvaceous roots of trees often exposed on a river bank or lake shore?
Your turn....

Monday, October 3, 2016

15 miles

I had planned to paddle 30 miles each day.  I figured that if I had paddled 40 miles a day on my Mississippi River pilgrimage with an assist from the current, my projected canal pace was reasonable.
Furthermore I had to get to New Orleans for a Youth Gathering in a two month window covering 2350 miles, so I had to stay on schedule.
On this journey I wanted to slow down and savor the history, culture and scenery along the canal and Hudson River...30 miles seemed to make sense.
And then reality broke in.  After several days of paddling with remarkably favorable weather, my bones and muscles screamed "30 miles are too many..."  My slow boat, occasional pauses to enjoy local flavor (food, ale, custard and most of all people) as well as have time and energy to reflect and write, all together were singing a chorus of that song I learned in grade school, "15 miles on the Erie Canal".  If it was good enough for a mule named "Sal" it's good enough for paddler named Dave.

3 miles an hour

Years ago I read a wonderfully provocative book by Kosuke Koyama entitled Three Mile An Hour God.  He writes, "Love has its speed. It is spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed than the technological speed to which we are accustomed.  It goes on in the depths of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and, therefore, the speed the love of God walks."
My paddle pilgrimage reminds me that I am a "three mile an hour paddler." I know I can paddle faster., but when I do I grow weary and don't notice so many wonders along the way;  a glorious sunrise or brilliant sunset, the symphony of ambient, natural sounds,  the  earthy aromas of autumnal decadence, and the simple acts of human kindness and hospitality.  This journey reminds me to slow down and savor the very gift of life itself!

Carp diem horribilis

As I paddled out of Fairport the other day I encountered the dreaded "headwind." Even as I hugged the shore to blunt the 20 mile an hour gusts, it felt and even looked like I was paddling uphill!
Suddenly something crashed into the side of my boat. I was startled by what I thought might be a floating log.  Discovering no damage I soldiered on. Just as I regained my rhythm, without warning another large fish flew over the bow of my kayak.  Again I was freaked out and quickly redirected my course farther from shore toward the channel. 
What the heck was going on?
I had asked folks fishing on the banks what they were catching.  The common answer was Catfish and Carp. 
Eureka and Deja vou!  I had similar scares on my Mississippi Kayak journey when an invasive species known as Asian Carp would seemingly out of nowhere jump over and even into my boat.  Beyond the fright factor, these fish are voracious eaters and are upsetting the fish ecology in the river with real concern of ultimately reaching the Great Lakes.
Back to the canal...
Thinking I was out of range I powered into the wind.  And then it happened...another Carp flew out of the water so close to my face that I could barely see out of my sun glasses because of the spray.
That was it.  Wind or Carp?   Carp won and with that soggy defeat I headed into the wind tunnel of mid channel.  Carp diem horribilis vincit!