A love for lakes – a canoeist’s perspective
BY DOUG COOMER
How often have you been at home on a day off, and by some strange turn of events, found that your calendarized frenetic life had a blank spot in it? Not too often would be my guess. This is a major discovery and cause for celebration. And what better way to celebrate this momentous occasion than with the paddling of a canoe. I personally can think of nothing better.
Now, it has been my experience that when the talk of canoeing comes up, most folks immediately think of paddling a river. To be sure, a successful river excursion requires, among many things, the complex art of shuttling, dealing with specific time constraints and the help of another warm-blooded human being. Do you recall the last time someone had free time when you did? Before you know it, the whole idea is trashed, and you are scanning the cable guide and grabbing a beverage. The next time these roadblocks get in your way, I suggest that you crash through them, en route to a local inland sea.
While I love the mystery, inertia and beauty of a river as much, if not more, than any paddler, I, more often than not, find myself dipping my paddle in a lake when I need my “back to nature” Jones satisfied, due to sheer simplicity. If you already know of a nice location, then go have fun. If not, just open Google Earth, or a map – if you still have one – and start looking. In my opinion, this part is almost as much fun as the trip. For many in the Midwest, there is probably a lake you can visit somewhere within a 10-mile radius of your house. In Wisconsin or Minnesota, that distance could get down to 10 feet! And for the sake of future trips, keep your eye out next time you are driving, as chances are pretty good that, at some point, a brown road sign pointing to a public lake will appear on the other side of your windshield. Do not ignore these publicly funded treasure map clues.
Lake paddling doesn’t get much media coverage in the United States, outside of the Boundary Waters, as lakes aren’t quite as action ready as river trips. But for the purposes of this story, let me fill you in on some of its advantages. Let’s start with ease of access. Public lakes have roads that run right up to the shore, whereas river access usually presents some difficulty. Another issue with rivers is trying to find one that’s floatable. Depending on the time of year, this may be difficult if not impossible. Shuttle services are a non-issue with a lake excursion since the starting and stopping point are the same. Paddle out and paddle back. Step out of your canoe and walk to your car. You also can take a short paddle or long paddle, which is a nice option to have. Unless you’re dealing with a completely crappy day, the weather shouldn’t be a factor either. I have had a simple 30-minute paddle get me through some pretty tough times.
Toilet facilities are usually close at hand, and I cannot remember a time that I or anyone else complained about that.
Campgrounds, almost always available, offer a chance to test out camping gear and skills before a planned trip, or to just enjoy a relaxing weekend with friends around a campfire. Normally, the gear can come right out of your car and into the campsite – too easy! The use of a public campsite also beats getting yelled at by some ticked-off landowner who is tired of having river campers trash his beautiful piece of riverbank.
I have yet to run into a set of nasty rapids or dangerous strainer to negotiate on a lake.
Many public lakes have rental facilities with kayaks, paddleboats and canoes. Why choose – try all three! Ever see a paddleboat on a river? Me either.
And what lake doesn’t offer a hiking trail? It’s a perfect way to get out and stretch the legs after a day of paddling.
Do you enjoy photography? The opportunities for beautiful pictures that occur on a still lake during dusk and dawn can be fantastic. Also, I am much more likely to have my camera at the ready while on a lake paddle, as opposed to a river trip, since I am less prone to giving it an unexpected and costly bath.
There is quite a bit of attention paid to the kayak angler these days, but I still prefer to fish out of a canoe, which doesn’t need all the specialized molding and gear to get the job done … a canoe doesn’t require a trailer.
When it comes to wildlife viewing, I am always amazed at the way animals respond to a silently floating canoe.
Ever heard of canoodling? Let me just say that in 1903 Boston, it was against the law. Sounds like fun to me.
And last, but most certainly not least, is the chance for some tranquility and time to reflect on life and nature.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that lake paddling offers no challenges. Paddling into the wind has never been one of my favorite things do. And come to think of it, probably never will be. Capsizing, while never a good time, is dangerous on any lake and the farther away from shore the more dangerous it gets. Current isn’t an issue here, but the depth of the water is. You may get lucky enough, at some point, to choose a lake with a beach full of euphoric kids laughing and playing, which is nice background music.
From someone who has been doing this type of thing for many years, this much I can tell you … I have never returned from a lake cruise saying I wish I had stayed home on the couch. Who knows … you might even find yourself in an elusive state of contentment, not wishing to be anywhere else.