I debated whether to take a canoe or kayak on this trip. Canoeing has been second nature to me from my early years. Be it rapids, wind, aggressive tides; I have few concerns about my skills in a canoe. Even with the craziness of the Mullica River in the NJ Pinelands, I’m fine (another great paddlin’ story).
The motion of canoe paddling is a near spiritual experience for me. I get to sit up (better view), with my knees down and against the gunnels and good form, my whole body feels engaged. It’s an ancient rhythm. I feel I could just as easily hoe a field or build a house with a similar motion. You reach up and out – expanding – and bring the paddle and the water back in and then past you. It’s an endless series of embraces of the air and water. Bringing them in, compressed and then released. Throughout this motion there is space in front of me, a round ball of volume. Maintaining this space is one of the tenets of tai chi that I learned in my 30s, and it turns out I’ve been doing it while paddling since I was a kid.
The problem of course is that canoes are made for two paddlers, and I was planning a solo trip. Single kayaks are well suited for all water situations, except when carrying heavy large loads. They are faster and have a much smaller profile against headwinds. I was concerned their lower position in the water would limit my views above the riverbanks. The extra foot and a half I’d get from a canoe might make a big difference. This turned out not to be an issue.
My other concern was having less experience in a kayak. I had been around ocean bays by kayak on recent family vacations and for my 40th birthday I took a week trip in the Broken Island Group on the west coast of Vancouver Island in BC. We had open ocean 6’ swells – alternating between lofty views and being deep in a water valley. But winding rivers and rapids, I’m not so sure. In the end, all worked very well. As well known to kayakers, the crafts are enormously maneuverable. They’re fast, light and can be hauled over obstacles with relative ease. The motion has a good grace to it as well. While I’m not on top of the paddle like canoeing, there is good leverage, a clean ability to connect to all our body’s major muscle groups and a nice rhythm to the stroke. Which will I use on my next trip? It’s not quite as clear as before. 🙂