Paddling with Fred Borg and Doug Alderson on the Wakulla River, FL.
Planning a trip should be part of the fun. When we were sailing, we approached planning from two different points of view. I doubt paddling is any different. When we were looking forward to a cruise, we would spend months trying to anticipate what conditions we might encounter, what history we might enjoy and learn, how we would handle provisioning, what charts we would need, what emergencies we might need to prepare for, and the list went on. We’d make imaginary cruises through the charts, and thus often discover a lapse in coverage, or a harbor or reef-studded area where a more detailed chart might be needed. Conversely, the other approach would be getting ready when circumstances demanded having the kit ready for departure within a number of hours, or just a few days. When we did vessel delivery work, this situation usually arose when a delivery needed to be done on short order. Fortunately, our cruising experience pretty much taught us what we needed to have for a safe and successful trip, so if we needed to be on a boat 500 miles away within 48 hours, we always seemed to manage to do it. Paddling, however, seems to have some unique contradictions. One of these contradictions is really the subject of this post. If anyone has solutions to offer, I’m all ears.
One of the first paddling safety rules is to never paddle alone. If you were to interpret that literally, it would mean I should never go paddling. My experience has been, at least here in Western Oklahoma, the chances of finding another paddler available to share the trip are on a par with locating a commercial igloo contractor. If you don’t go alone, you don’t go---period. I’ll have to admit from the start that I’m partly responsible for the dearth of prospective paddlers. Both for safety and enjoyment, I like to go paddling when 95% of the populace is at work, so I plan trips during mid-week and never during a holiday. Still, you would think there would be someone with similar interests. For safety, this greatly reduces the likelihood that I’ll get run down by an inebriated power-boatman. From the point of view of enjoyment, the solitude and quiet enhances the appreciation of nature, increases the selection of campsites that aren’t next to a drunken or drugged crowd that riot until three in the morning, and free me from simulated whitewater created by a parade of bass boats, ski boats, and personal watercraft. Another aspects that favors paddling in company is companionship. Nothing augments the enjoyment of an experience more than sharing it with someone else. The best days, when I was paddling the Gulf Coast, were when I was joined by Jim, Fred, Doug, Paul, Gus and Don, for short paddles. The people you meet are always the best part of any trip. The time shared adds to the experience, takes the tedium out of the constant paddling, and adds the opportunity to learn skills and techniques that others have acquired. I’ve tried posting trips on paddling.net, Oklahoma Outdoor Network, meetup groups, and while I say it tongue in cheek, there seems to be more and more truth in my assertion that water hasn’t been invented in Oklahoma yet. That isn’t true in Eastern Oklahoma, which looks more like Arkansas than the Oklahoma we know here in the Dust Bowl, but the search here has brought no apparent interest. It means going 1,500 miles, but it seems that only way to find a paddling partner would be to go back to Florida.