Ibi as built by Scott Smith, Superior Canoes.
Credit: Diane Smith
We had just returned home, so the idea of jumping back in the truck and taking off again so soon seemed out of the norm, but it was a chance to get the boat wet. As I wrote in “It Almost Never Happens,” ideal paddling opportunities in this part of the country are rare indeed. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so I pushed the canoe back on the rack, and headed out.
I ran out the door at dawn. A short bit later, my cell phone rang. Jean wanted to point out that I had been in such a hurry, I had made breakfast, and then left with it still sitting on the stove. It was a 121.7 mile run to the first lake, Lake Evan Chambers, so by the time I reached Woodward, the lack of breakfast was catching up with me, and I made a McDonald’s stop. In spite of the abandoned breakfast, this is a question of preparation. How can you take advantage of spur-of-the-moment trips and not risk safety from lack of thorough planning? How can you make sure you don’t arrive at the water’s edge to find that you have a canoe, but no paddles, or some other important piece of gear?
First, the planning. I’ve mentioned earlier that I find enjoyment in paper paddling, or armchair paddling, whichever term you prefer. I did the same thing when sailing. I’d spend months poring over all the information I could find on a destination. I’d look for trip reports others had taken to learn from their experience. Charts and maps come in a variety of forms from DeLorme, to state-generated materials on water trails, blue ways, paddling trails (paddling. net’s “Go Paddling” tab is a good place to start), and private and non-profit groups like PaddleFlorida.com, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Friends of the Kaw River. Then, one of the greatest aids is Google Earth. I generally inspect every section of a river or lake from space with the help of Google Earth for an idea of what to anticipate, such as rapids, dams, weirs, camps, etc. From there I can extract GPS coordinates for take-out spots, hazards, junctions, campsites, and almost anything else of interest. Of greatest value are places where getting lost is a risk, like the Everglades or headwaters of the St. Johns River. Here, in addition to GPS coordinates, I’ll print out aerial pictures of the difficult area. Then, in the course of examining this other material, I’ll come in contact with people that are responsible for the area, who have local knowledge, who have also made the same trip, and I record their names and contact information right along with the section of the trip they have an interest in. This is also the greatest way to meet some fantastic people that will become lasting friends, like Jim Parker, Fred Borg, Doug Alderson, Gus Bianchi, and many others.
All of this information is then organized from put-in to take-out and put in a large-capacity three-ring binder, or binders. I have a notebook full of trips ready to grab-and-go at a moment’s notice. The trips are organized into lakes, rivers, and then by larger sections that require tabs of their own, like the St. Johns River or Florida Circumnavigation Trail. Gathering all of this material is fun in itself, but most important, it heads off the dilemma like this: you have to make a trip, for business, for family, and you’d like to take advantage of the chance to paddle, but you don’t have time to prepare.
Now that you have the chance to make a trip, how do you get ready for it? The point should be to never be unprepared. You start from your previous trip. As soon as you get home, tear the packs and wanigan apart, refill or replace the items used, throw the clothes, pillow case, washcloth and towel, etc., into to the laundry, clean and repair the gear that needs it, wash and apply 303 to the boat, then fold all the clean clothes and repack them in their drybags. Everything is then loaded back in the truck so the only thing you need to do is shove the canoe back on the rack and fill the water bottle.
If you don’t have a regular paddle vehicle, then put all the packs, wanigan, PFD, paddles, etc. in a dedicated spot where everything is together. If your gear gets scattered between the garage, house, shop, etc., it is inevitable that something will be forgotten and left. Small items that you will want always on hand in the boat, but not stuffed in a pack, like the ditty bag, GPS, SPOT, sponge and bailer, canopy, and camera, can be put in a duffle. These can be loaded into the boat when shoving off, but the duffle keeps them all together between trips. The ditty bag is a drawstring-topped bag that doesn’t need to be waterproof. It contains spare batteries in a zip-lock baggie, sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses in a hard case, a roll of TP in a zip-lock baggie, and any other small item you need often and quickly. With everything together either in its dedicated spot or in the paddle vehicle, at a moment’s notice, all you need to do is grab a few pages from the notebook to stuff in the chart case, and you’re out the door, breakfast or not. Sixty minutes and you’re gone.