Life in the slow lane: the pleasures of paddling – February 1999
Imagine a boat that can be used on lakes or rivers, can be hauled by one person, fits on top of a car, carries two adults and camping gear for a weekend, can be propelled adequately by a 5-year-old after one lesson, doesn’t cost much, and entails no launch or gas fees.
Toss in the fact that this boat would be great for fishing, camping, bird-watching, exploring, getting an aerobic workout, or simply escaping crowds, and the appeal is evident.
My ex-partner and I bought our first canoe 17 years ago while renting a double-wide above Rollins Lake.
We paid $250 for the 13-foot, orange plastic Coleman at the Grass Valley Long’s Drugstore – saving $25 when we assembled it ourselves.
Later, we expanded our paddle-powered regatta with two garage-sale kayaks and an aluminum behemoth canoe from Sears, purchased for $150 out of The Union’s classifieds.
The old wooden or metal canoe can still be found in basements and garages of hobbyists. But modern ones made of Fiberglas, Royalex, Kevlar and heavy-duty plastics have abilities that far exceed their predecessors.
Today’s canoes can be wrapped around rocks, straightened out, and floated on down the river. There are little side decks that allow the use of small outboards. Catalogs sell molded plastic seats and back rests for comfort.
There are canoes and kayaks for all budgets and levels of gearhead affliction. The tradeoff for the lower price of a boat is that they are heavier and handle less weight – but are just fine for sneaking up with the kids on over-wintering bald eagles at Scotts Flat. Some folks buy inexpensive boats, then sell them a year later for nearly what they paid for them to buy higher-quality, higher-priced boats, once they’re sure they’ll stick with the sport.
Match the boat with the type of paddling you’ll do. There are major differences in a canoe built for running a river and one that will be paddled across a glass-smooth lake.
Anglers and families should look for models that feature a flatter bottom and higher sides, and are generally wider and heavier for more stability.
Look for higher gunwales and a deep keel for river-running. Local sporting-goods stores can give you a good advice.
And, yeah, you can spend a fortune on a Thule or Yakima carrying system, but a homemade, detachable wooden rack and a block of foam and motorcycle tie-downs have served me in good stead for years.
Canoe camping opens up a whole new world of privacy and nature appreciation. To leave the waterskiers in the bay of Spaulding and strike out for its far side and the mouths of the Yuba and Fordyce Creek gives one a smug feeling.
To paddle a small boat alone or with a sweetie and the ducks at dawn or with the bats at dusk can be transcendent.
Last summer, on the two biggest U.S. mass-psychosis camping holidays, July 4 and Labor Day, I kayak-camped alone on an island near Gold Lake then on the far side of Bowman.
Personally, the feeling of independence, competency and contentment doesn’t get much better.
As I sipped coffee and read a novel then hunkered down in my sleeping bag in perfect solitude, I heard boat operators curse their dead engines and campfire drunks wail from across the water – and just shook my head.
Setting out across a piece of flat water under your own steam or letting a stream carry you downriver bring multiple rewards, not the least of which is viewing the world from the slow lane.
This article was originally published 10/15/1999
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