Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kayak Day #118 & Beyond

God give me joy in the tasks that press, in the memories that burn and bless; In the thought that life has love to spend, in the faith that God's journey's end. ---Thomas Curtis Clark

The air was heavy, but not difficult, to breathe. A forest fire east of the lake had a created an eerie haze over the lake and cast a purple hue over the distant hills. Across the lake, the shore was a blurry collage of rocks, brush, trees and water painted in gray. The lake and its dull shine showed no movement. I would feel guilty for interrupting its stillness with the bow of my kayak.

I had brought my pickup and kayak all the way down to the water at Doton's Point. As the lake continues being drawn down, the distance from the road to the water gets longer daily. It is a kayaking safari as soon as my tires leave the pavement and circle through the trees to the winding trail that leads to the beach. 

The day is a highlight for me. It was paddling day 118 for me this year. It is a personal record of the most days I have ever paddled in one year. As I slid my boat into the water and followed the curve of the lake, I felt a certain exuberance of achieving a personal goal and the satisfaction that my journey in continuing on. It's good to dream... And even better when I'm wide awake in them. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Stand Out Paddling

 I've lost count of how many times I have passed under Folsom's prominent Rainbow Bridge. The bridge is a historic landmark of the area. Built in 1917, the bridge crosses over the upper end of Lake Natoma and the American River. A 208-foot long concrete arch spans the rocky ledges of the canyon to help give the bridge it's fabled name. Photographed and painted time and time again the bridge is truly a magnificent sight. 
I can remember last year when it loomed before me as I paddled up the lake. Before I had moved to California, I had only seen it in pictures. As I paddled under it, I felt a thrill in pushing against the current and past the silent monument. It was my welcome to Californian kayaking.

It is routine now.  Lake Natoma is my home lake. I have kayaked it so much and so often that I could probably name the geese. Like all home lakes,  I still find it beautiful and fun to paddle around. I enjoy the quietness of its sloughs and the loftiness of its high banks. I love that the water is just minutes from my home. But that's where I have taken the lake for granted. I'm used to visiting it day after day.

Great days fade into the next, when I'm out kayaking alone. Sure, I have soloing days that are special. But, the lasting and great memories come from paddling with my wife. I love to watch her glide across the water. As an artist, she delights in changing colors of sky and water while making paintings in her mind. She will frown and voice disgust when a loud radio vanquishes the peaceful solitude of the lake. This is her moment to enjoy what God has painted before her eyes.

I paddle behind trying to keep up, while she reveals to me the wonders of the water. This is the first place we kayaked together when I came to visit her before we were married. We had rented a bulky tandem sit on top and paddled together across the lake through the sloughs. It was a cool day and we had the lake to ourselves. We toured through the marsh enjoying the trees, birds and each others company. Now, every time I pass through those sloughs I remember that day. Every time. It will always be one of my best memories of the lake. 

 Debbie and I shared a sunset paddle the other day. Nothing exemplary, we are heading into fall and the sun is setting faster each night. We had to race back now before the sun slammed into the horizon. A fleeting golden reflection illuminated the water and silhouetted Debbie and her kayak. The rainbow bridge is close and beaming in the setting sun.

We will leave no lasting imprint. Water has no memory. However, sharing it with each other will always make each visit to the lake stand out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

River Song...An Interview with Jerry Vandiver

Kayaking and canoeing seems to be all about gear or location. There are magazine articles and internet posts about everything from what to wear, to where to go and how to paddle. There's great advice out there, but nothing will guide us back and remind us of that special time on the water more than music. However, I have never seen any tips on how to write good old fashion paddling songs. So, I asked singer/songwriter and fellow paddler Jerry Vandiver what it takes to compose an ode to the stream?
The Nashville-based Vandiver has brought his two passions together by creating a collection of paddling songs such as More Than A River, and True and Deep. A concert touring favorite with over 15 million records sold, Vandiver is never far from the lakes and rivers he loves to sing about. Last week, he offered me some inspiration on how to put a song in your next journey.
NC: Which is easier going down a Class V waterfall or writing a paddling song?
JV: It's funny in that I've been studying the craft of songwriting about as long as I've studied the craft of paddling.  And the passion for both endeavors is pretty darn equal. But considering that I've gotten myself in a lot of trouble on some hefty rapids, I'd have to go with writing the song as a bit easier.  I will say this, when you finish the run or finish the song, they both equal themselves in fun and a feeling of really accomplishing something.

NC: So then is writing a paddling song more like going up stream or going down river?
JV: Oh, definitely going down river.  You always have to go with the flow.  I have more often than not found that if you let the song take you where it wants to go, it will always come out better than if you fight it with some crazy upstream stroke.

NC: Did  "Dueling Banjos" and the phrase "Paddle faster. I think I hear banjos," add to the difficulty of writing a good paddle song?
JV: Actually, I think it is interesting that we associate music about paddling as being very acoustic in instrumentation, even sometimes to the point of straight out Bluegrass style as in "Dueling Banjos".  There's some spirit of kinship between natural acoustic instruments and the flow and excitement of the water and the great outdoors.  I can't imagine hearing synthesizers and squeaky backwards LPs when singing about paddling.  I'll take Dueling Banjos as inspiration anytime.

NC: How often are you tempted to work "Bootie Beer" into a song?
JV: Until now, I'd never thought of it!  But hmmmmmm.

NC: Okay... You got the start to a great paddling song, but you hit a rock towards the end and it is sinking. It's to late to scrap it.  How do you Duct Tape it back together? 
JV: Pull into the nearest shore, set up camp, brew some "Camp Coffee", watch the sun set and sleep on it.  That's part of going with the flow.  It'll come back and finish itself sometimes when you let it.

NC: Some of us have lost loves. An upset kayak leaves without saying goodbye or a canoe stolen away in the night.  Both never return. Any tips on how to work them into song without making our wives jealous?
JV: Well, if you're lucky the wife will be mourning with you - or at least send you a sympathy card.  But for those that have spouses that don't "get it",  you're only choice is to use the age old phrase, "she really meant nothing to me".  The wife won't believe it, but it might buy you a little more grieving time before you set out to spend the family budget on a new boat.

NC: Has a song just hit you while you are out paddling or do you need a special place like the BWCA?
JV: I've had these songs come at me just about everywhere.  Even walking our dogs down the neighborhood alley.  The important thing is to have those experience to tap into - floating a crystal clear Ozark stream, fighting a headwind in the north woods lakes, rafting a Colorado Canyon or kayaking through a Class III in Tennessee.  Those memories always stay with you and will find their way up with a melody if you let them.  Regardless of where you may be at the time.

NC: Does anything really rhyme with Boofin?
JV: How about "goofin" as in "goofin' off in a swimming hole"?

Find more information on Jerry Vandiver and his music at

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Going Against the Flow.

Only dead fish go with the stream...

When I look back on my kayaking trips I rarely have had a shuttle waiting for me at the river's end, not that I wouldn't mind one. But, when you solo as much as I do, you learn to do without. It's convenient to park, unload and paddle-up stream as far as I can or that time permits.

Now I'm not paddling up the Colorado. I find gentle flowing rivers with a little gradient. I have learned to read their eddies and flows. When the river turns, it forms a bend. The strongest, deepest and fastest current will be found on the outside.  Toward the inside, the water moves at its slowest.
Staying to the river's inside is where the current provides the least resistance. I hug those soft lines on their insides. Back and forth, side to side, I paddle wherever I find the least current. Where the river flows the quickest, I feel a nudge. That is where the river is telling me, I'm going this way.

 Rivers are like that.  It doesn't care about your future. It has already been upstream and is now looking for an effortless path to the sea. If you want to tire yourself out going against the river's torrent, it might say, "That is your problem. I'm looking to be lazy. Paddle up far enough and I'll convince you to turn around. Why fight it? Just go with the flow."

Old guys fish and teenagers swing from ropes tied to trees limbs along the bank as I paddle near. It is leisure time for them. They study me as I endeavor against the so-called current,  like I was coming from another place in time. 
"Wouldn't it be easier going the other way?" one calls out.
 "It would be faster," I respond.

I can hear the slight roar of the rapids while paddling up. It is a negligible whooshing. It's around the bend. I know it is coming. On the Upper American River I find a few spots where I have to wade through the stream while pulling my kayak up past the rocks. It was here, I think, the early explorers pulled their crafts up river looking for the source. The rocks are slippery and rugged as I wade through ankle deep water. It brings out the frontiersman in me. I remember watching the old western where the heroes forded the streams. It is a short portage for me. Its only yards till I get to calmer and deeper waters.

Before long I get to a dam, another series of rapids or my body will have had enough. I then turn the bow into the current and feel the power of the water turn me around. This is my reward, but I'm too tired and out of breath to enjoy my triumph.