Wintry Thoughts

Bend, Oregon

What does a kayaker do when white mounds of winter line every road and rivers run cold or not at all? It is a trying time, to sit and watch as the numbers come in: 32 or 22 or worse, freezing hopes. I watch Mt. Bachelor and the Sisters turn white, avalanche, turn white again.


Back in New York, I would know what to do, where to go to get my fix of open water, the same rivers that are known from warm forays. That is the key. To propel oneself down a river with rapids, as they all must have to stay open, with no experience with its particular foibles is foolishness. Some would argue that even with experience, it’s still kinda crazy. Less so in the northeastern U.S. as the rivers are wider, with more forgiving edges, eddies and shallows close at hand. ┬áHere, the rivers are cold and swift, off on an important mission – there’s no lollygagging.

Then there is the question of trees. They do have a tendency to jump right into the middle of things especially with the heavy snows bending their backs or filling their long needles with rounds of white.


The stated goal of Kayak 50 is to paddle in all fifty states. Of course I expected to learn as I paddled rivers formed differently, surrounded by unfamiliar habitats, and subject to water and light propelled at strange angles off intriguing surfaces. Quite surprising, the actual experience. Cross currents from bouncings off cliffs, rock walls, and boulders alarmed me. Most I found not too deep, fairly safe to ignore. The trick was to keep the flow of the river in mind, estimate the percentage that was errantly bouncing, and viola – safe or not safe was the answer. Safe meant, keep on paddling, unsafe that there was maneuvering to do to stay out of the cross movement.


Then there were upwellings. Upwellings occurred when there was a bounder or other obstruction under the surface of the water. I think of them like an animal track, letting you know about something furtive that may or may not be there. These mushrooms of still water are eerily unsettling. It’s hard to gauge the depth of the water, generally they are deeper than you think, but occasionally you find yourself hung-up, often with the indignity of facing upstream. Worse case scenario is a dump/swim, pretty chilly in most rivers in the northwest at any time of year.

So the dreaming goes on – waiting for the ice to melt, days to grow longer, spring rains. That magical time when the world once again leaps into motion. Flows and floods, rain and rapids, the call to join in the ancient dance of water and watercraft, the tranquility and the action, together again.