On Wednesday night SKOAC, the Superior Kayak & Outdoor Adventure Club, had its annual 'movie night' in the bowels of Midwest Mountaineering. This is a chance for club members and guests to get together and look at slides and video of the various outdoor endeavors, mainly kayaking, that had taken place over the past year of paddling. Other than running out of beer about halfway through the presentations, an egregious oversight that RonO helped to alleviate by adding several Rolling Rock's to the cooler from his truck stash, it was a great night. The beer shortage was precipitated in part by the overflow crowd and the presentations were excellent. They ranged from the Vasaloppet nordic ski relay, to bar stool races, to grizzly bear watching in Alaska, and to various kayak symposiums and trips around the Great Lakes. On one end of the spectrum were the PunctualGerman and Newman, who took a long wilderness paddle from Jackfish Bay near the Slate Islands down to Wawa at the end of September. It looked like a great 170 plus mile trip with some 'active water' on Gitchee Gumee and the discovery that 38 cans of Surly Furious in various hatches was not quite enough for a 7 day paddle that involved a windbound day or two. On the other end of the spectrum was a great presentation on the awe and wonder that one of our newer club members experienced on this years Lake Superior beginners trip, an overnite to Sand Island. It hearkened many of us back to our first time on Lake Superior in a kayak and provoked a great discussion of how that felt and the pure thrill of the experience.
The thrill and joy of paddling is something that seems to fall into the background at times. Endless instruction, gear tweaking and upgrading, focus on mileage and completing circumnavigations, whether it be Sand Island, Isle Royale, or Australia, seem at times to overshadow what should be the main focus of kayaking: it's simply one hell of a lot of fun. Whether you favor a high angle stroke or low angle, paddle a cedar stripper or a Valley Aquanaut, prefer a Greenland stick or a surf paddle, long shaft or short, or even favor a wet suit over a dry suit just doesn't make that much difference if you are not having fun and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of being on the water under your own power. The goal is fun and there is no room for angst in my humble opinion. Too many times on a trip I've seen well meaning instructor types (and yes, I have looked in the mirror this morning) attempting to alter someones sculling draw or reverse paddle technique as they explore the sea caves. In the end it just doesn't make that much difference. Paddle, savor, and enjoy the moment. Have fun. Take in the wonder of your surroundings. All the other stuff, the skills improvement, hunt for higher and higher certifications, and the 35 mile days all have a place and value in their own right but I would submit that the overriding goal of getting out on the water in a long, skinny boat, is to have fun and soak up nature in a situation where you are in control.
I had invited two friends down to the event, a couple that lives on a lake north of the Twin Cities. They are interested in getting into paddling since they are now officially empty nesters and I thought it would be a good night to get some perspective and whet their appetites with all the slides of the various adventures. In the end I think I was the one that wound up having the 'aha moment' when that Sand Island beginners trip slide show made me remember and think about the Thrill. We live within a two hour drive of the worlds most impressive freshwater body of water. Getting new paddlers out on the water and watching and listening as they explore the sea caves, lighthouses, and moods of Gitchee Gumee is something we should all take vicarious pleasure in, no matter if their torso rotation is acceptable or not. And we should remember the Thrill.
(P.S. for those who mocked and ridiculed me as I attempted to get this video to work during my slides, here you go.....;) Jumping off a hunk of basalt into Lake Superior is indeed both a thrill and pure fun)