How To Get Away From It All
And Still Be Back at Work on Monday
The Story Continues
By Farwell Forrest
June 28, 2005
Last time out, I talked a little bit about
miniature adventures, a phrase I've borrowed from writer Richard
Frisbie. In a way, the miniature adventure is the antithesis of the Big Trip. Big
Trips involve weeks or sometimes months of preparation. They
often take you thousands of miles from home. And they're hard to do on the
cheap. In short, Big Trips require both deep pockets and a whole lot of free
time. That can be a problem. Even if you can afford to take several weeks (or
months) away from whatever it is that pays the bills, you may have other
obligations you simply can't ignore. That's why Big Trips are rare treats
rather than regular holidays for many of us. Yet much paddlesport writing gives
pride of place to the Big Trip, while almost completely ignoring the miniature
adventure. Our own modest
efforts are no exception here. In part, this reflects the
Romantic-with-a-capital-R conventions of the genre. What outdoor writers are
mostly writing about is Escape: escape from the workday world of hour-long
commutes, impossible deadlines, and irritable bosses. And Big Trips more than
fill the bill. On a Big Trip you really get away from it all.
Or do you? As I just said, Big Trips require a lot of preparation. You can
let someone else do the work for you, of course, but this may seriously inflate
the Balance Due on your credit cards. And suppose you do it yourself. There's
still no such thing as a free lunch. In fact, preparing for a DIY Big Trip is a
lot like tackling a big project at work, with all that this can mean. Plans, checklists,
and deadlines. Budgets and delivery dates. Late nights and long hours. Even the choice of
companions becomes an exercise in human resource management. Your old buddy
Bill may be great company for an afternoon on the local river, but are you sure
you'll still be friends after spending a month together particularly
when you've heard his story about the big one that got away for the sixty-fifth
time? Then there's Samantha. What about her? Can she survive for two weeks
without reading The Wall Street Journal or downing her daily double
latté? Who knows? And don't forget Jason. He calls to "check up on the
kids" at least twice a day. (Who are the kids? One of them is twenty-five and
an investment banker; the other's a stained-glass artist whose last piece sold
for $50K. He's thirty.) You've even watched Jason whip out his phone while
parked in an eddy at the bottom of a drop. What's he going to do when he
discovers that cell-phone coverage is pretty spotty in Desolation Canyon?
That's anyone's guess.
You get the point, right? Making a Big Trip happen can be a big job, and
sometimes not always, but sometimes it can feel just like the job
you're trying to escape from. Yet if you hand over all the hard work to someone
else, there's the credit-card statement to look forward to at the end of the
month. Talk about hard choices! That's where the miniature adventure comes in.
Think of it as a sort of escape clause in life's contract of obligations. It's
easy. It's cheap. And you don't need a lot of free time. Do it right, and
you'll be back at work on Monday, rested, refreshed, and ready for anything.
Even your boss may notice the change. Then again, nothing's perfect. Miniature
adventures also require that you plan ahead. The difference? This is the type
of planning you can do on the run, and a lot of things will only need to be
done one time. Ever. Once you've stocked your getaway pack,
for instance, you're good to go at a moment's notice. Then, if you replenish
staple foods and make repairs at the end of every trip, you'll be good to go
again and again. It doesn't get any easier.
Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Like I said last time, the miniature
adventure requires that you lower your sights. Does this sound too much like
giving up? OK. Try
Either way, it's the First Principle. We're talking miniature
adventures here. You may only be gone for an afternoon. Three days is probably
the outside limit. So you'll have to postpone your trip to the Hindu Kush for
another time. You'll be exploring close to home, instead. How close? My
more-or-less arbitrary limit is 30 miles. But your mileage will likely differ.
Depending on where you live, you may not have to travel more than a mile. This
doesn't apply just to folks living in the middle of a National Forest, by the
way. If you call a port city home, you can often find a lifetime's worth of
paddling adventure as near as the waterfront. On the other hand, if you live in
a sprawling suburb, don't be surprised if you have to drive as much as 60
miles, or even further. (That's why it's called "sprawl," I guess.) In any
case, if you can get where you're going and back in a day, and still spend more
time on the water than you did on the road, you've got things about right.
where should you go? That's up to you. Unless you live near a
popular recreation area, you probably won't get a lot of help from guidebooks.
Instead, you'll have to do some real on-the-ground exploring. It's just a
matter of looking around you. One thing you'll learn right at the outset,
though it's not too easy to do this at 60 miles an hour. That's why the
Second Principle in the miniature adventurer's creed is
Slow Down and Live
That's live as in "live life to the fullest," by the way, not live as in survive
though I'm willing to bet there's a connection between the two. In
practical terms, slowing down often means leaving your car in the garage when
you prospect for paddling destinations close to home. Often. But not always.
One of my first miniature adventures began while I was stuck on an overpass in
a traffic jam. I took my eyes off the bumper sticker on the car in front of me
("Think Globally - Act Locally") and noticed a stream that I'd never seen
before, flowing through a few marshy acres between a factory and an office
complex. The next weekend I was back with my canoe on the roof of my car.
Still, you can't always count on a traffic jam when you need one, can you?
Better have a Plan B.
I can see a question coming. If you leave your car behind when you scout for
new places to paddle, just how are you going to cover the distance? There are
three easy answers. On foot. On a bike. With a map. Take the last first. Maps
maps give you an eagle's eye view of your neighborhood, and now that
they're available on CDs, you can store a whole country's worth in a single
desk drawer. Don't just glance at them, though. Study them. Zoom in (or
use a magnifying glass). Zoom out (or hang the maps on the wall over your
desk). Give your quads the same close attention you'd give the small print on a
mortgage. It's a great way to learn the earth's secrets. Even after 15 years, I
discover someplace new every time I look at the maps of my home county.
What's next? After you've identified a few attractive-looking destinations
on your maps, get out of the house and take a look at them. Write up your own
guidebook profile. Scout for put-ins and take-outs. Identify parks or other
public lands. (You can't rely on quads to show every county forest.) Check out
access roads. Search for fishermen's trails and bridges that give you a good
view of any drops. Here's where going slow really pays off. And there's no
better way to go slow than by walking though cycling is almost as good.
Colin Fletcher called this the Law of Inverse Appreciation: the faster you go,
the less you see. On foot or on a bike, you'll notice dirt roads that you'd
easily miss while driving past. You'll have time to stand and stare at the gap
in the tree line that marks a bog or a beaver pond. You can pass the time of
day with the guy washing the mud off a cedar stripper in his front yard
and maybe learn something about the local river while you're at it. You'll even
be able to read the names of the property owners on the NO TRESPASSING
signs. Sometimes a phone call can pay big dividends here, opening up an area of
private land that's closed to the rest of the public.
But what if as can easily happen your chosen destinations are
too far from your home to walk or cycle? Simply get in your car and drive to a
convenient parking place. Then get out and get up close and personal with the
landscape, on foot or on a bike. If you do this often enough, you're certain to
make a few happy discoveries along the way. When I first started exploring my
two million-acre neighborhood, I did my scouting from our truck. Then I
rediscovered biking, and I began building up my legs and lungs. Now I make all my
local prospecting trips in the saddle, from doorway to destination. It's a
win-win situation. These scouting trips have become miniature adventures in
their own right, and I often strap a tiny
inflatable on my bike for a quick "test paddle," into the bargain. The
whole trip then becomes a no-octane, amphibious holiday. There's another bonus,
too. My two million acres are much larger than they were when I traveled to and
from put-ins by car. Sound crazy? It's not. A thirty-mile trip by car takes me
about an hour. It takes two or three times that long by bike. The result? My
neighborhood's just gotten two or three times bigger. Moreover, the trip to and
from the put-in is now part of the adventure, rather than a dreary chore to get
out of the way as quickly as possible. Hurrying down the highway makes no sense
when pleasure's your goal. In doubling my travel time, I've doubled the fun. I
see and feel and hear and smell much more than I did when I was a prisoner in a
steel cage, eating up the road at 50-plus miles an hour. I can scope out the
bald eagle circling high over my head. Feel the sting of wind-driven rain
against my face. Hear the cheerful Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody of a
white-throated sparrow. Smell the perfume of sun-warmed pines drifting over the
road from the encroaching forest. I also enjoy the simple animal pleasure of
using my muscles to move my body from one place to another. It's a thrill that
never fades. That's why I paddle rather than drive a power boat, after all. The
good news? When I bike or walk, I get the same pleasure from the trips to and
from the put-in.
Slow down and live. It's the weekend adventurer's war cry in the battle
against the maddening demands of everyday life. But now that you've found your
way to the water, what comes next? It's time to wet your paddle and enjoy the
fruits of your labor. And that's the subject of "The Rest of the Story," the
final article in this series, coming soon to a computer screen near you.
No chance for a Big Trip this year? No problem. Find your fun close to home.
Take it slow and easy. Make every minute count twice. You won't cover many
miles on a weekend adventure, but you'll never get a better return on your
investment of time. And isn't that what recreation re-creation is
Copyright © 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights