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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

The Art of Planning a Big Trip

Part 1: Anticipation

by Farwell Forrest

I'm writing this in mid-February, yet when I look out the window to my right I can see open water in the channel. I'd better explain, I suppose. I live on a reservoir, one of many impoundments along what the local power company once proudly boasted was "the best dammed little river in the world." Deep below the surface of the ersatz lakes created by the company's dams, however, there's the winding channel of that now-drowned river.

And the old river still runs free. The ice above its former bed is the first to break up in the spring, and even in high summer a canoeist going "down north" can rely on a boost from the current of the hidden river's unseen flow.

Well, it may be mid-February, but it looks a lot like spring out my window. The secret river is showing anyone who cares to see that it's still alive. Its channel is open, and the water in it is running fast toward the St. Lawrence. Spring is in the air.

It's time to think about the year's Big Trips. This needn't require much thought. We live in an age of instant gratification—or, at any rate, most of us in what we optimistically call the "developed world" do. If you have a credit card and a phone, you can get almost anything you want in less time than it takes me to tell about it. Even a Big Trip.

You know what I mean. You're sitting at your desk in Cubicle 27B. You've got a week-long vacation coming up. You want to go paddling. It's -20°F outside. No problem. Pick up the phone, dial 1-888-GOTODAY and five minutes later you're booked on a flight to Belize, with a sea kayak waiting for you at the hotel and a week's worth of food packed and ready to go.

It wasn't always like this. Big trips used to require long months of planning. Boring? Not really. Not at all, in fact. The anticipation and the planning were part of the fun. For some of us, they still are.

Our numbers are steadily shrinking, however, and while I'm often amazed at the technical skills of today's paddlers, I'm also impressed by how few of them can read a map—or a river, come to that. We're all relying more and more on "experts" these days, even to pre-test and package our wilderness experiences for us. You want a paddling holiday that will take you exactly 73.25 miles and involve no more than 2.75 miles of portaging, with a 90% probability that nighttime temperatures will never drop below 50°F? One that will take you right to the haunts of state-record walleye, Boone and Crockett caribou, or the elusive Wilson's warbler? No problem. The friendly folks at 1-888-GOTODAY and their computers will be happy to oblige. For a price, of course.

This is efficient, to be sure, and for many of us, it's the only way. Whether you're a plastic surgeon, an insurance agent or a cleaner, time is money. Vacations come all too seldom, and they often come at unpredictable intervals. It's 1-888-GOTODAY or nothing at all. Outfitters, guide services and trip-packagers exist for a reason. Many busy people want their assistance, and they're both willing and able to pay for it. Others—folks new to paddling, for example—need the help of more experienced mentors to get started. If they don't have paddling friends, or if there isn't a paddling club nearby, then 1-888-GOTODAY is their only hope. The alternative is the Laz-E-Boy—or golf. Both these fates are too horrible to contemplate.

Still, there are quite a lot of people whose time isn't quite so valuable. Teachers and students, for example, and others with long vacations that come at fixed times. Retired folk. Self-employed contractors with seasonal businesses. Writers and graphic artists.

Then, too, there are some of us who actually enjoy the process of finding things out for ourselves. Making plans. Even being surprised. You already know I'm one of these odd birds—and I'm hoping I'm not alone. In the next five articles, Tamia and I will take you through the process of planning a Big Trip. The fun can begin long before you drop your boat in the water. There's real pleasure in anticipation. Let's see if we can't discover it together.

© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999

That's it for now. Tamia will be here next week. In the meantime, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and questions to us at (No attachments, audio clips or family snaps, please!) I won't promise that we'll answer each letter, but I can promise that we'll read every one—and we will. 'Nuff said.

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