Thoughts on my first year paddling...

I haven’t posted much lately, but I lurk regularly. Last spring, with a lot of help from this forum, I bought my first canoe, a Bell Eveningstar royalex. My intention was to get my family out on the water (wife and 2 kids). We had recently moved out of state, to a small town on a pretty good sized midwestern lake. 13,000 acres, about 9 miles long and 2 miles wide.

I guess I had a lot of romantic notions about lake life. Well this lake is completely overrun with jetskiers, motorboaters, tubers, bass boaters, etc. The wind blows constantly like a blast furnace out of the south. The mosquitos are un-phased by the wind and thicker than I have ever experienced. Black flys, no seeums, etc, also. The shoreline of the lake is a tangled mess of sunken timber and treestumps. Like so many other places, the rivers dry up in the summer too. Anyway, it’s not the tranguil paddling dream I had seen in the magazines.

I did manage to get the whole family out though. My wife loves canoeing now; so does the 3 year old, albeit only about a half-hour at a time. Our 12 year old daughter is not so keen on it. Maybe I should have got 2 boats originally, but there were budget constraints. Our daughter is spending most of this summer with her friends on their skiboats, tubing, etc.

I’ve really been bitten by the sailing bug lately. I’m sure my disdain for all things motorized would not change, but it seems like a sailboat may be a safer vessel on this wake-covered lake of ours. I listed the canoe for sale with the intention of putting the funds toward a sailboat. I don’t have the space, time, or budget for both. Although I think I could squeeze 2 canoes in somewhere, and that is still an option. More and more it’s just 3 of us going out paddling though.

I cancelled my for sale ad a couple days later when I took the canoe out again. It’s such a nice boat, perfect for a family, for camping, great for fishing, I really enjoy it.

My son and I put our final coat of finish on a “home depot” canoe pole today. We’ll give it a few days to cure, and get out for some poling on our dried up river next week. Almost every day the 3 year old says to me, “Dad, can we go out sailing in the boat today?” To him, being on the water at all, in any vessel, is sailing. I love spending time on the boat with him more than I ever thought was possible. Every few feet of travel is an adventure to him, it really makes you re-think your attitudes toward life.

I love the simplicity of a canoe. I love the silence of it slicing through the water. I love the rare bluebird days when the wind doesn’t blow, the bugs for some unknown reason leave you alone, you’re out while the powerboters are still sleeping it off, and the lake is like glass. It’s rare when those moments all come together, and so wonderful to share them with my family.

That’s all good.
Have you tried the Paddlers Place Discussion forum yet?

Mods feel free to move this…
if possible, it would be better in Paddlers Place.

don’t sell your canoe!!
They don’t degrade, storage is free, and enjoyment is life long. Cool seeing you made a pole and your son loves it. Sounds like my story awhile back. I had 14 great years paddling and poling and sailing with my son. We started on small lakes, went to flat rivers, then got the whitewater bug. Sailing was saltwater/offshore.I leave the big lakes to the yahoos. Canoes are best enjoyed where motors fear to tread.

Early morn
Poking along that timber strewn shore checking out the wildlife above and below the waterline is a pretty good way to spend time with your son. Wish my Dad had done it with me. Your son won’t have to say that. Enjoy!

Other lakes
Don’t forget. You are mobile. You can take that canoe to other lakes and streams as well. The sky’s the limit!

Try a great river in Nebraska
You might want to try a weekend or three day weekend trip to canoe the Niobrara River in the Nebraska Sandhills. It’s about 230 miles (about three and a half hours) from Harlan County Lake to Valentine, Nebraska on the Niobrara River. I have traveled from central Iowa to paddle the Niobrara at least five times in the last 15 years. That’s 420 miles or about six and a half hour drive for me. It’s a great paddling experience with a landscape you would not expect in Nebraska.

Six major ecosystem types converge in the Niobrara River valley including northern boreal forest, ponderosa pine forest, eastern deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, and shortgrass prairie. There are numerous waterfalls along the Niobrara where streams and springs emerge from the Rosebud Formation along the north side of the river. I remember one hot July trip where we kept stopping to sit under the waterfalls for a refreshing break.

While there are rapids in various places along the Niobrara they presented no real problem for our group of inexperienced paddlers. Some did line their canoes through one rapid (an easy walk along the bank dragging the canoes by a lead rope.) We did have to take a short portage around Rocky Ford Rapid (class III.)

Here is a link to the National Park Service Niobrara National River on canoeing the Niobrara (this page includes links to river guides and maps in downloadable PDF format:

Good to hear from you

– Last Updated: Jun-21-13 1:11 PM EST –

Believe it or not, I remember you well, and back then I kept thinking how nice it would have been if you were a little closer to some nicer paddling destinations. The reason I remember you so well was that it seemed like the backgrounds and attitudes of you and your wife were perfect for getting into canoeing, but that the local countryside left something to be desired. When I got to the part in your post about putting the canoe up for sale, it made sense but was actually a let-down, and I'm glad to see you are still enjoying the canoe and the kind of water you have - as best as you can.

Vic's advice sounds really good to me, and I bet a few others here can help you come up with some similar trip ideas as well. Making some occasional, longer trips to see the sorts of places that you wish were more accessible is a lot better than just wishing, even if you can't do it as much.

Remember this too. Lots and lots of people have met for paddling trips via these discussions, some organized in advance and some at the last minute. Some people come to the twice-a-year Ozark Rendezvous by driving a longer distance than you would have to do, so if you can manage it, that'd be a great idea (sometimes people even bring kids). Speaking for myself, if you ever have a reason to go to northeastern Iowa or southern Wisconsin, bring that canoe along because it's a near certainty that I and/or some of my friends would show you some lovely rivers.

I’m not selling…
Yep, I have definitely decided to keep the canoe.

My dad never did things like that with me either. I want my son to have lots of great memories of our time together.

We have talked about taking a trip up there. Maybe this fall.


– Last Updated: Jun-22-13 5:18 AM EST –

Guideboatguy, I'll keep that in mind if we can make a trip out that way someday!