Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Winter, naturally is the time to read. The other seasons of the year lend themselves to getting outdoors, doing things and going places. Recently, I've been rollicking through the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. In a way, these are the land versions of Patrick O'Briens wonderful series with Captain Aubrey.
For a break however, I am presently enjoying Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. This is a tale recounting his hike along the Appalachian Trail, but in many ways, it could be about any human powered adventure, anywhere. There are many parallels to paddling on kayak trips that will bring smiles to your face as you recall that last 'adventure' you were on. Here's a just one idea of what I'm getting at...
All of us do some planning before we head out for a few weeks, but mostly it is of the 'how many undies to bring', 'where to leave the car' and 'how do I get home after it's over' type of planning. The rest is a matter of throwing some food and the usual paddling gear into the boat and heading off, hoping you can do without the stuff you forgot to bring. What you can't plan for is something very special that Bryson calls: 'Trail Magic'. And it is this ingredient, perhaps more than any other, that brings us back on the water time after time.
This is actually a well known phenomenon that happens to virtually everyone who has gone out into the natural world seeking adventure. What am I talking about? It's waking up in the morning to discover you pitched your tent in a patch of strawberries. It's looking down at the bottom of the lake below you wondering where all the fish are, and then a big one darts out of the shallows and swims under the boat. It's thinking you've never seen an egret on the Great Lakes, and one suddenly lands and starts feeding a few meters away. It's landing on a small island and a patch of tundra gets up and trots off looking very much like a caribou, it's heading into the brush for a leak and when you return you see a wolf jump over your kayak and keep running down the beach...
These make up the essential magical ingredient in wilderness travel which has us believing we've participated in a 'spiritual' revival when we go out paddling. Trail Magic.
Bryson's writing style, his wacky descriptions and easy humour make for an enjoyable read on a cold winter's evening. Hopefully as all you adventure kayakers sit down to compose your stories of paddling in far off places, you'll remember to include some 'Trail Magic' and remember, lace the tale with a good dose of humour. For some of us, a good laugh may be about all the exercise we can get when it's really cold out!