Top 5 reasons to paddle.
Ok these are my thoughts on the subject and are somewhat didactic and maybe even contradictory.
1. Paddling is linear and analog. Very few things are these days. It gives no regard to hurry, or any other timetable other than wind, sun, moon, and stars. Like Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, your watch can be cast aside at the beginning of the journey. Granted you can get digital with GPS, digital watches, ala Doug Adams. But these things serve as needless fetishistic artifacts to an acitivity that defies the improvements of technology. In other words you can digitally track how slow you are moving, but it doesn’t change the fact that the average paddling speed is 3-4 knots unless you are Greg Barton. This brings me to number 2.
2. Speed. Speed is dictated by the first reason to paddle, which is that you go as exactly as fast as the effort put into paddling. Relatively speaking. No more no less. One could try to hurry, but really you can’t. It just can’t be rushed. You can go faster than 3-4 knots for fun, but is it really that much faster? How does 5-6 knots over the arc of a 10 day trip matter? It doesn’t. It typically means you aren’t seeing anything up close. Because Americans drive everywhere we hold no value to the energy spent to get there. Fiduciary effort burnt in fossil fuels just isn’t the same as calorie effort. Ask the nearest person with an SUV who is carrying 20 pounds or more of extra weight but would like to be thinner what that means. So I think overall there is something to be said for getting everywhere under your own power. While this sounds slightly pontificatory, I recognize that I drive to the beach to launch the kayak. And if could move Kalamazoo to the shore of a great lake, I would. But there’s only so much one man can do, or pontificate about.
3. Paddling is geographically specific. In a world where so much can be virtualized without context for location, paddling cannot be virtualized. One cannot Net meeting, phone conference in, or email a paddling experience. It is completely and inescapably linked to location. Also because paddling takes place in an area where people tend not to live (on the surface of the water) it is different than what I look at all day long. The Lake Michigan Shore line is not a great example though where houses along the dunes are the norm rather than the exception and the lake shore experience has been commodified to the extreme by some insipid breed of weasle/monkey hybrid from illinois that resists erradication. But maybe a new ice age might change this.
4. Learning all of the skills necessary to become truly effecient and seaworthy in a kayak is hard. Anything difficult requires effort and determination. Effort and determination take time, and time invested in something difficult reward the individual with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. This sense of accomplishment and confidence can also be thwarted by the sea, and the individual’s own stupidity, which is another post entirely. But for instance being able to stay upright and downwind on an icy 6 foot wave is not something everyone can do, or wants to do, much less repeatedly. Skills are really their own reward.
5. Backpacking is for suckers.