Feb 15 2012
Bicycling and recreational paddling came of age at roughly the same time, and at the outset, they were seen as natural complements. But that was before the coming of the automobile, when bicycles were still considered transportation, rather than toys. Times have changed, of course. Still, I think a great deal was lost when the happy partnership of pedal and paddle was dissolved. Which is what led me, a while back, to talk up something I christened “amphibious paddling.” The germ of the idea most likely originated with my early solo trips on the fast‑flowing little river I’ve called the ‘Kill. Since I worked rotating shifts, I had trouble finding a canoeing (and car‑shuttling) partner, and at the time I hadn’t mastered the art of poling upstream. Yet I hated to let a week go by without spending a few hours on the water. So I got into the habit of dropping my bike off at the take‑out before I headed to the put‑in. Then, when I reached the end of the day’s run, I had only to hop on the bike and pedal back to the old Jeep that was my principal — if less than reliable — transport. The bike went into the Jeep, and I drove down the road to pick up my canoe. It seemed a straightforward solution to the problem, and it was.
But I never saw any other paddlers doing as I did. Maybe they were worried about having their unattended bikes stolen or vandalized while they paddled. (They had reason to worry, in fact. Farwell once lost a lovely Dawes Galaxy touring bike in just this way — and on the selfsame ‘Kill, no less.) Or maybe the idea simply never occurred to them. In any case, the notion had lodged itself firmly in my consciousness, and when, some ten years ago, I got back on a bike after a two‑decade hiatus, it wasn’t long before I’d begun rediscovering the possibilities of amphibious travel. Usually this meant hauling a boat in a bag on a trailer behind my bike. And I was soon adding a pedestrian component to the mix, using my boat to take me to remote jumping‑off places for a bit of hillwalking or backcountry scrambling.
What’s the attraction? Well, I get to thumb my nose at the gas pumps, for one thing. But economy isn’t my first consideration. The real draw lies in the fact that the adventure now begins at my front door. Instead of a long — and often tedious — drive to a distant put‑in, I get a bike ride, much of it on little‑traveled rural roads. And in an age when jet‑assisted tourism and electronic communication are shrinking the world to the size of a microchip, the bicycle’s slow pace pushes back my horizons, in effect making my world bigger. It’s much the same sort of thing that leads me to prefer canoeing to driving a jet‑ski. Life lived in the slow lane has many attractions.
Amphibious trekking also breaks down artificial barriers. For many years my recreational activities were confined to what might just as well have been walled compounds. I paddled my canoe and kayak. I climbed mountains. I fished. I rode my bike. I watched (and photographed) birds. But with the exception of the hours that I snatched away from camp chores while I wetted a fly or snapped a few hasty photos, I seldom melded my pleasures. Then a metamorphosis of sorts took place, triggered by a chance meeting on an Adirondack lake. I described this epiphany last summer in an article entitled “Discovering the Freedom of the Hills“:
[The] encounter got me thinking, and two things followed in due course. One happened almost immediately: Both Farwell and I bought pack canoes. The second took a little longer to reach fruition, but it was worth the wait. The seed that ripened into the notion of “amphibious” adventures was planted in our minds.
Of course, nothing is really as simple as this. And my love affair with amphibious adventuring owes as much to my early paddles on the ‘Kill as it does to a single fortuitous encounter. My Grandad played a role, too. While he never, to my knowledge, rode a bicycle, I often used my own bike to reach his battered Grumman where he’d beached it on the shore of a remote beaver pond at the end of some abandoned Adirondack logging road. The trips in and out along these rutted tracks were rich adventures in themselves, even if they weren’t always easy, and I enjoyed the rides as much as I did the paddling.
The bottom line? My days on the ‘Kill, a chance encounter on a lake, and my adolescent jaunts to my Grandad’s favorite fishing holes all played their part in nudging me toward becoming a complete amphibious trekker… Read more…
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