That’s a Paddlin’

Summer is officially here, and the weather got hot this weekend. On a whim, I looked for anywhere near Cottage Grove that rented kayaks and found Northwest Canoe Tour. They’re based out of Alton Baker Park in nearby Eugene, and give you a chance to try canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding on a shallow, quiet canal in the park built specifically for this purpose. The safe location appealed to me even more than it being nearby, so I booked a two-hour rental. As I was preparing to drive the van there, Keith handed me the key to the Miata. Oh, no, twist my arm.

Ryan hooked me up with not only a kayak, but also a paddle, life vest, and a dry bag to keep my valuables in. He also explained the basics of how to paddle around on a kayak, as well as the differences between the sit-on-top and sit-in varieties, both of which he had available. I decided that I should learn to drive a Corolla before a Corvette, and took the sit-on-top one. They’re generally more stable, and they’re self-bailing, meaning that if you flip it, the water will drain itself out, rather than having to bail out the more enclosed sit-in variety. Before I knew it, I was off and paddling.

The canal itself is rather narrow, with trees on both sides and occasionally growing over the water. The shade was quite nice on this 90º+ day. Fun fact: Oregon isn’t nearly as humid as my previous home of New England. While not “a dry heat” like the desert, it’s not oppressively hot, either. When you find some shade, it feels significantly cooler because the humidity doesn’t cling to you like it does in the east.

There’s a little bit of a current, and I had nowhere to paddle but upstream to start. A little way up there was a dam that I had to portage (get out on land and carry) the kayak around. Then I continued on my way. After I passed a popular public launch point there was a fair bit of traffic in the canal. Unlike automotive traffic, nobody got in my way, and everyone was quite friendly. I certainly didn’t mind the greetings from attractive women in bikinis.

Eventually, the canal widened into a small pond, which gave me a taste of maneuvering in a more open body of water than the narrow, shallow canal. I mainly stuck near the shore, not because I was afraid of open water, but because there was shade, and more wildlife to watch. Birds did not care that people were paddling nearby. We’re slow and quiet, and in this area, I’m sure they see us all the time and know we’re not a threat. At one point a mother duck decided to swim alongside me for a little while. I couldn’t tell whether she was protecting her babies or just hanging out with me. I assumed it was protection when she turned back after I was past the ducklings, but a few seconds later I heard a splash next to me as she caught up, landed, and continued to pace me. That was fun.

I continued up the canal a little bit farther, out of the park and into a residential area. I could see I-5, but I didn’t get all the way there. I was keeping an eye on the time so I didn’t go over my two-hour rental. My first hour was already over, but I knew the return trip would be faster and easier downstream. My upper body was certainly feeling it at this point, but I didn’t hurt, either. I’d managed to pace myself pretty well.

The trip back was uneventful. While I paddled some, I also just drifted along with minor course corrections a bit, too. While going around a curve I found myself quite close to this heron who had just caught a fish. This was one of the few times a bird flew away from me. It just wanted to protect its hard-earned dinner, which is understandable. We didn’t bother each other, and I continued on my way.

I never tipped the kayak over. The only casualty of this trip was one of my sandals. As I was taking the kayak out of the water the canal floor suddenly got soft and swallowed my leg almost up to my knee. I couldn’t extract it with the sandal on, so I slipped out and escaped. I tried digging to find it, but the mud had already collapsed on top of it. It was gone. It made for a somewhat painful barefoot walk back to the car, but I’d brought my shoes (and an entire change of clothes in case of the worst) with me.

I enjoyed myself, though I certainly felt it afterward, and still am do I write this. I was in bed and passed out before 10:00 pm. But since I didn’t push myself too hard, I’m still not in any pain. I won’t be taking any adventures today, though. Between kayaking, plus another motorcycle ride through Umpqua National Forest yesterday morning, I’ve adventured enough for now. It was one of those weekends when I need to go back to work for a vacation from my vacation.

I definitely want to go kayaking again. Next time I want to try a sit-in version so I can fully understand the differences between them from the paddler’s point of view. I’m not ready to buy my own, nor do I think I will be for a while. I need more practice and experience to understand what I like and what to look for. Though I do need to buy a new pair of sandals that will be more supportive and won’t fall off like my old ones did.

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