Kayaking: The Key to Lifelong Adventure
There are some activities that strike the perfect balance between adventure and exercise, thrill and relaxation, practical transportation and just-for-fun jaunts. Cycling might be one of these activities; and kayaking certainly is.
One of the best ways to quickly escape the heat and hassles of the summer work grind is a trip offshore, into the peaceful stillness of your favorite body of water. Armed with a paddle and a lightweight craft, kayakers can take a quick afternoon loop around the lake or a weekend’s long trip up- or down-river, or a lap through some whitewater.
While it can be tempting to drop everything, head to your nearest outdoor store, buy a kayak and hit the water, a little bit of preparedness goes a long way. Kayaking is inherently dangerous, so Veteran kayak guide and Outdoor Center manager Nate Harvey advises folks to gather some expert advice before launching themselves into a boat purchase. “I would absolutely recommend at least a one or two day clinic before investing in a boat.. If for nothing else just to glean some safety tips.” Along with giving first timers a space to learn and make mistakes on gentle flatwater, the loaner boats are a great field test to help find your own craft. Harvey explains, “most outfitters have a variety of sizes and styles to use during clinics. AND most outfitters sell off their rental boats every couple years. Used = less expensive.”
Once you’ve gotten into the swing of the sport, and have a kayak available to you, it’s time to start a lifetime of aquatic exploration. All sorts of sports are touted as “fun for all ages,” but kayaking is hard to beat. For Nate Harvey, the activity he started as a college PE class has turned into a quarter century of adventure and a successful career at his New Hampshire Outdoor Center. As he sees it, wherever you are in the world, the waterways are sure to hold unique challenges and rewards for the intrepid kayaker: “The river formations, the river guides, the vistas, and the flows are unique to all hemispheres. Solid paddlers move around and try all parts of the world. Not because of boredom, just for getting a taste of the unique backdrops for each area.”
This is the beauty of something like kayaking: there can be absolute diversity among all the destination rivers and lakes available, but within each of them there’s a depth of surprises and natural splendor. Even if you go to the same old river every day, the water is always brand new—as are the sights, the sounds and the sub-marine surprises. And no, Harvey’s not lying about being free from boredom: he says after many years of trying the world’s finest paddling, he still can’t get over the stunning Ellis and Sawyer rivers just outside his North Conway, NH home.
For newbies, the thrill of discovery and the list of future paddles is even more endless. To get you started, Harvey recommends folks put the Gauley River in West Virginia at the top of your list—he calls it “a kayak scene all river-lovers must see.” Access to the mighty Gauly is preserved for the public by the Gauley River National Recreation Area, which lets visitors drink in the 25 miles of breathtaking bends and thundering falls, alternating all along between world class white water and gently meandering valley water. Carving its own gorge amongst lush Appalachian hills, the river reminds one of a hidden Amazonian rio, brimming with thrills.
One of Nate Harvey’s personal favorite kayak destinations, however, is even more remote. The Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River flows unchecked for over 100 miles through the No-Return Wilderness (yes, it is really called that), and traces of human activity along its banks are kept minimal thanks to a strict lottery system for visitors. The Middle Fork represents the pinnacle of American paddling: devilishly fun white water combines with ancient, awe-inspiring scenery and crystal basins to create an experience that highlights nature’s treasury to the point it feels other-worldly.
Wherever you start kayaking, and wherever you end up, a memorable time on the water is unavoidable. Whether it’s the heart-pumping excitement of rapids or the soothing call of a nearby loon, or the satisfying tug of a fish on your line, the kayak is one of the simplest ways to relish in the many wonders of the aquatic world. Have questions? Head to your local outfitter and meet your local version of Nate Harvey, who will surely be more than happy to help.