The solitude of paddling: it’s never been more welcome

By Joe Miller

I’d paddled about 45 minutes up the Eno River from the boat launch before I realized I hadn’t seen anyone in a good half hour. The river access off Red Mill Road in Durham County is a popular one, but nearly all the motor boat traffic and more than half the paddlers who put in head downstream toward Falls Lake. Me, I’d hung a right and paddled upstream against a negligible current. 

I spent the first five minutes or so getting to know know my new kayak, a Perception Joyride 10.0 picked up from Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Chapel Hill not 45 minutes earlier, as well as my new paddle, a surprisingly light (for the $99.95 price tag) and efficient Aqua-Bound Manta Ray. The three of us quickly fell in synch working our way up the Eno. Before long, my stroke became rote; I was doing it, but I was barely aware that I was. What I was aware of were the towering sycamores along the banks and the dense foliage crowding for sunlight beneath. Occasionally, I could peer into the woods, but for the most part it was like paddling through a jungle. Quiet as I was, my presence alerted a great blue heron perched river right. There was a slight rustling, then the big bird began its slow-motion, pterodactyl-like takeoff. I watched it lumber 30 yards upriver.

This was exactly what I had in mind when I’d gotten up that morning and realized my life needed a shot of new adventure. For the past several weeks I’d been walking my neighborhood and exploring the trails a short distance from home. Trouble was, with our hiking options now limited, scores of other hikers had been discovering my off-the-beaten path trails, too. Solitude was missing from my outings, and I knew what I needed.

A kayak, and I needed it soon. Fortunately, I knew Great Outdoor Provision Co. could make that happen.

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The Joyride and I were fast becoming friends. It’s stable (I’m not, making for a good marriage). It’s comfortable, with a padded and adjustable seat that belies the boat’s adventurous nature. And for a stable boat, it tracks well and knifes through the water at a decent clip without an big investment of elbow grease. 

At the 45-minute mark, I stopped paddling for a moment, leaned back and took in the sky. It was that brilliant blue of spring, when the air is dry and clear. Impressive yet harmless billowy clouds drifted in from the west. I watched their progress, then realized I was gently floating backward, and had been for several minutes. Putting blade to water I pulled into a sheltered cove, put my paddle aside, closed my eyes, leaned back and propped my sandaled feet on the deck. A gentle breeze cooled my skin and rustled the leaves.

My mind drifted to that most wonderful of places — nowhere. It emptied: no deadlines nor worries vying for attention. Best of all, I’m pretty sure no one would find me. 

I’m not sure how long I bobbed in that protected nook: time was standing still — in the good way. When I came to, I let the subtle current do most of the work as I reluctantly made my way back. About five minutes before reaching the put-in I saw two fishermen on the bank, the first people I’d seen in nearly an hour and a half. 

As I hoisted the boat onto my car rack and contemplated my return to the world, I was buoyed by one thought: I could now take a Joyride whenever I liked.

Joe Miller unites people with the outdoors through writing and guiding trips, through his GetHiking! and GetBackpacking! programs. His latest book is “Explore Your Neighborhood: A Guide to Discovering the World Immediately Around You,” available in paperback and ebook, here. 

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