A lifelong connection to paddling
Although I grew up with a brook in my backyard and a small river just across the road, as a youngster, my experience with boats was very limited.
I paddled canoes on occasion, but most of the time I spent on the water was in an old tub of a rowboat or rowing a flat-bottomed jonboat that a friend owned. Neither of the vessels were particularly well suited to the rock strewn waters of our local streams, but they offered us the opportunity to float, fish and explore.
My mother was an antiquer who loved loved auctions, barn sales and blue willow ware. She began collecting antiques as a child, and she had amassed a considerable collection that was used to decorate the circa 1825 brick house in Elizabethtown that we settled into in 1966.
For years, I pleaded with my parents to purchase a “family” canoe that we could all enjoy. Of course, I was the only family member interested in paddling.
My older brother had a motorcycle and my older sister had her dogs. My younger siblings were too young to lobby for anything beyond the usual kid stuff. So, in effect, I was the sole lobbyist in the family for paddle sports.
Every spring, I would scour the local newspapers looking for a canoe for sale. Finally, the time came, and I knew my mother would want to tag along. The event was to be a great sale of antiques, furnishings and boats that were scheduled to be auctioned off at The Saranac Inn.
Growing up in Elizabethtown I knew very little about Saranac Lake, but I did know canoes and paddle sports were popular. I was about 12 years old at the time, and a bicycle was still my main means of conveyance.
To my surprise, she agreed to take me, and two weeks later we were driving the old Rambler station wagon through the Cascade Pass and beyond to the fabled Saranac Lakes.
My pockets were bulging with change, which I believe amounted to nearly $17. I had also emptied my entire savings account which held an incredible $52, a sizable sum in those days.
As I recall, the auction was well attended and there were furnishings and boats and furniture and beds and a great deal more. My mother wandered around looking at the items while I made a beeline to the boats.
There was one canoe in particular that caught my eye. It was a sleek 17-foot wood and canvas model that was everything I had dreamed of. It was stored with a number of other boats, canoes and rowboats, but it stood out above all the rest.
An hour or so later, the auction finally began and the furnishings began to fly out the window. I waited and watched impatiently as the auctioneers sold off lot after lot.
It seemed an eternity passed before they finally got around to the boats.
Unfortunately, most of the canoes were sold in lots and the bidding typically began in the hundreds and went up from there. I watched as “my” white canoe came up on the dock along with two others, and I convinced my mother to loan me enough money to cover the initial bid of $150 for all three of them.
I didn’t really understand the whole bidding process, but when I watched the auctioneer’s hammer finally come down as he pointed to a man in the back, I knew the dream was over.
My mother recognized it as well, and she attempted to restore my enthusiasm for purchasing a boat by carefully looking over the lots that were left. But that big white, wood and canvas model was all I wanted.
Finally, she took me aside and showed me the first Adirondack Guideboat I had ever seen. It was a sleek, 16-footer that was painted blue and white. It was one of three in the lot, most of which were damaged or missing the seats.
I was still dejected after missing out on the big white canoe, and I refused to listen to my mother’s advice to bid on the lot. I still remember telling her, “I don’t want an old row boat. I want to get a canoe.”
My mother and I watched as the guideboats were auctioned off and the entire lot eventually sold for the minimum of $100. The auction continued, but I was no longer interested because the canoes were all gone.
Although my first experience with Adirondack guideboats was a miserable failure, I eventually acquired a small fleet of them, including several original wooden models.
I’ve also purchased and paddled a whole slew of canoes over the years, ranging from vintage wood and canvas models to the latest kevlar and carbon fiber racing boats.
Although it took me awhile to finally get my butt in a canoe, I’ve made up for the lost time ever since! For more than 35 years I’ve been on the water, crisscrossing the Adirondacks and numerous other rivers and lakes of the Northeast.
Over the years, I’ve paddled by vocation and avocation, and I continue to keep a canoe available along the banks of a small stream, ready and waiting for a quick and easy escape as needed.
For me, paddling has become a way of life, and I strive to instill a similar enthusiasm in others, especially the young. It is a life skill that can take you to the far away places in your own back yard and around the world.