Saturday, November 29, 2014

Finding Comfort In A Solo Canoe

west canada creek with BruceThe summer of 1988 I attended a Syracuse University computer software workshop at the Minnowbrook Conference Center at Blue Mountain Lake. During an afternoon break from the workshop, two colleagues and I went for a walk starting at a parking lot on Lake Durant, a small state-owned lake near the village of Blue Mountain Lake. A woman with a small canoe on top of her car pulled up to the lake near where we were walking. She parked, opened the door, unfastened the canoe straps, and lifted the canoe off her car, handling it with ease. She placed the canoe in the water and paddled across Lake Durant. She did this all within five minutes.

“I want that.” I shouted, feeling the freedom that comes from observing such independence.

It took me a few years to find such a lightweight boat. I was excited to discover that these canoes were built in the Adirondacks. So one weekend, on the way from my home in Rome to Lake Placid, my mother and I stopped in Olmstedville to visit Hornbeck Boats, the makers of the solo canoes. My mother shared my enthusiasm for these canoes as during the 15 summers spent on Quaker Lake, boating was a large part of our experience. I remember the weight of our wooden Old Town canoe and the amount of work it took to maintain the wooden gunnels and canvas hull. Now, I looked forward to being able to handle a canoe by myself, especially one that would require little maintenance given the nature of the composite materials used in these new canoes.

We met with Peter Hornbeck in his home.  Hornbeck Boats was a fledgling organization in 1991 with the office in Peter’s home and the boats built in his garage. I ordered the Lost Pond boat, a 10.5ft. 15 lb. Kevlar canoe that day and was on the water the next spring.

Previous trips had gotten me hooked on paddling in the Adirondacks, some many years ago.

The summer of 1949 I went on a canoe trip to the Adirondacks sponsored by Girl Scout camp Amahami. Ten of us campers along with two counselors and a trailer of canoes drove north from the Southern Tier of New York for about five hours, spending four nights at a public campsite on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake. We paddled around the lake for four days, exploring the islands, small streams and secluded ponds. The next year our same group went to the Fulton Chain of Lakes.

Also, I so enjoyed many early mornings during the workshops at Minnowbrook paddling alone on Blue Mountain Lake using their one-person guideboat. Now that I had my own canoe I could return to the Adirondack waters to continue these explorations.

But I did not live in the Adirondacks when I bought my Hornbeck. I wanted to find places near my home to become comfortable paddling different waterways before I tackled what I thought of as the wild waters of the Adirondacks.

Andy, a colleague from Rome, told me about a remote stream in the Tug Hill area where he went fishing, but I had to promise not to tell others, fearful that his private fishing spot would be discovered. On a cool sunny fall day I strapped my canoe on the top of the car and drove 20 miles north from Rome on Route 26 to West Leyden, turned onto what appeared to be private farm roads and, following Andy’s instructions, found the bridge crossing the stream. I carried my 15 lb. canoe down an easy embankment. I felt somewhat comforted as I could tell others had done the same thing – the grasses were matted down on the path to the water. I say comforted as the anxiety of exploring an unknown area began to mound as I drove on the back roads of a remote area. Once on the water, however, I settled down and enjoyed an easy paddle on the stream as it meandered through the farm fields and woods. I rounded a curve in the stream surprised by the sight of a brilliant red flower growing on the bank in the midst of the yellow grasses. I was transfixed by the vivid color. I later found out this was a cardinal flower, abundant in the fall on many Adirondack riverbanks.

Back at home, I especially loved leaving work and, within an hour, was paddling down West Canada Creek, near the town of Barneveld. I’d drop off the canoe at a site in the woods next to the Creek (it’s really a river, they just call it a creek), drive down a gravel road about one mile and park my car. Then I’d walk back to where I stashed the canoe, settle myself in the boat, and amble down the river for an hour or so to meet up with my car.

The section of West Canada Creek where I paddled was downstream from the Niagara Mohawk dam at Trenton Falls where water was released multiple times day-and-night. I’d call an 800 number (the readings are now available online) to get an estimate of the water flow for that day. I liked the flow to be about 1,000 CFS (Cubic Feet Per Second), as that amount of water provided a steady ride down the creek without the need to worry about the current taking me where I did not want to go, although anywhere between 600 to 1,200 CFS was runnable.

It took some experimenting to find a comfort zone on how best to run the river. On a first try, in a tandem canoe, my partner and I tipped over. We were too near the outlet from the dam and the water flow was too great for our paddling ability. I found an optimal put-in for my solo canoe where only ripples surfaced downstream with the water flow around 1,000 CFS.

Feeling comfortable in my solo canoe, I was ready to explore the paddling opportunities in the Adirondacks.

Photo: Lorraine in her Hornbeck on West Canada Creek.

Related Stories

Award winning author Lorraine Duvall's newest book contains stories about where she has lived in the Adirondacks for the last 24 years, titled "Where The Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home." She writes of her paddling adventures in the book "In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks." Some experiences from her memoir, "And I Know Too Much to Pretend," led her to research a woman's commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, "Finding A Woman's Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks." Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.

13 Responses

  1. Keith Silliman says:

    Nice article. I have canoes the way some people have skis, different canoes for different purposes. My favorite is a wenonah tandem to which I added a center seat. This is my fishing canoe, and the dog boat. it is either at camp or on my truck seven months out of the year.

    You should be careful with the Hornbeck on whitewater, especially below Trenton Falls.

  2. Alex says:

    Thanks for this article. I have longed for a solo canoe, but as a kayak owner, it’s hard to justify. Do you know or think there is a significant difference?

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      Alex – The weight difference is the biggest advantage (12-17 lbs. vs 35-50lbs.) I also really like the openness of the canoe – in a kayak I feel contracted. However, kayaks are more stable, generally, and are easier to get in and out of. Plus cheaper.

      • Lynne Berry says:

        if you are paddling where wind and waves predominate, then you need a deck. If you need inexpensive, plastic may be your only option. Or choose plastic if you intend to let your kids abuse it. But if you need light weight, efficient, easy to cartop and easy to load up with gear, a good composite solo is far superior. And if you get one with tumblehome and a real seat, a canoe is easier to get in and out of, also.

    • Lynne Berry says:

      if you are paddling where wind and waves predominate, then you need a deck. If you need inexpensive, plastic may be your only option. Or choose plastic if you intend to let your kids abuse it. But if you need light weight, efficient, easy to cartop and easy to load up with gear, a good composite solo is far superior. And if you get one with tumblehome and a real seat, a canoe is easier to get in and out of, also.

  3. Kitti says:

    Really enjoyed this story

  4. Susan Gaffney says:

    Lorraine, this makes me want to tell my canoe stories, including being a member of the most exclusive club in the Adirondacks: the West Branch Dunk Club.

  5. Hawthorn says:

    Love the idea of these super lightweight canoes, but I do see one advantage of the cheapy kayaks–they are nearly indestructible. My dad can’t carry much weight these days, but he can still drag his plastic kayak for long distances, and despite my horror at this process it seems to survive. Not as elegant, but there are some really nice inflatable kayaks these days that will surprise you with how nicely they perform. Light enough to carry and you can stow them away easily when not needed. One thing I love about them is they are almost silent in use–which is a nice contrast to most hard boats.

  6. Lynne Berry says:

    Nice article, but overlooks the many other solo canoe options, notably Placid Boatworks. The Hornbeck is a lighter and less expensive solo, but for comfort, efficiency and carrying capacity, I recommend testing a Placid Boatworks model before you decide.

  7. troutstalker says:

    I find kayaks are superior to canoes when there are 1 to 3 foot waves and high winds. On numerous trips I have passed canoes stuck on shore due to these conditions. My yak is 36 lbs.and I can portage it on my shoulders with a full pack.I have also observed canoeists tend to carry more gear than is needed and have to make too many return trips to transport their unneeded gear. One trip portages is what I like to do for speed and efficiency.

  8. waverunner says:

    Great story, as a water lover I did have 2 kayaks, recently sold one, I have the Wilderness which has a much bigger seating area. But as arthritis is consuming my body my dear brother made his second canoe into one that I can use with a trolling motor and marine battery as I can no longer paddle. It will take more than RA to keep me away from the water and the ADKs

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