Posts Tagged ‘kayaking’

Visiting vs Experiencing

There are three categories of National Park tourists.

The first is the worst: the tourist. The tourist blunders in with their fancy RV, stumbles off some cruise ship, or barrels in on a pair of Harleys. They make a bunch of noise in the visitor’s center, take a high-speed trip through the scenic drive, perhaps (at best) reading 2-3 roadside signs before giving up and barreling off to some picnic area to uncork a bottle of wine, unscrew a bottle of cheap whiskey, or unpack a fistful of juice pops before nearly burning down a campground via an over-butaned charcoal grill.

The second is the polar opposite: the wildlander. These are the folks who truly revel in the hard-core activities: spending days backpacking or river rafting across varied terrains; performing a multi-hour rock traversals up the cliff face; or otherwise reveling in the true wonders of the park: the wilderness. I have full respect for these intrepid travelers, but because I like traveling alone, it would be incredibly dangerous for me. Plus I’m an immense coward.

So I nestle inside the middle group.

Mountains A La Mode

Parks are to be experienced. If you’re in Acadia, you bike the carriage trails. If you go to Key Biscayne, you snorkel the reefs. And if you go to Kenai Fjord, you hike the glaciers* and you kayak the fjords. That’s the Middle Group: find activities that let you experience the park in the few days you have to spend, and enjoy the sh*t out of them.

*Well, you don’t hike *on* the glaciers, that’s dangerous AF. You hike *to* the glaciers. Play safe, everyone.

The kayaking I did at Kenai was one of the best times I ever spent in a park, and I’ve been to well over 200 of them. First, it was a gorgeous day. The sky was so blue, the wind was light, the air was the perfect temperature. Second, the people were fantastic. I typically avoid commercialized park tours, they tend to be too expensive and too lame, but these tour operators were awesome. They were friendly, and helpful, and gave good information, but also knew how to shut up so folks could just enjoy sitting on the water and watch the puffins dive.

Beautiful Day

My fellow kayakers were really cool, too. There were seven of us in all, three couples and myself, and we didn’t know each other (well, hopefully the people in the couples knew each other, but hey, who am I to judge). But everyone was so chill and so interesting and so much fun to be around. It was just us and the puffins and the eagles and the sea lions: the perfect trip.

After the kayaking, we went back to Fox Island. There was supposed to just be some standard lunch, but instead there was some special end-of-season event going on, so we got the full grilled salmon treatment. I rarely remember what I ate on my trips, but that was so memorable. It was all fresh and cooked to perfection and there was no spoiling that day. I was even on-point with my photography that day (a super-rarity).

Photogenic Jay

After lunch, we hopped on a cruise boat for the standard, tourist trip through the fjords. That was … lame, but also hysterical. It’s kinda hard to get excited about tufted puffins or sea lions from 20′ up the side of a boat, when a couple of hours ago you were paddling right alongside them. So the group of us sat in the middle of the deck and chatted for the duration.

My trip to Alaska was, by far, the highlight of all my park trips. I need to go back, visit the panhandle, Aniakchak, and more. It’s a big state with a lot of parks, and I only hit the few with the most … tourists.

Tourists Marvel at the Wonders of Bird Shit Rock

[The photos on this post are mine and copyrighted thusly].


Kenai Fjords National Park

Google Maps

Fox Island Kayaking

My Kenai Fjords Photos

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Somewhere Down That Lazy River

The Delaware Water Gap is a protected stretch of river and shoreline between Port Jarvis and East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Like Catoctin, Chickasaw, and Cuyahoga, it’s mundane and uninteresting. But that’s OK, because like those other national park sites, it serves a purpose: protecting our natural resources, providing habitat for wildlife, and simply giving city folks a place to see what a tree looks like. I go on and on about this point so often in this blog, I don’t really feel like retreading that all over again here.

What I do want to talk about is good, old-fashioned laziness.

Public domain photo courtesy National Park ServiceI had no grandiose plans for my Water Gap visit. I had an exciting, inspiring trip the prior autumn when I visited Alaska for the first time (a subject for my next post), but for my trip through Pennsylvania the following spring, I wanted to tone it down (although some might say you have no alternative but to ‘tone it down’ when you visit Pennsylvania, but, well, moving on …).

For my visit to the Delaware Water Gap, I went uber-simple. I just rented a kayak from the fine, Bohemian folks at Chamberlain Canoes, and paddled (well, floated really) downstream for a couple of hours. Yes, it was lame and unexciting. A couple of deer playing on an island, a few ducks paddling around, a couple of Class 1 (actually Class 0.5) rapids, that’s about it. There wasn’t a drop of adrenaline for miles around (unless you count the headbanging hillbilly houseparty happening on the eastern shore).  I didn’t even take my camera, didn’t feel like fussing with it. I just wanted to enjoy a calm, early summer afternoon, futzing around on the Delaware River.

As I live my life and travel around the country, observing the society around me (and often looking inward, as I am wont to do), I feel that one ability sadly missing in most Americans is an ability I am calling “soulful laziness”. Our society is high-strung, jittery, overly busy, and tremendously uptight. Everywhere you turn, you see it: the chronic impatience,  the busy little rush-rush for even the most mundane of tasks, that hum of self-created stress for decidely unimportant minutiae, that decidedly un-subtle “me first and right now” attitude that sends psychic ripples of anxiety up and down the corridors of business and the tiled expanses of mall food courts nationwide. I feel this constant buzz-buzz of motion and thought and stress is so damaging to folks that our society would be so much better if we could simply learn to be soulfully lazy.

Public domain photo courtesy National Park ServiceNow I have to be careful here: I am calling it “soulful laziness” for a very specific reason. It’s the ability to just stop, for a few minutes or a few hours or a few days, and relax. Find a quiet spot, at the beach or in a field or on your own back patio, and take a breather. Get away from the noise. Stop and smell the roses.  Free your mind and the rest will follow. Let not only your body and your mind but the very fiber of your being, your soul (in both the theological and non-theological meanings of the word) take a rest.

Let me also be clear, lest there be no confusion. Laziness (or sloth if you will), is the Fourth Deadly Sin, and for good reason.  Physical laziness is clearly bad, and is a chronic problem in America. Our obesity epidemic is one part bad nutrition and one part physical laziness. Our environmental problems are partly attributable to physical laziness. How many folks are simply too lazy to walk up one flight of stairs and burn unknown amounts of kilo-watt hours using the elevator instead? I even think our economic collapse has elements of physical laziness. So many folks are too lazy to earn an honest living or provide real value to customers or society or business, instead they try to take the short road through lying on home mortgage applications, cheating people via pyramid schemes, or making horribly risky get-rich-quick investments. That’s laziness right there.

Public domain photo courtesy National Park ServicePart and parcel with physical laziness is intellectual laziness, as  evidenced by excessive TV watching, vapid internet surfing, pointless shopping sprees or chronic videogaming. Many people are too intellectually lazy to even ask questions of our leaders or their bosses or even their spouses. Fewer and fewer people read or write effectively, or even try to think their way out of problems, instead depending on others to bail them out or praying to God for salvation while having another box of Ring-Dings and watching Monday Night Football. How many people can’t even count change? Lots and lots.

The odd thing is, even lazy folks injure themselves through pointless, self-inflicted stress.  The chronic TV watcher bombards himself with cacophonies of action-packed movies, bitch-slap reality TV bickerfests, or pointless arguments on Fox News. The shop-a-holic exposes herself to a crush of traffic, a swarm of humanity in the checkout line, and that ludicrous self-inflicted drama of “does this look good on me” that serves no purpose. The chronic internet surfer or videogamer literally absorbs himself into a narrow, two-dimensional world where one must constantly point-and-click-and-point-and-click all for the next split-second fix of Flash-animated inanity in order to remain interested. So even the physically and intellectually lazy segments of society clutter themselves up with so much stress and noise, they too can benefit from a self-inflicted heavy dose of soulful laziness.

Public domain photo courtesy National Park ServiceWhat we need to do as individuals is occasionally enter that state that allows one to set aside all the petty, self-created stresses, and just sit there in a quiet, low-key space and watch the world go by for a few hours on the weekend, or a few days while on vacation. This type of laziness is a wonder and a marvel. It shuts off all the noise and all the crap that we either willingly enter or (far worse) create for ourselves. Now this brand of laziness must be earned and can’t be abused (you can’t live your life staring out into space or gazing into your own navel, that’s what puts you into “the home”), but, in moderation, this is what we need, what we all need, the entire country, for our own sanity and our own survival.

I think if there’s one hope, one bright & shining potential outcome from our current economic crisis, it’s the notion that maybe people will start to shut out the noise and self-propagated stress in our lives and learn to be soulfully lazy once in a while. I spent $40 for that kayak rental down the Delaware River, and I loved it, but soulful laziness can have the best price tag possible in tough economic times: it’s free.

Courtesy of Chamberlain Canoes

[The above picture is from Chamberlain Canoes’ website. I hope they don’t begrudge me using it here, they’re nice folks & deserve some props. All the other pics on this post are public domain from the National Park Service website. I also took a hike up to Dingman’s Falls, a few pics from that hike are here.]



Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Chamberlain Canoes

Google map to Delaware Water Gap

I normally have four links per post but I was just too durn lazy

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