I thought David Bendlin’s idea to do a story about kayaking the Yahara River was a good one -- until I realized he wanted me to get in a kayak.
Bendlin, a retired Milton High School biology and environmental studies teacher, told me: “The Yahara River is very shallow and has almost no current to it. It’s a real slow-moving river, a good one for beginners.”
I thought about what I had planned for Saturday. I had nothing.
In fact, because of a knee problem, I’ve been doing a lot of rowing on a rowing machine. My arms have never been stronger. Was it a coincidence Bendlin was asking me to kayak? Yes. Rowing is “much different” than paddling.
“Kayaking involves a two-bladed paddle, end over end,” he said.
He continued to encourage me: “You’ll be in good company. There will be others who have never done this before. They’re excited but they’re also nervous.”
The trip sponsored by the Rock County Conservationists would take two to two-and-half hours, he said.
When you kayak in a river, you only go one way (with the current), he explained.
I couldn’t think of an excuse not to go. I even asked if my husband could come along and Bendlin said yes.
“You’ll enjoy this,” he said.
What was I afraid of? Navigating a kayak.
That said, I have been training for this, not kayaking, but participating in life. My goal with exercising regularly at age 41 is to be able to participate in new opportunities as they come along.
I started looking at kayaking videos online, while my children watched reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.” I considered what I might need to survive and packed a camera, a phone and Kleenex into a Ziploc.
On Saturday morning, 14 adults and three children gathered at Murwin County Park, in the Town of Fulton. Bendlin, who coordinates events and programs for the Rock County Conservationists, provided basic instruction. With rain in the forecast and expected at noon, we got going.
We parked some vehicles at the “take out” at Murwin County Park and drove other vehicles and the boats to the “put in” at the Stebbinsville bridge.
Many of us borrowed kayaks, paddles and life vests, which Bendlin arranged.
We selected paddles and life vests and sat in the boats on land. Bendlin helped us adjust the foot pegs. Paddling isn’t only about arms, it’s about rotating your torso, and foot pegs help with that.
One by one, we paraded our kayaks to the launch.
A legitimate concern for many of us was getting in and out of the kayak. It’s awkward. We entered our kayaks from the water’s edge and Bendlin was there to help. Getting in and getting going, however, wasn’t much of a problem. Stopping proved more of a challenge. When you’re traveling in a group, you sometimes need to wait for others. Stopping meant slowing down by dragging a paddle or reverse paddling, then hanging on to a tree branch, another kayak or anything you could along the shoreline.
I was glad we had to stop shortly after entering the water. It was then I remembered to breathe.
Bendlin with three others led the way in a canoe and warned us of obstacles ahead.
Otherwise, it was go with the flow.
We went over sand bars and ducked under trees. I may or may not have hit a log. Fortunately, our plastic kayaks were resilient.
Once I had paddled for awhile, I was able to take in the amazing scenery: the river, the grassy banks, the trees. Bendlin pointed to an eagle nest. We were shown a different view of the world.
Paddling itself became enjoyable. My technique, which splashed water on my lap, had room for improvement. I later learned “backsplash” is common, sometimes encouraged and the reason splash skirts were invented.
After a couple of hours, we stopped at an island. The children swam, while rest of us ate. I noticed Bendlin didn’t lecture us or tell us to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. He showed us how.
As we shoved off again, my arms burned a bit from paddling. (Others didn’t seem to have a problem.) I think I maybe tried to paddle too much. Nearing the end of our trip, I tried to see how fast and controlled I could go, thinking if I was one of the first people out of the water, I could take photos of others.
If I had been traveling alone, I would not have found our take-out.
Bendlin helped us get out of our kayaks, then reminded us we had a job to do – take the kayak out of the water and up to the parking lot.
All in all, kayaking is good exercise. Nothing is more motivating than survival, and we survived.
I am not ready to call myself an outdoor enthusiast, but I am enthused about the outdoors.