By Cecil C. Hoge, Jr.
But rather than tell you how good it is, perhaps I should tell about how I use it.
I live on the water and I paddle at least 10 months a year. In the winter, my tidal bay tends to ice over for one month or so and if the ice is thicker than a 1/4″, I forego paddling. Simply put, I don’t want to be a ice-breaker.
Aside from the relatively short period when the bay is frozen solid, I go paddling everyday I can and that includes paddling on every winter’s day when the tide is in, when the ice is minimal and when the weather is passable – yes, I do not like to paddle in driving snowstorms or in winds over 25 mph.
People often look at me like I am crazy when I tell them that I paddle in the winter because it is cold. Yes, it is, but I point out that most people dress warmly and go outside during the winter so it is not that impractical to paddle outside. You just have to dress warmly. I value a warm jacket, warm gloves, warm shoes and various layers, but I find that on most days, no matter how cold it is, I am comfortable. This should be understandable from the fact that paddling is a form of exercise and just the act of paddling keeps you warm.
You might ask doesn’t paddling get boring? Yes, it could if you are bored by endlessly changing scenery. The fact is that when you paddle the same conditions are never repeated even if you paddle along the same general course. This is because the tide is always different, going or coming at one level or another, the weather is always different and what you see along a paddle is always different.
One of the pleasures of paddling in winter are the many different birds you might see along the way.
In the picture above, I am guessing one duck is a Mallard male and the other is his wife. You may have to look carefully to recognize the wife – she is very modest.
The pictures taken for this blog were all taken on January 3, 2011. I did not go out of my way in taking these pictures. In winter my little bay, cleverly called Little Bay, is often filled with swans. Swans pay kayakers little mind (I probably should say kayaker since I am the only one they ever see). This makes them very easy to photograph. I pass literally hundreds of birds every day I paddle. Here are some more.
Herons do not like humans. I think they remember when they were giant flying dinosaurs and humans were little snacks to be picked off on a slow day of hunting.
I have a theory about winter paddling and that is that it is very healthy. I think breathing the air when paddling on salt water clears out your lungs and helps ward off colds. It’s just a theory – I cannot promise that it will work for everyone, but it seems to work for me.
If you ask a serious kayaker why they like to paddle they may not be sure just what to answer. Yes, they like the exercise…yes, they like seeing different kinds of birds…yes, they like the fact that something is always different. The sun, the clouds, the tide, the wind, the weather, the time of season, the time of day…every time you go paddling the surrounding elements are different and in flux – this is both soothing and exhilirating.
But I think it is not just the changing scenery that makes paddling interesting, exhilirating and plain fun. There is another word I would like to suggest. It is the horizon that is visible when you are paddling – the sheer open spaces that come into view without the obstructions that are so normal to everyday views. Think of it, when you go out of your front door, there a lot of things immeidately in view…a car, a driveway, a hedge, a road, a telephone pole. But when you are paddling, often you come to places where your view is not obstructed by objects. Literally, the horizon in front of you expands and seems limitless.
This may not seem exciting as a description, but I think if feeds an inner calm that most of us seek and long for. Even when you go for a jog, there is not much of a horizon visible. Usually, you are on a road with no great expanse of horizon in view…with houses and telephone poles and mail boxes. This is the great difference with paddling for there is a true horizon and it seems limitless. There is no path, there is no road, there is no set course, you may paddle where you will and along the way you come across unobstructed views. Of course, many will say it is a stupid and crazy idea to paddle in winter when your fingers might get chilled, but I will tell you oh no, your fingers will be as warm toast if your paddling in winter, because your hands are moving and exercising all the time so cold is simply not a factor.
Add to the warmth factor the fact in winter that you generally are out there by yourself – in my case I only see an occasional clamdigger. There are no mighty Mastercrafts charging back and forth with skiers in tow, there are no large yachts or small boats crusing back and forth, the waterways are no longer crowded, they are left empty, pristine, remote and all to yourself. Winter is in fact a nice time to paddle.