Do you know how easy it is to kayak? I didn’t either until I tried it about 5 years ago. Upper body strength is not typically part of my self-description. However, reclined in the cock-pit or on top of an open kayak with a long two-bladed paddle, I found, much to my surprise, that I can move the boat through the water smoothly and quickly.
It has for me both the empowering and soul-awakening qualities of hiking a mountain. While I’m not a skilled paddler or an Adirondack 46er, having done both a handful of times has opened up a new world to this girl who grew up in a nearly treeless, flat, land-locked suburban landscape.
We played outside often enough, on manicured lawns or on the sidewalks and paved cul-de-sac. Only a decade earlier our neighborhood was acres of cleared farmland; brief forays into the nearby waist-high grasses of the easement owned by the power company were our closest brush with anything “wild.” Water and woods were at least a few miles away and beyond our range as kids.
Both of my parents grew up in the city, living on quarter acre (or less) lots. We did not camp. We did not boat. We did not hike. As kids, we swam in chlorinated pools and played neighborhood-wide hide-and-seek ducking behind sheds, patio furniture and perfectly trimmed shrubs. Look in any direction and you saw a house just like yours.
Before I did it, I didn’t know I could hike myself to the top of a mountain or paddle myself across a bay to the outlet into a Great Lake. It turns out that bush-whacking through high weeds behind my childhood home and honing my swimming skills in the neighbor’s pool were not just “play.” My sense of adventure was whetted by suburban outdoor adventure make-believe.
I’ve now hiked to the top of an Adirondack peak and paddled a whisper-quiet kayak past a snowy egret. I still don’t camp (I know my limits), but our city-lot-sized neighborhood borders on a leafy Olmsted-designed park with hiking trails overlooking the Genesee River. Four miles away is Lake Ontario and another old-growth park full of ponds and trails.
A deep woods hike or a long kayak paddle now reminds me of a romp through the backyard weeds or a peaceful float in the pool. Often I feel the tug of that Summer Classic: Outdoor Adventure.