By Chelsea Jondreau
A week or so ago, I found myself in a life jacket, holding a paddle for the first time in two years. It felt long overdue. I was by myself, so I was in a kayak. Honestly, I personally prefer a kayak over a canoe whether I am with others or alone. Canoes are great, especially when with another person and carrying coolers, camping gear or even a dog in the middle. Kayaks are my first choice though. They are easier to paddle, significantly more comfortable for me and just as easy to stop paddling on a calm patch and relax. A tiny dip of the paddle in the water will quickly course correct if you find yourself drifting in a circle.
I so often find myself hiking and forget that paddling in a canoe or kayak is a similar venture just on a different substrate. You can choose your pace, your distance and the difficulty level. I like getting to experience the outdoors in a variety of ways, but over the past couple years I mostly stuck to doing it by foot on a trail. The change in perspective allows me to appreciate the same things I may already see from the shore in a different way. I also tend to paddle at a much more leisurely pace than I hike, so I have a lot more time to look around and observe the changing shoreline and river as I paddle between towns and forests.
I don’t own a kayak, mostly due to a lack of space and storage availability, which means I don’t go kayaking or canoeing often. There have been periods in my life where I went canoeing every weekend, but more frequently I only end up in a canoe or kayak a couple times a year. After I moved to this area, I found that Allegheny Outfitters (AO) in Warren, PA was going to be my lifesaver when it came to my growing need to get on a river again.
AO both rents kayaks and shuttles you up and down the river, so I am able to kayak by myself without worrying about sticking with a guided group, having to transport gear or spend a lot of time looking at routes and water levels. You sign up for a trip and if the water is in any way unsafe, they contact you to cancel or reschedule, along with providing regular updates on their social media. Since they make this whole process so easy, they are usually pretty jam packed all summer, but I’m not the biggest fan of being in the hottest summer sun, so going in September is my first choice anyway.
I will say that the warm, sunny Saturday of a holiday weekend is hardly the best choice for solitude. I was far from alone on the Allegheny River on my way from the boat launch by Allegheny Outfitters to Buckaloons Recreation Area. I passed veritable flotillas of kayaks in groups numbering four to fifteen and canoes attached side by side floating down the river. Motor boats carved out a place as they went back and forth creating a wave pool out of the river for anyone they passed. Plenty of people had also tucked their boats on the sides of the river to fish.
Luckily, even though I was kayaking by myself, I had no need to be truly alone. Unless someone is being an absolute terror or wildly unsafe, I usually enjoy seeing who else is enjoying the river when I am out there. And for some reason, there is always a kayak towing someone in an inner tube down the river. Every time.
Being on any river gives you a chance to see different wildlife and plants up close. I found myself in the middle of a mass of water striders in front of and next to my kayak. There are birds that are more commonly found by water, whether they are in the water like the ducks and geese or soaring overhead like the eagles. Just as in the woods, the fewer people around, the more wildlife you are likely to see, but a lot of animals have acclimated to having people around so it’s still likely you will see, or at least hear, them as you head down the river.
As you skirt around fallen trees or shallow sections, you can notice the different plants growing in and on the edges of the water. Occasionally, as happened last weekend, a fish flops out of the water and falls back in and leaves you wondering what was going on down there. The Allegheny, as with many large rivers, is often murky and difficult to see any distance down in the deeper sections. Even though you are paddling in the middle of the river, it is often still a mystery as to what plants and animals are doing below you.
Kayaks, canoes or any other kind of water based transportation are just another great way to experience nature and explore the outdoors. Sometimes I wish that I had my own kayak, and I probably will someday, but for now I’m content slathering on some sunscreen and truly enjoying those days on the river even if they are few and far between.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is partially open, including restrooms, the Blue Heron Gift Shop, and some exhibits. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.