Friday, January 2, 2015

132 Miles: A Year's Worth of Adventure on a Used Kayak

I've always liked canoeing and kayaking, anything that lets me paddle on the water, since I was a boy at camp. In fact, I clearly remember hating all things about a camp I attended one summer as a child, except for the time I spent in a canoe.

The Clinch kayak trip that started it all.
Tabitha and I  had been renting kayaks from River Sports Outfitters, a local shop here in Knoxville, for about $35 for a tandem for two hours.  It was a nice way to get outside, get some exercise, and see stuff.  We enjoyed it, but weren't too invested.

A kayak in a garage takes up space.
Until we went on a big paddle with a group at the end of 2013.  It was after that experience that we decided that buying a kayak might be in our future.  But kayaks, like most serious outdoor equipment, are expensive: you get what you pay for and quality isn't cheap.

675 miles over 11.5 hours of rain and Atlanta traffic couldn't shake this off.
So, we scoured the local classifieds, checked out the used gear from River Sports, talked and listened to experts and generally obsessed over finding a good used tandem kayak.  Then, the day before a trip to Florida to visit family in November 2013, I decided  to check the Tampa area Craigslist, and behold: there were three (three!) tandems of one of the makes and models I had identified.  One of them was just two miles from my father's house!

Our maiden voyage on a cold day in February.
We checked it out, and borrowing my dad's truck bought it for $675 cash: a Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T.  (The "145" stands for 14.5', and the "T" stands for tandem.)  With a rudder.  And inflatable life vests.  And paddles.  We thought we'd scored.  But had we?

Tellico, our favorite and most frequented spot.

We couldn't find out right away, because we'd flown to Florida, and try as I might, I could not fit it into my carry-on.  So, I secured permission to store it in my dad's garage until we visited again for Christmas, which I was grateful for.  Storing a 14.5' boat in the middle of someone's garage is a significant favor.

Up Citico Creek off of Tellico Lake.
Christmas time came quickly, and we had already rented a car (something we do often - why put miles on our own cars when we can find a good deal for a rental?).  The giant-kayak-on-the-floor was wearing thin at my dad's, so it was up to me to secure an upgrade that would put us in a car with a roof rack to tote that boat home.

Lake Santeetlah, NC.  We've put in some miles there.
Fortunately, the clerk at Hertz was a nice guy, and even after explaining to me that they don't like you putting things on the roof rack, he let me go pick a car that had one.  I ordered some good kayak cradles online that worked well with our new kayak, and after the holiday drove 11.5 hours back, through the rain and Atlanta traffic with a 14.5' boat-shaped wind sail strapped to the roof.

Miles traveled, 2014.
So was it worth it?  Our first paddle of 2014 was a warm-enough (barely) weekend in late February, and we finished the season in TN in mid-November.  During those months, we paddled our boat on 22 trips, which comes out to an average of one paddle every 1.6 weeks.  By my calculations, we traveled over 132 miles on our boat, with an average trip of 5.76 miles.

Paddling downtown at sunset to watch the fireworks, 7/4/2014.

Watching fireworks from the river.  Best seat in the city.
As far as the boat goes, I've had to repair the rudder cables and replace the rigging for the straps the connect the foot pegs to the rudder cables as a result of the cable repair.  It's an older boat, so I've  spent some time applying protectant coating. I also installed tie-downs, hooks, and shock cord to make paddle holders. We bought new paddles, too; the ones that we bought with the boat were ridiculously heavy.

Left-side: protectant.  Right-side: bare.
I built a storage system using a bike hoist system mounted on heavy-duty pocket door track that I cut and installed.  The hoist drops the boat into a sling made out of nylon webbing that I constructed.

Hoist and track system.

Sling cradle made with nylon webbing.
There have been some additional costs, a few odds and ends that make your life easier, but as far as the boat goes, that's how much we've invested.  In that time we have visited 16 different places, met plenty of great people, done the best kind of exercise (the fun kind that you don't know you're doing!) and generally had a blast.  We've watched sunsets and fireworks, floated (mild) rapids and paddled quietly by moonlight.

I think it was worth it.