Contributed by JR Pate
I had been on multiple multi days trips with my buddies fishing for bass and smallmouth in AL & TN prior to 2006. That year I landed my dream job with work and made the move from Tuscaloosa, AL to Lexington KY. I picked KY out of multiple states offered and I quote “Because it was still in the SEC and could watch Alabama football.” This was prior to kids & marriage so my priorities were pretty wide open.
I was in a new town, dream job traveling most of the time and didn’t know anyone for miles. I found comfort in hauling my kayak on weekends to a place off the river the locals called the Palisades. I would paddle a mile up river turning into a side creek that had the darkest & coldest water I had ever seen. Each side was bordered by sheer rock cliffs as high as I could see.
Many mornings the fog was so thick inside the rocks that by lunchtime you could barely see the ducks swimming in front of the kayak. It was perfect, peaceful & gave me comfort living in a new town.
After completing these solo paddles for a few months; I began to look for ways to add more to my adventures. Living in a city alone was not how I wanted to remember turning 30. I made the decision I wanted a new adventure to remember my 30th birthday that July. I would do a solo overnight trip on the Green River in KY 16 miles in roughly two days with one night on the river. The guy who provided my shuttle thought I was crazy and offered this advice as we drove back from dropping off my truck. ” I’ll drive by tomorrow evening after dark, if your trucks still here – I’ll send for help. ”
Packed with backpacker tent, rod, few snacks and a Beefy Macaroni – just add water dinner bag my adventure began. I remember the excitement and nervous energy I had as the guy pulled out of view from the launch site. It was now Me, Mother Nature and my OldTown 9.5 ft kayak along with small cheap handheld GPS. This was also the extent of my preparation including the first aid kit packed in my dry bag with some spare clothes.
Looking back I was very naive of the circumstances and what could have gone wrong. I was living an adventure. That night I made camp on a small island with water rushing over the rocks on each side. I watched deer & turkey feed that evening on the shoreline across from me while eating dinner. I knew the night time would keep me awake with my adrenaline and being alone in a strange area so I had packed an MP3 player to listen to music as I fell asleep.
The next day I learned many lessons of an overnight trip. After a finesse morning of fishing with little results I soon realized I was behind on my paddle miles. It appeared I would need to move quickly due to a summer storm to catch up. I started later than planned the day before and spent more time fishing, enjoying the scenery than keeping up with my miles paddled.
I now had a 12 mile paddle to reach the takeout spot before dark and tried to beat the weather which created a dead wind into my face. As I paddled out I wanted to be done long before I would finish. The time passed quickly and the miles were slow because of the wind and my short kayak. The few breaks the wind provided were spent catching up on the miles I lost keeping the kayak straight.
I remember thinking why didn’t I break this up into more days or start earlier the day before. I spent too much time finesse fishing the evening before and this morning. I should have not made camp until I got the to the halfway point of the trip. I told myself “JR – you wanted adventure, well big boy this is what you got” as I transitioned mentally to I would not be defeated. I had no options but to keep paddling forward.
Thats the story. I made it back to the takeout before dark and loaded up my kayak exhausted but feeling accomplished. The greatest lessons of all. I learned the biggest hurdle to adventure is putting the kayak in the water or just taking the first steps. Solo overnight trips weren’t intimidating after that. I should have been more prepared with better planning but I lived my own adventure. At some point in life we find ourselves miles behind but we keep paddling forward.