Monday, August 17, 2009

Pole Position

So why did we really buy a 12' pole with a sharp metal tip from Ralph Frese and strap it to our trailer?

It wasn't just to make kabobs with the Chicago pedestrians. Here are 10 good reasons everyone should own a canoe pole:

1. Six inches of water. A canoe paddle will take you places a motorboat can't go, but a canoe pole will get you places even a paddle can't go.

2. Traveling upstream. You can go straight up real, honest to goodness rapids (watch the video at Reason #8).

Hidden benefit: no more shuttles.

3. Because poling downstream is called "snubbing." Lay that on some EPL at a cocktail party.

4. Standing up. It was the one rule you were taught about canoeing as a kid and now you get to break it. The hidden benefit here is the view. Most of you have never seen what a river looks like from up there (plus it's good for scouting rapids).

5. Because poling is ”the other side of canoeing”.

6. "Rock-a-Copters."

7. Because we're already half way through the 2009 canoe poling calendar of events

8. Poling up the Snoqualmie with poor old Kaw-liga. You can tell that's really Rob Cannon in the video because of the red Dagger and the straw hat. But if it's not Rob Cannon, we're going to sue his ass because Afternoon Tea Fires are the intellectual property of the RRCC.

9. Poling is how Thoreau (or "Saint Henry" in Goodbye to a River, p. 74) got up the Penobscot River.

To avoid the difficulties of the portage, our men determined to "warp up" the Passamagamet Falls; so while the rest walked over the portage with the baggage, I remained in the batteau, to assist in warping up. We were soon in the midst of the rapids, which were more swift and tumultuous than any we had poled up, and had turned to the side of the stream for the purpose of warping, when the boatmen, who felt some pride in their skill, and were ambitious to do something more than usual, for my benefit, as I surmised, took one more view of the rapids, or rather the falls; and, in answer to one's question, whether we couldn't get up there, the other answered that he guessed he'd try it.

So we pushed again into the midst of the stream, and began to struggle with the current. I sat in the middle of the boat to trim it, moving slightly to the right or left as it grazed a rock. With an uncertain and wavering motion we wound and bolted our way up, until the bow was actually raised two feet above the stern at the steepest pitch; and then, when everything depended upon his exertions, the bowman's pole snapped in two; but before he had time to take the spare one, which I reached him, he had saved himself with the fragment upon a rock; and so we got up by a hair's breadth; and Uncle George exclaimed that that was never done before; and he had not tried it, if he had not known whom he had got in the bow — nor he in the bow, if he had not known him in the stern.

At this place there was a regular portage cut through the woods, and our boatmen had never known a batteau to ascend the falls. As near as I can remember, there was a perpendicular fall here, at the worst place of the whole Penobscot River, two or three feet at least. I could not sufficiently admire the skill and coolness with which they performed this feat, never speaking to each other. The bowman, not looking behind, but knowing exactly what the other is about, works as if he worked alone. Now sounding in vain for a bottom in fifteen feet of water, while the boat falls back several rods, held straight only with the greatest skill and exertion; or, while the sternman obstinately holds his ground, like a turtle, the bowman springs from side to side with wonderful suppleness and dexterity, scanning the rapids and the rocks with a thousand eyes; and now, having got a bite at last, with a lusty shove, which makes his pole bend and quiver, and the whole boat tremble, he gains a few feet upon the river.

To add to the danger, the poles are liable at any time to be caught between the rocks, and wrenched out of their hands, leaving them at the mercy of the rapids, — the rocks, as it were, lying in wait, like so many alligators, to catch them in their teeth, and jerk them from your hands, before you have stolen an effectual shove against their palates. The pole is set close to the boat, and the prow is made to overshoot, and just turn the corners of the rocks, in the very teeth of the rapids. Nothing but the length and lightness, and the slight draught of the batteau, enables them to make any headway. The bowman must quickly choose his course; there is no time to deliberate. Frequently the boat is shoved between rocks where both sides touch, and the waters on either hand are a perfect maelstrom.

Henry D. Thoreau, "The Maine Woods," 1864

10. Because according to Bushwhacker Wilderness Adventures in Ontario, Canoe Poling Tip #1 is... "Get a pole."

P.S. Cooks, you might want to check out the recipes under "Camp Kitchen" at Bushwhackers. Tomato leather sounds like it might pair well with squirrel.

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