Kayaking into a New Year
Nothing says Happy New Year like a day on the water. In a kayak. At least that’s how we’ve rung in January 1 every year since my first kayak appeared under the Christmas tree in the late 90’s. It was quite a few years down the road (or river) before we realized it was officially a midlife tradition for hubby Alan and me. Which is why we were determined to make it work this year, despite the sub-zero temperatures and the icy waterways.
I can’t think of a more symbolic approach to January renewal than water. Maybe we should have started a swimming tradition, but I doubt we could have sustained that. No, it’s more of a silent paddle into the future. Sometimes on a beautiful tree lined lake, sometimes along a littered river shoreline, but always, always with a right head and heart.
When we decided to return to St. Louis on New Years Eve, we didn’t really think about the drastic temperatures, since we have plenty of outdoor gear to make most weather conditions bearable. We also didn’t think about the length of time that the temps have dipped below freezing, creating inaccessible lakes and small rivers. Even the larger, deeper waterways have icy shorelines, creating dangerous launch conditions for our touring style kayaks. We would have been better off staying further south where the big lakes flow year round.
But St. Louis offers some great kayaking spots, and the winter scenery is breathtaking. The view from the Meramec River today included artistically twisted tree trunks, eagles soaring overhead, ice shelves jutting out into the channel, and a still, ice-encased pool of water. Which means we couldn’t get far, but distance has never been our New Years goal. So we paddled around the confines of our pool, watching the water flow under the ice formations, chipping away at the edges, and watching the droplets freeze onto our paddles. We could hear the distant drone of Valley Park highway traffic, but we were grateful that we found moving water close to a trail, so we could add in a short post-kayaking hike.
I should share a few logistical notes for anyone wanting to cold weather kayak. Of course, safety comes first. That means being familiar with the body of water, using the buddy system, wearing appropriate clothing and a life jacket. The Meramec River can be dangerous, so assess before you access. Secondly, we insulate the bottom of the kayak with yoga mats. Most years we wear our repellant skirts that divert water over the sides of the kayak, but today we left them off since it was a slow paddle and there were no whitecaps or winds to spray us. And lastly, make sure you bring drinking water in a thermos that won’t freeze.
Wherever your traditions lead you, I wish you a healthy and happy New Year.