Every once in a while I need to do something to satisfy my sense of adventure. Early this July that meant spending six days paddling down the Allegheny River, Kinzua to Emlenton, 107 miles. It was a trip that I had dreamed of for years, but the planning and preparing had never come full circle until the morning of July 5 as my good friend Andy Thies and I slid a 13-foot aluminum canoe crammed full of gear into clear water below the rumble of the Kinzua dam.
I think that a sense of adventure is something as primal as the sight of a great blue heron stalking fish in morning river fog and as innate as man's attraction to water. We all have a sense of adventure, but it can mean a whole spectrum of things depending on who you are talking to. To some it might just mean a visit to Wal-Mart, to others, Everest. For Everett and Thies (because of course, that sounds adventuresome) it meant paddling 20 miles a day, camping on wilderness islands, and cooking over an open fire. It meant discovering a sense of isolation, falling into the rhythms of nature, just getting away. And we did. We got far away, further every day. Our arms ached every morning but it was a good ache, an invigorating one. As our paddles cut through the water we knew we were getting closer to something, and not just Emlenton. We were approaching a balance between man and nature. Life was starting to make sense.
And it's true, life on the river makes a lot of sense. Things slow down. Worries are basic: food, water, shelter. You don't care what's on TV, a good campfire is your nightly entertainment. You might even forget, if only for an instant, that TV exists altogether. Fireflies, sunshine, birds, trees, the leathery looking carapace of a basking softshell turtle - you pay attention to them. You think, "Who needs a car when you have a canoe?" Mornings aren't something you dread to wake up to. Mornings are glorious: The water is calm, the blanket of fog that has settled overnight begins to lift, birds sing and fish splash. When you are living day-to-day, simply, without worry, eager to see what's around the next bend, it's hard to imagine any better way to live. Discovering that feeling, that one of belonging, that lifestyle of being, that's what adventure is all about.
In the early morning, a crack of lightning pierced the sky, the earth was rattled by thunder. I'm surprised I didn't fall out of my hammock. As we pulled clothes off the line to throw in Andy's tent and made sure tarps were fastened, I paused to look across the churning river. Full moon, a red-tinted clear sky threatened by a single menacing cloud. I didn't sleep the rest of the night, but moments like those were why I went on that trip. Moments where I felt humbled by nature and time. A few stand out: Watching hundreds of bats skim the calm evening water in search of insects, looking skyward to the awesome majesty of an eagle taking flight from a branch above my head, portaging around rapids and paddling through others, seeing the first bear of my life lumber into the woods.
Some people's lives are a continuous adventure. Photographers for National Geographic, bush pilots, and rock climbers certainly fall into that category. On the other side of things, I'm sure some people have yet to experience an adventure. That's okay too, but adventure can and is much more than traipsing around in the wilderness. Adventure involves exploration, and not only exploration of things, but exploration of self. An adventure lets you find out things about yourself that everyday life keeps hidden. On my canoe trip I discovered that I really can survive a week without showering - not that is really that important to know, but you get the idea. So get out there and find an adventure. Take a hike through the woods, climb to the top of that mountain you drive by every day but have never taken the time to explore. Satisfy your inner adventurer and have fun doing it.
On the last day of the canoe trip the sun reflected off the silt-stained water as Andy and I reflected on five days of excellent paddling. The water wasn't always silty. Below the dam it was as clear as glass. It was a changed river now, broader, slower. And I think the two adventurers in the canoe changed a little bit too. Even if it wasn't a major change, we approached the sound of the I-80 bridge that signaled the end of our trip knowing that, like the river, we too were somewhat broader. We walked away with a better understanding of life, and with the privilege of having seen some of the most beautiful sights that this corner of the world has to offer. You really can't get much better.
"A sense of adventure can be as simple as hiking a new trail, or an old trail with new eyes. Audubon's five miles of trails can be an adventure in itself. We are located at 1600 Riverside Road, between Warren and Jamestown off Route 62. The trails are open dawn to dusk, and the building is open daily 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Sundays when we open at 1. Visit our Web site www.jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345 for more information.
Rex Everett is a volunteer at Audubon and is greatly anticipating his next adventure. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.