The Art of the Miniature Adventure
On (and Off) the Water
Big Trips get most of the hype in the paddlesport press, but how many of us can afford to take a Big Trip every time we need to get away from it all? Not many of us. And the solution? How about a miniature adventure? Farwell didn’t invent the idea. It’s writer Richard Frisbie’s brainchild. But it’s open to anyone with a boat and a dream. And in this, the last of a three‑part series, Farwell tells you how it’s done.
by Farwell Forrest | May 29, 2018
Originally published in different form on July 26, 2005
I‘ve said it before, I know. Still, it’s worth repeating. The miniature adventure is the escape clause in life’s contract of obligations. It’s adventure on easy terms, close to home and on the cheap. But it’s real‑life adventure, nonetheless. Every miniature adventure is a leap into the unknown, with all that this involves. Guidebooks only rarely offer guidance, and there’s no outfitter to turn to for timely reassurance or good advice. In short, you get no guarantees. To go adventuring is to place your stake on the table and risk … well … what, exactly? Disappointment, at the very least. And possibly more.
But that’s no reason to give it up before you’ve tried it. After all, this is one gamble where it’s easy to beat the house. Last week, I outlined two guiding principles. The first? Think Small. And the second? Slow Down. There’s just one more: Be Prepared. Not very original, I admit. In fact, it’s the hoariest of clichés. No matter. Like many other clichés, it embodies an important truth. When you travel off the tourist trail, you’re on your own. The success of your adventure—sometimes even your survival—rests on your shoulders. If you fail, or fall by the wayside, there’s no one else to take up the slack. That’s a big responsibility, and it’s not to everyone’s taste. But it can also be liberating. Nowhere is this more obvious than when you’re …
At the Water’s Edge
Of course, you didn’t just drop out of the sky. You studied maps and recced the ground, and you found just what you were looking for. Now you’re gazing out at the water and wondering what comes next. You notice that your heart is beating a little faster than usual, and you try to decide whether it’s excitement or apprehension. The answer? It’s probably a little of both. You’re in good company. For thousands of years, men and women have stood looking out into the Unknown, wondering what lay ahead, and most of them have felt the same intoxicating mixture of exhilaration and fear that you’re feeling right now. It makes sense. You’re happily anticipating an adventure, but you also know that you can’t pass the buck if something goes wrong. And you are about to head off into the Unknown. Close to home or not, the pond or stream before you is one you’ve never paddled.
OK. You want to enjoy yourself, don’t you? And you want to get back home in time for Sunday dinner, with nothing more than sore muscles and a few mosquito bites to complain about. Showing up at work on Monday rested and refreshed is one hallmark of a successful miniature adventure. What’s the secret? There isn’t any. Just apply the three principles I mentioned earlier, beginning with…
You don’t measure a miniature adventure by the number of miles you cover. It isn’t a race, and there’s no floatplane to meet at the end of the trip. Your weekend escape is a success if it enlarges your world, refreshes your mind, and relaxes your body. Period. If you spend the whole time trying to coax a trout to come to a fly in a pool only two hundred yards from your put‑in, that’s just fine. You don’t have to apologize to anyone. You had a good time, and you got back safely. Nothing else matters. In fact, the best way to ruin a miniature adventure is to try to do too much or go too far, or to burden yourself with a long and difficult car shuttle at the end. That’s why you might want to try an “amphibious” trip, one that combines cycling and paddling. With a folding bike and trailer and a capacious inflatable, you can even bring your land transport with you on the water. Then there’s no need to return to your put‑in at the end of the trip. (There’s also no need to hide your bike and trailer from prying eyes, and you’ll never have a moment’s worry that they won’t be there when you go back for them.)
If you’re like most paddlers, though, you’ll probably decide to drive your car to the put‑in. It’s still best to end the trip where you began it and avoid an awkward, time‑consuming shuttle. That’s easy if your destination is a lake or pond, or a chain of lakes linked by short portages. But it’s not so straightforward on moving water. The solution? Begin your trip by going upstream, then drift back down to your put‑in. What could be simpler? No, you won’t cover as many miles as you would by going with the flow the whole way. But so what? You don’t get points for mileage on a miniature adventure. And there’s something else to consider. You’re less likely to get into trouble if you make your initial approach to obstacles or dangers from downstream. It’s pretty hard to get muscled into a sweeper or swept over a dam when the current’s pushing you the other way, and since you’re probably exploring without benefit of a guide (or a guidebook), that’s important.
Does this sound too easy? Some people think so. In a world in which progress is often equated with productivity—another word for doing more work in less time—it can be difficult to break the habit. But your Christmas bonus doesn’t depend on how much water you put under your keel, does it? The workaday world isn’t called the rat race for nothing. When you take a weekend off the job you probably don’t want to speed up the treadmill. You want to…
Begin as you mean to go on. Take time to savor the fragrance of the balsam fir at the put‑in. Once you’re on the water, play every inviting eddy again and again till you’ve exhausted all its possibilities. Then give your paddle a rest and listen to the call of a distant loon. And at days’s end, watch the soft evening light dance on the ripples till the red orb of the sun drops below the horizon. Later, just before sleep claims you, look for the silver V of a beaver’s wake in the light of the full moon. Take all the time you need. It’s your time, after all, and time is your most precious possession. Spend it wisely. Don’t squander it rushing from place to place.
Slowing down pays other dividends, too. You won’t get into much trouble on moving water if you scout each drop carefully, no matter how easy it looks from your boat. And the slower you go, the more you’ll see. (That’s Colin Fletcher’s Law of Inverse Appreciation again.) There will be times when you’ll have to push hard, of course, but such times are rare on miniature adventures. If you find yourself hurrying to get to a campsite ahead of other boaters, you’ve probably picked the wrong place to spend your weekend. Choose another destination next time.
That brings us back to preparation and planning. And the takeaway message here is to…
There’s nothing new about this. Whether you’re paddling ten miles from home or ten thousand, many of the same considerations apply. Bring everything you’ll need, and not one thing more. (A getaway pack is the ideal luggage for weekend adventures.) Wear your life vest. Always. Learn how to fix broken gear—and mend broken bodies, too. Drink enough to keep from running dry, in hot weather and cold alike, and be sure to replace the salt you lose in sweat. Wear clothing that keeps your engine (that’s you!) from freezing up or overheating.
Most important of all, never forget that practice makes perfect. No matter how many years have passed since you first picked up a paddle, there’s always something new to learn. Each river, each stretch of seacoast, each beaver pond, has something to teach you. Stay humble. Shun the temptations of hubris. Remember, too, that the most dangerous hours of your life are probably the hours you spend on the road. No experienced driver needs to be told that, I’m sure, but it’s easy to forget in the holiday excitement of the trip to the put‑in. I’ve had hundreds of close calls on the highway for each one I’ve had on the water. I’ll bet that you have, as well. And amphibious paddlers, those hardy souls who cycle to the put‑in rather than driving, aren’t immune. On the contrary. They have to be especially careful. They’re freed from the often stultifying confines of their steel cages, to be sure, but this freedom comes at a price. Make a mistake behind the wheel of a SUV and you stand a good chance of walking away from the crash uninjured. Make the same mistake while you’re balanced on two wheels, however, and it could easily be your last. There are no airbags on a bicycle.
What can you do about this? Practice. Just as safety in a kayak or canoe has little or nothing to do with the boat, and everything to do with the experience and skill of the paddler, cyclists also hold their fate in their hands. It’s a responsibility no paddler or cyclist can duck, but it’s also among life’s greatest rewards.
That’s it. We’ve gone from dreaming over a map to paddling into the Unknown. Call it an escape from the everyday, workaday world in three easy steps, if you like. The rules are simple. Think small. Slow down. Be prepared. It couldn’t be much easier. You, too, can get away from it all and still be back at work on Monday. The miniature adventure is open to anyone with a boat and a dream. And that means you.