The Zephyr.

It belonged to my friend Jeff. I first paddled it about 6 years ago, and I fell in love. It fit me perfectly. Sitting in a hole and surfing, it felt right. “It likes hips,” said Jeff, alluding to the fact that the boat fit me better than it did him.

Me + Zephyr, circa 2008.

Me + the Esquif Zephyr, circa 2008.

But at the time, I was a kayaker, not a canoeist. I already had a whitewater boat. And Jeff wasn’t selling anyway.

Fast forward to last fall. I had been getting more into open boating. Coincidentally, Jeff also wanted to sell his Zephyr. He had a lot of other canoes that got more use. But at the time, I wasn’t in a financial place to shell out the cash. Luckily, the boat went to our mutual friend Adam, with the stipulation that I could borrow it if he wasn’t paddling it, and that if he ever wanted to sell it, I’d get first dibs.

That day arrived. Adam wanted to sell the Zephyr, and offered it to me. This time around, I could say yes.

And so, last night, I picked up the boat I have wanted for years. Now, I just need to go paddle it — again.

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Paddleboard lessons.

This summer, I taught paddleboard lessons at Seven Points Marina as part of my gig with Rothrock Outfitters, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience—both in how to effectively teach a particular skill and in how to quell my anxiety about the situation. I’ve never thought I was a great teacher, but I love getting people outside and doing all the things I find so valuable in my life, and building confidence in those who don’t feel they are capable of doing those things (especially women).

The first few lessons were a little bit awkward (at least from my perspective—I think I am too much of a perfectionist), but with each week, more and more kinks got ironed out and holes patched. The nervousness I experienced at the beginning of each lesson slowly began to fade, and then disappear. By the end of the summer, my clinics had a very logical flow that seemed to make sense to people and help them ease them into being comfortable on the boards and figure out how this whole paddleboarding thing works.

Of course, it helps to have wonderful students. Some of my favorites were two ladies who also happen to be best friends since high school and do everything together. The two ladies informed me at the start of their lesson that paddleboarding was on their “bucket list,” and they added that “skydiving was next.” They were so incredibly silly, joyous, and full of life that I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. And while I was able to boost their confidence and get them doing something that they were slightly nervous about at first, they also boosted mine, and reminded me why I do what I do.

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Goofing off. Photo courtesy of Jean Moore.

Myself and the ladies.

Myself and the ladies. Photo courtesy of Jean Moore.

My weekly lessons are over for the season, but I’ll be guiding some fall foliage paddles this fall (see Rothrock Outfitters website for details), and I plan on doing more clinics next summer — most likely adding a river SUP class in addition to my beginner lessons on the lake.

Cleanin’ up.

Canoes full of old tires, rusty metal, and garbage bags full of bottles and cans were not an uncommon sight on the Juniata River last Sunday, as 55 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds floated down 6 miles of river as part of the 2nd Annual Juniata River Cleanup, hosted by Keep Huntingdon County Beautiful and Rothrock Outfitters.

These two were a trash-collection machine!

These two were a trash-collection machine!

Evan did a great job maneuvering "The Barge", which was used to collect larger items.

Evan did a great job maneuvering “The Barge”, which was used to collect larger items.

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Despite high and muddy water conditions, we collected 147 tires and 4.33 tons of trash! The Juniata is that much cleaner!

Tony and Greg work together to move a washing machine.

Tony and Greg work together to move a washing machine.

Pop-up camping frame=biggest find of the day.

Pop-up camping frame=biggest find of the day.

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Plastic baby legs=weirdest find of the day.

Thank you to everyone who came and helped out!

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Also, thank you to Boxer's Cafe for the delicious lunch!

Also, thank you to Boxer’s Cafe for the delicious lunch!

 

Earning breakfast.

This morning, I gave up my day to sleep in to meet my friend Marci for an early bike ride. Coffee mugs in hand, music in the background, we drove the quick commute to her parents house, where we would begin our ride. The plan was to ride from their place in Williamsburg to a cafe in the next town over, a distance of about 14 miles, and then ride back.

The day began slightly chilly and cloudy, a bit of mist still hanging in the micro-valleys, the sun struggling to peek out. We pedaled along the country road, corn and silos rising up all around. Every now and then, we’d be passed by a car, but it was still quiet on this Saturday morning.

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The road was rolling, each little uphill rewarded with a coast downhill. We rode at a leisurely pace, Marci commenting every now and then on a house or a gravel lane, telling stories of her youth spent here. We passed through several small villages, and many dairy farms. Cows turned to watch us as we rode by, occasionally mooing. Sometimes I mooed back.

A little after 8am, traffic increased, my stomach growled with hunger, and we entered the town of Martinsburg, parking our bikes in back of Mamie’s Cafe.

One sinfully delicious doughnut and an enormous veggie-filled omelet later, we were on the road again, headed back to Williamsburg via a slightly different route, discovering unexplored roads.

The Saturday morning bike-to-breakfast is a good tradition. I think we’ll do this more often.

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Rural Central Pennsylvania.

 

The moment when the sun shines through.

It began in frustration, perhaps even a tiny bit of anger. Mostly at myself, for things undone, feelings unjustified. I pedaled out of town, determined not to come back until I felt better, until the burning of my thighs and the pounding of my lungs and the wind upon my face had fixed whatever it is I was frustrated about, cleared the cobwebs in my head.

I pedaled hard, as if to push the negative feelings right out of me. The rain and storms that had been lingering all day had finally passed, the sun struggling to peek out from the remaining clouds. The road was nearly deserted, the weekend warriors gone home, the day trippers retired for the evening. Pavement turned to gravel, cliffs rose above me on my right, the river slowly meandered on my left.

I rounded a bend, and suddenly, rays of light appeared, beaming through the trees, illuminating the road in front of me. I stopped, stood there for several moments, and felt a calm wash over me. I was no longer frustrated, no longer upset. All was well again. I smiled, and mounted my bicycle once more.

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The rest of the ride was a peaceful one—one of discovering new roads I’d never biked on before, quietly observing several deer and a family of turkeys go about their business, barely acknowledging my existence. A long climb to Ridenour Overlook was worth the view of the lake and the mountains and valleys beyond, and the clouds rising from the water. The ride down the mountain was exhilarating, thrilling. As I crossed the 4th Street bridge back into town, the setting sun cast a beautiful orange hue over the Juniata River below.

I had returned feeling 100% better than when I started. Often, a little solo pedaling time is enough to cure just about anything. I think that’s pretty cool.

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“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking. ”   -Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

             

Denali High.

In the summer of 2012, I took a trip that changed my life. The year leading up to it had been rough to say the least, riddled with sorrow and depression and the grief of losing someone I thought I’d get to spend a whole lot more time with. I was lost, feeling purposeless and passionless, spending evenings getting drunk to forget, because it was too painful to remember.

Then I heard about an internship opportunity through Penn State, where I had gone back to finish my degree after a couple years off. Helping collect vegetation data in the backcountry of Alaska, somewhere I had always wanted to visit. I applied, and was accepted for the position.

And thus, I found myself spending the summer in Denali National Park with a woman who would become one of my best friends, hiking up and down mountains and across icy rivers, spending a week at a time camped out far from any signs of civilization. It felt like I was getting back to my roots. The energy and optimism that had been gone from my life for too long began to return. I began to feel whole again.

I journaled a lot during my time there, while spending evenings basking in the summer sun that shone nearly 24 hours a day, on a rocky beach beside the river. Looking back through that journal recently, I found a passage that I particularly enjoy, one that talks about the feeling that Rachel and I had dubbed the “Denali High.”

 “The clarity of thought that comes with this state of mind is incredible. Never in my life have I felt so sure of myself, so optimistic about life, so convinced of my dreams and goals. And yet, at the same time, never in my life have I been so happy to simply be in the moment. I seemed to strike the perfect balance of enjoyment of the present while planning for the future. Suddenly so many of the problems that I had been struggling with seemed to be resolved. By my second week in the backcountry, I felt better physically, mentally, and emotionally than I have in a very long time…if ever. I found a piece of myself that I always thought I had but never could get to show itself very much in the past. Denali has made me a better person. Its mountains have made me physically stronger. Its challenges have made me tougher. Its beauty has filled me with wonder and inspiration that I hope I will carry with me even after I leave this place. And suddenly, I find that this experience has healed a part of my soul that was broken. A piece of me that had died was revitalized here. And for that, I will always be in love with Denali.” -H. Kotala, July 2012

 

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Denali sunrise.

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Jackson Kayak stand-up paddleboards.

Last week, the shop got in some new paddleboards from Jackson Kayak, and a few days ago after work one evening, a small group of us took the opportunity to try them out on the Juniata River. A relatively short stretch of river from the Warrior Ridge Dam to Huntingdon is a favorite for evening paddles and testing out boats, as it’s mostly calm water with one large rapid and several other great opportunities to play.

The Jackson Kayak SUPerCHARGER and SUPerNATURAL are the latest in an ever-growing lineup of stand-up paddleboards offered for sale or rent by Rothrock Outfitters.

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The SUPerCHARGER is designed for rivers/whitewater, while the SUPerNATURAL is longer and slightly narrower, a better bet for lakes but still able to hold its own in some rapids.

Both boards are much more stable than many of the others I’ve been on, even when standing all the way on one side or the other, or all the way forward or back. We had a lot of fun standing as far back as we could on the boards so that the nose was up in the air, and spinning in circles.

The boards are also clearly very durable and virtually indestructible, a must when navigating rock-strewn rivers.

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Headstand attempts.

Headstand attempts.

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The SUPerCHARGER is very maneuverable, but, as expected, doesn’t track as well and takes some extra effort to paddle in flatwater. But it navigates rapids like a champ and surfs like a surfboard. We’re all looking forward to trying it out on some bigger whitewater.

Jake gets his surf on.

Jake gets his surf on.

The SUPerNATURAL seems like a great board for an all-day river trip or overnighter. Both boards are equipped with straps to hold gear, making paddleboard camping much more logistically simple experience.

However, one of the notable downsides to both of these boards is their weight. At about 60 pounds each, they aren’t the easiest to carry, especially solo. We also found that the foam on the deck of the boards tends to be very slippery when wet, especially for bare feet.

But overall, the consensus is that we like them a lot, and we’re all pretty excited to have the Jackson Kayak SUPs as part of our fleet.

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Sitting or standing, these boards are a bundle of fun.

Sitting or standing, these boards are a bundle of fun. Stay tuned for more SUP adventures!