Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We Can Imagine

August 11, 2012
A visit to Olmstedville, NY

Wherever there is a channel for water
there is a road for the canoe.
It is said that some Western steamers
can run on a heavy dew,
whence we can imagine what a canoe may do.
HDT, The Allegash and East Branch, 1864


I’ve been paddling a plastic kayak for about three years now, having lots of fun with it on the river and ponds around here. It has floated me on Walden Pond, and some of Thoreau’s favorite rivers, too. It weighs thirty-eight pounds, is nine feet long, stable as hell, and fits inside my car.

But I knew, years ago, when I first saw my neighbor Margaret’s boat, that its days were numbered.
One day, there was a yellow canoe in the upstairs hallway of our apartment building.
“It’s a Hornbeck,” Margaret said. “Pick it up.”
Well the darn thing hardly weighed anything !
Not being from around here, I had said, “What’s a Hornbeck?”

Soon I seemed to be surrounded by people who had these boats, my pal Jackie among them.
She is a tireless promoter of them, since they are ideal for people who cannot lift or carry heavy boats. It has freed her and many others to explore ponds that require a lengthy walk to get to, or just to go paddling alone, without needing help loading and unloading.

For about a year, she has offered to let me use her boat, for an hour, or for the day, and I resisted feebly, offering up a bunch of lame excuses.
A month ago, I gave in, and tried it.
We had been paddling at Pyramid Lake, and I had experienced a pretty hard time keeping up with her in my kayak, the ironically-named Swifty.

She said quietly, as so many times before, give my boat a try.
As soon as I got in, and paddled a few strokes in that Hornbeck,
I knew the Swifty’s time was up !

Three weeks ago, I found myself eating pizza with Peter Hornbeck and his crew, under the maple tree in front of their boatworks. (This is part of their high-pressure sales technique, apparently.)
Most people who make the drive to Olmstedville already know what they are searching for.
That's Pete in the red hat. It's certainly a unique experience to visit his shop in the woods. And to meet the folks who would be building your boat right there.

After test-paddling several boats and paddles in their pond, it was time to make a decision. (Justin is one patient guy !)


Yes I waited another whole week, then went back for more test-paddling, and before leaving that day, ordered a ten-foot BlackJack.

Two weeks later – yesterday – the boat was ready.
I’ve been like a kid unable to get to sleep on Christmas eve,
just from the an-ti-ci-pa-tion.

My buddy Rick came over from Vermont, and once again we took the drive north to the boat shop. After doing some final fitting-out, the new boat went for a dip in her native pond.

She’s a thing of beauty, and weighs all of twelve pounds.
Guess what? I still can't sleep!
Dreaming of what a canoe can do.


  1. Everything about Hornbeck boats is delightful, from the folks who make them to the friends who paddle beside you in them. Your post brought back all the excitement and pleasure I felt when I got my first Hornbeck and met the great people who make them.

  2. hi ellen I remember our paddle with Jackie at Ripple Rocks cove (giant snails !) - and Jackie now I won't have to beg off when you suggest going there again via the woods trail - ! looking forward to more riverine adventures now

  3. Awesome!....I still have to be patient, but my day will come eventually as well...

  4. Nothing quite like a brand new boat! May it take you on many pleasant journies!

  5. Hi catharus and al,
    really I just got my first boat only 3 years ago... it feels like I have gone from a Model T to a Tesla !

  6. I enjoyed looking at your pictures. Really great shots.

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