“Camaraderie, one-ness with the real things in this world, flow, the opportunity to push my limits.” These are words my friend Kaj Bune uses to describe the motivations behind his passion for outdoor adventures.
Roots Rated interviewed Kaj and describes him as “an adventurer, philosopher, and family man.” I know Kaj from his work at Exped, one of Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s long standing corporate partners and a maker of exceptional expedition equipment. Whenever I meet with Kaj, I have a sense of connecting with a kindred spirit and reading his words further confirmed my sentiment.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail links people who share this sense of wonder at connecting with the natural world and with people and ourselves through that medium. I began asking friends of the trail to put their inspiration into words.
Mike Lynch, a 2011 thru-paddler and NFCT Communications Director, pursues the outdoors for “Freedom and the possibility of coming upon a majestic scene that is out of the ordinary.” Photographers like Mike and Kaj turn the aesthetic beauty of landscape into art and an expression of their experience. Their work feeds me when I am confined to places where I can’t access the real outdoors directly. But I am no photographer. I have views etched in my memory, and they remain there for my personal perusal.
As a water trail, the NFCT brings together people who paddle, but most of us have diverse interests outdoors. Kaj goes on to say, “If you’re asking which activity is my favorite, I realized long ago that I can’t pick one. … But I can say that my favorite circumstance is one of uncertainty. I like the feeling of not knowing the route or where the campsite will be or what obstacles will be in the way – as opposed to having the entire thing copied out of a guidebook.”
The beauty of paddling rivers is that you always know where you are going, but you don’t always know where you are. When I paddled the Cotahuasi River in Peru in 2005, we had loose beta about the bigger rapids, and we knew we needed to reach the take out before we ran out of food. We pored over our topo maps at every stop, taking pleasure in reading the landscape to determine our progress. Getting away from the comfort of routine and finding my way with a map and a compass forces me think and act more consciously, even when I return to the habits embedded in daily activities.
Asking your body and mind to do more than you are certain you can is particularly satisfying. When I first met Matt Polstein from New England Outdoor Center he was sitting with James Francis from the Penobscot Tribe and – like many before them – they couldn’t stop talking about the gruelling trip they had recently made over Mud Pond Carry in northern Maine. Sometimes a long and challenging expedition provides the inspiration, it might be a single rapid run cleanly after much deliberation, or an endurance race like the Adirondack 90-Miler. No one returns from a trip to talk about how easy it was, the challenge makes a story worth telling.
Laurie Chandler in her book Upwards, describes the impact of a particularly bad swim and its aftermath on her NFCT thru-paddle saying, “Those two dark days were now a part of me. They had changed me in ways I only partly understood. I was tougher but also far more humble. More respectful of nature’s power and of my own. The blessing of each new day, whatever it brought, was a gift not to be wasted.”