W hen you endeavor to paddle a canoe the length of the Maumee River, Fort Wayne to Toledo, it is better to write out the distance the first time -- one hundred and thirty miles -- and skip the numerical designation, 130 miles.
That is to remind you how far it really is by human measure. Taking the river's measure numerically makes it seem too short, takes too much for granted. Just a couple hours and change down U.S. 24 by car, right?
So it is that Matt Horvat and I plan to do the distance in four days, starting at dawn Tuesday in Fort Wayne and ending sometime Friday afternoon in downtown Toledo. If all goes as planned, if we are up to it.
That latter thought, of being up to the task, cycles through my mind because I paddled the Maumee end to end 27 years ago with John O'Meara, then northwest Ohio scenic rivers coordinator. We did it in just three days, and it was an endurance challenge. I was then 36 not 63, as now, and you never know till the last stroke at journey's end whether you can make it all the way.
In a way, doing the river by canoe smacks of a Tom Sawyer-Huckleberry Finn kind of adventure. Lazy summer days on a big, slow, brown river -- carefree, devil-may-care, taking life slowly, whatever comes along. Romantic, eh?
That surely is one way, maybe the best way, to envision such a trip. Don't take things too seriously, which is something we do all too much of these days.
But a lot of that romance melts away after the first few miles and first few hours, about the time the sweat is dripping into your eyes and off the tip of your nose, and the first blisters rise in your palms.
It is a mental game to stay focused in the present moment, a Zen thing, to resist the got-to-get-there-now mentality, to shuck the instant gratification and impatience with which we have become so imbued in modern society.
Matt Horvat officially is the Maumee River coordinator for the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, so this trip for him is a natural.
"My reason is to gain an appreciation for the resource I work daily to improve and protect," he said. "Though I work mainly on the other watersheds in the area, and have the luxury of being able to see most of them, the Maumee is vast, and in my personal experience unexplored. I want a firsthand understanding of it, its origins. I believe that people need an opportunity to directly experience the resource we work to protect. With that, we have a better appreciation and newfound determination to preserve and protect it."
Accompanying us in support on this summer adventure will be John Jaeger, retired natural resources manager for the Metroparks District of the Toledo Area, and Lou Hebert, a veteran area broadcast journalist. At times they will canoe with us, other times they will hopscotch ahead by car.
Mr. Hebert plans to freelance a video documentary under a "Fort-to-Port" theme, based on our experiences in the next four days. So doing has been a longtime interest of his.
As for Mr. Jaeger: "I've never done [the trip] before and I've always wanted to do it, I've always talked about it. I've studied and taught about the river, but now I want to get out there and see it." The naturalist in the 1980s was a member of the original Maumee River Action Plan Committee, which was formed to help plan and guide pollution cleanup.
He also has another tale to tell, about reliving the life of his great-great grandfather, a 19th-century Black Swamp doctor. More of that another day, on the river.
Last and not least, the Maumee River itself will have a story to tell, just as it told me a tale in 1984. It may be a different story now. The next four days will determine that.
Contact Steve Pollick at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.
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