Generosity abounds on river

Kindness of many power 'Fort-to-Port' journey

6/30/2011
BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
Matt Horvat rests his canoe paddle for a moment just after dawn Wednesay near Antwerp on the Maumee River during the 'Fort-to-Port' trip.
Matt Horvat rests his canoe paddle for a moment just after dawn Wednesay near Antwerp on the Maumee River during the 'Fort-to-Port' trip.

Blade outdoors editor Steve Pollick and a small team are canoeing 130 miles of the Maumee River this week from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Toledo and will be reporting daily on the journey.

DEFIANCE -- It was 11 hours and 8 minutes of paddling the upper Maumee River, 37- 1/2 miles from Antwerp to Independence Dam Wednesday, and the longest leg of a four-day Fort-to- Port canoe run was eased by the kindness of friends and strangers.

Start with Ranger Bill Fish, who oversees the village park at Antwerp. He agreed Tuesday to lock up our canoes and gear in the park utility building, a stone's throw from the river, to ease our logistics needs. Then he arrived at the park at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to unlock it and wish us well.

Next were Norm Rhem, an avid canoeist from Perrysburg, and his paddling buddy John Kusnier -- even though they didn't realize how valuable their generosity would be. They lent special bent-shaft paddles to my partner Matt Horvat, to try on the trip. Matt, in turn, lent me one of them.

After two days and nearly 70 miles of paddling since Fort Wayne, I don't know how I ever lived without one. These paddles have an offset to the blade, such that the blade is at right angles to the water and greatly increases paddling power and efficiency while reducing effort. A pair of these will top my Christmas wish-list. Our thanks to Norm and John.

Then there is a cook and server, whose name came to me only as Stephanie, from the Village Vagabond, a U.S. 127 restaurant near Cecil, Ohio, not far from the river between Antwerp and Defiance. She interrupted her late-morning breakfast schedule on the grill to sizzle up some handmade deluxe burgers and fries for a fatigued and famished canoe crew.

John Jaeger, who leads the support team on the Fort-to-Port, called mid morning from his cell phone downstream to Matt and I and wondered whether we just might like the all-American fave for a riverside lunch at Cecil Bridge. Are you kidding? Matt and I had been surviving by day on the river on energy bars and mineral water, breakfast and lunch. So what if it set back our pace. This isn't a race.

Ergonomic paddles -- lent by Norm Rhem and Jon Kusnier -- have been helpful in making the 130-mile trek down the Maumee River this week.
Ergonomic paddles -- lent by Norm Rhem and Jon Kusnier -- have been helpful in making the 130-mile trek down the Maumee River this week.

The vision of burgers instantly, unanimously, called a halt in our paddling when we reached the bridge. Goodness, real food. So thanks, Steph, for going out of your way. And thanks to teammate Jaeger -- ever resourceful, wonderfully knowledgeable about the Maumee River, its natural history, and hidden treasures [like local eateries]. And also one of the kindest gentlemen you ever will meet.

Finally, there is Cliff Martin, who runs a diesel engine business in Defiance, right across the road from Independence Dam State Park. He spied Lou Hebert, who is shooting video for a documentary on the river, and Jaeger, set up along the high banks upstream from the damn to shoot our late afternoon arrival.

Martin approached the guys and, having seen a support-canoe atop Jaeger's vehicle, asked if they were with the Fort-to-Port team. He freely volunteered his storage yard across the road to lock up our gear, like Ranger Fish, to help the cause.

You know, it is a special opportunity to spend four days on this scenic, winding river and absorb its solitude and beauty, grueling and sometimes numbing though the long, hot days may be physically. But it is even more special to experience unexpected gestures of kindness, generosity, and cooperation from people who don't even know you.

Just like all the kind folks who have left voice-mails and sent emails, wishing Matt and I well and Godspeed on our adventure.

The world's politicians -- all of them -- could take away and take to heart a serious lesson from these great folks from northwest Ohio.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.