I bought a kayak. This may turn out to be my latest fad buy. I’m not training for an intense plunge down a raging river of whitewater. That’s not something that has ever been on my bucket list. My ideal of paddling is very sedate. I put the kayak in the water at the boat launch down the road or at the park down the other end of the road and I paddle it in a big circle around the lake. That’s pretty much me in a nutshell: Buy a boat that most people use to shoot between boulders on the Colorado River at high water. Paddle it placidly in circles on a lake. I’m a low-impact kind of guy.

I’ve been thinking I would like a canoe, but My Darling B is not someone who cares to paddle a canoe with any regularity (once or twice a year would be about it), and canoes are too heavy for me to carry by myself. I’d need help getting it down to the water, let alone lifting it high enough to put it on a cartop roof rack. A canoe would probably spend more time in our back yard than on the lake.

One-person kayaks have never had much appeal to me because the ones I was most familar with were the plastic twelve-footers you can rent. They’re fat across the middle and flat on the bottom, which is great if your plan is to slowly drift down a quiet stream with the current, but whenever I’ve tried to get them to go anywhere, they were about as easy for me to steer as your average dairy cow.

About three weeks ago I was talking with a guy from the office who’s so into outdoorsy stuff, he and his wife have his and hers matching kayaks. The way he talked about the trips they’ve taken got me thinking about paddling again, and a few days later I found myself haunting the bargain racks at Rutabaga, a local store that specializes in canoes and kayaks. Unfortunately for me, the kayaks that are considered a bargain at Rutabaga had price tags that started at nine hundred dollars and went up from there. That’s practically as much as a new kayak and about five hundred dollars more than I was willing to spend for any boat, used or new. When I checked the used kayaks for sale on-line, they were no more of a bargain.

After two weeks of looking I started to think that, if I wasn’t willing to pay a thousand dollars for a kayak, maybe this wasn’t the hobby for me. As it turns out I didn’t have to.

Round about the end of June, I was browsing the used kayaks at Rutabaga when I found one for just $350.00. I strongly suspected that had to be a mistake, but I hunted down a salesperson anyway to ask if I could take it for a test drive. Rutabaga has a pond out back of the store where they teach classes in how to paddle, send customers off in rentals, and let potential buyers test the canoe or kayak of their dreams by paddling it around. As the salesperson helped me take the kayak down from the rack I asked about the price. No, that’s not a mistake, she said; that was the correct price.

“Well, then, I have to ask: What’s wrong with it?” I didn’t mean to be insulting, but if it was a fixer-upper, like maybe it had a hole in it somewhere that I couldn’t see, then I’d probably have to take a pass. But she said nothing was wrong with it. It was old, so it didn’t have the appeal the other kayaks had: the finish had lost its shine, the bungees and straps were frayed, but the hull was sound and the rudder worked. She helped me carry it down to the water, scrounged up a life jacket and a paddle, and after adjusting the foot rests and settling in, I took it for a spin, so to speak.

I knew I wanted it before I’d gone more than ten yards. It’s seventeen feet long and almost as skinny as I am (full disclosure: I’m not as skinny as I used to be), but the cockpit is almost as easy to get in and out of as the gaping cockpits of rental kayaks. It’s got a sharp keel fore and aft and it’s fitted with a rudder I can steer with my feet to keep it lined up straight as an arrow even when I lean hard on the paddle, which I’m not inclined to do most of the time, but it’s nice to know I can if I should have to. And there’s a big hatch behind the cockpit where I can stow a small trolley I use to move it from the car to the shore, or when I walk it down to the lake, leading it by the bow like it’s a puppy. The only thing it doesn’t have that would make it better is a wet bar, and I could probably improvise something for that.

I took it for a paddle the very night I bought it, making a big, slow circuit of the bay and didn’t fall in the water once, even thought I’ve had no training. (I’ve haven’t ever fallen out of a canoe, either, and I think there should be a medal or a patch for that, but so far I haven’t heard of one). And I’ve taken it out on one lake or another every weekend since. Luckily for me I can walk to two lakes from my house and paddle to three more that I can return from in just a few hours, a nice day out. I could paddle even further if I took food and a tent, but I haven’t decided whether I want to make this a lifestyle change yet or not. I haven’t gone camping in so many years that I’m not sure whether or not my body would remember how.

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