Alex Traynor and Noah Booth are up-and coming video bloggers who call themselves the Northern Scavengers. When I loaned these two weekend warriors one of my canoes for their latest big trip in the far north, I insisted they take one of my lightweight and durable Prospectors, rather than their sinkable, flat-bottomed scow. They couldn’t thank me enough and I think revered me as some kind of Jedi of the canoeing world.
They even called me Uncle Kev, as in, “Thanks for the canoe, Uncle Kev.” That was awkward.
The Word Is: Experienced
I get it. I’m a year away from getting a senior’s discount at my local pharmacy. I’ve been writing and making presentations at shows for well over 30 years. Traynor and Booth are 26 years old. My first book came out in 1990. For three decades I’ve been traveling the country convincing others to get outside and paddle. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all.
I can remember running rapids without a helmet. I know the feeling of a cold butt from the seat of a Grumman. I was a member of a canoe club that wouldn’t allow kayakers to join.
I attended the grand opening of the Canadian Canoe Museum. I not only remember the end of Royalex, I remember early Old Town ads introducing the revolutionary new material. I cried the day Bill Mason died.
I’ve lived through the era of Deliverance inspiring new paddlers to get out onto rivers. I’ve also witnessed the growth of websites having the word paddle in the title but nothing to do with the kind of watersports I enjoy.
I’ve watched the cult-like fervor for paddling books fizzle. I’ve seen canoe movies go from Beta and VHS to DVDs to YouTube. I got excited once filming a documentary in Quetico Provincial Park with a state-of-the-art high-definition camera. I just recently returned from filming a documentary in Nova Scotia with a 360-degree virtual reality camera.
I used to load actual 35mm film into the back of cameras. Dan Gibson nature sounds were once used while editing actual movie film instead of downloading your choice of digitally mastered loon calls served up by Google.
My first book, Killarney, was written on a type-writer. My second book, Cottage Country Canoe Routes, was saved on 5 1/4-inch floppy disks. A Complete Guide to Winter Camping was typed on a computer, saved digitally and uploaded to the Cloud—not one word scribbled on paper.
I showed trays of slides during presentations. I learned PowerPoint. Now I just Bluetooth my presentations from my phone—imagine saying that to an A/V guy in the ‘80s.
Radio shows have turned into podcasts. And these days, I do more live streaming on Facebook than face-to-face interviews on television morning shows.
Canoeing Will Never Die
Through all of this I’ve listened over the years to crusty, bearded, Tilley-capped men in plaid proclaiming, “Canoeing is dead.” They used to mail me letters. Then emails. Now I receive these doomsday decrees through Facebook Messenger. They write to tell me kayaks and standup boards will rule the world. They say canoeists will just fade away.
Take it from an aging canoeist who’s been around the bend on a lot of rivers—they’re wrong. Canoe sales have increased 110 percent since 2016. Canoeing has increased 40 percent, especially among young families and Millennials, since 2014.
Take for example the Northern Scavengers. Here are two guys roughly the same age as me when I launched my first book. They’re creating a community, with the technological tools of today, where campers of all levels can come to give or gain a little insight on anything backcountry related. On the Northern Scavenger website they’ve written, “The best way to appreciate the raw beauty is to immerse yourself in it. Camping is an unparalleled physical journey that can connect us to the land in the most organic way, and can bring us to places unbothered by the modern world.”
Bill Mason died 29 years ago and before the Northern Scavengers were born, but the boys have this Mason quote on their About Us page: “The canoe feels very much alive, alive with the life of the river.”
Canoeing will never die.
Kevin Callan is the author of 16 books, including the bestselling, The Happy Camper and Wilderness Pleasures: A Practical Guide to Camping Bliss. He is still presenting across North America and has been a key speaker at all major canoe events. Butt End first appeared in Canoeroots magazine 16 years ago.
Author: Kevin Callan