My wife, dog, and I eagerly stepped out of the truck ready to explore the Whitney Wilderness in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. We unloaded our gear, took the canoe off the rack, and portaged in through the thick forested trail to find the water. Reaching the water is often the moment that stands out, after the work grind and the anticipation of the trip that feeling of freedom and proclaiming, “Wow, we are finally here!” in equal parts glee and reverence.

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We paddled out on the lake eager to explore the surrounding nature, watching with rapt attention for wildlife sightings of moose, loon, and bald eagle all while looking for just the right site to pitch the tent. The plan was to camp for a few nights by way of the canoe, a Kevlar Mad River Explorer recently acquired off Craigslist. It had sat in a garage waiting for water, but never so much as had a chance to float. The seller was a widow who was pleased to find a young buyer with outing plans in the near future. Surely her husband would be glad to see the boat being put to service as it was never intended to remain in the rafters.

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Mad River Explorer

If you haven’t tested modern materials in canoes and kayaks you would be doing yourself a service to experience the benefits. They are a far cry from the heavy aluminum or rough thick plastic you may have experienced in your youth. The light weight and balance of these watercrafts on one’s shoulders allow for productivity instead of perspiration along the portage trails, and effectively lets the wilderness explorer reach further into the backcountry.

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As we reached our campsite the dog bursts out of the boat after patiently waiting with eager anticipation of adventure. Like a young child, everything is new, everything is a first. The smells and sounds and sights take over, leading him as he races to each and every point of interest until utter exhaustion. He finally collapses on a soft bed of pine and hemlock needles in the sunshine, eyes opening and closing as he moves in and out of consciousness. He lays right near the fire with only the energy to swat a paw at a buzzing insect now and then. His first experience has now led to seconds and thirds and anytime we so much as pick-up an item of camping gear his tail wags with enthusiasm. He knows, like us, that whatever the weather or length of trip that the effort to get there will be worth it.

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Despite making frequent trips to wilderness destinations, each is filled with a personal connection with nature that provides irreplaceable benefits to our quality of life. The hours of paddling through clear cold waters under northern skies recharge our minds and spirits while also lowering our stress and anxiety levels. The exercise, fresh air and sunlight provide a host of health benefits that once commonplace now seem to be a challenge to acquire in our modern lives. Along the way we fish and forage and feel as though we are participants in nature and not just spectators. All the while we greatly respect the land designation rules and do our best to act as stewards leaving each place better than we found it. We also do not look at nature as wallpaper, but rather it is through the act of gathering and processing firewood, setting up camp, catching and cooking dinner that we feel as though we are truly part of it.

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Just like time behind the steering wheel on 4×4 trails, the progression of experience has led us to a confidence that has pushed our comfort zone each time, thus allowing us to challenge our abilities and test the limits of our gear. Regardless of the tools and techniques, the boat you choose, or the truck that transports it, nothing brings our five senses to life like nature. The visceral thrills and memories of adventure travel and outdoor recreation awaken within us inspiration, appreciation, gratitude and a joy for life.

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