Early in her paddling career, Samantha Christen, 44, a teacher living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, preferred a long touring kayak. A friend tried to convince her to take his Jackson Kayak Journey 13.5 for a paddle, but one look at its short waterline made her conclude that “it would paddle like a barge.” Eventually Christen took it for a whirl, however, and she was smitten. “My old boat delivered grace and panache. It was pure fluidity on the water, which is the way it should be, but I finally got my tail in the Journey and I was blown away! It nailed that body-water connection. I had been a brand snob and I guess I still am, but just with a different brand of boat. You’d be hard pressed to get me out of my Jackson.” You’d also be hard pressed to get her dog off the bow of her Journey, as Christen’s number one paddling pal is her pooch, Abby.
CanoeKayak.com: So, what do you love about your Jackson Kayak Journey 13.5?
Samantha Christen: While its 13.5-foot length puts it more in the light touring realm than in the true sea kayak category, the storage capacity, maneuverability, responsiveness and playfulness of this boat more than compensate for it not being another couple of feet longer (and thus, faster). I adore the fact that the Journey is super fun in the ocean and big water. I also truly love that it is fast enough to for me to log 50 miles in a day, while at the same time, being comfortable and roomy enough to store gear for several weeks off the grid. The coup de grâce is in the name itself. I revel paddling a boat called Journey. As in the grand journey of life itself, there are myriad more adventures to amazing places just waiting around the next bend in the river. I also find some deep-seated joy in the fact that the Jackson factory is an hour and a half up the road, and I can actually walk in and shake the hand of the folks who built my boat!
Tell me about one of those amazing journeys.
Well, there’s Nickajack Cave in Marion County, Tennessee. Today, it’s one of the most important caves in the Tennessee Valley because it’s a maternity roost for the Gray Bat, but it was historically important too. It used to be a refuge for Native Americans and river pirates. Arrgh! During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union soldiers mined it for salt peter, the principal component of gun powder. After that, it became a recreation area; they even had a dance floor in there. They did commercial tours too, as a train ran from the cave’s entrance to Chattanooga, but the cave’s partial flooding by the TVA ended those. Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, went there in 1968 intending suicide, but he had a spiritual experience that allowed him to kick drug addiction. There’s just so much history there, but today it’s reserved for the bats and the paddlers who reach it.
That cave lives up to its awesome name. How about a new place you haven’t paddled, but wanna?
That would be the Adriatic Sea. I paddled a mountain lake in Idaho where the water was so clear it felt like I was flying. I expect the Adriatic Sea to be like that. Plus, my mother’s family is from Crotia, so I want to connect to my ancestors’ homeland by paddle.
Do you recall a scary moment in your Journey?
I’ll tell you about one that was scary, funny, and cool. One of my girlfriends and I went to Myrtle Beach. We had played in the ocean all day with textbook launches and landings and all of a sudden, it went to Hell in a hand basket. A storm was brewing, but we wanted to play just a little more. Then, my friend window shaded. She got caught up in a wave that broke on a sandbar and it rolled her. We laughed and thought we’d go out one more time. Well, I caught it wrong at the exact same spot, and I got coughed up. I remember being on the crest of the wave and thinking, “Oh, crap, here we go.” I got my paddle parallel to the boat, tucked in, and window shaded. I was wearing a helmet and when that hit the sand, I saw the sun dappling through the waves. In that slice of a second, I saw the whirlpool action of the sand and the yellow of the sun and turquoise of the water mixing. Well, I popped up a little dazed, dazzled, and laughing. It was scary, gorgeous and funny all at the same time.
How do you get your dog to be your BPPF (Best Paddling Pal Forever)?
My Abby is 14 and a terrier mix. She’s spent half her life paddling with me. Some work before launching makes for safer, happier journeying, such as teaching your dog to sit and stay on command. Trimming nails increases traction. I also put carpet beneath the decking bungee on the bow of the boat. Sure, all dogs can dog paddle, but they need life jackets as much as we do. And whatever you do, don’t tether your dog to your boat. Leashes on land are good, but in a boat, they could be deadly.
And what’s paddling with a pooch like?
As soon as I pull a boat out of storage, Abby’s ready to go. She knows the drill better than I, sometimes to the point of falling asleep on or in the boat while waiting on me to get the gear together! Once the hull hits the water, she’s running in place, waiting for me to get in and give the okay to “load.” It’s not uncommon for her to jump on the deck before I can even get my skirt fitted around the coaming. Once we’re launched, we both settle into the rhythm of the water with Abby walking back and forth, ever vigilant of her surroundings and me unconsciously shifting and playing with edges to keep a stable platform under her as we slip through the water and all the elements combine for our journey in our Journey.