By Katie McKy
Photos and Captions by Harold Murphy
Harold Murphy is a septuagenarian who surprises. You might have ridden a bus, train, or plane with him, not realizing that the affable paddler’s Innova Safari inflatable kayak is packed in the cargo bin, waiting to carry him on yet another adventure. Murphy has his Safari 6,450 miles. Although he resides in Colorado, he loves meandering rivers of all regions, from Peru to the the American South to the parched Southwest. Of course, people ask why he’s not atop a Lazy Boy rather than a 10-foot canoe and he answers with the certainty of a 72-year old man: “Life is short! I’d rather reach 80 years of age saying, ‘Maybe I did too much in my life.’ rather than, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office working.’”
Why the Innova Safari and not a Kevlar, carbon, or Royalex boat?
It’s a great boat to take places. I can pack it into a travel bag with wheels, put my camping equipment on my back, and fly across the country. Plus, I can carry 14 days of food plus camping equipment, etc. and it is VERY easy to portage around the 100+ dams & obstructions I have encountered.
Your thousands of miles have been on meandering rivers. Why slowly-moving water?
I have been drawn to rivers since I was a teen. It’s a matter of curiosity. I just have to see what’s around that next river bend. With my Innova Safari, I found a way to reach and see that next river bend and the next and the next.
What are some of the places you’ve paddled?
My favorites have been the Susquehanna River (444 miles) crossing New York and Pennsylvania, the Colorado River below Hoover Dam to Blythe, California, with water crystal clear, and the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to St. Louis with 1,000+ islands to explore, canoe around, and camp on. I also loved the Buffalo River in Arkansas (100+ miles) with jaw-dropping scenery around every river bend, the Suwannee River in north Florida, with the absolute easiest camping in this country with free hot showers and indoor toilets, and both the Manistee and Muskegon Rivers of Michigan, gently passing through Michigan’s deep forests.
Do people ever wonder why you might choose a river as bustling as the Mississippi?
I see beauty in the sky and trees above me. To me, there is even beauty hearing the barges go “thump, thump, thump,” as they pass me. Then there are the campsites, when I get my tent set up, my coffee is hot, and I am on terra firma for a few hours! Of course, people can be condescending, asking, “Why are you canoeing the Maumee, or Manistee, or Susquehanna, or Mississippi, or Rock Rivers when you have ‘all the beautiful rivers in Colorado to canoe?’”
You delight in a fine campsite. Do you recall a particular primo site?
There was a small island on the Arkansas River within sight of the lighted Arkansas State Capitol Building.
How about a less than pleasant site?
I was on the Susquehanna River when a violent wind storm was building directly above me. I found a grove of brush, emptied my canoe of all of its contents, and dove into the brush. I used my folding saw and rose-pruning scissors to cut off some of the brush over my head, opened up a space large enough for my Safari, and that served as an emergency shelter. Voila, life was good again!