Unlikely Paddling Destinations
This story featured in the May 2013 issue.
As we sludge through knee-deep mud to drag our kayaks into Bayou Teche, I recall my doubts about finding quality paddling in Cajun country. But soon the mild current takes hold, whisking us through a gauntlet of oaks past fish shack and sprawling estates. The cool fall air, devoid of the swarming bugs I'd expected, reminds me of how little I really know about Acadiana.
Fortunately, Cory Werk is our guide to Louisiana's longest bayou. Three years ago the Los Angeles transplant veered off his Ivy League career path, deciding to "drive 2,000 miles east on I-10 and take a right" to Southern Louisiana. He settled in his grandmother's hometown of Breaux Bridge—the so-called Crawfish Capital of the World, perched on the edge of the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge—where he's hoping to bring recreational paddling to southwestern Louisiana.
"There's just something to taking the path less traveled I guess," Werk says as he veers again, this time to the right, blasting over the plastic gutter that separates the bayou from the Ruth Canal. It's a straight, and silent, shot west as the egrets above let us know we're leaving town, heading deeper into swamp-world.
We pull the boats up a bank, grabbing fresh pecans from the slit of soggy ground before dropping into the ancient cypress maze at the edge of Lake Martin. We break on a floating dock and watch the sun set into a wide canvas of gray streaks as we snack on the hand-cracked pecans and fresh rice-sausage boudin. I haven't felt this relaxed on the water in years.
"The landscape is amazing and there's such a density of wildlife, but it's really the people and the culture: the food, the music, the dancing," says Werk, noting that early May primetime when the birds flock, the Spanish moss drapes the cypress green, and the mild weather conspires with the town's biggest music festivals of the year.
On the dark paddle in through the ghostly trees, I realize that when you suspend what you think you know about a place, sometimes the best paddling happens when you least expect it. On the following pages, you'll find six other mistakenly overlooked spots to discover for yourself. — Dave Shively
|Cache La Bayou, Arkansas
The best thing about searching for a formerly extinct bird is that it can force you out of your comfort zone. Take Bayou DeView, for example, or any of the other adjacent bayous, swamps, and sloughs within the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Arkansas.
|Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn N.Y.
Each time he crossed the Gowanus Canal, Frank Minna, the small-time wise guy in the novel Motherless Brooklyn, quipped that it’s “the only body of water in the world that is 90 percent guns.”
|Salton Sea, Southern California
Don't let the high salt content and a few dead Tilapia littering the briny mudflats of the Salton Sea sway your decision to paddle California's largest lake.
|Kayaking Detroit, Michigan
With soaring unemployment and an economy Milton Friedman could only shake his head at, visiting Detroit isn't on many people's bucket list these days. But if you're into non-motorized boating, you may want to give Motor City a second look.
|Cuyahoga River, Ohio
Did you ever hear about the river that caught fire? That was the Cuyahoga. The waterway was so full of industrial waste that its surface burned no fewer than 13 times, including the devastating 1969 blaze that helped spark large-scale environmental policy initiatives. These days, it's a great place for a paddle.
|The Hanford Reach, Washington
These days, folks at the Hanford Site spend most of their time cleaning up the mess left by the nine Cold War reactors and five plutonium enrichment plants along this scenic 51-mile stretch of the Columbia River in Southeastern Washington.