This column was first published May 6, 2006

Glorious summer we had last weekend, wasn’t it?

Coming off a successful Friday evening Paddle Smart symposium at the YMCA in Bangor I rolled out of bed Saturday morning to sunshine and rising temperatures. Thoughts of the previous evening’s event still bounced around in my head as I sat on the deck sipping coffee and reading an article in Sea Kayaker by Nigel Foster. He and his fiancé (now his wife) were on a paddling adventure around the tip of Labrador where they had numerous run-ins with polar bears. One involved a face-to-face standoff in which Foster fired off several flares from his flare gun. The monstrous critter barely flinched as the flaming rockets bounced off the ground in close proximity (no, he didn’t aim to hit the bear – there’s probably nothing more dangerous than a flaming polar bear, I’ll bet).

The adventure made for good reading, but I’ll not be signing up. It sounded about as inviting as a trip to Florida two teachers told me about at Paddle Smart Friday evening. Basically it involved an outing in a watercourse that featured snakes hanging out of trees near the shore and alligators here and there in deeper water – not to worry, though, because the alligators eat at night! There’s another paddling destination I won’t be visiting.

We may have cold water, rocky shores, and biting black flies, but give me them any day over critters that can devour you or inject you with lethal venom. Can you imagine a snake falling out of a tree and landing on your deck? It probably wouldn’t matter if it bit me, I’d already be dead from a heart attack!

After I gave my talk on equipment and clothing one needs for paddling in our chilly waters, I had a chance to wander around the symposium and stick my head into other presentations. Marilyn Turtelotte, park manager of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, was telling folks how to plan a trip on the waterway, and in another one Dave Mention, trail manager for the Maine Island Trail, had a great slide show and talk on the water trail, island stewardship, and Leave No Trace. In the pool, Karen Francoeur of Castine Kayak Adventures had a crew to demonstrate how to do self- and partner-rescues in capsize situations.

Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society President Kyle Duckworth coordinated a similar demonstration in the pool for canoeists.

I didn’t get a chance to stick my head into the Coast Guard talk put on by Ben Crowell, but I could see his “visuals” on the screen describing emergency radio protocols. The audience appeared to be watching and listening attentively. Sea kayaking guide and author Shelley Johnson talked about various kayaks and their strong points. Randy McEwen of Central Maine Navigation talked about GPS and navigation.

And Paul Travis of Bangor, former president of the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors, made his third appearance at Paddle Smart, this time to talk about the equipment you need to head to sea in your kayak. Poor Travis has been billed as someone else for each of his presentations at Paddle Smart. It’s a good thing he’s so good-natured. Maybe next year he’ll come back under his own name?

Meanwhile in the gym, there was hardly a moment when someone wasn’t putting their hand into the Marine Patrol’s touch tanks which contained such critters as a sea cucumber, a tiny lobster, a scallop, a clam, mussels, and some snails as well as edible sea weeds. In one corner of the gym, Epic Sports displayed an array of kayaks and gear while, in the other corner, Anne Powelson and her sons kept busy in the inter-active booth. The bucket of ice water challenge involved seeing how long you could stand immersing your hand in the cold liquid. The record was just over four minutes.

Dave Morrill was in between with a cool booth he and his wife, Deb, set up to talk about planning a kayak trip along the coast. They had a map of the coast dotted with hundreds of pins showing places they’ve paddled and visited.

There were other talks and presentations, but suffice it to say, this, the sixth edition of Paddle Smart, was well received by the 200-plus folks who attended. And a good many of them stayed to the end to test their luck in the door prize drawings. Winners walked away with two life jackets, a set of kayak roof racks, various Cascade Designs dry bags and a paddle float, and a certificate for canoe or kayak rental, all from Epic Sports, and a discounted evening paddle outing from Castine Kayak Adventures.

If you attended, you no doubt saw the league of volunteers who helped make things run smoothly under the leadership of Mark Goff. All the volunteers and presenters wore safety-green T-shirts with our new Paddle Smart or Die logo. The T-shirts and window stickers were done on deadline by Walter Thurston at Creative and Logomotion of Bangor (formerly T-Rex, 189B State Street, Bangor). The edgy logo features a skeleton holding a paddle, sitting in a skeletal kayak in the mud, with whimsical fish eyeing him. Thurston also provided the Paddle Smart banner and posters used at Cabin Fever Reliever, the Sportsmen’s Show, and the Boat Show.

When all was said and done we attracted some 150 newcomers to this year’s edition of Paddle Smart while 50 or so others were repeat visitors. Comment cards showed that the audience consisted of 80 percent kayakers and 20 percent canoeists, and they rated their skill levels as: 50 percent beginner, 43 percent intermediate, and 7 percent advanced.

What will be most rewarding for those of us who spent time organizing the event is if all 200-plus visitors always put on their lifejackets (personal floatation device) every time they get on the water, and that each time they head out they think ahead of time about the weather and water conditions and stay within their skill levels. We all want to see you next year for our seventh symposium.

Ride your bike

What with the high price of gasoline it shouldn’t take much of a push to get you to ride your bicycle, should it? I know I’m about ready to unearth mine. I know just what pile it’s under in the garage. I’m even thinking about making a trailer I could use to tow my kayak to the nearest launch site. (Not! But I know those types of trailers do exist.)

The reason I’m bike conscious is twofold: I used to commute to work nearly year round, and the other day I received a copy of the free Bicycle Coalition of Maine 2006 BikeMaine Event Calendar. You can go online at to see for yourself the myriad of bicycle-related events on tap for the coming months. If you can’t find something there that piques your curiosity, check your pulse.

One event that everyone should consider is the June 7 Commute Another Way Day. Here’s your chance to show others how it’s done. The 12th annual event encourages everyone to ride their bike to work that day (carpools, vanpools, public transit – bus, ferry, and rail – and walking).

Commute Another Way Day is Maine’s annual transportation event that promotes as cost-effective, healthy, and enjoyable alternatives to driving alone to work

Last year, according to, “more than 500 employers and 5,000 commuters got involved statewide, helping to reduce traffic congestion and auto emissions by eliminating 6,000 auto trips; 62,000 auto miles; 1.65 tons of harmful pollution; and $32,000 in commuting costs, all in a single day!”

On June 7 there are events planned throughout the state. Here in Bangor there will be a Commute Another Way Day breakfast celebration in Pickering Square downtown from 7 to 10 a.m. You’ll be offered breakfast goodies and coffee and need to register to win prizes.

The BAT Community Connector bus service will offer free rides to all riders June 7 as well. The BAT offers service in Bangor, Brewer, Veazie, Orono, Old Town, and Hampden. For schedule information, visit The BAT online or call 992-4670.

On Amtrak’s Downeaster, you can ride free on June 7. Space is available on most trains, but advance reservations are required and must be made prior to then. Visit The Downeaster online to reserve your free Commute Another Way Day ride.

Jeff Strout’s column is published each Saturdays.