Paddle to the Sea
By Kris McNeal
A real life encounter…
Guiding Kayak Tours for The Duluth Experience is an amazing job! Not only do I get to be on the water – enjoying the fresh air & spectacular views – but I also get to share my love of paddling with our guests and encourage them in their own special Lake Superior experience – kayaking on the largest freshwater lake in the world – something very few people have had the pleasure of experiencing.
Each tour is different. We have a real diversity of people with a wide range of skill levels visit us on our tours. Folks from all walks of life experience surfacing loons, 1,000 foot ships, the sweet sound of music from Bayfront Park, great conversation, delicious lunches on beautiful beaches, and Lakes Superior’s rugged North Shore.
One tour in particular stands out in my mind… it’s a tour where I had an experience that I have only dreamed of!
It was a sunny morning on the lake and I was leading a tour with a group of six folks from the Twin Cities who had come to Duluth to cool off and relax. During the paddle, we came across an oddly shaped piece of wood floating by the canal. It sparked my curiosity so I paddled over and picked it up. This was no ordinary piece of drift wood floating by. I was astonished but I’d just discovered a Paddle to the Sea, sent off to find its way to the Atlantic Ocean through all five of the Great Lakes!
If you have never heard of Paddle to the Sea it is one of my favorite childhood books. The story is about a Native American boy who carves and wooden paddler and sends him off on an epic journey through the Great Lakes, eventually reaching the ocean. The small wooden vessel bared a message for people to follow. It read “please put me back in the water, I am Paddle to the Sea“.
I relished in the moment and shared the story with the rest of the group and then did what was asked and set him free. We continued on with our tour satisfied with the chance encounter with a legend of the Great Lakes. We paddled on up the North Shore and picked a beach for lunch. Upon finishing lunch on our secluded beach, we set out to return to our landing spot a few miles back in Canal Park. Not long into the return paddle, one of the guests shouted out to stop and he quickly paddled away off a ways from the group. Then he stopped and returned to the group with an object. Low and behold it was Paddle! It was the very same Paddle from a few miles away earlier in the day! We were shocked and excited and everyone wondered at the speed that Paddle was traveling. We again left him to chart his course and set off to Canal Park.
After returning with the group, I sat and thought about this unique experience. It filled me with wonder and fulfilled a childhood dream that I thought I would never realize. It was a wonderful experience and I was very happy to have shared it with this lucky group of paddlers. It is something I will never forget.
If you ever encounter Paddle on the Great Lakes, please be part of the team and help him along his journey. Hopefully one day he will be discovered floating along the shores of the Atlantic!