Kayaking Buffalo


The safety video in the rental office cautioned kayakers not to go past the lighthouse.  I immediately decided that I was going to the lighthouse.

I walked to the launch point.  It was a short walk away, only a few minutes, but seemed farther.  I was wearing flip-flops.  I crossed railroad tracks.

There was a couple in front of me and I had to wait a little while for the twenty-something boat attendant to help me.  I stood in the shade.  It was in the 80s that day, a little hotter on the water.

From where the boat launch, there were basically two directions I could go: left toward a nature preserve and right toward downtown.  I asked him where the lighthouse was.  He said that it was past downtown.  Beyond the lighthouse, boats can have breakwater behind them and the water is choppy.  I started out.

Silo City sits along the water and features huge grain silos.  These are massive, a couple hundred feet in the air, casting shadows along the water.  They are tattooed with old lettering, the paint faded.  The Friday afternoon sky was clear with few clouds.

I paddled under a bridge I had driven over the previous day.  Traffic sat idling above me.  A light changed. The engines accelerated overhead.

I passed a rod and rifle club and a few waterside restaurants.  Tiki boats moved by  occasionally.  These were roughly octagonal, topped with thatch and featuring a circular bar in the middle.

The density of boats and activity got heavier as I approached downtown.  Bass thumped from a waterfront concert; I could see the stage.  An interstate stretched high over the water funneling cars in and out of town.  A Coast Guard battleship was moored on my right.  Massive, gray, it seemed to take several minutes to paddle past.  I felt very small.

The canal wound and curved.  I kept an eye out for the lighthouse.  I kept an eye on the time.  It was a 2-hour rental and already 45 minutes had elapsed.  I also kept an eye on the amount of water I had.  I have kayaked a handful of times before.  I try to remember to use my entire body and not only my arms. Still, fatigue was setting in.

I was nearing the mouth of the lake.  About 30 sailboats were parked in a marina and another 10 peppered the water.  Motorboats purred past.

The water made one final bend and I could see the lighthouse.  I cheered.  I was probably 500 feet or so from it.  The lighthouse sits where the lake meets the canal.  Grey rocks surround it.

The water rocked with the increased traffic.  I was now the only kayak I could see.  I counted my strokes.  I counted 50 and then took a moment to see where I was.  The kayak bobbed and popped.  I counted another 50.   A group of Canadian geese floated by, their eyes on me.  I counted another 50.  I rested a moment.

The water was growing more and more choppy as I approached the mouth of the canal.  I was in a kayak, by myself, in a place I’d never visited before.  I did not feel fear, but a growing sense of caution.  I was beginning to reach my own limit.  I was now just about parallel to the mouth of the canal.  On the opposite side of the lake was Canada.  I felt satisfied and called it.  I took a couple celebratory pictures and turned around.

The trip back took a little less time.  I knew where I was going.  Deeper in the afternoon, there was now a little more shade than there had been on the way out.  Still, it was not downstream and I did have to continue working pretty hard.  I was on the opposite side of the water and saw a different landscape.  The world in shade, different pockets of graffiti, concrete, birds, overhanging trees, their branches stretching over the water, little groves created by the branches.  It was cooler here and I moved a little more efficiently.

A drawbridge lifted on my way back.  I saw a father and son stopped in the water, looking up.  Approaching them, I registered the repeated ringing, like a railroad crossing bell sounding, but less frequent.  It seemed like it would clang into eternity.  Then the entire platform lifted.  I imagined a massive destroyer lumbering up the canal.  I was a little disappointed and mildly surprised when a two-decker yacht came up the water.  It was just tall enough to require the raised bridge.  As the drawbridge lowered, I lingered, looking up at the massive steel supports and then continued on.

I dawdled once the boat launch was in sight, bobbing softly in the shadow of the silos.


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