The Detroit River is cold. Really, really cold. The current is fast. And when boats speed by, they create a fairly large wake that will put the fear of God into you, even if you’re a non-believer.
I know because I found myself floating out there on a fall evening, clinging to a small tree in hopes that I wouldn’t spill over into the drink. It was only my second time in a kayak, and it was about to be my first time going overboard. I was doing everything I could to prevent that.
Let’s back up a second. The reason I was out there was I was on a magnificent tour with Detroit River Sports. A group of us were going on the canal ride, seeing the waterways that weave in between boats and houses in a beautiful section of the city’s east side.
Part of living in a place most of your life is you start to take things for granted. It’s easy to fall back into a comfort zone, seeing only the same old things you’ve seen before. But that’s not acceptable in my book. To me, you can never stop exploring.
That is why I wanted to take this tour in the first place. But that didn’t mean it would be easy. Oh, no. I recommend you lift some weights and get your fitness in line with the expectations. Because if you’re going to be paddling for two hours, you need some stamina. Or at least some liquid courage.
My friends and I had both. But from the moment your kayak hits the water, you’re not prepared. You’re not prepared for the big water. You’re not prepared to see the city in such largess. You’re not prepared for how much you don’t know about Detroit.
That Thursday night, we had two tour guides. We met them at the launch spot in a little neighborhood right off of Jefferson. Missy and Zack were good sports and totally prepared to deal with our amateur selves. They put life jackets on everyone, got our vessels ready with “disco lights” so we could see as the darkness fell and pushed us out into the water. No sissies, them.
We got orientated quickly, practicing our turns and paddle skills as we bumped into one another and laughed hysterically. A group of teens bringing their sailboat in glided by, giving our group of novice kayaking moms hardly a glance. But, we figured collectively, if they could handle the water, so could we.
Let’s just say that a kayak ride on the Detroit River doesn’t allow for much picture taking. The water demands your attention. The views demand your attention. The people who are fishing demand that you get your act together so you don’t ruin their trip or their lines. You’ve got to stay on the ball or you’ll end up splashing over (which one of us did – but Missy and Zack were rock solid and got us all back on track soon enough).
Dark fell soon enough, and we quietly glided through the water. Having such a beautiful silence around you as you paddled through made you contemplate more of what you saw – you had to appreciate the scenery. You had to pay attention. You had to have all five senses working. We ducked under bridges. We maneuvered around turns. We were kayak masters in no time.
I held my own, I’m happy to say. The ride once we got through the big waters of the Detroit River was smooth and surprisingly manageable, even for a newbie like me. My focus was on seeing as much as I could in our short ride (it started to rain, so we hightailed it back to the launch). The houses along the canals ranged from simple to the fabulous. There were so many little pieces of paradise along that route – these were all houses that I’d be honored to own. You could tell there was extreme pride in that location and everyone loved being on the water.
The trip gave me a sense of accomplishment and wonder. Accomplishment because I managed to power myself through another part of the city that I’ve never seen by my own strength. The kayak was an ideal way to view these sights – you could slow down and appreciate the lights on in the houses, the slowly rocking boats, the sound of laughter from the people gathered around you.
Wonder because I know there is so much more to see than I even anticipated. Here is the key to understanding Detroit or any big city – you can never be there enough. You can never see everything there is to see. But you can continue to get a slice of the city here and there. You can embrace your little piece of it at every chance you can. You can always find new things to explore. And I plan on continuing to do so at every given chance. Detroit continues to enchant me and excite me. And I believe that there is so much more on the horizon.