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My Lifelong Canoe Hobby by Richard Berling, Madison, USA

Posted on February 17 2014

By Richard Berling

My CanoeCraft Story is about a personal journey that started in 1959 when our Boy Scout Troop went on a weeklong trip on the Cumberland River in the State of Kentucky.  In 1963 a two-week trip with 16 teenage boys led by our Wood Shop Teacher up the Mississagi and down the Spanish to Lake Agnew in Ontario Canada culminated in a nice local newspaper article.

• Why did you decide to build a canoe (or boat)?

After a lifetime of local Midwest USA canoeing in 1997 I went into the Quetico Provincial Park for a week with a church group.  A builder brought along his cedar strip Minnesota Cruiser.  I was so impressed that he let me build one in his shop.  Launched in 1998 it was sold in 2009 after many successful trips.

This builder also constructed a canoe every other year for our local Kiwanis Club to raffle off for charity.  After helping on a couple of these charity canoes I wanted an all purpose canoe.  I decided to contact Bear Mountain Boats to construct a Freedom 17.  I had a few ideas of what I wanted in an all purpose canoe.

• How challenging was the building process?

When I built my first Freedom 17 I noticed that no matter how much experience you think you have there is always a challenge around the corner.  One challenge I welcomed was to make the canoe without staples.  Along the way I wanted some unique features.  I copied a floor trim “rope chain” from an 1898 house to use as an accent strip and enlisted the services of a laser shop to engrave the canoe’s name on the outwale and a figure on the decks.  The result was “Let Freedom Ring”.   

This first Freedom 17 was donated to the disabled as a raffle prize, garnering the organization a net of $6,000.  Naturally this meant I needed to build another Freedom 17.  I contacted Bear Mountain to pay the necessary royalty fee.  I reenlisted the services of the laser shop and named the canoe “Follow Your Dreams”.

• Where have you used your canoe (or boat)?

 “Follow Your Dreams” has completed several 50 to 115 mile trips on Wisconsin rivers.  It has adequate capacity for a weeklong trip and is convenient enough for a day trip.  It hangs nicely in our garage and is ready to go.

• What was special to you about building your Bear Mountain Boat?

I now have a completely unique, personalized canoe that I am comfortable paddling on any water up to class III rapids.  The canoe is a great conversation piece; always receiving deserved admiration and prompting new friendships.

What does it mean to you?

I plan to capitalize on my 55 years of canoeing experience in my retirement.  It means my wife and I can enjoy the outdoors at our own pace, in a canoe and at places we love.

I have also found companionship among local canoe builders.  I enjoy helping people build their first canoe, noting their increase in confidence as we make progress.

• Any tales of adventure?

Thankfully all our adventure tales have happy endings.  We have led groups of nine into the Quetico Provincial Park, dodged rocks in Wisconsin, encountered wildlife and endured obstinate weather.  We have had all our packs searched at border crossings and counseled homesick, lovesick and just plain sick canoe trip members.

Once we had three different bear incursions into our layover camp on the same day.  We left after dinner and paddled two miles to a new camp.  We’ve never really been lost but some of those portage trails can be very hard to find.  Entering the Quetico one balmy September day we were then pummeled by a week of cold wet weather, but still had a great time.  Of course the occasional snake or other unusual animal has enlivened conversation on more than one trip.  And who can’t recall a good day of fishing?

One of the saddest events did not occur on a trip I led.   One of my trip members subsequently succumbed to the cold waters on Lake Superior on an attempted solo circumnavigation fundraiser for juveniles in trouble.  That memory still serves as a caution to us every time we venture forth.

As one ages the vulnerability of the human body becomes apparent.  We have lost two relatives, including a 35-year old niece to cancer.  I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014, with good prospects for a favorable outcome.  These events led me to make a cedar strip Prospector 16 canoe for Gilda’s Club, a support service for patients and families with cancer.  The canoe will be raffled off in 2014.  

I am thankful canoeing has given me a lifelong hobby, created lasting friendships, allowed us to enjoy our marriage in a unique and memorable way, and permitted me to give something back to those who labor in service to their fellow citizens.  I hope  you find as much as you continue your canoeing journey.


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