Kayaker Tom Slater hasnt missed paddling once in 120 months
By Carol South
Dipping a paddle in the Boardman River last month, Tom Slater passed a 10-year milestone.
For 120 consecutive months he has kayaked at least once a month, no matter the weather, temperature or timing. All seasons, all the time: from temps in the 20s, bundled in layers of clothing while waves froze on his paddle, to hot summer days clad only in shorts with a small umbrella raised as a sail/sunscreen.
Slater didnt start out looking to rack up years. After getting through the first winter and the following warm season, he decided to keep the string of consecutive months going that next winter. With that success, he decided to carry it on as long as he could, month after month.
There are times in the winter, especially, when people look in awe or curiously at that kayak floating by, he said, noting that the spray skirt, exertion and basic outdoor clothing keep him warm.
His rule: at least one hour on the water per month.
In the wintertime, there have been a few times over the 10 years when I had to drag the kayak across a frozen lake to get to the open outlet where lake empties, Slater noted. Then I would paddle around in the open water for at least an hour. That was when everything was frozen except maybe the Boardman River.
In the winter, Slater keeps a close eye on the calendar and weather as the weeks pass.
When it gets to be into the third week and I havent paddled I then have to decide to go out in the worst weather, he said.
The 10-year streak began with his first foray into a kayak. Living near a small inland lake for three decades, he decided it was a waste not to have a boat of his own. He initially was in the market for a single-person canoe but was persuaded to try a kayak.
Rocking on gentle waves, dateline March 1999, in a bright blue Perception Swifty, Slater was instantly enraptured. He floated from the back door of Backcountry Outfitters in Traverse City, whose salespeople steered him to the kayak, and ventured upstream. After paddling through rapids he didnt yet realize were difficult, he portaged at the Union Street dam and continued to the Boardman Lake.
He moored and carried the boat on his shoulder to nearby Oryana Natural Foods. Slater, a member and volunteer at the co-op since its founding, stored his boat there for a few years.
That trip ignited a passion that still burns bright and he carves out time year-round to play in the waves, float with the current, challenge his stamina and experience a slower side of life on the current less traveled.
It was wonderful, like letting go of gravity, recalled Slater of his first experience in the kayak. Its like being cradled in someone elses arms and carried along.
Unlike more extreme sports, Slater instantly connected with the gentle flow of kayaking with its quiet, human-powered scale.
Its being put back into someone elses control where you can just let the Earth move you without fear, he said.
GREEN LIVING ON BLUE WATER
Firmly in the recreational kayaking camp, Slater has accomplished his on-water consistency despite spending more than half that time without a car. He fit kayaking seamlessly into his low-consumption lifestyle, mostly choosing to put in waters he defines as local: the Grand Traverse Bay, the lake near his rural home, the Boardman Lake and river.
While his battered pick-up truck now makes getting boat to water easier, for years he navigated to and from and around town using a combination of BATA, friends, bicycle and walking. When needed, the kayak went along, thrice joining him on the bus.
Early on, Slater found the optimal solution: have one kayak in town and another at home. When storing his boat at Oryana was no longer possible, a friend in town situated helpfully about halfway between launching points on West Bay and the Boardman Lake - offered garage space.
The process of getting his kayak from storage to water evolved over the years. He initially carried it on his shoulder then developed a rough backpack to hold the weight. Slater then contrived a kayak cart to pull it. A few iterations later, he fixed on a design, recycling old golf carts into what he termed Go Ports, which he sells informally in the community. One shorter-lived solution was a kayak trailer for his bike.
For the past decade, Slaters foundational philosophy of living low-impact, low-cost, high-satisfaction has found another cherished outlet in his kayak.
One of the big draws of owning a kayak is you use it for free, no further investment is required for the pleasure, he said. Theres no gasoline, its a human powered, green activity. Ive paddled with the beaver, salmon, swans, turtles and other wildlife -- the quietness of the kayak allows close encounters with wildlife.