Jeff Kalil and his oldest son, Murphy, on their 3-day canoe trip
Bending Branches fan Jeff Kalil submitted this story to our 2020 Story Contest. We chose his for first place, which awarded him $150 to use on Bending Branches product.
Here’s Jeff’s winning story:
“At the end of July, I was incredibly fortunate to get out with our eldest son for a quick three days/~45 miles on the beautiful French Broad River Paddle Trail, before he went off to college.
“It was truly poignant to take a last journey with him, before he paddled ahead solo, even more completely into young adulthood. We only have our children close for a very short time.
“Eighteen years sounds like a while, but every parent knows how fast it can go by!
“While this wasn't a major expedition into the Canadian "Big Land," it was one of the deepest journeys I've taken—as I contemplated the first fledgling leaving the nest—and I will remember it gratefully forever.
“It's my hope to make a trip like this a tradition with the three other brothers behind him!”
Murphy takes the bow as they paddle the French Broad Paddle Trail
We wanted to learn more about Jeff and his family. Here’s what we found out:
Paddling Background and Family Life
Jeff’s parents were frequent paddlers. He remembers he and his sister sitting on flotation cushions on the floor of their parents’ canoe going up and down the Concord River near their Massachusetts home.
They were very fortunate to spend Augusts in the lakes region of New Hampshire while he was growing up. His family vacationed at an old boys camp that had been converted to a lakeside resort. “Messing about in boats” was a popular pastime for them—sailboats, rowboats and canoes.
Jeff told us: “As I got older I’ve always been involved in education, and in outdoor education particularly. I was pretty serious into sea kayaking. At this time we lived in the greater DC area, and to have the Chesapeake Bay relatively close was just amazing. I’d go and do more solo kinds of things on the Bay before the boys were born.”
Once he and his wife welcomed their four sons into their family, they became a pretty busy household—paddling took a backseat. Jeff sold his sea kayak and focused on other priorities.
“Our boys really didn’t grow up paddling—we’ve done more land-based activities. With a family as big as ours—six of us—it’s harder to get everyone on the water at the same time! So we resorted more to hiking and camping and things like that.”
The canoe trip Jeff described in his winning story was a return to paddling life for Jeff and a new experience for Murphy. About the trip, Murphy said:
"Being a teenager, I'm no stranger to complaints about parents. Whether I'm hearing them from my friends, seeing them online, or (God forbid) making them myself, they've become commonplace. But it's on occasions like this trip where I'm reminded that I should consider myself very lucky to have a dad as cool as the one I do.
“He's an optimist and prefers to look on the bright side (you'll notice that he didn't mention that it rained all three days of the trip) and so sometimes we butt heads, as I find the bright side a bit too glaring. But I've never heard of a perfect parent-child relationship.
“The trip we took together will be a memory I hold dear for the rest of my life, with all of its ups and downs. I hope my brothers will feel the same way I do when my dad wakes them up at 6 in the morning to begin a muddy, muggy, wonderful voyage of their own."
Murphy staying out of the rain in one of their campsites
Canoeing in Jeff’s Area
Jeff and his family currently live in North Carolina, where he works as a middle school principal. He says about canoeing locally:
“In so many ways canoeing overnights are the best of both worlds if you don’t have significant portages to do. You have all the isolation of backcountry camping but you have the luxuries of car camping. You can bring so much with you!
“Here in the East it’s not like the Boundary Waters where you have to carry everything on your back. We’re a little spoiled in that we can get an island campsite and bring the camp chairs, bring the Dutch oven, and whatever else we want.”
Jeff is enthusiastic in his praise of the French Broad River Paddle Trail, where he and Murphy took their canoe for their 3-day trip. “It’s an incredible local resource that’s been put together by some private landowners and a couple non-profits here.”
The beautiful paddle-in campsites on this paddle trail have composting toilets and lots of space. Online reservations ensure you have the camping spot you want.
The Future of Paddling for Jeff and His Family
Jeff and Murphy used a rented canoe for their trip. That experience convinced Jeff it was time to acquire their own boat. He found a used Bell canoe (they’ve become Northstar now) in mint condition. He’s excited to use it now for the lakes and rivers in their area as well as future multi-day trips.
Last year Jeff did a long-distance bike ride to benefit the National Brain Tumor Society after losing a friend to a brain tumor. The next charity fundraiser he’s considering is a long canoe expedition—possibly a 200-mile route through a series of lakes that runs down to Augusta, Georgia. He’s checking out the routes, maps and time frames to see if it’s a feasible trip for him.
And what’s it like to win Bending Branches’ Story Contest?
“I feel like a kid in a candy store!” said Jeff. As of this writing he hadn’t yet decided how to use his prize money. But whatever paddle or paddles he ends up with, he looks forward to using them with his canoe for many years to come.
(All photos courtesy of Jeff Kalil)
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