Growing Old Together: A Canoeist and His Paddle

bending branches canoeist roy erickson
Canoeist Roy Erickson and his long-time companion, 56 (photo courtesy of Patty Erickson)

Roy fondly calls his straight-shaft Bending Branches paddle “56” (for its length of 56 inches). He bought it in the early 90s and has used it on every wilderness canoe trip since.

While his friends joke that 56 is ready to retire—or switch careers to become campfire fuel or wall art—Roy has found that hard to face.

“Like my own aging body, 56 is showing considerable wear and tear. Its blade has been split for a few years now, currently in three places. The shaft has developed a noticeable groove, worn from tens of thousands of brushes against the gunwales.”

Now in his mid-60s, Roy is starting to slow down too. He can’t hoof it up and down the portages like he could in his younger years. Dealing with a couple physical ailments makes it harder for him to keep up the pace he used to. And yet he says:

“The call of the wilderness beckons me. Each spring I find myself harkening to the call of the wilds—the land of solitude, the water, the fish and the forest. My concession to doing only ‘old man trips’ to North and Ranger Bays of Basswood Lake seems an acceptable compromise!”

measuring a fish on his canoe paddle
56 also doubles as a tape measure for Roy! (photo courtesy ofJohn Eret)

Roy has reconditioned 56 a few times already, but he admits that sandpaper, Liquid Nails and marine varnish only go so far. And yet, his faithful paddle feels so comfortable, so familiar—“like a life-long dancing partner.”

He finally broke down and bought a new paddle (our Expedition Plus), but it sat in the canoe, unused, for most of Roy’s last trip. He couldn’t part with 56 just yet. He only pulled his new paddle out when his fishing line kept snagging on a notch in 56…and he realized it’ll take awhile to get used to the new grip and new feel of his Expedition.

To him, leaving 56 behind when heading out on the trail will feel like leaving a friend behind. A friend who’s been with him through thick and thin on more than 50 canoe trips.

“56 and I are a lot alike. Worn, scarred and a bit worse for wear, we both possess stubborn and hardwood resolve. Neither of us is ready to call it quits.

“I’m grateful for the history 56 and I share together. To this day, 56 stands at the fore in my garage, ready for our next trip. God willing, when that time rolls around, I hope the same can be said about me.”

roy erickson with branches canoe paddle
(photo courtesy of Patty Erickson)

We’re honored to have played a part in Roy’s 30 years of wilderness canoeing! Stories like his are why we do what we do.

(Thanks to Stu Osthoff of Boundary Waters Journal, for giving us permission to pull quotes from his published article.)

Can we help you choose your canoe paddle? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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