The Life Aquatic

The only people possibly more excited about this summer’s Chewonki Wilderness Trips than the trippers themselves are the trip leaders. A gang of them arrived this week to begin preparing and their energy’s rocking the Neck.

Most are equally fanatic about backpacking and paddling, but a few just can’t get enough time on the water. Karen Blakelock, Conor Burke, and Eric Nathanson are a part of this elite category. Something about being on the water holds a special allure for them, and they can’t wait to share that passion with their trippers.

Here’s what they had to say on recent afternoon:

Karen Blakelock

Q. Street cred? 
A. Outdoor Classroom staff ‘17-18;  Maine Coast Kayak trip leader ‘17; Boys Camp staff ‘12-’15. Studied in Tanzania during college. Holder of a Junior Master Lunch Lady certificate awarded by Chewonki Kitchen Manager Bill Edgerton.

Q. What’re you doing at Chewonki this summer?
A. I’m leading Maine Coast Kayak in Session I and working in the Wilderness Trips office in Session II. I’ll also help with Boys Camp wilderness trips.

Q. What have you been up to over the past year?
A. I’ve been a Chewonki Outdoor Classroom instructor, leading students from Maine and other parts of New England on outdoor learning adventures.

Q. How did your love affair with water begin?
I started rowing crew at Miss Porter’s School when I was growing up in Connecticut and discovered that I loved being on the water. I rowed in college, too, on the St. Lawrence River. After graduation, I worked on the schooner Roseway for six months as part of the World Ocean School.  

Q. Favorite part of paddling trips?
A. On ocean trips, living with the tides is fascinating. It’s cool to have everyone looking at a nautical chart alongside a tide chart, figuring out the best timing for arrivals and departures, having the kids add that little piece to the puzzle of the ecosystem. And I love getting to swim in the ocean, seeing seals and porpoises and eagles…the islands in Maine are truly a world-class experience.

I really like that the kids learn that they can make it through bad weather and hours of paddling and then feel rewarded at the end of the day. Maybe they’re cold and wet, but when we get to our destination, the first thing we do is set up our tents, change into the clothes at the bottom of their dry bags, and get some food. And suddenly they realize they’re sitting on a beautiful shoreline or island with their group and everything is fine.

Conor Burke

Q. Street Cred?
A. Boys Camp ‘07,’08; Wilderness Trips ‘09,’10,’12; Boys Camp staff ‘13-’16; Outdoor Classroom staff ‘17,’18. Redhead. Can dance a mean Irish jig.

Q. What are you doing at Chewonki this summer?
A. Leading the Gaspe Expedition; whitewater kayaking and backpacking trip for counselors-in-training; and the backpacking training trip.

Q. What have you been up to over the past year?
A. I was an instructor for the Chewonki Outdoor Classroom in fall 2017 and this spring. During the winter,  I worked for Maine Huts and Trails.

Q. How did your love affair with water begin?
A. I grew up in Maryland and my dad and I did a lot of sea kayaking on the Chesapeake Bay. Being on the water was very much part of growing up for me; I always feel a little nostalgia when I’m paddling.

Q. Favorite part of paddling trips?
A. I love both kayaking and canoeing, and they’re really quite different. Coastal trips are almost “front country”–as you travel, you’re often seeing other people, sailboats, fishing boats, waterfront houses–the human life that the ocean supports. Canoeing inland on rivers and lakes makes you feel more removed from society. With that sense of remoteness, you feel very close to the wilderness. Whether you’re in a canoe or a kayak, you are moving yourself through the water,  living close to it–but the ocean and inland waters are different worlds.

Eric Nathanson

Q. Street Cred?
A. Maine Coast Semester 45; Maine Coast Kayak leader ‘16,’17; Outdoor Classroom instructor ‘17-’18. Rowed the Mississippi River from source to sea in 2016.

Q. What are you doing at Chewonki this summer?
A. Leading Maine Coast Kayak and Thoreau-Wabanaki Canoe Trail trips, so I’ll go from Penobscot Bay (the ocean) to the Penobscot River.

Q. What have you been up to over the past year?
A. I was an Outdoor Classroom instructor last fall and this spring. In between, I travelled, did some substitute teaching, and taught and took care of young children at a school in Portland.

Q. How did your love affair with water begin?
A. I grew up in coastal Maine between Scarborough Marsh and Pine Point Beach, and I also spent a lot of time near an inland lake. I was always in, on, and around a wide variety of waters, although I didn’t do any technical paddling until high school. While I was at Maine Coast Semester, I did a lot of canoeing and sea kayaking. I love the connectivity of water, the way it flows from mountains through communities to the sea.

Q. Favorite part of paddling trips?
A. On canoe trips, a lot depends on your communication with the other person in your canoe and building a team with them. Sea kayaking is a little different; it’s more about individual effort, although still within a group context.

As far as teaching goes, you can really pepper things in on a paddling trip. You’re moving at a good pace to weave natural history and human history into the experience.

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