That Time I… went kayaking


Max Honermeier

Columnist Max Honermeier and members of NIU’s Outdoor Adventures on the Chicago river.

When my alarm went off at 7:15 a.m., my first thought was to turn it off and go back to sleep. But then I remembered: I’m going kayaking again today. Still groggy, I heated up my morning brew, shoveled down a bowl of Joe’s Os and walked to NIU’s Outdoor Adventures office in my river shoes.

After getting acquainted with my fellow paddlers and group leaders, we boarded the van and hit the road. The journey went by quickly as a former McDonald’s manager regaled us with tales from the night shift and enlightened me as to why the ice cream machine is always broken (it’s so people can get paid to fix it). Soon, we arrived at the edge of downtown Chicago, where other groups were also getting ready for a day on the water.

The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. We applied sunscreen, loaded up lunches and carried our boats down to the pier. The Chicago River was green with patches of decaying plants and floating bottles. A faint must of sewage tingled my nose, particularly under bridges where the bowels of the city emptied into the river. We soon stopped for lunch, where I enjoyed a wrap and a conversation with a cosmology grad student about dark energy.

We paddled for six miles in all, hugging the right bank to stay clear of the massive water taxis and tour boats. I’ve seen downtown Chicago many times, but the river offered a fresh perspective. Never have the buildings looked so tall. I rested in the shade of bridges I’ve driven over a hundred times. Rather than looking out for cars, I watched for the wakes of bigger boats to avoid getting swamped.

The trip went by in a flash and before I knew it we were back at the pier. With tired arms and an aching back, I helped get the kayaks loaded. The drive back was nearly silent, all of us reflecting on a day well spent.