"Why?" That's what most folks ask me when I tell them about this trip. It's a good question. I'm seriously asking myself the same now that I'm 27 hours from setting off down the James. I'm excited, nervous, anxious. This trip is more than a paddle down the river, it's self-education — like an associates degree worth of it. And when I say "self," I mean finding the people who can teach you how to do this properly. I've been fortunate to find a handful of helpful people who have helped me prep for this trip. Here are a few of them:
Earl Swift. He's paddled the James. The whole thing in a canoe. He did so as a journalist who wrote a series of pieces documenting his journey for The Virginian-Pilot. He later wrote a book titled "Journey Down the James." He breaks his trip into 21 chapters, each a day of his journey. What makes it such a great read is all of the history he weaves through as he travels down the river. It helps that he's a talented writer with a sense of humor. It's a must read for anyone who loves the James or American History.
Thanks to the managing editor at UVA Magazine (my place of employment) who worked with Earl back in their Pilot days, we connected and we enjoyed a two-hour lunch nerding out on the James.
Georgia Busch. Early in my planning I reached out to the James River Association and Georgia was eager to help. The JRA are stewards of the James: they protect it, educate Virginians on how to care for it, learn from it and love it. Georgia leads the teen expedition program every summer and lives and breathes the river. It's a really amazing program and I hope my daughters will consider joining them for a week one future summer. Georgia has helped me create my trip plan and has given me invaluable advice and tips. But what she's also done is given me confidence. I continually hear about the dangers of this trip, and I certainly don't take that lightly. Georgia never questioned my ability to pull this off, at least that I've witnessed. Instead she's inspired me to embrace it while properly preparing for it. I should note that I am breaking the golden rule of kayaking on the James: don't paddle alone. For the record, all organizations such as JRA have warned against that.
Greg Velzy. This guy is Mr. Kayak. He leads Chesterfield County's kayak program, offering whitewater courses for every level. If you want to learn how to slay Hollywood Rapids, spend some time with Greg and his crew. I took a two-day whitewater course in April and Greg went out of his way to educate me for my trip. He'd pull me aside and tell me how to handle certain situations carrying gear or how to remove on-board water in a longer kayak, which he knew I'd be paddling. He even brought a touring kayak to a whitewater afternoon session so I could get a feel for turning a longer boat when negotiating whitewater situations. I highly recommend them for anyone who would like to spend more time playing on the James.
And then there are the people who make it all possible. Those who don't ask you "why?" with a puzzling look. They make it all possible:
Jennifer Glave and BJ Kocen. They are the super duo of gallerists in Richmond. I proposed this idea for my next exhibit about a year ago. They loved it and were on board. This is how they operate. BJ and Jenn seem to understand what feeds an artist's soul, and they rarely get in between the artist and our nourishment. For that I am grateful.
Saving the most important person last: Debbie Hedberg. No, she didn't tell me how to read tides or spot an eddie. She didn't give me pointers on how to make good camp coffee. She said yes. She has been supporting me through this, even though this clearly is going to be harder for her than it will be for me. She is holding down the fort while I'm off spending too much money and putting our family unit at moderate risk. She is often asked "why are you letting him do this?" I guess I'm lucky she is being as unsensible, illogical in her decision-making as I am.
And I'm just getting started on the thank yous. Too many to include in one blog. Some folks will join me on the river for a day or so and some have helped me gear up. And of course, the six who purchased paintings from me in my Boat Launch Pop-Up: thank you, thank you. Three more paintings still available! Follow me on Instagram at @hedbergart to keep up with this journey.
This may be a solo trip, but it sure feels like a boat full of friends and family going along with me.
I have big ideas. I throw them around in high drama (ask my wife) and forget whatever sometimes good, often bad idea I’d blurted within a day or two. But once in awhile, one sticks. That’s what happened with my Route 1 trip. After reading a story about the historic highway in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, clarity struck and I said to Debbie, "I must drive that road and paint a show based on my trip." That was eight years, 2,400 miles, 30 roadside paintings and a multimedia installation ago.
The James River idea didn't solidify so quickly. I knew I wanted to travel by something other than car. In fact, at one point it was by plane, flying around the state in a WWII Texan fighter. (That may still happen one day.) I was talking to a friend about my ideas and the James River Batteau festival came up, which brought me back to my own back yard — the James River that is. I live just blocks from it, cross it daily, hike and bike the trails around it weekly and have painted it's beauty time and time again. I decided that Big Jim and I are going to become good pals. I will paddle the length of it in a kayak. Just me and a boat. And a camera. And art supplies. And a tent. And coffee.
I will base an exhibit documenting my trip by translating my findings and experiences into paintings, drawings, photos and multimedia. Honestly, I have no idea what will come of it. That's how I intend to keep it until I hit the water. Georgia Busch, who heads up teen expeditions down the James for the James River Association, spoke words of wisdom — she said "go into this trip with an open mind." It's as if she was in the passenger seat during my last big trip driving down Route 1 in 2009, watching me erratically maintain multiple cameras while doing six-point u turns in the road with a DSLR in one hand and a Dunkin' Donut in the other. I planned that trip well before I hit the road — possibly to a detriment. This time, I'm going prepared, but without a game plan. Instead, I'll have one goal: to connect with the James River. Inside and out. To live off it, travel it, respect its beauty and its might. To know its weaknesses and learn how to help it. To discover its habitat and relive its history. And by the end, have enough knowledge, experience and documentation to put together a show that takes you back on that river trip with me. Hopefully you can see, taste, hear and smell the Mighty James as I did.
I kick off my 23-day trip two weeks from tomorrow. The 340-mile kayak journey down the James begins Saturday, September 2. I'll paddle alone for the most part, camping along the way. I have invited a few friends to join me for a few legs, just to keep me from turning into mad river man and help me through rapids and points that require portage.
I will be documenting the trip as I go. Follow me on Instagram or Twitter. You can also find me on Facebook at facebook.com/stevehedberg. I'll be posting as much as AT&T Wireless signals allow.
The Powhatan word
ABOUT THE TRIP
Follow me as I paddle the length of the James River, 340 miles from Iron Gate to the Chesapeake Bay. I'm not a pro, but I am a big fan of the log flume at Kings Dominion, so I feel confident in my kayaking abilities. I'll post as much as AT&T Wireless allows me:
A special thanks to all those who have supported me on this excellent adventure:
THEY PREPARED ME.
James River Association are stewards of the river: they protect it, take care of it, and teach others to respect it. They helped Me plan my trip and have been there for me through my preparations.
THEY TRAINED ME.
If you're going to paddle the James, you best know what you're doing. Greg Velzy and crew taught me the rapids, how to read them, and how to find my way through them safely, and hopefully having some fun while doing so. Classes available for all levels.
THEY GEARED ME UP.
Appomattox River Company has been suiting up paddlers for decades, and I was just one more who they served properly for this epic journey.
THEY'LL SHOW ME
BJ and Jennifer, owners of Glave Kocen Gallery, have exhibited my work for over ten years, and always support me with whatever feeds my soul. For that I am grateful, and I look forward to exhibiting this body of work at their gallery in the Fall of 2018.