Paris has the Seine, lined with golden palaces. Cologne boasts the Rhine, banked by romantic castles.
Buffalo has the Buffalo River, with our grain elevators. Say it loud, say it proud. These behemoths are darned impressive, especially when admired from a tiny kayak.
The secret is out. Approaching Buffalo Harbor Kayak on a sunny afternoon, I found a lot of other people had the same idea. The green-canopied kayak kiosk – on Canalside near HarborCenter – was a hive of activity.
An inexperienced kayaker, I had brought my brother George, a more seasoned salt. We requested a tandem kayak ($30 an hour), but it was overdue back.
“Do you see an orange boat with two people in it?” asked attendant Justin Dahl, patiently scanning the horizon.
Single kayaks ($20 an hour) were also in short supply. The system is very informal, and waits appear to be the norm. Justin sails on a calm sea. When the tandem stayed gone, he offered us two singles.
Now, voyager! Getting into my kayak was surprisingly easy, even with my dress and purse. I was thrilled I could go barefoot. You kick your shoes into a blue bin on the dock, helpfully marked, “This is NOT garbage!” Shoving off, I felt light and free.
They issue you a life preserver and here’s why. Very soon, you find yourself between two steep walls – General Mills on one side, the old train terminal on the other. For 10 minutes or so, if you fell in, you couldn’t climb out.
On the other hand, as you flailed in the water, you might be able to cross off another item on our must-do list: “Smell the Cheerios.” Other boaters loved General Mills for sentimental reasons.
“Our grandfather used to work there,” said Marie Lader of Kingston. She was renting pedal boats with her husband, Ellis, and her brother, Norm Urbaniak of Lovejoy.
Ellis Lader admired the grandeur of the architecture.
“You see things from a different perspective,” he said.
You do indeed. The brick ADM Milling grain elevator loomed tall and dignified. The Cotter gleamed from fresh angles. There had to be a story behind a row of crumbled docks – and, across the river, a picturesque old boat labeled “West Wind, Buffalo, N.Y.”
Aside from one annoying radio, the sounds were a mix of bird chirps and industrial clangs, squawks and wheezes. The canopied Buffalo History Tours boat motored past, the docent pointing out a new community park.
In a humorous twist, we also passed the elusive tandem kayak, making its leisurely way back.
But the solo kayak was an adventure. You feel every ripple. The history tour got my boat bouncing, and so did a craft called the Courier-Express, which passed me twice. Luckily the Courier was not able to unseat The Buffalo News. In triumph, my craft began veering, as if of its own accord, toward our iconic Labatt’s Blue six-pack. A majestic sight!
What fun this all was, and right in our own backyard. Don’t miss out. Find a cool, calm day, or if it’s hot, go early. Bring sunscreen, and a camera. Once you are in that boat, an hour is all you need. Later, drink a toast to Paris and Cologne.
They’ve got nothing on us.