When we first moved close to the Potomac river I looked into kayaks with the following criteria: It needed it to be stable (I was new to kayaking), it had to be practical to fish from, and it need to have a place for a dog. All advice pointed to a Sit on Top (SOT). Over the years I’ve tried many different SOTs, and like anything else, each had its pros and cons. But once I made that initial decision to go with a SOT, I just kept trying variations of the same theme. Some of them worked well with dogs. Most were as stable as I thought kayaks could be. None of them, looking back, really worked very well for fly fishing.
My most recent kayak was the only one I could find that had room for two large dogs, one in front and one in back. But I decided the larger of those two dogs doesn’t really enjoy it very much, so he’s kind of retired from boating. I added Winslow, a small wirehaired dachshund to my lineup and the first time I took him out he fell right off the side. I scooped him up easily thanks to the handle on his Ruffwear PFD, but I started to wonder if a Sit on Top was really best for me.
I have an Orion cooler made by the folks at Jackson Kayak, and am impressed with how well it is designed and built. So I started looking at the Jackson line of kayaks. Overwhelmed by the choices, I turned to Jackson Kayak’s Product Manager Damon Bungard, who I met online because we both do blood tracking with our wirehaired dachshunds, and Drew Gregory, a professional kayak angler with experience paddling with dogs. I interviewed Drew a few years ago for a story I was writing on kayak fishing with dogs. Both suggested I take a look at the Jackson Kilroy DT, a tandem boat with an incredible amount of configuration flexibility. I did some research, watched the videos, asked around, and decided to pull the trigger. I combined a road trip to Southwest Virginia with a detour to Jackson headquarters in Sparta, TN to pick up my new boat back in April. Then it rained for like two months straight, and water levels in my stretch of the Potomac River where I live went up and down like an EKG, all the while remaining the color of YooHoo. It was July 4th before my wife Sandy and I finally put it in the water.
At 14’8” long and nearly a hundred pounds completely empty, the Kilroy DT is a beast on land. Add the seats, another passenger, a cooler and other supplies, and I was not confident it would be easy to paddle. But it was. I was astounded, in fact, at how beautifully it paddles and tracks. With both seats in the higher of two offered positions, it was remarkably comfortable and stable. It immediately felt easier to paddle and far more enjoyable to sit in than what I was used to.
Although the fishing was slow, about a half mile into the maiden voyage Sandy christened the Kilroy with a nice smallmouth. I added one of my own right at the takeout, so it felt good to catch something. But typically I’m not a very serious angler when I’m kayaking. Sometimes I’ll take a spinning rod, sometimes a fly rod, but it’s more of a secondary activity to relaxing and immersing myself in nature.
I’ve never really been able to sit in a kayak for an extended period of time without getting out and stretching my legs and back for a while. This was not the case here, after a few hours of moseying downstream in comfort without getting out once, I knew I had made a great choice. Add to that the quality time with Sandy as she could relax, catch fish, watch birds and drink beer while I paddled, and it felt like the perfect boat.
While I got used to the boat as we floated, I realized how easy it will be to bring my good camera and not worry about dropping it in the water, and how fun it would be to waterfowl hunt out of it, with so much space for decoys and other gear.
But before I involve expensive camera equipment and shotguns, though, the next big, critical test would be how to configure the Kilroy DT for Winnie, my Wirehaired Vizsla. I decided to test this out the very next day. This, by the way, is another testament to the comfort of this kayak: As an old, fat guy I can’t ever remember floating in any of my old kayaks, and being very excited to float again the very next day.
As I walked past the Kilroy in my garage every day for ten weeks during monsoon season, I pondered dog placement and comfort. I assumed I would be removing the front seat and seat pan entirely, which is very easy, and buying or fabricating some sort of mat on the floor of the boat for the dog. But once I got the boat outside on the ground I realized the front seat is perfect. I adjusted it all the way forward in the boat, then reclined the seat back all the way. With the foot rests for the back seat pushed all the way forward, the frame of the front seat back rests in the little channel in the foot rest unit made for a standard Plano tackle box. I tightened everything down in place, threw a towel over the seat to keep it cool in the sun, and we were on our way!
With 55-lb Winnie at the very front of the boat and a cooler behind me, I had to move my seat forward a bit to keep everything balanced. And again, it paddled like a dream. I’ve fashioned serviceable solutions for her in every boat I’ve had, but none were elevated and padded like this. After ten years I know when this dog is happy and comfortable, and she’s never been more so than in this Kilroy. After a delightful four or five mile float, as we waited for Sandy to pick us up at the takeout ramp, Winnie stayed in the boat hoping till the last minute we would be going right back out on the water.
Next time out I will bring my good camera for wildlife photography, and I will bring Winslow my little dog along, but the Kilroy DT is already the most versatile, most comfortable kayak I’ve ever imagined, let alone owned, and it’s not even close.
I’ve ordered a C-Tug cart to help maneuver the heavy Kilroy around the ramps, along with some Ram Mount cup holders that take advantage of the omnipresent tracking around the boat. And that’s literally all I can think of to add. This boat came from the factory suited perfectly to my lifestyle and how I enjoy a kayak.
We got Game 6 against the Lightning, the most consistent, relentless, great play from an entire lineup for an entire game that I have ever seen from the Caps.
We got Wilson’s assault and battery in Game 7 that rallied the team to advance to the finals.
We got to watch a rightfully cynical sports town begin to let themselves believe.
We got The Save.
We got to watch a team figure out that it’s not enough to just be the better team. Hell, we’ve been the better team plenty over the years. We got to watch them figure out what it takes to win a Championship.
We got to watch decades of DC sports demons exorcised at once as the last six tenths of a second of this epic journey finally vanished from the clock.
And then it got so, so much better, as we got to watch elite professional athletes burst with the uncontainable, exuberant joy they’ve dreamt about and played out in their heads since they first laced up skates as little kids.
We got to watch them share it with each other, with their families and, bless them, with all of us, too.
I have waited a while to say this, because I don’t say it lightly:
I’m sorry, Bullets, Wizards and Nats. Sorry, Doug Williams. Sorry, Tiger. Sorry Shaun White and the U.S. Women’s soccer team. Sorry ‘We Want Dallas.’ Sorry Curlin, American Pharoah. Sorry, Justify.
I’m truly sorry, Riggo.
But this is now my all-time favorite sports moment. A moment that took decades, then took two months, then sixty minutes, then twenty, then seven and 37 seconds – and it’s a moment that is still happening with no signs of slowing. If anything, it’s building. Today’s jubilant parade and rally is testament to what this means to this city.
Thank you, Washington Capitals. I could live to be a hundred and will never, ever forget this.
“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” — Agnes Sligh Turnbull
Each time I have brought a new puppy into my life, I have held their little heads in my hands, inhaled sweet puppy breath, gazed into their still cloudy-blue eyes and – just for a moment – become filled with the dread of eventually having to say goodbye. Before we’ve shared a single walk, puppy class, car ride, camping trip, table scrap, or vet visit, I already know they will leave far too soon.
But I think we all make a pact with our new dogs. Mine’s a pretty standard contract, really: I will train you the best I can. I will provide you with quality food, ample exercise, and professional care. I will take more photographs of you than has been taken of the first 30 U.S. presidents combined. And when the day comes for you to break my heart, I will not be selfish.
My first dog was a yellow lab named Jasmine, an obedient, fun-loving Frisbee dog and companion of the highest order. Years later I added a second dog, a German Shorthair named Sierra. While walking them around my neighborhood I ran into a pretty blonde woman walking her two Jack Russells. Our fondness of dogs is how we met and why we became friends, and that bond has helped carry us through 20 years of marriage.
When Sierra was still a young pup, Jasmine died from cancer at age seven. In my inconsolable rage I remember declaring, “Dogs should live to be ten. Period. Any less is unjust. Any more is gravy.”
Over time, we said goodbye one by one to what we call our original four ‘charter’ dogs. All but Jasmine made it well into those gravy years.
I now have two Wirehaired Vizslas. I got Winnie as a pup and Finn came along a few years later as a three-year-old, so they’re about the same age. These dogs changed everything for me. They have been responsible for immersing me in the outdoors. My time with them on hikes, kayak floats, and camping trips, plus my passion for capturing moments along the way with words or a camera, has changed how I view and interact with the world. My life is far richer for having them in it.
Now that Finn is ten and Winnie will turn ten this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about our time together. It’s not as if their age snuck up on me – almost two years ago I added Winslow, a Wirehaired Dachshund puppy, to the team to bring some youth to my stable of bearded dogs. I think he has made us all a little younger.
But time marches on, and I see the signs. Finn, bless his heart, has lost his hearing in the last year. He knows basic hand signals but I’m having to retrain him to watch for me to give them. But training time is quality time, and we both enjoy it. An unexpected benefit to his hearing loss is he has never slept better. I also notice he’s starting to get a little creaky when he first gets up. So, we have that in common.
It’s interesting to watch Winnie age because she has felt like an old dog since she was born. She’s always been quietly observant, and it gives her an old-soul quality. Her favorite warm weather activity is to stand chest-deep in water. That’s it. Not swim or splash or chase minnows or toys. She just stands there. God, I love a weird dog.
We measure time by the dogs in our lives. I don’t know the year my wife and I met, or bought our first house, or when we moved to our current little slice of paradise. But I can tell you which dogs were with us when those things happened.
Right now we’ve got a crew of five (the aforementioned bearded dogs, my wife’s Jack Russell, Gromit, and her Basenji, Petey). Together we’ve had dogs big and small, easy and hard, young and old. I try not to think about them getting closer to the end. All we can do is keep them fit, safe and healthy, and embrace our time together, no matter how short.
Ten years is not a magic number. I’m not entitled to it and it wouldn’t be enough if I got it. Every day is a gift. Every year is gravy. And when the time comes to hold their heads in my hands that final time, to look into their eyes once more and breathe in their last breath, it will not be with dread, but with gratitude.
Originally published in The Piedmont Virginian, April, 2018
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© Ed Felker