Figuring one for every vendor, speaker, product and pool demo, there must be thousands of good reasons to attend Canoecopia every year. Starting this Friday evening and continuing through the weekend in the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center, Rutabaga's 2009 paddlesports expo shapes up as the most anticipated yet.
Advance interest has been so keen in recent weeks that traffic on the event website has crashed the server at least once. Much of this attention has been driven by kayaks, which have outpaced canoe sales in recent years. Canoecopia also offers the latest in paddles, safety gear, fishing equipment, footwear, apparel, racks, hats and other accessories that have established a niche among canoe and kayak enthusiasts. And then there are all the outfitters and destinations that cater to the self-propelled waterborne crowd.
My own reasons for looking forward to this weekend's expo number well into the dozens. Among them:
- The chance to see Kelly Blades and Danny Mongno go at it again. Imagine two Roman gladiators in kayaks, doing violence to each other and their boats at noon Saturday and Sunday in the Clarion Hotel pool adjacent to the Alliant Center's Exhibition Hall. Imagine these gladiators are accomplished kayakers, but also reckless and unfettered by any etiquette whatsoever regarding what can and cannot be done to an opponent in (and with) a kayak and paddle. Now imagine that your capacity for imagination falls short by several orders of magnitude.
- The Friday premieres of Eastern Horizons, filmmaker Bryan Smith's documentary about kayak exploration of the Atlantic Coast from Georgia to Newfoundland; Terra Antarctica, which documents Jon Bowermaster's 2008 Antarctic Peninsula expedition by sea kayak, sailboat, small plane and foot; and Kayak Fishing: Game On, in which kayak angler Jim Sammons steels his nerve and skill to the pursuit of tarpon in Florida and other large fish in Canada and Alaska. And then there's his Homeric five-hour battle with a 300-pound blue marlin.
- Saturday night's party at the High Noon Saloon, featuring a second screening of Eastern Horizons and music by DJ Nick Nice (8 p.m., $5 cover).
- The Second Annual Aluminum Chef competition (3:30 p.m. Saturday). This year's contest pits challenger Joey Dunscombe of the Weary Traveler Freehouse against retired park ranger Marty Koch and Kevin Callan, author of The Happy Camper and Wilderness Pleasures: A Practical Guide to Camping Bliss -- all three endeavoring to make the most of a box of food in the best minimalist traditions of outdoor improvisation.
- The opportunity to attend American Canoe Association hall-of-famer Cliff Jacobson's presentation on "The Forgotten Skills," globe-paddling Swedish kayak expedition veteran Lena Conlan's "Wilderness First Aid" tutorial and any number of other programs; to covet the boat of my dreams; to stop at scores of exhibitor and vendor booths to load up my wish list; and to come to an understanding that whatever makes the list is not a want but rather a vital need. Like water itself.
Canoecopia runs from 4-9 p.m. Friday, March 13, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 14 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Admission is free for ages 17 and under. The rest of us pay $15 for the full weekend or $10 per day.