Not everyone has it in them to wake up before sunrise, load the car, and head out for an adventure. But Saranac Lake’s Keith Braun makes the argument that one should do exactly that in the latest episode of Dawn Patrol.
By plying the lakes, ponds, and streams of the North Country as the sun comes up, Braun finds zen, peace, tranquility, and exercise - before most people have their first cup of coffee.
What is your background in paddling?
It’s one of the things when I think about my childhood, paddling was certainly one of the things that’s there. I grew up in the outdoors and spending a lot of time on the water, and it’s just grown with me throughout the years. I’ve had opportunities to go paddling on my own, I’ve had opportunities to get paid to go paddling, I’ve had opportunities to run paddling outfits in the Adirondacks and elsewhere. So it’s been a pretty formidable activity in my life.
You said you’ve had opportunities to go elsewhere, and I’m curious why you chose not to do that?
That’s a good question. This is the last place I’ve paddled - I got here and stayed here. I grew up in Pennsylvania and did a lot of paddling along the Delaware River and Pocono Mountains. As my life progressed, I continued to progress north. And through that, were opportunities to be outside. When I finally landed in Saranac Lake and I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time on the water here, it was pretty difficult to find any reason to go elsewhere. The accessibility of the water here is awesome, the conditions are great, and there’s a lot of places to explore.
You said that you’ve grown with paddling and paddling has grown with you, could you explain that?
Thinking about how paddling has grown with me as a person, starting from my childhood, I look back at some of my favorite memories with my family, with my friends, plenty of times it involved a canoe or a kayak or something on the water. And it’s always just been that thing inside me that’s always brought me back to something involving the water. As I grew up I had an opportunity to take part in all sorts of different recreational activities and then it came time to choose a profession and choose something to do for the rest of my life, and I was drawn towards recreation because of all those awesome times I’ve had on the water.
There has to be something about introducing people to the sport that is compelling to you, so why is it that you feel like you’re drawn to introducing people to paddling?
I think introducing people to paddling and outdoor recreation in general is important. It’s a part of our way of life, it’s a part of our culture for people to find a way to recreate and find a way to reconnect with nature, reconnect with wilderness. That’s more important now more than ever. Living here, we all think it’s easy. There’s a lot of people in the world that don’t have that. So helping people understand how easy it is to access nature and have this kind of rejuvenating wellness experience is easy. It’s important to be outside, to connect to all these things around you.
What is your ideal morning paddle?
The ideal morning is certainly one where you’re paddling. An ideal morning where you’re on the water is one where the water is just absolutely calm - it’s like glass. Hearing a loon howl in the morning when it’s deafeningly silent elsewhere is just an overwhelming feeling - it’s a humbling feeling. And the feeling of paddling a really small, windy, curvy little creek that leads you out into a big lake is an awesome feeling. You come paddling out and the shoreline kind of widens and ultimately disappears into rising fog. Even if you’ve paddled the same lake a million times, you see it differently every time.
Do you find that you paddle more to get to a destination or is it more about the experience of paddling?
Paddling definitely can provide both a means of travel and an experience. It’s a lot of fun to do. There are plenty of times I paddle to be by myself, to be humbled, to be surrounded by all sorts of different things. But there’s also plenty of times I have somewhere to go and I can paddle there, which is an awesome experience. The answer is “Yes.” I do both.
The Adirondacks have always kind of been a paddler’s paradise, can you touch on the concept that the rivers and lakes used to be the highways and how do you feel carrying on that legacy?
It’s exciting to paddle in the Adirondacks, (but) it’s more exciting to me after understanding all of the history around paddling. People have been paddling or using the water as a form of transportation ever since the first person came to the Adirondacks. For the longest time, it was the highway - it was the way people and goods got to these remote areas. And still to this day there are a lot of areas that are water access only. But certainly to paddle very traditional canoe routes is an awesome feeling. You know when you step out of the carry…you know that people did that 100 years ago or 150 years ago.
I’m curious if you can describe the “flow state” when you’re just going and you could do this forever?
Paddling - particularly flatwater paddling - is very much a zen-type experience, particularly when you’re paddling in the morning. The water being completely still, it really feels like the earth is still at that point. Really, the only disruption happening is your paddle hitting the water - it’s often quiet enough that you can hear the whirlpool behind the paddle, it’s quite a feeling. It’s so humbling. It kind of reminds you that it’s okay to be quiet, it’s okay to be still, it’s okay to be focused on nothing - to just be there and be present.
How does a morning paddle set up the rest of your day?
It’s hard to have a bad day when you start out paddling. Paddling has that perfect combination…of mental health, of physical health. But more than anything, when you’re starting the day with an activity that regardless of how far you paddle or how fast you paddle or how big the boat is or whether you’re going to a place you’ve been to a million times or you’re going to a place for the first time, you’re accomplishing it. You’re putting the boat in the water…and you’re going. Paddling just happens to be something I can easily talk myself into.
Why get up so early?
Ha ha I have a couple answers to that question. One is that the conditions are never as good for a flatwater paddler as they are first thing in the morning. That’s it. Not every morning is perfect…but for the most part that’s when you have that serene experience. The other reason to get up early to paddle is that it’s the best way to start the day. You get outside, you breathe the fresh morning air. By the time you get back, you still have the whole day ahead of you.
Regardless of what time of day you choose to paddle the waters in and around Saranac Lake, you can rest assured that there is an unforgettable adventure to be had. Book your stay now, and reach out to one of Saranac Lake’s trusted paddling outfitters to have the trip of a lifetime.
The Dawn Patrol series:
Episode 4: Mitchell and Bethany