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Adventure by the Hour

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Mike Henry, our sea kayaking instructor, cautioned us that muscle hydration is vital for
the strength necessary for paddling a sea kayak. We, therefore, would be making frequent
stops along the way for water breaks. The human body, Henry told us, can excrete up to two
liters of fluids an hour, but it can only absorb one liter in the same time period — no
matter how much fluid you drink. We paid close attention to this information, and were no
longer concerned with accidentally flipping over, especially since we were in the shallow
water of the Harraseeket River, in the state of Maine. This was our first experience
paddling a sea kayak, and we were delighted that we were in such good company. We were
participating in L.L.Bean’s new outdoor adventure program, Walk-On Adventure, and we were
using one of the company’s Old Town kayaks. Of course, we were ensconced in a personal
flotation device (PFD, better known as a life jacket), and our class went off without a
hitch. L.L. Bean offers the new programs at its flagship store in Freeport, Maine, as well
as in Marlton, New Jersey, in the Pinelands; Columbia, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay; and
Tysons Corner, Virginia, in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. These introductory 1-1/2 to
2-1/2 hour-long courses are designed to provide a sampling of a new outdoor skill or two,
and to determine whether you might just consider developing a more advanced knowledge of
the sport. For $12 per activity, you receive personalized small-class instruction from
professional guides. The instructors, all the equipment and transportation to each venue
are included in the price. (Similar timed paddling and shooting classes at private sports
venues in Maine and New Hampshire range in price from $50 to $150 an hour.) One of the most
attractive aspects of the Walk-On Adventure is suggested in the name: Simply walk into the
store, sign up and take one or more of the courses on the same day they are offered —
without complicated advance registration. And, there is plenty of free reserved parking
space for RVs at the facility. For motorhomers on vacation in the Pine Tree State, it is an
excellent opportunity to try an exciting, but safe and well-supervised adventure that most
have only read about in books or travel guides, or have only seen on television. As the
seasons move inexorably from spring to summer to fall to winter, the mini-classes change
with the scenery. Skills taught in the summer include fly-casting, archery, clay-target
shooting and sea-kayaking. Children must be 8 or older to join the sea-kayaking, and those
under 14 must be accompanied by a participating adult. In the winter, snowshoeing and
cross-country-skiing classes are offered on the weekends, plus coastal nature tours are
available in the fall. We had an opportunity to participate in the new Walk-On Adventures
last summer, and the experience was thrilling and productive. We joined like-minded
individuals at the designated bus, and once we arrived at Bean’s Fogg Farm, the fun really
began. We started with the fly-casting session, which included a mandatory short safety
briefing. This briefing identifies the risks and potential complications with taking the
class and with participating in the specified activity. (One of the problems foreseen for
the fly-casting seminar — and fly-fishing in general — is the potential for suffering
emotional distress. In plain language, you agree not to hold L.L. Bean responsible if,
after completing the mini-course, you decide to drive to Canada or fly to New Zealand for a
week of fly-fishing and fail to come home with a single fish!) A more serious concern is
that all participants wear protective glasses to prevent eye injury. If you don’t have or
wear a pair of prescription or sun glasses, your instructor will loan you a pair furnished
by L.L. Bean. He or she will also point out why it is imperative that you follow their
instructions closely. It is, in part, for your own personal safety, and also for the safety
of other attendees. This short, but relevant, safety briefing was followed by the actual
non-stop, hands-on, fly-casting instructions. Our instructor, Pete Brunner, proceeded to
teach us the L.L. Bean Four-Part Fly Cast, which includes: 1) Pickup; 2) Backcast; 3)
Forward Cast; and 4) Presentation. The repetitive drill on this subject resulted in a
straightened and lengthened cast good enough to fool even the most wily brook or rainbow
trout. After a short question-and-answer session, we were back on the bus to return to the
main L.L. Bean retail store, possibly for another Walk-On Discovery class. In our case, it
was the shooting sports program. The focus on safety, as might be anticipated, was even
more intense. Safety shooting glasses were mandatory, as was ear protection — again,
furnished free of charge. The shooting kiosks were also designed with safety in mind in
order to prevent any possible accidents. The two instructors, both holders of major
shooting awards, brought decades of shooting experience with them. A selection of shotguns
was available, with one suitable for each of the participants. The Walk-On Adventures are
the latest L.L. Bean offerings held under the company’s immensely popular Outdoor Discovery
Schools, which celebrated their Silver Anniversary during 2004. The Discovery classes —
taught by more than 100 instructors — offer longer, more advanced courses on the same
basic outdoor skills but in a significantly expanded way. A host of other programs are also
offered, such as outdoor photography taught by professional photographers who earn a living
in outdoor and wildlife imagery. One of special note is the Moose Photography Weekend
Getaway adventure conducted at Baxter State Park, a region well known for its moose
habitat. Upon the conclusion of the classes, participants in the Walk-On Adventure courses
should be prepared to shop into the wee small hours at the awesome, all-inclusive L.L. Bean
retail store. The outdoor giant had several items in stock that were just what we wanted
for our RV, and also a good selection of clothing to wear during the cool midsummer nights
while we were in Maine. L.L. Bean Inc., (888) 552-3261, www.llbean.com/ods.

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