Orange soda… Mud flats… White picket fence… and SPAM
My recollections of the founding of the HRCKC – by Martin Wellhoefer
It all started back in February of 1985, when one day my sister called to inform me of an announcement she saw in the community section of some local newspaper inviting people to attend a meeting about getting together to canoe on the Hackensack River. At first I didn’t give it much interest since most of my canoeing was solo and I was already a member of a couple of paddling clubs.
But then, thinking about it – I figured what the hell. I’ll go to the meeting and see what’s cooking. Well, never having seen the original ad and my sister not remembering the correct time I, of course showed up one hour too early at the door of the Flat Rock Brook Nature Center in Englewood on that cold February night. The whole place was dark! No one in sight! Well, maybe it got canceled. Oh well, that’s the way it goes, I guess. What the hell, I might as well bang on the door while I’m here – see what happens. After several progressively enthusiastic thumpings on the door and a determined leaning on the doorbell for a few moments – a door slowly opened into the hallway casting a beam of light down the corridor. Out of the light came a young fellow, barefooted, looking a bit disheveled and not quite awake and who opened the center’s main door and asked if he could be of some assistance. I said I was here for the meeting that was announced in the newspaper. The young fellow gave me this look (I wasn’t sure if he was mad or just sleepy) and said “Welcome, but the meeting starts at 8 o’clock and it’s not even 7 yet!” “Opps! Sorry about that chief. I’ll come back later.” “Nah, that’s OK!” He said “Come on in. By the way I’m Eric Nelsen - the Center’s caretaker.” “Glad to meet you, Eric. My name is Martin but my friends and enemies alike call me…. Mad Dog!”. A worried look came over Eric's face!
As we were waiting in the main room of the nature center (as I recall Eric offered me a beer or an orange soda – I took the soda), Eric and I got to talking about what was to be discussed at this meeting and our own personal paddling experiences. At one point we both agreed that it might be a nice idea to look into starting some kind of canoe club to give some credence to paddling the Hackensack River and that its damaged ecology should be improved upon… (and maybe meet some nice women too) ;>)
As 8:00 pm rolled around, people started showing up. As I recall, there were about 40 folks who attended that evening. Eric presented some of the ideas he had and it was agreed upon by most of the attendees that starting an official canoe club might be the way to go. We all came away with great enthusiasm and ideas for plans to get this thing rolling.
In the next couple of months, a bunch of us laid the ground work of what was to become the Club, but we still didn’t have a name… One idea was the North Jersey Canoe Club, another the Bergen County Canoe Club but the final decision was The Hackensack River Canoe Club. (There were no members paddling kayaks at that time.)
Dues: 12 bucks a year single – 15 for a family/group
Meeting place: Flat Rock Brook Nature Center
Meeting time: Last Sunday of the month
Mascot: A little cigarette smoking muskrat by the name of Lowell Tide assisted by his brother Ebb Tide and hippie kid brother High Tide.
Incorporate as non-profit: The Hackensack River Canoe Club, Inc.
The Quarterly “River Rat” Journal.
The Monthly schedule and newsletter.
T-shirts are a must!
Our first trip was to the Meadowlands that March (which I couldn’t attend due to work) while the second club trip (and the first for me) was on the Hackensack River, launching from Bogota’s Olsen Park to the Von Steuben House. Funny incident on that trip… the tide charts were misread so when everyone showed up at the put-in we were staring at 40 feet of mud out to the water. Since our launch point was what was at that time Bogota’s compost/garden debris dump, one of our members – Mike Musante found a half dozen sections of white picket fence which we then laid down, building a sort of ramp out across the mud into the water. Worked like a charm! (The probability of that fence still sloshing back and forth with the tide is great.)
The infamous SPAM sagas were also born on this trip. Since I had forgotten to make something for lunch, I had thrown a can of SPAM into my canoe at the last minute. When we stopped at the Von Steuben House for the lunch break I pulled out the can, opened it (the old key version) and proceeded to eat that great symbol of processed pork-byproduct luncheon meat. Upon the others observing this, I was then subjected to - at great length I might add - spirited ridicule and enthusiastic heckling from the rest of the group about my unique culinary tastes and preferences. Alas, it still persists to this day! Observe the Greek script under the Cormorant on the Club logo.
As the year progressed the HRCC became a reality. We had a small, dedicated group of folks who became real friends – almost a family. We paddled everything in sight - hence our motto… “Any Ditch Will Do!” We also had parties all the time. The club took on some “expeditions” those first years – many of the remote areas of the Adirondacks, the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, the Florida Everglades, Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, The Dismal Swamp in Virginia, Mt. Desert Island in Maine, Clarion River and Pine Creek in western PA, etc. The HRCC was a small but active group – membership always hovering at around 17 – 25 for the first few years. Many long term friendships came about. We had members meet, fall in love, a few marriages (we also had more than a few divorces too).
But alas, as time moves on, as people come and go, as old age and creaky joints set in and as life’s journeys take new paths – there are still the fond memories of that tiny group of friends standing along the banks of a polluted river sliding their canoes over a white picket fence laid across a slimy mudflat to launch into the dark and turbid waters of the mighty Hacky and paddle off into the smoggy sunset…..
And, of course, there is always that can of “SPAM”…..
Dedicated to my long time friend - Phil Renner - Original and Senior member of the HRCKC.
And to those who laid the early foundations that made the HRCKC into one of the largest paddle clubs in the area.
A hardy “Wha Ho, Pilgrims!” from Fat Elmo