Saturday, January 2, 2021

Pete Hornbeck: One of the True Good Guys

I am grieving this week the loss of a man who changed my life, even though he probably never knew it.  His name is Pete Hornbeck, and he created small lightweight solo canoes that even arthritic, overweight ladies like myself could carry alone to isolated waterways without asking for help, boats we could paddle at our own pace and into places we longed to explore, without being controlled by bossy guys in the stern. My own carbon-fiber Black Jack (pictured above) weighs just 12 pounds and is easily carried significant distances to wilderness ponds where no beer cans litter the shore.  Just 10 feet long, it has allowed me to wend my way through the narrowest channels of bog mats and small creeks that longer canoes could never maneuver.  I have shared with long-time readers of this blog many of the beautiful places my Hornbeck canoe has allowed me to explore.

While paddling my Hornbeck canoe, I experienced the wonderfully diverse variety of native plants that beautify our waterways, and I soon grew obsessed with learning all I could about them.  This led to my need to photograph them, which next led to my need to start this blog to showcase my photos, which ultimately introduced me to a larger community of wildflower enthusiasts and professional botanists from all over the country, who have since become some of my dearest friends.  

I counted Pete among my friends, as I'm sure hundreds of others have as well.  Pete's gracious and cheerful hospitality made every visit to his place of business a memorable event. He built a business that provided great joy to his many customers as well as meaningful jobs for his fellow Adirondackers, in a region where such good jobs are hard to find.  He also dedicated his life to preserving the kind of wilderness that those of us who love nature would want to paddle into. 

What a guy!  I will never forget him.  He died last week, quite unexpectedly, after enjoying an outdoor walk with those he loved best, his family.  My heart goes out to his loving family most of all.  But I know that many, many others also grieve the loss of this good man.

UPDATE: While pondering some of the life-changing consequences my little Hornbeck canoe has meant for me, I delighted to recall the first fellow Hornbecker/plant enthusiast I met through my blog, the noted Adirondack naturalist Evelyn Greene, now one of my dearest friends.  We first met back in August of 2009 to paddle together a stretch of the Hudson River at Moreau, where Evelyn introduced me to the marvelous world of mosses. To see how many outstanding adventures followed since then, just type "Evelyn" into my blog's search bar and prepare to be amazed!  Of all my accounts of our many outings together (on land or on water, and especially on frazil ice!), I think there is one that exemplifies the kind of wilderness adventure our lightweight Hornbeck canoes made possible for us "ladies of a certain age."  The post from August, 2011, is called "Bog-hopping, Bushwhacking: Three Old Broads and Their Boats."   Check it out!



The Furry Gnome said...

Sorry for Pete's passing. But so glad you got that canoe, went exploring and started your wonderful blog. I loved the corners I could get into with my small pack canoe. Sadly it's tethered to the garage ceiling now!

threecollie said...

So sorry to read this. One of my dearest friends also has a Hornbeck and loves it. Hard times these....

Woody Meristem said...

Pete sold me a kevlar/carbon fiber Lost Pond Boat many years ago and later repaired it while I waited and enjoyed his company -- after I'd abused it on an underwater stump. We have a framed poster of his onto which he added a sketch and a bit of advice -- "Keep her off the stumps." Pete was a generous host and built wonderful boats, he'll be missed by many.

Maggie Moehringer said...

So I got a Hornbeck because of you, Jackie, and it has changed MY life. I'm so glad his obit mentioned the women who love his canoes because of the paddling independence they bring. What a gift!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post and all your past ones! Enjoyable reading! Question about your Hornbeck! I have always yearned for one but have hesitated because of physical limitations! I am a bit overweight, a bit “old”, and have had numerous surgeries, one of which is a knee replacement. Because you have to sit so low in the Hornbeck, have you figured out a way to get out of it easily?? Would love to hear from you! Thanks, Bev. PS: maybe you need a blog for old women who enjoy walking and paddling!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Furry:So sad that your paddling days are behind you, but I'm very glad you had some good times to remember.

threecollie: Hard times, indeed, especially for folks like you, who have lost dear ones recently. I have found that drifting along some quiet waterway, surrounded by trees and flowers and birdsong, enormously healing for grief. I imagine birding offers you similar solace. Perhaps your friend would lend you her Hornbeck so that you might experience the sweet solitude of paddling. I think of my canoe as my portable Zen temple.

Woody: Your story of dealing with Pete confirms his reputation for congenial hospitality. I have heard similar stories repeated again and again.

Maggie: How great that may paddling accounts encouraged you to acquire a Hornbeck for yourself! In addition to granting us access to amazing waterways, the independence these lightweight canoes grant us women is priceless.

Bev: I won't pretend that getting in and out of a Hornbeck isn't challenging, especially for those of us not so young and agile. I, too, am old (78), overweight, and with a knee now arthritic because of several surgeries to repair a smashed kneecap. Many of my paddling pals share some or all of these difficulties, and each of us has devised ways of entering and exiting our canoes. One of the wonderful experiences for Hornbeck customers is that the staff will show you several different ways to do just that, and will coach you while you practice these methods under their tutelage in the pond where you can try out the boats. Regarding your suggestion about a blog for old women who enjoy walking and paddling, I believe my current blog is really already about that.