L.L. Bean is well known for it’s preppy clothes, camping supplies, and the “Bean Boot.” What most people don’t know is that many of the retail stores offer the Outdoor Discovery School, where adventuresome people can take a few hours – or a few days – to learn a fun and exciting outdoor activity. Since I’ve been dying to get into a kayak this summer, I decided to partake in one of L.L. Bean’s Walk-On Adventures, offered at the Freeport, Maine flagship store.
I made the 20 minute trek from Portland to Freeport with my friend Bryan, where we were lucky to fill in the last two spots on the 12:00 P.M. kayak adventure. The $15 trips fill up fast and early, and they don’t accept advance reservations, so you should get there early to sign up. Trips run everyday from June through September, and then run on a less frequent schedule until mid-October. When noon rolled around, an L.L. Bean guide herded us into a small bus, and we were on our way to Wolf Neck Woods State Park where we would gear up and head out to the Harraseeket River.
Showing professionalism and courtesy, the guides – Paul and Moe – introduced themselves and went over some safety rules and the process for getting into the kayaks. After some group introductions, we were fitted with paddles, PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices; a.k.a, life vests), and watershoes. A short hike through a small pasture led us to a grass outcropping where Paul went over proper paddling technique while Moe readied the kayaks. A few minutes later, we were on the dock climbing into the slim, colorful plastic boats. With everyone in the water, we shoved off and began our trek.
Hugging the coastline, we paddled through a high tide – the Harraseeket is a tidal river – and calm waters. Though a storm threatened in the skies, the sun managed to stay out for most of the trip giving us beautiful vistas the whole way. Mary and David, a couple from Boston, sat in a yellow tandem, Mary in front and David playing the part of sternman. Though David had some previous kayaking experience, novice Mary was a bit apprehensive from the start, and had apparently been a bit nervous the day before when stormy weather called off their first trip. Today, though she still didn’t have her sea legs and her nerves were a bit shaky, she climbed willingly enough into the kayak. A few nervous yelps and some splashing later, Mary was laughing with delight and paddling as hard as she could, David doing all he could to keep up with her. Kayaking, even for beginners, is truly addicting.
As we made our way downriver, a high pitched chirp pulled our attention to the treeline. A large brown Osprey thrashed from its perch about 100 yards in front of us and soared over our heads as we approached. Though it’s never guaranteed, wildlife is usually a part of these tours, and Bald Eagles have been known to frequent the area from time to time. Though we didn’t see any eagles this time, the Ospreys provided a great – albeit short – step into the wilderness.
After what seemed like an entirely too short hour of paddling, Paul and Moe rounded up the new paddlers and shepherded us back to the dock. Twenty minutes later, our little group was back at the L.L. Bean barn, doffing our PFDs and watershoes and sharing knowing looks as the next group of kayakers gathered their gear. Smiles were plenty when we stepped back on the bus, but everyone was quiet. Though I’m sure the group was simply tired out from paddling the placid waters, I like to think we were all contemplating when we’d be able to make our next kayak adventure a reality.
L.L. Bean Kayaking Walk-on Adventure
- All equipment provided
- Knowledgeable, friendly guides
- Too little time on water
- Dependent on weather conditions
- Walk-on Adventures include kayaking, archery, clay shooting, and fly casting
- Hours and Adventures offered may vary by location
- Outdoor Discovery School offers Walk-ons, Weekend Adventures, and Family Outings
*Disclosure: I am a seasonal employee at L.L. Bean in Freeport. I enjoy my job there, and I think that L.L. Bean is a good company. However, I try to remain as unbiased as possible in anything I write about the company and its products. Honesty is the best policy.