A lovely stroll with your ... kayak?

Kayaking is an extraordinarily healthy and joyous exercise, but walking your kayak?

Not so much.

A 45-year-old Morningside man has begun wheeling his kayak across bridges in part "to illustrate the continuing disconnectedness of the city with its rivers." That is just the kind of effort -- one part civic-minded, one part environmental, maybe three parts goofy -- that I am known to get behind.

I'd met Dave Malehorn, a mild-mannered molecular biologist for a great metropolitan hospital, in March when I made his regular hour-plus walking commute with him from Morningside to Oakland. That's more than enough for most people, but now he has added a twist to some weekend walks: the kayak carriage.

He grew up paddling a kayak -- with time out for meals, of course -- and so he is bothered that he must drive for miles to paddle "when I could practically toss a stone into the Allegheny from Morningside.''

He exaggerates. Even someone with the arm of Roberto Clemente couldn't hit the river from any house in Morningside, but the hilltop neighborhood does loom above the water. So Dr. Malehorn re-engineered a Little Tikes double-wide stroller -- the youngest of his four daughters is in high school, and hasn't much use for it -- to carry his little boat.

He had this dream of the Friends of the Riverfront or the Riverlife Task Force or some other strain of aquatic cheerleader emblazoning its logo on his cart as he traveled the city. He even imagined the potential slide show:

"Dave, pushing his boat/cart through Oakland on his way to South Side Riverfront Park; Dave, pushing his boat/cart through Lawrenceville on the way to Millvale Riverfront Park; Dave, pushing his boat through Downtown on his way to the Great Lawn ramp, or the Clemente Bridge ramp ... "

I told him that if he ever became a kayak pusher to let me know.

The following week, he e-mailed, "Oh, ye of little faith," and told me he'd received the permission of the Aspinwall Marina to put his kayak in there.

"It was a beautiful Saturday morning on the Allegheny ... as smooth as glass, with mist rising from the sun-warmed water in little vortices.''

(That's the plural of "vortex," folks. You have to love a guy who knows the plural form of "vortex.")

"Two wading herons, an osprey and a thirsty deer collectively outnumbered the three paddlers who owned a 2-mile stretch of the pond-green river above the Highland Park dam, all the way to Blawnox and back.''

He painted a vivid, compelling scene, but it was a subsequent 3-mile walk across the Highland Park Bridge to Sharpsburg that really won me over. The quiet comedy of his quixotic careening of a kayak through traffic was admirably photographed by his 17-year-old daughter, Michelle.

Thus far, his offer to put a logo or motto on his craft hasn't been taken up by any river advocacy organization, a reticence I find odd. What better ad could there be for the Pittsburgh they hope to live in someday, one with bike lanes to a plethora of put-ins?

Until then, Dr. Malehorn will weather the put-downs as he goes where -- or at least how -- no man has gone before. On Oct. 1, he will make a long walk to the Monongahela for the dedication of a new put-in, "pocket-sized and steep," at the end of Fourth Street. And this Saturday, he plans a Morningside-to-Stanton Heights-to-Lawrenceville walk, having learned from Friends of the Riverfront of a put-in 'neath the 40th Street Bridge.

"I'm giving myself an hour for the walk plus an hour for the paddle, then going to the Pitt game at noon [at Heinz Field], and paddling back home afterwards."

He offered his daughter the chance to paddle beside him in a second boat, and Michelle said, "Uh, Dad, I'll meet you at the game."

"Teenagers," he said.

Are sometimes wiser than parents, I say.

Brian O'Neill can be reached at boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947. First Published August 28, 2008 4:00 AM


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