Quite the first visit: Virginia man kayaks Seneca Lake in just over eight hours (2024)

GENEVA — Jennifer Siegler Douglas drove into Seneca Lake State Park but was unaware of the fee required for cars entering the park. The Panama, N.Y. (Chautauqua County) resident wasn’t there to enjoy the park’s tranquil views or amenities. She told the park ranger that she needed to enter the park to rescue her husband.

Alarmed, the park ranger asked if everything was alright. Siegler Douglas replied, “Yes he’s fine, but he left Watkins Glen in a kayak this morning, and is arriving soon.”

With a look of disbelief, the ranger soon found out that on that day, Wednesday, June 11, a man set out from Watkins Glen in a kayak. Eight hours and 10 minutes later with an average speed of 4.6 miles per hour, he arrived in Geneva.

With cramps, muscle fatigue and exhaustion, Wes Douglas exited Seneca Lake from his kayak to the surprise of the park ranger who went down to see. After battling a headwind for eight hours, the Virginia police lieutenant pulled off an incredible feat.

“It’s a really neat area, and that was my first time there,” Douglas said as he began to laugh. “First time I go up there I just went ahead and paddled the whole lake.”

Originally from Alabama, Douglas is a police lieutenant in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He and his wife split their time between Panama and Virginia. A lover of long distance athletic races, Douglas spends much of his free time mountain biking, cycling and swimming for hours on end. One day, on Chautauqua Lake in Western NY near Jamestown, he wondered if anyone had ever kayaked the length of it.

He then got to work, plotting a course, gathering information and even landing a sponsor. Ashville General, a local store, provided a free breakfast and apparel.

A short while later, born from just a wondering thought if anyone had done it before, Douglas paddled the length of Chautauqua Lake and reset the previous four-and-a-half-hour record with a time of three hours, 24 minutes.

He enjoyed his time and told a local publication — The Post Journal — at the time he might try to do it again in a faster boat.

“So that happened two years ago, and I started thinking if I could do something else,” Douglas said. “I was up at the lake (Chautauqua) and the logical, nearby choice would be the Finger Lakes, which I’ve never been to, and I started looking at those.”

Douglas began looking at other lakes around New York State and knew of the Finger Lakes but had never ventured here. The layout of the Finger Lakes are perfect for kayaking and gave Douglas a lofty idea: kayak every single one, and the ideas just got rolling from there.

“I was in the military and went to special forces school and then I race bikes and do 100-mile mountain bike races,” Douglas said. “So I am comfortable with doing really long endurance stuff, and I like to do it because I think of something and wonder if I could do that or not in a time, speed or distance.”

He reached out to outdoor companies and a short while later, he found himself with a brand new kayak courtesy of Eddyline Kayaks, who sent one of their top models to use for all the lakes.

“I sent a proposal out saying that I wanted to try and knock off all the Finger Lakes for time, as fast as I could do, and would you be interested in sponsoring me?” Douglas said. “(Eddyline) were the only ones to email me back and said, ‘We’ll give you a kayak,’ and that was so cool that they did that.”

With a brand new kayak and a goal of all the Finger Lakes now set, Douglas had to choose which lake to tackle first. A fan and supporter of the Seneca Nation, Douglas wanted to honor them by tackling Seneca Lake first.

“I’m a big fan of the Seneca Nation and really sympathetic to a lot of the issues they have in New York,” Douglas said. “I just thought as a tribute to them — and they were very appreciative and sent me some stickers and stuff — that I would start with that one.

“But also, because I was given this kayak, I needed to kind of bite the bullet and do one of the hardest ones first,” Douglas added.

Douglas plotted out an intricate course, sticking to the middle of Seneca Lake. It was the best route, as following the shoreline would lead to kayaking a further distance than the actual length of the lake. He marked Miles Wine Cellars as a stopping point. Just north of Himrod and right before the lake juts inward, it has water access where he could get out, stretch, eat and ready himself for the next big half of the journey.

With a route planned, a new kayak and his wife driving up along the lake in support, Douglas was ready.

“My wife, she really is a saint. She plays along with my shenanigans,” Douglas said. “We camped out the night before in Watkins Glen and then she would drive along the shore and then went to the winery and then met me at the end.”

Starting out in Watkins Glen, the first portion of the day went smooth. The waters were calm and Douglas was thrilled with the scenery and the people he encountered on the lake.

“Having never even seen any of the Finger Lakes before, they are really cool,” Douglas said. “They’re so long and when you’re paddling it and can’t see anything at the other end for hours, that’s an experience; big, open water and everyone that I ran into was super friendly and they’d slow way down for me. Super pretty area, super pretty.”

Then, a nasty northeast to southwest headwind arrived — unusual for the area — and it didn’t leave until he exited the water in Geneva.

However, Douglas’ inner motor is built for endurance. Athletic feats lasting hours are nothing the former military man hasn’t done before. It was a grind, absolutely, but when he got sight of the tree line at the north end of the lake, finishing was a foregone conclusion.

“I can race and ride for hours. I have an endurance component and can continually go for eight hours or more,” Douglas said. “(Kayaking) is different as far as the muscles go, and it hurt. I’ve done some hard things, this hurt. When I met my wife at Miles Wine Cellars she asked how I was doing and I said, ‘I kind of want to quit. I’m not going to, yet, but I kind of want to.’ I was already really hurting. But I got back out on the lake and after another few miles and I could almost see an outline of trees — and it’s still forever away — but psychologically, it made a big difference. By the time that little bit of motivational euphoria wore off, I was too close to quit.”

Through the cramps, fatigue and exhaustion, Douglas exited Seneca Lake at a time just over eight hours.

“My forearms, I could barely even shake someone’s hands when I got out. I could hardly even grip my hands anymore,” Douglas said on the hardest part of the day. “(The muscle fatigue) and the psychological aspect. When you’re paddling near the shore, you feel the speed because things are passing you. But out in the middle of a big lake, you feel like you’re hardly moving at all.”

A hearty dinner at Beef and Brew followed before he and Jennifer got back on the road and headed back to their family in Panama.

After recovering from the day, Douglas began looking at what Finger Lake he’d like to cross off next, and when he might do it; it’ll certainly be a day when the winds are behind him and when the weather is a bit cooler. Douglas plans to tackle the majority of the lakes in the fall.

“Next time I am going to make sure I have the wind with me,” Douglas said with a laugh. “And I don’t want to do the largest one next. I think I’ll do Canandaigua; something that would be a little shorter.”

Quite the first visit: Virginia man kayaks Seneca Lake in just over eight hours (2024)
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