Adventures in Paddle School
Well, this is it. After weeks of various activities, each ending in varying levels of disaster, the paddling trip I’ve been preparing for is almost upon me. Yes, in mere days I will be canoeing 103 miles (that’s 165 kilometers, for you metric folks) down a river. Of course, I’m not striking out on my own into the wilderness; I’m going with a group. In fact, it’s part of a class, odd as that sounds.
Keeping in mind that I’ve only ever canoed for maybe half an hour around a lake (and my friend Meghan, who will be sharing a canoe with me, has never canoed at all) it seemed sensible to get some experience paddling before actually setting out. I mean, I’m all for rushing headlong into dangerous situations, but even I’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
Thankfully, our pre-trip preparations involved paddle school, and so it was that, at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I found myself in a room with nine other students and two professors I strongly suspect have the power to kill with their minds (those outdoorsy types... it’s all in the eyes).
Firstly, I discovered that we will be starting each day of the trip with yoga. Usually I dislike yoga, mostly because I distrust activities that try to calm me down (the whole "soma" thing in A Brave New World really got to me), but this actually wasn’t too bad. At any rate, I discovered that I’m somewhat stronger than I was the last time I tried yoga, which I’ll take as a sign that working out has not been completely in vain.
We had a somewhat extensive lecture about how to avoid flipping our canoes, including learning the basics of hydrology. Apparently, despite what I’ve been taught, water does not always flow directly downstream. While I picked up lots of useful information—I now understand what an “eddy” is—I'm actually more concerned now than I was before we learned about the river.
We drove to a lake that I had no idea existed until that morning, and put our canoes in the water. I was in back, Meghan in front. Our professors taught us the basics of canoe terminology, but as far as the finer points of different strokes went, we were on our own. All I knew was to paddle on the right if I wanted to go left, and vice versa. Of course, that led to some interesting scenarios as Meghan and I tried desperately to maneuver ourselves around the lake, more often than not heading in the exact opposite direction of where we were meant to be going.
By some miracle, we managed to paddle under a bridge and into a small cove, following the rest of the class. We then had to take the canoes out of the water in order to learn the proper strokes (we didn’t fall in, but the murky waters definitely wanted our blood, or at least our health, judging by the amount of trash). Theoretically, we were being taught how to steer and to propel ourselves forward with maximum effectiveness, but that sort of thing is for competent people who can do things like tell left from right.
Back in the canoe and realizing that we weren’t having much luck with the whole "steering" thing, Meghan and I decided to just pick a specific destination and simply try our best to head that way. Pointing to the far shore, Meghan said, “Let’s try to head for those three trees.” I agreed, and started trying to paddle that way.
It took us a couple of minutes to realize that we were trying to head for two different groups of trees.
After a bit more misadventure and some pointers from one of our professors, it was time to go. We had almost made it back to the dock when our canoe suddenly veered off course, presumably due to kappas. After paddling halfway across the lake, we figured out how to turn around, only to crash into another canoe when we finally got back to the dock (it’s ok, we weren’t going very fast). Eventually Meghan just got out and dragged our canoe backwards into place.
Whatever works, I always say. But our profound incompetence may be a bit of a problem on the river, where it is actually important that we be able to head in our intended direction. However, I am confident that we will figure it out before any real disaster strikes. And if not, no problem! It’s only a 9-day trip! (Pardon me while I sob in a pile of insecurity.)
I won’t be updating next week due to lack of internet in the wilderness, but I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with an inglorious conclusion to this epic series! Wish me luck!
Good luck, travewriter! You can do it! Maybe!
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