A few weeks ago, a friend and I went for a little canoeing adventure. He was applying for a job to be a canoe guide and he thought it would help his chances if he knew a little about the flora and fauna of the region, so he took me along to identify things and tell him relevant ecological stories. (I’m useful for that sort of thing…also tick removal, fyi.)
He asked me about my level of experience with a canoe and I told him that, although I’d been out a few times before, I’d never paddled in bad weather. However, I promised that no matter what, I would do everything he said and remain calm. (I’m also useful for that; I’m obedient and calm in emergencies.) He glanced quizzically at my biking shoes (I had ridden there), but didn’t comment on their suitability for canoeing.
He said that the weather looked fine for the day and he didn’t expect any difficult paddling, so we both hopped in the boat and took off. I started on a long ramble that began with the utility of willows and continued through a discussion of osprey mating behaviour and trees that love saturated soil. We paddled out onto the calm lake and around a peninsula of land, then over to a swamp. We pulled the boat onto land and spent about a half hour in the pouring rain discussing the plants growing there and their practical uses.
Then we decided to paddle home. As we headed out onto the lake, we could immediately see that the situation had changed abruptly. We were greeted by howling winds and white-capped waves that buffeted and rocked our boat. Calmly confident with my canoe guide in the back, I kept on paddling, whistling aimlessly to myself and holding onto my hat occasionally.
That’s when I heard my friend shouting curse words behind me, and much to my surprise I should say, given that I’d never heard him speak above a murmur before. I glanced back at my normally calm and level compatriot and found him spewing curse words into the wind. “We’re gonna have to ram the shore!” he shouted, “Hold on!”
With a desperate effort, we turned the boat and rammed the shore head first with a bone rattling impact. “Jump out!” he shouted, “Pull the boat onto shore!”
We hauled it up the grassy bank and considered our options. We could leave the boat there and walk back the five some miles to where he had left his car. Well, I suggested, we could carry the boat to the next strip of water and paddle across the relatively sheltered inlet. He gazed at me for a moment, then glanced at the swamp we would have to trudge through, then back at me.
So with water up to our knees in some places, we hauled the boat, squelching and stumbling, to the next stretch of water. I lost a little bit of heart to see that between us and home base, there was yet another spit of land that we would have to carry the boat across. Yet we searched for a place to drop the boat in, climbed aboard, and paddled over.
After carrying the boat across again, we both stood and stared at our prospects. We could see our dock…it was only 100 meters away, but it was across an expanse of white capped waves traveling perpendicular to the shore. We would have to paddle directly into the waves up shore a ways and then turn hard and let the current carry us to the dock.
But first we would have to get the boat in the water. There was no way to put the canoe in parallel to the shore because of a dense thorny underbrush. My friend slid the boat out perpendicular, holding on with one hand. “Um,” he started to say, “I don’t know if this is a good—” but I was already scrambling over him into the boat. Halfway along a huge wave hit it and I grabbed on with both hands to avoid being knocked into the water. Both the boat and I caught some air for a moment, then plunged back down. I hit the boat belly first with a graceful “OOF!”
Then I caught onto a tree and held on for dear life as my friend scrambled aboard. “I’m gonna need you to paddle hard!” he shouted.
We knelt at the bottom of the boat (which was filling with water) and I paddled HARD at the prow, directly into the waves. When we got close to the other shore, we both used draw strokes to turn the boat.
“Okay…” he said, “Okay! You can stop paddling now!” I realized I was still hitting the water with everything I had. I relaxed back and we rocked gently along in the current back to the dock, where we pulled the boat in close and then both flopped onto land in exhaustion, pulling the boat up after us.
Later I heard him telling the story to a mutual friend, “I feared for both of our lives, but I think standingoutinmyfield was actually having a great time!” he exclaimed.
“What?” I said in surprise, “You weren’t?”