We are not a canoeing family. While I like to think that we are, nothing could be further from the truth. My children have not properly been exposed to manually operated watercraft other than the deluxe inflatable pool lounge with cup holder that floats about our pool. There's a reason for this and has nothing to do with the fear of open waterways. My husband and I have different visions of floating down a river. Mine involves a leisurely four hour float to a tastefully decorated cabin where steaks are sizzling on the grill. My husband's plan for a water adventure involves entering the river where normal people take out, a 23 mile trek through a canyon with no cell phone signal and catching, cleaning, and preparing our own food along the way. If I have to strap a knife to my leg to ensure an outing is successful, I tend to avoid it. So, for eighteen years, we've been unable to merge our visions of floating down the rivers of the South and stick to watercraft with engines where we can putter around the lake with ease.
During a recent road-trip with my children, I made a surprise detour to Devil's Den State Park so I could take my kids canoeing in the upper lake above the dam. We had been there years earlier and I have fond memories of floating on the lake with my toddlers properly and safely secured in the canoe. We sailed around the tiny island with ease and my children squealed with delight each time we spotted a turtle, a hawk and even one snake. It was a marvelous outing, once upon a time.
This time, upon arrival to the lake, my children did not jump from the car to run to the canoe with wild abandon. Instead, my daughter roamed the parking lot desperately attempting to find the last shreds of cell phone signal that may have drifted down into the hollow for she had been in mid-conversation with friends from home and now she was suddenly unreachable. My son sized up the situation and carefully removed electronic devices and expensive sunglasses, properly safeguarding them in the trunk of the car. After giving up on modern conveniences, they joined me at the water's edge where I paid $5 for a 30 minute canoe adventure. Three more dollars would have bought me an hour, but I knew this wasn't going to last long. In the searing afternoon heat, we grabbed our paddles and life jackets and began the walk to our boat of choice. Certain we looked like Larry, Curly and Mo, as we tripped over our paddles and stepped on the life jacket cords, we somehow made it to the dock without injury.
Allie immediately stepped into the canoe like she was stepping onto a yacht and discovered that balance is key in a canoe. I caught her by the arm and explained the new rules of canoeing. The first problem we encountered was the fact that the canoe had two seats and we had three people. I assumed Allie would sit in the middle, on the bottom of the canoe. That lasted until my son stepped in and the dirty water from the back of the canoe came racing down to soak the person sitting in the middle. Terrified of germs that could possibly be from prior canoe people, Allie jumped from the bottom of the boat to sit on the black plastic seat that had been baking in the hot Southern sun. Having your skin bond to the seat was the lesser of two evils and she remained on her perch to avoid the germ infested waters that I suddenly realized I would surely be taking my place in. I accidentally dropped our bottles of water into the canoe sludge and Allie announced, "I'm not drinking that," as if we thought she would.
Before too long, we were all perfectly seated with me in the middle and we were ready to go.... until I realized that nobody had untied us from the pier. This was not Six Flags where someone pushes you off on your adventure. There was a group of small children with no parental supervision who were sitting on the dock, but I opted not to employ their help as one of them had already fallen in the water and had to be rescued by a stranger. Much like a balancing act of Cirque du Soleil, I pulled myself up from the bottom of the canoe and climbed back onto the dock to free us from our bonds. As the canoe began to drift from the dock, my son extended me a paddle and I jumped back in to take my place in the middle. We all began paddling in different directions and found that this was getting us nowhere. As my daughter announced we were drifting towards the dam, we suddenly developed a plan and began paddling in the opposite direction. Just as Joey and I worked up some momentum, Allie stuck her paddle in the water to poke a turtle, thus slowing us down and spinning us in the wrong direction. It didn't take long to figure out that this wasn't working and I opted to get some pictures, instead. Allie heard the words "Take Your Picture" and immediately stood up in the front of the boat to pose. Joey and I yelled at her to sit down and somehow we avoiding tipping over. Still certain of her balancing skills, she stood up again. We held on tight and yelled a little louder. We never actually made it around the bend towards the island, but we did all find our inner canoeist. Joey's job was to row from the back and ensure we made it back to the dock. My job was to redirect the water freely flowing back and forth inside the canoe to avoid soaking my pants or touching Allie's feet. Her job was to ride in the front like a Princess and whack the paddles in the water to drive turtles to the surface for her viewing pleasure.
It was a short trip in our canoe and was less than successful if we actually had a goal of traveling from point A to Point B. But it was great fun and we laughed all the way. We embraced our lack of canoeing skills or ability to work as a team and somehow made our way back to the dock where a man with two small children was beginning their canoe adventure. I thought to myself, "You'll make it around the bend on this trip, but give it fifteen years and it's a whole new experience." Once around the bend had been good enough for me.