As the fall weather set in, I found myself longing for a canoe trip. I started reminiscing about another trip from this past summer. My family and I headed back to the James River State Park after the 2 mile float I mentioned in my first post. My wife had agreed to another trip in a canoe, to practice our couples paddling. We have paddled tandem several times now and each time has been an adventure. The first time was in a Jackson Dynamic Duo whitewater kayak, referred to by our shuttle driver as "the divorce boat." We paddled the Lower New in WV and had a blast, but that is another story. Today's story is about our second James River family trip. We opted for the 6 mile stretch, more than doubling our first trip. My daughter was now ten months old and this would be our family's first solo trip without the grandparents' support.
The trip started off with a shuttle provided by the canoe livery at James River State Park. They will take you to the put-in for a very small fee. We hopped into the livery van with another couple and headed out. During the ensuing small talk it was discovered that the husband and I had graduated from the same high school. Tabb High School has a rich history of AA football prowess and we reminisced about the glory years much to the chagrin of our wives.
When we got to the river, we said our goodbyes and the couple headed down the river. I think they were wary of getting stuck close to the 10 month old on her first long float. I didn't blame them. I was unsure how it would all work out as well. We loaded up the canoe and hit the James. We had taken out another used canoe from work and I found myself in the stern, again. My wife had agreed to let me guide the boat. This is always shocking, given her perfectionist nature, bordering on OCD, in all things, especially paddling. I immediately noticed that the water was very low and tensed up. This was going to be a little bumpy. I remember asking for help reading the river in a couple very boney sections. What I got was 20+ years of paddling advice condensed into 45 second sound bites, followed by "I would have gone over there." ;)
My wife is a very confident boater, and for good reason, but she is not the best instructor when juggling a baby in the bow of our boat. I am not the best at heeding advice. Needless to say, in one particularly rocky section, the canoe beached on a boulder. My wife jumped out, the canoe swung 180 degrees and started moving down river. She said, " you are going backwards," and grabbed the baby just before the canoe slammed into another boulder behind my left shoulder. The canoe swung back 90 degrees perpendicular to the flow of the river and subsequently tipped. I tumbled out, got my footing, cursed loudly and quickly righted the ship. As I scanned the bank for a good spot to dump the water I'd taken on, I saw my wife and child calmly standing ten feet upstream. My wife's face was a mix of caring and caution, knowing that my manhood had just taken a direct hit.
She asked, "are you alright?"
Well, I was not alright. I had brought my iPhone along in my dry-bag but forgotten to close it properly. My phone was dead.
"You brought your phone! If I had known that, I would have told you to leave it in the car. That is a definite no-no. I never bring my phone on the river," was her answer to that problem.
And so, I was banished to the bow with the baby.
My daughter promptly fell asleep in my arms after all the excitement. At first, it felt pretty emasculating to be stripped of my stern duties and given baby patrol. I wasn't even paddling at this point! But, eventually, I came to terms with it. Our daughter is pretty cute, that helped a lot. I realized that while my wife will always be the better paddler, I will always be stronger, faster, less OCD and occasionally smarter ;)......well, ok, that is a true rarity. Bringing my unprotected iPhone on the river was not my best stuff, intellectually speaking.
The day ended up being quite enjoyable. We paddled the 6 mile section and our daughter had a good time. She woke up and had a snack in the bottom of the boat, once again proving the canoe is the best family watercraft. If you cannot afford a new canoe, but are still interested in quality family fun, check out the Appomattox River Company selection of used canoes and kayaks.
We had borrowed some nice Bending Branches paddlesfrom my wife's father, but had to switch to the Carlisle paddles when the going got rough. My wife got to experience the shallow sections and agreed that reading the lines was a little tougher than usual. This was a small semi victory for me.
We soldiered through and even found a great spot to relax in the middle of the river. After my earlier canoe tipping, my daughter did her best to cheer me up, and it worked. It is hard to stay upset when faced with the brilliant beauty of the James River, the love of my wife and the irresistible cuteness of my daughter.
I had once again brought the GoPro along, mounting it to the front of the canoe with the suction cup arm that came with the camera. I set it up to take a picture every 2 seconds as we paddled down the river. It became quite the attraction for my daughter.
We survived our first unassisted family float down the river with minimal damage. My ego was a little bruised, but it was nothing a little post paddle beer couldn't fix. When I shamefully recounted the story to my father-in-law, he, rather succinctly, related my paddling mishap to something I understood, climbing. He said, "I imagine tipping a canoe, getting rolled in a kayak, etc. is a lot like falling in climbing. If it isn't happening, you aren't trying."
Paddling is relatively new to me. I have been canoeing most of my life, albeit like a lot of folks, on flat water and without any knowledge of paddle strokes. I have spent more time on the West Virginia section of the New River, in some form of watercraft, than any other body of water. My first time in a kayak was on the Middle New strapped into a Wave Sport whitewater play-boat. My experience is very scattered, to say the least. So, to have a seasoned paddling veteran, like my father-in-law, voice that little nugget of non-elitism meant a great deal to me.
I am a huge proponent of non-elitism in outdoor recreation. My time as a rock climbing guide and climbing gym manager was always spent trying to be inclusive of everyone. I never wanted someone engaging in the bounty of outdoor recreation to feel intimidated. As a hiker, trail runner, climber and paddler, I cherish my time outside. Recreating and sharing that joy is the secret to my sanity. Studies have shown that getting out is good for everyone's well being.
Every great adventure athlete was once an outdoor recreation newbie. We set off into the great grandeur of our wild places for a variety of reasons, but one central theme is happiness. These seemingly arbitrary pursuits provide lessons and meaning that cannot be found anywhere else in life. We embark on these excursions with friends, family and occasionally alone. But no matter the level of companionship, we always share what we gleaned from going. It is in our smile and the fiery glint that flashes in our eyes when we recount the details. These attributes are communal in the outdoor tribe, no matter the experience level of the participant.
So, tipping my first canoe was just a small fraction of that day at the James River State Park. We had four hours of glorious sunshine on our backs and a beautiful river under our boat. When I looked around at the end of our paddle, I saw smiles, but more importantly, I saw the first hint of fire in my daughter's little eyes. She may not have been able to form the words, but she definitely understood. I have an entire lifetime to cultivate that passion. It is the same passion my father-in-law instilled in his daughter. That is a beautiful thing. That is what we try to do here at Appomattox River Company.