I have a confession. A deep dark shameful confession that no native Missourian with an appreciation for the environment should ever confess - I hate canoeing.
God only knows why I wasn't born near either one of the coasts. I love the ocean. Every time I see it, regardless if it is the Pacific or Atlantic, I feel like I'm greeting a long lost friend. Every time I leave it, I feel I am parting from the love of my life - almost as if I should run back and kiss it before it departs on a train heading to war torn France. As far as other bodies of water go, they hardly measure up.
Here is the odd thing; most people who confess a fear of the ocean say they are worried about things like sharks and other sea faring creatures because they may eat the flesh off their bones. Me? I more afraid of drowning in a dirty river under eight inches of water while trapped against a rotting log. Perhaps it is because I have never been attacked by a shark, whereas being trapped under eight inches of water by a log * seems to be standard procedure for me anytime I say yes to the common misnomer of a 'float trip with friends' which is actually a 'death march via water craft.'
* While writing this article a friend told me that during her first float trip, she and her then boyfriend had to forge their canoe around the dead body of a woman who had just drowned as described above. My friend said the dead woman's friends were waiting for the medics to come and take the body. They had covered the woman's face with a life jacket. My friend summarized the event, "Talk about a buzz kill."
Often people have the gull to wonder if one bad spill formed my well-informed opinion. One? Really? No, one bad spill did not make me instantly think, 'I hate canoeing!' It actually took eight to nine really bad spills to get me to where I am now. I suppose if a shark had taken a bite out of one of my extremities I might have feel the same way about the ocean, but since a shark hasn't, and I have been trapped under, over, and in between log jams, I can safely say I HATE CANOEING!
With all my words above, you might be under the impression I'm a bit of a Negative Nelly. The ironic part of this story is that I am not. I am blessed (or cursed) with the sort of memory that sees the positive about things. For instance, since I haven't been on a float trip in a few years, all I could remember was that I didn't associate canoeing with fun. I simply forgot how much I hated it until I found myself on the river recently and saw a water snake with fangs open ready to attack any stray leg, say my own.
Sure, you say, but you were in a canoe. Oh, au contraire dear friend, this time I thought it would be more fun 'floating' down the river in an inner tube. Thus, if you can envision a grown woman stranded inside an inner tube that is too small to relax in, yet too big to steer as she splashes away from the snake (of which no more than an hour before she confessed she had no fear of snakes) primarily because her delicate derriere is exposed to whatever wants to bite it from underneath - you have a mental picture of what it was like to be me. This happy event happened no more than two minutes into the last float trip, which guaranteed that the next two miles would be no walk in the park.
Speaking of walking, I did that a lot. Thankfully, all I had to do was carry an inner tube, but usually with smaller rivers, there are shallow parts, which require either picking up or dragging the canoe for great distances. The downside, of course, is that in an inner tube there was no way to propel myself in areas of the river when the current ceased to be a factor. I'm talking about deep areas that were fed through underground springs. They tend to be cold and could hide creatures from different epochs which might want to make you their dinner. All and all, two miles down river is no big deal, but it took four hours to get down river. By the time I saw where the bridge where I could get out my voice chocked with happiness sang out, "There it is!"
You see, that sighting of where I could finally get out and carry my tiny raft back to my small shed of a cabin reminded me of what I enjoy most about float trips...the ending of them.
I wasn't always like this. I remember as a kid taking an inner tube down a river with a friend while her parents canoed far ahead. We ended up going down the wrong fork of a river but adjusted, overall the experience wasn't all that bad. There was a rope swing my friend did that looked fun, but knowing I had horrible balance and would probably fall on the rocks before hitting the water I decided not to try it. It was a wise decision because years later I was sitting on the other side of the same river shore with another friend. We were watching members of our floating party jump off and I thought I saw a guy climb up to the rope with an artificial leg. I nudged my companion and said, "I think that guy has an artificial leg.
To which she replied, "No he doesn't!"
"Yes he does!"
Just as we were debating, the man with the questionable leg jumped...and off came his leg, which was suspended in the air for so long that my mind remembers every detail. I wish I could say I didn't scream. I wish I could say my friend didn't scream. I wish I could say that together we didn't break the sound barrier, but that would be lie.
I started to do float trips when I fell into my current group of friends. Every year we would go canoeing and every year the river of choice became more crowded. Of course, everyone drank but me. Although I do enjoy indulging now and again, I never found the act of canoeing and drinking as things that necessarily went together. It was back at the campsite where I would tie one on, in celebration of actually surviving.
I had a boyfriend back in the day that was the worst canoe partner ever. Instead of paying attention, he would manage to get us stuck in rocks or logjams until we obligingly tipped over. He really liked his beer and one time after a particular harsh spill he was very proud of himself for saving it while the rest of our stuff floated down river. I don't think I have ever wanted to actually kill someone as much as I did him that day. Even now that I type this I can feel the rage again.
Not all of my canoe partners have been as bad. I had one friend whom I was really excited to have as a canoe partner because she just seemed to know a lot about the outdoors. Of course, this was before I realized that there would be a trio in the canoe instead of a duel - along with we two humans was a standard sized poodle named *Monet. It didn't take long for the inevitable to happen and all of us fell into a part of the river that was very deep but had a strong current. Honestly, I have never been so thankful to be such a nerd as to wear a life vest. After the baptismal dunking, my Capricorn kicked in and I grabbed the canoe for fear of having to pay for the loss of it at the end of the trip (Capricorn is the astrological sign for business). I remember being calm as I held on to the side of the river with the canoe in my grasp, the current doing all in its power to force me to let go. Both Monet and her mistress showed up at my side and my friend had the worst expression you ever want to see on someone's face. As she forced her dog to the river's edge, she looked at me and said, "I don't have a life vest and I don't think I can hang on." That was when I let go of the canoe and grabbed onto her to make sure that she didn't become a river statistic. A minute later, the calm I had felt transferred to her and her anxiety of dying Freaky Fridayed into me. She told me she was just going to float down the river, which appeared to be an empty abyss since we hadn't seen the rest of our party in some time - and only God knew what was waiting for us around the river bend. Both Monet and I were of the same mind that now would be a nice time to just walk back to camp. Yet, off went her mistress and thus Monet followed and soon so did I.
Of course, everything was fine in the end. Someone caught our canoe and for the most part everything that had been in our cooler was miraculously retrieved, but that didn't end my constant anxiety as we kept bumping into low hanging trees chalked full of ticks and spiders as well as navigating above average rapids as Monet cursed the day that bitch of a mother of hers met the wayward poodle that sired her.
Here's how bad my spills on the various rivers have been, people ask me about particular spills they witnessed that I had that I can't even remember. The only constant among them is that every time there was a split second when I knew we were going to tip over and that there was not a damn thing that I could do to change that fate. To complicate my fears, I have seen too many people get too drunk and manage to finally slug it back to the campsite way after dark. I have seen gashes and huge bruises (some of which haven't even been mine!). I have heard a tale of a young lawyer getting stuck under a log and knowing he was drowning and then seeing the face of his dead grandmother starring back at him from the wood.
All and all these things add up and they don't spell fun. As I drive across the Big Muddy, which is so low at the moment, I can see the silt that the last flood has left behind because it is forming into an island of quicksand. I think back to a time when Native Americans navigated the river in canoes. The Missouri is the type of river that is shallow with strong currents and eddies along with being murky and plagued with whatever crap got caught in it from up river. I confess; the idea of canoeing in it makes me ill.
* This article is loving dedicated to Monet whom I have heard had to be put asleep. She was fourteen years old. As far as canine canoe partners go, she was the best one I ever had.
© 2007 Westerfield
I'm dedicating this resurrection article to Dannielle who at the time it was originally published, August 2007, thought it was HILARIOUS. I think this verified everything she thought I might be when it came to the great outdoors. I imagine when she actually met me that she knew in regards to my testimony above; I don't sugarcoat how much I hate canoeing. Now that I'm older I no longer have to pretend that I enjoy doing things that I don't. I like nature hikes, but at the end of the day I want to snuggle up in my own bed and drift off to sleep without worrying about the possible reemergence of the bear population in Missouri.
If you want to join the Resurrection Sunday fun, join the group that makes every Sunday good reading.