I went for a little canoe trip on National Canoe Day, up a stretch of the West Branch of the Bear River.
The river was swollen by rain that day and after working up stream for two hours, exploring new-to-us territory, admiring the deep greens of late spring, we danced back down the same stretch in a half hour.
I often marvel at my boat’s ability to take me places, not to mention the variety of places it can take me.
Its keel, not deep but deep enough, keeps the canoe tracking, allowing me to cross a lake in a straight line; its sharp upturned bow lets me cut through waves; its flat bottom slips up a shallow brook; tipped on its side, my canoe turns on a dime and I can fly downstream.
With my canoe, I can travel a windy lake, a choppy sea, a rushing river, or a quiet trout stream.
And, when the water runs out, my canoe is light and manageable enough to throw on my shoulders and carry to the next stretch of open water.
But a canoe offers more than just geographic freedom.
Stepping into my boat is like walking through a door to another world; pushing off from the shore is to leave behind the worries and stress of daily life; with just a few paddles strokes I drift into a bubble of peace and tranquility.
My love of canoeing can be traced back to a childhood spent at the Pisiquid Aquatic Club in Windsor.
I vaguely remember my first lessons in what we called rec boats – fat, tired untippable river kayaks – though we did manage to tip them. Often.
But then we tipped everything, because let’s face it, tipping was half the fun when we were kids; a way to cool off, an excuse to swim, a chance to laugh and scream and let loose.
We’d tip them on purpose to hide under the canoe, breathing in the air pocket; we’d swamp them just to see if we could stay in the suddenly unmanageable boat.
We’d tip them to see if we could get the water out and get ourselves back in.
My very first lesson at the Pisiquid Aquatic Club, though I don’t remember it, was to swim in long pants and a sweatshirt for 200 metres. My second lesson was to tip the old rec boat and swim away.
Like anything, once you’ve tipped a few times, you stop fearing it. In the case of my friends growing up, we learned to love tipping into the water.
“We’re all just in between swims,” is an inevitable truth of canoeing and all small boating.
Developing a comfort and familiarity with tipping is an essential step to building confidence in a canoe.
National Canoe Day, inspired by the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough Ontario, is held every year on June 26 to encourage more Canadians to take up canoeing—but I think they hold it a little early.
In a couple of weeks, the lakes will be warm enough for most people to swim– and perfect for tipping.
Maybe, if they really want to get people hooked on paddling, in July they should consider a National Tip Your Canoe Day. Just an idea.
National Canoe Day -- Canadian Canoe Museum