Monday, July 03, 2006

canoeing the Grand

Robbie and I enjoyed a good couple of hours on the surface of the Grand River yesterday. What a treat. First time we had the canoe out this season. We hate to look in the backyard, see the canoe unused, waiting for us. Sadly our schedule doesn't often allow us the time to get out there.

A bit of coolness. . As we drove, we saw this truck pulling a HUGE canoe, unlike any other we'd seen. Turns out it was a replica of an old 'voyageur' canoe and this was her maiden voyage. 10 eager people jumped into this gorgeous bark, to which we deferred departure in order to allow all the ladies on shore to video this auspicious launch (complete with champagne!) without us in the picture. They were so excited! The man who had laboured restoring this baby was calling out the rowing 'assignments'!! They paddled vigorously into the deeps. . and we pushed off and paddled in the opposite direction. Rob was in the rear and could better see them - they lasted all of 5 minutes and they were out!!! We wagered guesses. . did they take on water? was that just to say that they did it, and then they disembarked to party it up? We'll probably never know, but it really piqued our curiosity!!

I had to paddle from the middle of the canoe, as my moulded plastic front seat broke on one side . It threw off the balance a bit with me seated in the centre. I couldn't really get a good purchase of paddle into water cuz i was sitting at the widest part of the thing! Made the job a bit tougher than it is normally. This worked out fine paddling downstream with the current, wind at our backs. We talked and gazed at the gorgeous riverside homes with their private docks, launches, etc. All of them nestled high above water level, their back properties built right onto the rocky walls which line the waterway. Beautiful. Our paddles dipped and occasionally brought up strands of vegetation. There's something about being on the water. . its hard to describe. Really calming. We kept going, past the island that splits the river. . stayed well left of this - its quite shallow and turgid to the right of this habitat for herons and ducks. We rowed on and on, past the golf course - spying so many golf balls on the rocky bottom of this shallow stretch.

We went past the little waterfall on the left. . listening to the splash of the downpour, watching the water course downwards and dilute the algaed shoreline. We saw two large area of weed-choked shore, with a clear path through the middle. . we stayed the course and got through this bottleneck, only to end up stuck fast in some weed that seemed to be just surface stuff. We were thinking that we'd slice right through it. . . not so! It was like padding into cement. We had to push our way out backwards. Thank God we broke free from this stinking, matted trap! We were in uncharted territory and it was cool. I noticed the exceedingly long, thick stranded plant life on the bottom. . how it lay down and grew in the direction of the current. . every single strand of it. . there were no rebels -- each one conformed - as if they had a choice in that strong undertow. That was a truly 'go with the flow' visual. I thought spiritual thoughts. .

Finally I said to Rob that I'd like to turn back. . he agreed, so we reversed and began the return trip. Things were great. . the river was calm and easy. I watched the wind shift and touch the water's surface. There was a single touch point from which this fantastic, flowing pattern appeared before my eyes. . almost like watching the proliferation of ice crystals on a cold windowpane. . it was rapid, sweeping toward us and continued underneath us and beyond. I'd never seen that before. It caught my breath for a moment. As we rounded a bend, carefully staying in the middle of the watery expanse. . we encountered a sudden, furious, hard-driving, stiff wind; against the likes of which we were completely powerless to advance. We paddled hard, my biceps burned from the strain. . my legs braced against either side of the canoe as it tossed on the waves (yes, waves on the river - i'd never seen those!) We managed to steer in such a way as to cut across horizontally - and things got pretty tippy. . we were over the deeps and i was not wanting to go in! I leaned to the right to get better oar/water contact. . not a good idea!!! instantly destabilized us. . Rob yelled out "Don't tip us!" I corrected position and he shouted: 'Keep rowing!' I tried. . I grunted with the effort. . If the weeds had felt like being stuck in cement, rowing in this wind felt like nothing i can describe!! We finally caught a break from the wind and got back in the right direction. I could see the docks!!! Hallelujah!!! Watching us from the nearby, hilly shore was a couple and their child. . their rental canoe lay face down on the grass. They were waiting to be picked up. As we neared them, the woman called out "Why bother?!" Had to admit, she was right. We joked and laughed back and forth. We were able to paddle, though it was still difficult and after taking way longer than usual to get back. . we got stuck once more, in some sucking, quick-sandy mud near the far dock. More back paddling through the fetid glop. . such a disgusting odour!

Man! was it nice to get out of that position, stretch the legs and have some relief from that intense work!!! The Grand threw us a real challenge this trip, which we appreciated and learned from. Its NOT always smooth paddling, when you get stuck you've gotta go back to get out of it, your hard work and direction may suddenly be challenged and even changed and you have no choice but submit if you wish to keep from exhausting yourself, or falling in deep and last but not least, being up against a powerful force makes you realize how small and powerless you really are!!! I didn't bank on a spiritual lesson. I envisioned a sweetly sublime row out and back. Instead I got a 2-hour lesson in humility, weakness and how to go with the flow. A short while after we got home and sat down, the fatigue set in. . but it felt good in every way.


Drumstick said...

Sounds like you & Rob had a good day! I'm not a canoe person, but enjoy being on the water.

Lindsay said...

You've now seen the true brute force of the Grand river!! It's fun, but it's really hard. If you like the calm, don't ever start out below the dam! It's nightmarish, at best. Capsizing is not fun at all - we've done it a few times and there's never a good place to tip, if it's deep you have to worry about flipping it back over before it sinks without having the advantage of a foothold on the ground(extremely difficult), and in shallow water you have to worry about cutting yourself and hitting your head on a rock, the canoe hitting you in the head,etc.

Kathryn said...

hey, Roland! Yes, it was pretty fun!!! I'm with you, love being on, in or near water!!

Linds. . yes, my first taste of the mighty Grand in one of its more unforgiving moments! You've had some real spills, eh? thanx to that canoe-rocking crazy man of yours!!!

emma said...

you canoe!! i love to canoe... don't get much of a chance at the minute, but hopefully get out more regularly when i move to glasgow.

Kathryn said...

i hope you do get more of a chance to get out when you move!

BodySoulSpirit said...

If you canoe from Freeport to Blair, it is hard to believe you are really near a city...a great experience close to home!!

Kathryn said...

i know!!! i totally agree!!!