In gearing up for our upcoming vacation, in which my family and I plan to pack our camping gear into a canoe and voyage along the Rideau River system from Kingston to Ottawa, my wife and I are not naive: we know that we need to be far more prepared than we were when we cycled from Ottawa to Kingston in June.
Because, this time, the consequences of not being prepared can be more perilous on this trek. There will be no vehicles cruising up and down, along our course, making sure that we're okay.
A little more than a month ago, we joined the RA Centre Canoe Camping Club, looking to gain tips from experienced paddlers and gaining more practice in paddling. We had participated in a club trip on Meech Lake, but because we have family with a cottage in the Gatineau Hills, we also have access to a canoe there, and we've been practicing almost every weekend.
But that hasn't been enough.
So we also signed up for a weekend canoe course through the RA Centre, where we packed up our paddles, PFDs, and camping gear, and headed up to join other novice paddlers for a three-day training adventure.
For me, who has never been to summer camp as a kid, this was a great experience. I was able to participate in plenty of activities, including archery and a group camp fire. But what was invaluable was the canoe training by some fabulously experienced people.
Lori and I learned, fairly early on (and to my surprise), that our paddling wasn't too bad, but that we were putting more exertion into our strokes than was necessary. One of the instructors, Mark, showed us what he called the "lazy-person's" approach to strokes, lifting our paddles lower and not reaching as far. He also taught us to pivot our hips, rather than pulling through the water with our arms.
Our stokes became more effective with less effort.
We also learned what to do in the event that our canoe capsizes, and what to do if we find another canoe and its passengers in the same predicament. We took turns, dumping ourselves out of the canoe and having our rescuers instruct us on what they needed from us in order to help us back into our canoe.
We would hang onto the ends of their canoe, keeping it steady while the rescuers pulled our canoe onto their own, setting it right, and then placing it back into the lake. They would then tip our canoe enough for us to launch ourselves into it, and we were back on our way.
We would then wait as the next canoers did the same, and we would rescue them in the same manner. I couldn't believe how easy it was once we knew the correct procedure.
The people in our group were wonderful: friendly, eager to participate. And the instructors and leaders were top-notch. I want to give a special nod to Karen, Mark, Tyson, and Jenny. Not only were they knowledgeable, but they were encouraging too.
The site, on a lake not far from Gracefield, Québec, was serene, peaceful, perfect. For me, going for three days without beer (it was an alcohol-free event) or Internet was, at first, unthinkable. But with good people, enjoying the great outdoors (I nearly rekindled my love of camping), it was easy to put those things aside.
When Lori and I first talked about canoeing the Rideau River, I had my doubts and fears. Even now, I am anxious. But I feel that I have gained a lot of practical knowledge and even more experience, and I am finally beginning to think that we can do this trip with little trouble. I feel prepared.
Even the kids have shown that they have learned some techniques that will come in handy, will even allow Lori and I to take breaks from paddling.
For Wordless Wednesday, I will show more of the photos from the event.