Book Excerpt: Canoe Exam Day

The next morning was our last day on the water. Dreary clouds hung low over us, casting gloom over canoe exam day.

Canoe Exam Day

The temperature hovered around the freezing mark. We spent two and a half hours practicing our strokes and performing some peer coaching to help each other out. In the afternoon, we worked through the test. We had two and a half hours to complete all of the strokes perfectly from the bow and the stern: the forward straight line, stopping, the reverse straight line, sideways displacements to the left and right, pivots with pries and draws, landings on both sides of the canoe, left and right running sideslips, and figure eights.

Not passing wasn’t an option. It was never an option. And yet here I was, my first four days into canoeing trying to demonstrate instructor-worthy skills. And because everything had to be done tandem, I was petrified of causing my friend not to pass.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one stressed about the test. I heard classmates yelling at one another. Four had to swap partners because they couldn’t work in their original pair. Others had determined grimaces pasted to their faces. Even the instructors seemed tense, shouting terse commands at us when we didn’t achieve a skill. What few paddling skills I had deteriorated over the course of the day. I hadn’t slept well. I felt weak from dehydration. I was frustrated that I couldn’t execute anything properly on the first go. My friend and I pushed on.

In the end I received my Paddle Canada certificate because the instructors deemed me safe. I would save their eight year old child if he found himself stuck in the middle of the lake. Privately I didn’t think there would be any chance of me teaching in the real world anyway. Sixth grade me could still feel the sting of being laughed at and ignored. I promised myself to keep learning. I had the spring canoe trip at the end of April to continue improving.

I’m writing a career change memoir and I’d love your feedback as I post small ~300 word blurbs. What do you want to know more about? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? Comment below or e-mail me.

Photo credit: Ria Quik

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