Book Excerpt: The Thrill of Whitewater Canoeing

The portage appeared as we paddled around the pink granite bend, the trailhead shimmering like a mirage in the haze of an August morning. The French River had reached a pinch point, narrowing into Big Pine Rapids. Its volume which had lazily carried us over the last kilometer now poured over rock ledges, rushed around boulders carved smooth from thousands of years of erosion, formed frothy wave trains like the log flume ride at amusement parks. It hurried to the next bay downstream where it sighed relief, slowed its pace, and meandered through the granite and white pines of the Canadian Shield.


In its rush to be free of the bottleneck, Canada’s first Heritage River generated the sort of white noise that made me drowsy most days. Not this day. This day I had to navigate a cherry red Nova Craft canoe through its wave trains. I needed to resist the urge to let its powerful current push me around lest I wrap my boat around one of its rocky obstacles. I had to take charge, call the maneuvers, and get us down safely.


Shelly and I stared at our line from a rocky outcrop on river right. We’d watched the first two canoes navigate Big Pine. They waited patiently for us at the base of the Class II rapid. My heart raced as we ambled towards our canoe, talking through the maneuvers, practicing our commands.


“Yell louder, so I can hear you.” Shelly said. “You’re too calm.”


Duly noted.


I took a gulp of air and released it. One two three four. My hands steadied. We shoved off shore using our paddles as levers and back paddled a few boat lengths. I angled our bow into the current in line with the route I wanted to take down the upper half of the chute.


One last deep breath and the current caught us. We back paddled gently to slow our forward progress. Ten seconds later I ferried the canoe into the eddy halfway down the rapid and had a look at our remaining line. The calm spot of water beneath a cluster of boulders gave me plenty of time to scout my options. The river right shoreline was bony – shards of Canadian Shield granite protruded right where the current wanted to push us. I’d need to move towards river left but not so far that I’d dump us over one of the rock ledges.


“Ready?” I shouted to Shelly over the white noise.


On her nod I ferried us back across the eddy line, angled the canoe into the current to avoid the shards of granite and rode the last wave train until we eddied out next to the rest of our party. The whole ride lasted less than two minutes. Shelly looked thrilled. I’d done my job.


While she relived the details with the rest of the group I breathed deeply and bailed out the little water we’d taken on. I smiled to myself, gobsmacked at what I had managed. How the heck had I gotten myself here?


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.

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