Row, row, row…your canoe.

So peaceful.

[I wrote this several years ago, and present it here (mostly) unchanged.  The facts may or may not be entirely accurate, depending on who ends up reading it.  If you like it and think it’s funny, then yes, this all really happened.  If I refer to having taken your car and doing horrible, unconscionable things to it, then I am totally, totally kidding].

I was coerced (coerced I tell you) into taking this Wednesday off work to participate in that vilest of institutions, that scourge on society, that diabolical instrument of evil that single-handedly surpasses Chinese, Japanese, and all other manner of Far-Eastern “-ese,” water torture that is girls’ camp, specifically, the fourth-year girls’ canoe trip.  I was assigned to drive up with two other gung-ho “young marrieds.”  We had the option of driving up (the camp is/was allegedly 3 1/2 to 4 hours away) the night before to camp out with the girls and sing campfire songs (kill me now) or we could get up to leave at six to get there in time for the 10:00 AM shove off (kill me then.)  I opted for the latter, supposing that the shorter overall exposure to the girls would make up for the misery of the early-morning drive.  (That and the fact that I am a big baby and have never spent a night away from my wife since getting married, and I didn’t want to start then because, as it turns out, I hate sleeping by myself.  Yeah, I should have been a triplet; that, or a baby kitten).

So we drove.  The other two were early risers anyway, so it didn’t take much convincing.  As it turns out, the other two had a great deal in common, which was nice for them, but certainly didn’t shorten the trip any for me (more to follow).  I drove, actually, and I drove my in-laws’ car.  The in-laws were out of town.  I did not have permission.  I like doing stuff like that to my in-laws.

We got there in three hours, so there was plenty of time to sit around and BS (bull shiz, in case you were wondering) with the other proud fathers.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that all the other men, with the exception of our happy trio, were parents of the girls on the trip.  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like doing stuff like this would be a lot more their responsibility.  Maybe I just have an ungenerous attitude.

So, we are set to go and (surprise, surprise) the girls all want to ride together, even if it means riding three to a canoe.  The lady in charge put Paul and Mark (the other two) together, because they are newer and don’t know any of the girls yet.  As I alluded to earlier, this becomes a moot point when the girls, not surprisingly, think that they are too cool ride with one of the “leaders.”  So, Paul and Mark are set to go together and I am set to go with this other, older guy, who hasn’t shown up yet, but then eventually does show up.  With his wife and two young daughters.  He was supposed to be there to help/chaperone, but ends up needing more help than anyone else (more to follow).

We now have one canoe too many at the drop off point, so I get to go it alone.  Keep in mind, these are two-to-three person canoes, and I am, as you may remember, only one person.  Everything started out fine.  That is, until I actually got in the water…

Oh, before I forget, the bus ride to the drop off point was accompanied by the most deafening cacophony of overzealous “singing” (i.e. yelling and screaming in only the occasional semblance of tune) that I have ever encountered.  Ever.

Okay, so I get in the water and am immediately made aware of the fact that something is terribly wrong.  I am sitting in the back of the canoe, and the front end is sticking up, conspicuously, about three inches out of the water.  I row on the left side and go veering to the right;  I row on the right side, and go veering to the left.  I am incapable of going anywhere quickly, steering is virtually impossible, and every time the wind picks up I just pick up my oar and throw myself to the mercy of mother nature.  It was really quite serene.

Capable of rowing in synchronization and proceeding in a straight direction, Mark and Paul were soon out of sight.  This gave me a lot of alone time to think and reflect.  I thought the most about how, just before we embarked, the token vegan/environmentalist girl stood in front of the group and gave a speech on saving the planet and proceeded to hand out black plastic garbage bags, insisting that we contribute to her cause by picking up litter along the way.  It was going to be a contest, and there was a prize.  My main thought, at the time, was of the potential negative environmental effects of sending 30 black plastic garbage bags down the river with inexperienced, 14 year-old female (no offense) canoeists.  I also wondered how Michelle would feel about how her pink, high-top Converse were probably made in a sweatshop in Kuala Lumpur by undernourished five-year-old Malaysian children.  I said nothing.

The trip was slow and uneventful, at least until lunch.  The place where we stopped had a rope swing that would fling those daring enough to try it about thirty feet into the air, releasing them to gracefully plummet to their doom in the frigid, leach-infested waters below.  Of course I was among the first in line.  As luck would have it, a bus load of (literal) juvenile delinquents had beaten us to the punch.  Nothing spells “good time” like a church group of wholesome young women and some shaved-head degenerate-looking kids with house-arrest boxes on their ankles, screaming the f-word as they belly flop off a rope swing.  You haven’t lived, let me tell you.

Eventually the future-cons cleared out, and we actually managed to get a couple of the girls to go off the swing.  Of course most of them hurt themselves/hated it, but I really couldn’t have been prouder.  Mark and Paul asked if I wanted to switch things up for the second half of the trip.  I said “no,” thinking of how bad it had sucked, and not wanting one of them resenting me for dumping that solitude on them.  I set out, bravely, as they proceeded to lather each other up with suntan lotion.  They seemed quite involved in what they were doing, but not too involved (unfortunately) to see me  high-center on a log just in front of them.  So fun; and not embarrassing at all.

So I was stuck, and they quickly passed me, and I was left alone with my thoughts, again.  I managed to untangle myself and proceed, slowly, on my way.  I was towards the end of the group for, what I feel now, must be obvious reasons.  I knew that something had gone terribly wrong when I found myself actually catching up with someone.  I came upon a canoe heading sideways through some “rapids.”  This wasn’t “white water” per se, but the water was considerably deeper, moving considerably faster in this portion of the river.

Well there were two girls in the canoe that was going, as I mentioned, completely sideways (which, as I am sure that anyone who knows anything about canoes and canoeing would attest, is, even with two or three people, not only virtually impossible to achieve, but not, under any circumstances, advisable).  The river, at this point, was about 60 feet across,  the canoes are about ten feet long, and right in the middle of the river was, of course, a huge rock jutting menacingly from the current.  The rock was about a foot across.  Even going sideways, at ten feet long, the girls, were they paying any attention or trying to steer at all, would have stood a pretty good chance of getting past the rock unscathed.  Apparently, or rather, not apparently, more like obviously, they were not paying the proper amount of attention.

Maybe it’s because one girl was taking pictures of the other as she made faces (tongue out, finger up nose, etc.) with one of those portable, waterproof cameras.  She takes a whole roll of these pictures.  Let’s think: these girls haven’t taken showers, put on make up, or changed clothes for three or four days; I know, let’s take a whole roll of pictures of each other with our eyes crossed; how could they not be flattering?  Beautiful scenery on left and right, opt for all “glamor-shot” shot/memory photos instead.  It must be a girl thing.

But still, you might wonder, why, you might think, if only one of them was distracted, why wasn’t the other one steering, or attempting to steer (like I was doing), to stave off the brunt of the catastrophe?  Well, you see, and though you would swear that I must be joking, I swear that I am being quite serious when I tell you that the other girl was reading Seventeen magazine.  Out loud.  At full volume.  “Nightmare of the Month,” “Who’s Your Favorite Boy Toy?,” I kid you not.  Never mind drowning, never mind hypothermia or loss of limb, at least they’ll know if they should be with Mr. Studious or Mr. Sensitive, the athlete or the shy guy.

I am sure that you can tell where this is going, but just to belabor the obvious for a second (let’s face it, we all love to belabor the obvious every once in a while), you guessed it, they hit the rock on one side, quickly lurched to the other side, the canoe dipped just beneath the water line, and it was all over.  Instantly the canoe was full and completely sunk in the deepest, swiftest, most treacherous part of the river.  They were screaming and moaning and swimming to the side; there was trash, and bags intended for trash, and socks, and a back pack, and a flip flop, and, of course, the waterproof camera, and one very used copy of Seventeen magazine, off to wreak havoc on what was left of the environment.

I rowed over to the side they were swimming towards and asked them to hold my canoe.  Not wanting my flip flops to meet a similar fate, I tossed them into my canoe, along with their backpack, which I managed to grab, their shoes, and one sock.  I grabbed their canoe, and it took some effort, but I managed to get it flipped over and un-sunk.  They were wet, and a little bit shaken up, but overall, they were grateful and ready to continue.  I cut my unflip-flopped foot open on the rocks and jammed a finger, but other than that, I was fine too, and glad to have helped.

My would/should-have-been partner, the doting dad from earlier in this story, wasn’t quite as lucky.  As I think I mentioned, he brought his wife and 3 and 5 year old daughters along.  Well, in a different, but similarly dangerous spot, they got flipped and pinned, and his two little girls (luckily?) got caught up inside the overturned canoe so that they could still breathe.  Thankfully, someone who actually knew what they were doing (e.g. not part of our group) was there, and they helped them out.  They got flipped two more times at later points in the journey.  The youngest girl had had enough, and decided that she didn’t want to ride with her dad anymore.  She and her mom hitched a ride with someone else, a complete stranger, by the way, but she felt safer with him (and frankly, I don’t blame he.  Maybe I was better off by myself.

Well, the rest was pretty uneventful.  I saw Paul and Mark pulled off to the side, so I pulled off.  They were waiting for me.  They said they realized how lame it must have been for me, and offered to let me jump in with them.  I took them up on their offer because I was pretty sore and pretty sick of the lack of steering and slow go.  We tied my canoe to the back, and were off.  We were back in five minutes.  The whole trip down the river took about 6 hours.  I guess it took them the other five hours and fifty-five minutes to really appreciate how much fun I wasn’t having.  Back there.  All by myself.  Oh well, I’m not bitter.

We said our goodbyes to the girls (who couldn’t have cared even just a tiny bit less), and piled into the car (again, my in-laws’ car).  We decided to stop and grab a snack at the gas station before we really headed out.  They got really old-looking pizza from underneath the heat lamp, I opted for Chex Mix, an almond Snickers (which I love, by the way) and a contraband Cherry Pepsi, which I don’t think the others approved of, but hey, it’s my…well…it’s my in laws’ car, and I’m driving, and I’m going to drink whatever I want.

I was kind of in a hurry because my father-in-law was coming home any time, and I didn’t want to get busted.  I beat him home (he was actually coming home a day late) which was the good news.  He was coming into town the next day and taking the car that I was driving to Wichita, which was fine news, at the time.  But the next morning I got into the car to drive it to work (which I was allowed to do) and noticed the distinct smell of dead fish and really old pizza (and just the faintest hint of Mark and Paul’s sun block).  Instantly the “fine” news became very bad news.  You’d have to know my father-in-law to understand this completely, but just take my word for it, bad news.

I hurried home after work and immediately began spraying the car with Windex, both inside and out.  I scrubbed, I vacuumed, I was a veritable Mr. Clean (only with spiky dark hair).  I got in and decided that the car smelled enough not like fish, and enough subtly clean to pull it off.  As for the bugs in the grill and the mud on the wheel wells, I figured he and the trip to Wichita would be found guilty of that.  I filled the tank, I zeroed out the “Trip A” mini-odometer, they can prove nothing.  Now he’s gone.  Today I drove his brand new BMW to work.  I did not ask his permission.  I like doing stuff like that to my in-laws.

2 thoughts on “Row, row, row…your canoe.

  1. Funny. I happen to agree that camp songs are unbearable.

    The girl canoe trip I went on was an entirely different type of trip, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. We canoed through lakes; entering one, portaging to the next (repeat like 5 times.) Then we camped for a week. It included an encounter with an adult moose, digging our own toilets, filtering all water, tying our food as high as possible to discourage a bear visit (which luckily never happened), a very disturbed hornet nest, and the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen. Unlike the girls on your trip, about 90% of my pictures from that trip were of the beautiful surroundings. Sounds like I lucked out as far as girls camp experiences go.

    • I think it depends a lot on where you go. Your trip sounds picturesque and lovely. Not a lot of that type of nature around these parts. Also, even around these parts, it’s probably a lot more enjoyable when you are yourself a teenage girl, and part of the group. Which I was very much not.

      I was a little bit taken aback by how bitter and kind of negative I was. I know I was trying to be funny, but I had some serious attitude. Just to think about it, I wouldn’t imagine myself having changed that much. But reading that, I have come a long way. Sort of.

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