The Great Canoe Death Race

15 Apr

I had worked with Allen for about three years when he invited my wife, Diane, and me on a canoe trip. Allen had just become engaged to an icy divorce and fellow canoe enthusiast named Thorne. He thought a canoe trip down Ichnetucknee Spings was a good way for us all to get acquainted. Like most of our encounters with other couples, Diane and I were immediately overwhelmed. Somehow we always end up in a game of bridge with Charles and Omar, Monopoly with Donald and Marla , or name that tune with Steve and Edie. No matter what we try, it mutates into a fierce competition in which we get totally demolished. In retrospect going on a canoe trip with two self-proclaimed experts was obviously self-destructive, but our desperation to make friends overpowered our reason.
While we admire the notion of canoeing, in truth the last canoe we paddled was a bright orange inflatable pool toy five years ago. We planned to leave the landing at 8:00 A.M., have lunch along the way, and finish up in early afternoon. We were immediately struck by the pristine beauty of the run, but by the time we could turn around, Allen and Thorne effortlessly slide into the first canoe and shot off like a cannon across the water. Like sheep to the slaughter we followed, Diane in the bow and me in the stern. But before we could get our paddles in the water, Allen and Thorne out of sight. We paddled furiously to catch up. Lacking any coordination in our effort and not knowing a ”J” stroke from a heat stroke, I over-paddled on the right while Diane paddled ineffectually on the left, beginning the first of many unintentional humiliating circles
Being someone who values competence, Diane was completely frustrated by our lack of control. And since it seemed to her that the problem was emanating from the stern, she communicated as much. In return I politely suggested that perhaps she needed to speed up her paddling using maybe a pry or draw stroke. She courteously replied that it was a miracle that we moving at all with my paddle at that angle and my thumb in that position. Instinctively she knew that the sternman was responsible for steering the damn canoe and she was not about to let me forget it.
Before our deliberations escalated we caught up with, Allen and Thorne, who were waiting for us where the run widened slightly. They were doing the canoer’s equivalent of pacing back and forth. They just glared at us as if we were dim-witted children spoiling their fun. “Come on you slowpokes”, Thorne forced herself to say in a mockingly cheerful fashion, never knowing how close she came to getting a prefrontal lobotomy performed by the blade of Diane’s paddle.
Unbelievably they rocketed off again, leaving us in their wake. As we did our feeble best to keep pace, it didn’t take long to decide that we hated Thorne and that we hated Allen too. We also hated canoeing and weren’t feel very good about each other either.
We didn’t see Allen and Thorne for several hours by which time we had learned to almost coordinate our paddling. They had finished their lunch on the run and took off again as we approached them. Their shiny canoe irritatingly knifed through the water like a silent torpedo. It was a cruel playground game of keep away and we were the monkeys in the middle. The innocent canoe trip had insidiously degenerated into a life and death struggle for supremacy. The “Long March”, “The Trail of Tears”, and “The Battan Death March”, now was joined by the “Great Canoe Death Race”, another venue in which Diane and I would get clobbered.
In hot pursuit, we came to a shallow section of the run where our canoe kept bottoming out. Desperate to catch up, Diane suggested that since it was my bottom which was causing the problem, I should pull the canoe through the channel. As I surveyed the swampy shoreline, images of toothy snakes filled my mind. But there was little choice since we weren’t moving at all and we could hear tubers behind us threatening to pass. I very cautiously threw one leg over the gunwale, slipped, and violently plunged into the icy water.
After my heart resumed beating, I rationalized that getting dunked wasn’t so terrible on such a hot day. But suddenly I heard screaming from the tubers behind us, something about a snake in the water. Just then Diane pointed to an object swimming rapidly towards me. I just knew it was an enormous water moccasin about to attack. The snake appeared to be holding its head above the water and seemed to have long white whiskers. It was actually an extremely large river otter. Mr. Otter ignored me and swam right by, a few feet away which was fine with me considering his numerous needle like teeth.
The experience along with glacial water evoked a sudden rush of emotions. Swimming freely in the cool pristine spring water near the beautiful wild otter induced a mystical sense of communion with nature. But it was also like finding a large rat in your bathtub. This rat feeling prevailed and I scrambled out of the water as fast as I could. Diane beached the canoe and we abandoned the chase to watch the otter swim upstream.
After the otter encounter we finished the run less embittered and found Allen and Thorne waiting for us with a smug look. Relieved that the ordeal was over, we didn’t speak to each other or Allen and Thorne on the way back to our car, which was just as well, since we probably would have said things we would later regret.
Later that night Diane and I received a lovely parting memento when we broke out in large red splotches. We learned the hard way, why you should be cautious about swimming in any body of water whose name starts with the letters “I-C-H”.


2 Responses to “The Great Canoe Death Race”

  1. Water Filter : October 31, 2010 at 1:11 am #

    our kids love pool toys like those floating ducks and floating fishes _


  1. 2010 in review « Welcome to Planet Terry - January 3, 2011

    […] The busiest day of the year was September 15th with 392 views. The most popular post that day was The Great Canoe Death Race. […]

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