I recently ran across my list of “personal lessons-learned the hard way” after my first canoe trip down the South Branch of the Potomac with a local volunteer water conservancy organization. Although the trip occurred a few years ago, I thought it might be of interest to other novice paddlers before they get their feet wet, so to speak.
1. If the outfitters tell you they furnish PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices), get yourself to the nearest Walmart and buy your own. That holds especially true if you happen to be a female with a bra size larger than B. Believe me, I know. Buy one and put your name on it. It will support your back, keep you from worrying about swallowing half the river, and won’t float away when you really need it because you used it as a seat cushion or just didn’t wear the uncomfortable thing. Another note for the ladies: wear a real sports bra…continually fiddling with your straps interferes with your paddle stroke.
2. While waiting to “put in”, don’t stand about with your hands in your pockets. No matter where you stand, somebody will be coming through toting a canoe or kayak. They can’t watch out for you. Stay alert and ready to jump out of the way. Speaking of pockets…wear clothes with zippered or Velcro pockets. Things will pop out or float away no matter how hard or deep you stuff them.
3. Geese often fly up the river…wear a hat!!! preferably washable and wide-brimmed front & back with a strap so you can cinch it tight under your chin. Ball caps float away faster than errant PFDs. Don’t wear anything leather unless you don’t mind spending the time to saddle soap it after.
4. A note to everyone, especially the men if you intend to father children in the near future…or even if you don’t. Canoe seats left in the sun get HOT! Take care, especially when wearing shorts.
5. If you worry about leaving your wallet or keys in the car, put them in a water-proof bag before stashing them in your pocket. Plastic key fobs are apparently water proof but it’s best not to test it.
6. Bald eagles look extremely condescending as they watch you pass by. Inwardly, they are no doubt cursing the fools in the river that are ruining their fishing time.
7. Speaking of being IN the river (unfortunately also based on personal experience):
There are no little rocks when your canoe hits them full on.
Canoe trips are an excellent time to test those supposed water-resistant watches.
Canoes do not stop just because you aren’t in them. Follow the adage, one hand for the paddle and the other for the canoe. Hang on to it the best you can. You don’t have to worry about sinking because you wore your very own personal flotation device, DIDN’T YOU!? If your feet touch bottom, try to angle the canoe toward shore. You ain’t gonna make a flying leap onto that pony, especially if it flipped over.
Note: Crawling over algae-covered rocks on hands and knees is safer than continually slipping, sliding, and definitely falling. Even TEVA water shoes can’t fight algae. You might want to wear long sleeves and possibly shades for the next week or so to avoid nosey questions.
Now would be the time to thank me if you stowed your stuff securely, cinched your hat on tight, and wore your personal PFD. If you didn’t, dollar bills dry rather fast if spread out on the car dashboard.
8. After the trip: now your snacks are all gone or soggy and all gone (happy fish). Make a stop for a quick sugar pick-up BEFORE trying to drive all the way home. Your family and the other drivers will thank you. Don’t forget to apologize to the counter person for the soggy dollar bills.
On a final Note: If a fellow boater or kayaker asks if you’d like to see a copperhead trying to swim across the river… just politely say no-thank-you and PADDLE AS FAST AS YOU CAN!