“This sorta sucks,” I think as we paddle along in our recently rented canoe on Kejimikujik Lak at "Keji" National Park. I ask Val about her thoughts about canoeing and receive a similar sentiment. "It’s hard to coordinate paddling. It’s an awkward position to be sitting. It’s hard to steer and stay in a straight line. I’m not sure if we’re doing this correctly. Maybe we should have used our SUPs?" These thoughts race through my head as we ungracefully attempt to paddle towards a bay up ahead.
While we often kayak and SUP, this is our first time canoeing. We tried to learn a few tips before embarking. Even so, this is hard right now. I'm not sure if I want to be doing it. But I remember something I’ve learned about doing a new thing for the first time. It’s often hard to learn something new, full of frustration and a bit of failure. Because of course before you know how to do something well you need to figure it out through experimentation. And experimentation includes both successes and failures with challenges along the way.
As we near the bay, I’m getting better are coordinating my stokes. I watch Val’s strokes, timing mine in sync on the opposite side of the boat. Steering is still a bit of a challenge, with us often listing off to one side. Val suggests trying a sweeping turn which we use when kayaking. We give it a try, sweeping in wide arcs in opposite directions on opposing sides of the boat which rotates us in a circle. Success! We’re both starting to feel a bit more confident and at ease.
The wind picks up as we paddle across the main body of the lake towards a picnic site one of the many islands. The glassy water starts to ripple with small waves. A few minutes later the ripples are now small whitecaps. We turn the canoe into the waves knowing from kayaking that it’s the best way to minimize the impact of the waves. We talk about the conditions and our options and decide to change course to a closer beach which should be more protected from the wind and waves. The waves calm to ripples and then calm glass again as we near the beach. We enjoy PB&J, chips, and a pickle for lunch.
After lunch, we decide to paddle up the river which forms the lake. We think it will be more sheltered from the wind. As we paddle across the lake, I realize that I can steer by small adjustments to the length and force I apply to my paddle stroke while not breaking my rhythm. I think maybe I'm starting to figure this out. I'm starting to like canoeing.
We paddle up the river continuing to practice and refine our skills. But mostly we're lazily paddling and enjoying the calmer water and less wind. About a mile up the river we encounter a wide shallow stretch with fast-moving water. The shallowness causes the water to flow more quickly. Along with strategically placed rocks, it's much harder to paddle up the river against the strong current. We make two attempts, applying our newly learned canoeist skills. We paddle hard against the currents, but both times we get turned around heading back downstream. On the third try, I get out and walk the boat past the shallow section.
We paddle a bit longer before turning back to the launch, enjoying a small push from flowing with the current. “We’re becoming ok canoeists I say to Val” to which she smiles and agrees. It was just new and new things are often hard. We just needed to give it some time and space with a bit of grit along the way.
See you out there,
P.S. we also SUPed Kejimikujik Lake the next morning because we truly love SUPing. And that's ok too.