Today I ran for 3 hours and not once did I fear that I might crash into a tree, flip over and land on hidden debris, or be blown over by wind. Although I was hot and tired, I was not on the very edge of a panic attack with a mouth as dry as the desert, and I was not afraid to take a drink of water. I was totally in control of how fast I went and where and I could stop at any time. My children were not in potential danger because of my lack of skills. I was not dreading the next turn on the course. Yesterday was a different story.
Ever hear of beginner’s luck? Or maybe , I was just clueless. See, last Sunday I went canoeing with my husband and we had no problems whatsoever. It was my first time navigating a river. We had a wonderful, chill time easily moving along the curvy course and it was so fun that we couldn’t wait to do it again! But the thing is , I had no idea that my husband was doing most of the work. He told me that there were special strokes he’d learned in Boy Scouts, and that the person in the back seat was really steering the canoe, but I didn’t take it seriously. I may have secretly rolled my eyes . It seemed so easy! I’d successfully managed a single person kayak in a calm lake without incident, how much harder could it be to steer a two-person canoe? Go ahead and roll your eyes! I deserve it.
I’ve already given my husband the respect he deserves, by the way. He has skills!
So since we had so much fun, I wanted to take my two youngest sons along on the second trip. Surely I didn’t need more experience! We decided to rent a second canoe at Howells Canoe Livery in Columbus, Texas where we could launch and also get a shuttle back to our truck when we finished the trip. We paid our $80 ( including the rental, launch and shuttle for both canoes and us) and prepared to get into the river.
While my husband and son Jimmy, 15, were launching their canoe, my son Eli, 14, and I got into our rented canoe. Eli had also paddled a kayak once so I figured we’d be fine. Wrong! We started paddling and for some reason we were going the wrong direction and then in circles. Reassuring him that we’d learn as we went, I fought the thoughts that were trying to come into my mind that we might be in trouble.We had a six and a half mile paddle ahead of us! But we were in the river. We were committed! My husband and son got in their boat and passed us by as we were going all directions. Thankfully the current was moving us along even though we were zigzagging all over the place. My husband started to yell out what to do, but I knew this was going to take some practice.
My heart rate got up and stayed up. I knew there were multiple islands and a couple of mini-rapids ahead and some obstacles that must be avoided. We could barely manage to control our direction at this point. We made it past the first island and I relaxed briefly. My husband was still giving instructions and I was trying to learn on the go, but I am not a fast learner of physical skills. My brain was not comprehending what he was telling me to do . HE knew what I should do , but I couldn’t make it work.
The lady at the canoe place had asked us several times if we had experience. Oh yeah! We did this a few days ago! ONCE. And she had also told me there was going to be a 10-15 mph wind in certain areas. No biggie, right? Just paddle harder or go slow. But it turns out that wind does funny things with boats, like blow them sideways and make you spin around and make you go backwards if you don’t know how to control a boat. That is what started to happen when we would get in the wind. Going backwards when there are things in the water that you must avoid is not good! Because of the twists in the river, we hit that wind several times.
So this whole time, Eli and I are trying to figure out what we are doing and how to work together to control the boat. Then we see Waldo’s camp ahead and some kayaks about to go through the rapids, the first other boats we’d seen. My heart was pounding as we held back a little to let the kayaks go through first and then my husband. Then it was time for us to go. I did not tell my son that I was terrified of us crashing and flipping. I told him to just let the water take us, but I knew I’d have to steer a little and then we had to paddle to not get stuck in a backflow. Probably less than a minute later we were through and I saw my husband had landed their canoe on a bank up ahead. We paddled a little harder and somehow made it over there where they pulled us up. My legs were weak and shaky and all I could think was how are we going to get through six miles of this! Getting out of the river was not an option. There were no outlets.
Keep in mind that last Sunday those little rapids had been super fun and I had wanted to do more of them. I had no idea that my husband was expertly controlling the boat and all I had to do was paddle. After landing the canoe , I just sat there for a minute trying to gather my wits. We had some drinks and sandwiches in cooler bags so we took a few minutes to eat and drink. Not only was I scared, but I was feeling very bad that the kids might not have a good time. So we decided to switch kids, Eli with dad and Jimmy with me because Jimmy was a little bit stronger at paddling and we hoped it might make things easier. In my mind I was thinking that Eli would be safer with dad and Jimmy might be able to help me figure out how to steer because he’s pretty good at mechanical concepts. This turned out to be true.
Only 38 minutes had passed since we’d left the launch. I knew we had at least an hour and a half to get to the end. We got back in the boats and took off. A little further down river we came to Cummins Creek where my husband wanted to go and fish. I didn’t know if we could get over there because the current was flowing good in this section. We had to paddle a little harder and work at the turn, but we made it. Then I exhaled and tried to enjoy the sounds of the cicadas. It was nice to get in the shade and relax for a few minutes while my husband cast his line. Then my thoughts turned to how we had not even told the boys what to do if they fell out of the boat! But as I thought about it, and realized this was a real possibility, I was afraid to say anything and scare Jimmy. Instead I just prayed and got more anxious about keeping the boat upright.
I knew we still had a long way to go! I tried not to think about the different challenges ahead. The wind would end up spinning us around and pushing us across the width of the river as we were navigating a couple of the turns, which caused me extreme anxiety. Once, we ended up on a sand bar facing backwards. We were slowly covering the distance while my husband easily kept his boat facing forward and in control. And we still had the biggest obstacle ahead, two bridges that had a lot of debris and stuff to get around besides the pylons themselves. And right after the bridges, we had to get to the bank to the take out. I was trying to enjoy the chill moments and stay strong, but I knew what was ahead. Jimmy was a strong paddler and I had to tell him a few times to slow down because the faster we went, the more trouble I had steering. Thankfully he is a good team player and we were getting the hang of things as we went. But he started complaining that his butt hurt and it was hot and he was ready for this fun time to be over. He had no idea how anxious I was feeling. It was also over 90 degrees outside and we were hot and thirsty . We finally made it to the bridges and, with lots of silent prayer on my part, we carefully navigated the pylons and debris in the river. And then with my son’s good paddling and my constant steering, we made it to the take out. I have never been so happy to see a river bank in my life!
Just writing this is making me anxious. I may have mentioned in other posts that I am very good at denial. Well it took over 24 hours for me to understand what happened yesterday. I’ve also written in other posts about some bad life experiences that caused me great fear, but where I had to remain in control and seem calm. I think what happened yesterday and in some other outdoor experiences I’ve had, such as mountain climbing, is that I was experiencing extreme anxiety from a perceived lack of control of the situation and the fear that something bad could happen to my kids. I don’t think I was afraid for my own safety, although I was definitely not enjoying being spun around by the wind while moving down the river. I was terrified that we would flip the boat and my son would not know what to do and he would drown. PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. It doesn’t happen to me often, but evidently it’s triggered by situations where I feel out of control and in danger. Now I know and I will be better prepared in the future.
I asked my kids and husband their thoughts on the adventure and none of them were scared like I was and that makes me glad. This won’t be my last attempt at being the captain of my canoe, but I want to practice my paddling skills in a lake. Canoeing is very fun! Don’t let me scare you away from trying. Just be sure at least one person in the boat has some skills.