In December 1994 on our 30th wedding anniversary we though it would be fun to take the family on an organized bike trip in Florida. We enjoyed biking along the trails from Inn to Inn. The company was good and the weather fine.
We chose Florida because it was December and warmer than Minnesota. We also believed Florida was flat. Imagine our surprise when we encountered a hill like this one.
A canoe trip on a river in a national park was scheduled for the middle of the trip. We were told that it would take four hours of leisurely drifting down this narrow, beautiful waterway and that we did not need to worry about canoeing experience or the lack there-of because the river was so calm. The group of thirty with two guides would meet for lunch on the riverbank at the halfway point. When I explained that I do not do boats and that I had become ill on a boat trip in Turkey, so please could I sit this one out. Not possible, I was told as we were going to a new Inn close to where the canoe trip ended. Shades of the Turkey trip where they said the Mediterranean is very calm, I was told that I did not have to do anything other than float down the river, while John paddled. But as we soon found out, due to heavy rains, the river was much higher and flowing faster than normal.
After downing migraine medication, I changed into a swimsuit, sandals and a T-shirt. Because it was a national wilderness area, we were not supposed to carry any plastic or cans on the river. So before the Park Ranger could check, the guide loaded one of the lunch coolers onto our boat and we were hustled into the water. We faced our first hurdle. A huge branch was hanging over the river that we had to canoe under. I was told to duck and lean one way; John the other and all would be well. It was.
We progressed down the winding, branch and tree-filled river and I relaxed. Not to bad, I thought. It is really beautiful, I mused, when bam we hit the bank and tipped over. The water was shallow and although we both went in we could stand. Instead of worrying about being wet or cold all I could think of was grabbing at plastic forks and knives as they floated out of the food coolers. I was sure we would be arrested for losing them in the river. John, thinking only about the food, grabbed the cooler and wrestled it onto the bank. Two people helped us turn the canoe around and in we clambered. What a sight I was with plastered wet hair, dripping T-shirt on a body that was not meant for a wet T-shirt contest, clutching plastic spoons while my teeth chattered.
John rowed on and in spite of the mishap the beauty of the river entranced me. The moss-covered logs and miniature trees became elf and fairy dwellings. There was no noise other than the gurgling water and the slapping of the paddles. The sun shone and we dried off.
As we rounded the final bend, we were cheered for making it to the lunch spot. I felt like an explorer coming ashore. Our sons who were all accomplished canoeists joked and teased us. I went behind the bush designated the Ladies and changed into a dry jacket and then enjoyed the lunch we had saved.
One by one the boats took off for the remainder of the trip. Before we climbed into our canoe, my daughter-in-law of six months asked if I wanted to join them. I felt I could not desert John so declined. Big mistake. Again there was a leaning branch arching over the water and as we approached it we both instinctively leaned to the same side and the canoe flipped. The coldness of the water took my breath away as I plunged under gasping and swallowing water. I became limp and felt hands grab me. Gasping from cold and fear, I tried to catch my breath. My sons and the guide pulled me from the water and wrapped me in their dry jackets. When I could speak I said I was never getting into another boat. That I would rather walk. I was informed that this was the wilderness area and there were no roads out, other than the river. This time I did not care about hurting my husband’s feelings. I climbed into the guide’s boat for the rest of the trip.
Although that was the last time I went in a canoe with my husband a week later I found myself back in one in the Florida Everglades. This time I canoed with a friend who was an accomplished canoeist. I did not sleep the night before, because given my track record I was sure some disaster would hit. In my imagination I could see the jaws of an alligator closing over my legs. But the trip was uneventful and I stayed dry and enjoyed floating through the reeds of this wondrous place and viewed alligators form a distance. John was in another canoe and when the guide suggested they stand in the reeds, he jumped to it and fell in. His wallet and money were damp for the rest of the trip.
All three of my boat trips in 1994 made great stories over cocktails. But they also taught me that I could overcome fear, that I did not have to have the perfect body and that I was a really good sport.
To read more of my stories buy my chapbook, Everything is a Journey from http://www.createspace.com/4672953