a lesson in perseverance; aka: the day I canoed in the wind

Since it is a rare occasion to partake in any form of lazing on a lake, when I went to Algonquin Park for the first time last Thanksgiving, I couldn’t think of any reasons why I shouldn’t relish in a canoe rental one whimsical afternoon; it was clearly my inexperience that left me blissfully oblivious to the many.

After precariously lowering the 15-foot long kevlar canoe off the dock successfully without falling in with it, I climbed in, merrily peeled my shoes and socks off, nestled my backpack on top of them (knowing full well it was only a matter of time before I managed to fill the canoe with water one way or another), and pushed off.

Shoes are always the first thing to go.

It was easy to get caught up in the romantic whimsy.

It wasn’t until I was on the open water that I realized I was, in fact, having a little difficulty keeping the canoe on course against the gently rolling waves, but I was so truly overcome with the sort of glee a child gets when they meet Mickey Mouse at Disney World I refused to accept it as anything more than a minor inconvenience.

… that “childish glee” I mentioned…

Soon enough, I made it out of the bay and onto the main body of the lake, so it was with ease that I drifted along, taking photos, breathing the fresh autumn air, and genuinely allowing myself to get swept up in the rapture of it all. It was about an hour of minimal effort to keep the canoe on course before I came to the end of the boot-shaped lake and I conceded it was likely time to head back.

Of course, little did I realize until that point how even the most insignificant wee bit of wind can make your afternoon a battle of wills: You vs Nature. And when you’re bobbing helplessly in a raft powered exclusively by your own sheer will and limited muscle-power, Mother Nature has you by your cojonies. Every time I even tried to turn the canoe around, the bow would snag on those mocking waves. If I paddled harder, I’d end up rocketing on an angle straight for shore or out into the abyss….

It’s amazing how quickly “splendour” can mutate into “a minor panic” when you start getting swept out into this against your will…

Once (maybe twice), I only narrowly missed capsizing myself while trying to straighten out and push off the rocks. It was then I decided I needed a better idea.

So, I canoed backwards.

It was an interesting struggle – one made marginally more bearable by singing happy rowing songs to myself through gritted teeth – and it bothered me more deeply than I thought possible when I saw groups of twos and threes paddling with ease against the current on the far side of the lake.

Paddling backwards between small islands made battling the current marginally easier. Marginally.

And see the same sights I’d photographed on the way out…

But it allowed me to keep track of my crawling progress…

After an hour and barely making it half the distance back, I think it’s fairly obvious to say I was starting to get a little tired. But I couldn’t rest, oh no. If I stopped rowing for even a beat, those smug little waves would push me backwards again and it would take three times as long to get the momentum back and cover the same distance as if I had just kept going.

I would be a liar if I said I laughed in the face of this battle with a cocky confidence and the finesse to back it up. I had more than a fair share or wobbles big enough to get me thinking I was about to take a bath. There were also times when I couldn’t help but wonder how deep the water was and if it might be easier just to get out and drag the damn thing back.

But what kind of a adventurer would I be if I let a little puff of wind hold me at its mercy?

I couldn’t bear the shame.

I couldn’t bear battling the current much longer either, but somehow I managed to dig in and get back around the inlet and glide back into the bay, elated by the sight of the dock. I still couldn’t turn the craft around without simply getting caught in the current and either shoved towards rocks or back the way I’d pained to come, but by what meek muscle I had left, I mustered my way back.

A beacon of hope. Y’know, just incase I still hadn’t made it back by dark.

For all the memories and photographs I’d gained on the candid escapade, I was still more than a little glad when I could finally haul myself back onto land.

In hindsight, it might have been wiser to choose a day of “better weather”, but such things are beyond our control and, quite frankly, aside from the breeze, I could not have anticipated a more perfect day. I suppose one could argue that my afternoon would have been significantly easier (and likely that much more enjoyable) had I had a partner, but such is not always an option. If we limit ourselves to what others are willing to share with us, we limit ourselves from doing all the things we want to experience – even if it means more work. There are many things we must do for ourselves, and the more we challenge ourselves, the more creative we force ourselves to become. Besides which, it is no exaggeration to say that when we do overcome our greatest struggles on our own, and prove ourselves capable to handle “more work” alone, the satisfaction and inspired confidence are rewards enough. (Solid ground is a pretty nice reward too.)

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High-resolution digital copies and prints are available for purchase. Contact Sheri if you are interested.

All photographs are copyright to Sheri Spencer. Duplication in any manner is forbidden without the expressed written consent of Sheri Spencer. Don’t be shy to contact Sheri if you would like to use them for any reason.

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