Our Canoeabout

Remember when summer used to be fun? I have such happy memories of Julys spent at overnight camp swimming in Lake Muskoka. I remember a time when just changing into my swimsuit didn’t leave me short of breathe and I didn’t worry if I was wearing enough sunscreen (and if that sunscreen I was wearing had enough titanium dioxide). As an adult, summer is pretty much like every other season. You wear shorter sleeves, but you still go to work. The hot days no longer feel like they’ve been preciously scooped out of your ho hum routine like round, little melons with a melon baller.

I miss childhood summers. I miss being active and adventurous. Feeling restless and wanting to do something other than take the dog for a walk, my husband and I decided to go canoeing. Sixty dollars for a doggie life jacket later, Stephen, our dog Diego,and I, were on our way, 1.5 hours out of town, to canoe down the Grand River.

Bounding along the highway and out of the city, the rain began. My enthusiasm, however, was undeterred. I was so excited to head into the woodlands. I couldn’t wait to feel the sun’s warmth on my skin, watch the ducks and trees go by as we glided our paddles through the smooth water. I was going to be at one with nature, transported by the beauty of the great outdoors.

Just as soon as I peed.

“I can’t go in the port-o-potty.”

“Come on,” my husband said, rolling his eyes, “We’re leaving in five minutes. I’ll go first.”

My husband opened the blue door and immediately re-emerged.

“Okay, we’ll look for a bathroom.” Kidney failure averted.

Captain Wilderness and I rushed back into the car in search of a restroom with a flushable toilet. At least the sun had begun to shine, undoubtedly a good sign.

“I’ll steer,” said my husband.

“Why do you get to steer?” I asked, “I want to be at the stern!”

“Because I’m the man.”

I’m obviously for women’s equality but picturing it I had to agree-his sitting at the bow would be emasculating. Society just hasn’t progressed enough in the world of aquatic activities.

Back at Canoeing the Grand River Central, a tripper pointed out our 10 km route on a map while I held my life jacket away from me, between my thumb and forefinger, contemplating the pros and cons of drowning versus contracting hepatitis. I finally willed my obsessive compulsiveness into submission and slipped on the flotation device. I spent the next 15 minutes wrestling the dog into his. I don’t know why he put up a fight, I told him his was brand new.

Bladders emptied, paddling route marked, and gender rolls asserted, we were ready to head into the water.

Me, my frizz and a vintage scarf that, in retrospect, looks silly tied in a bow.


“Okay, Diego,” we called, “hop in.”

Heeding our command, Diego promptly jumped in the canoe. Then he jumped out again. Then in again, out again and in again, until he had filled it up with a considerable amount of water.

“Pass the bailer,” I called.

“What’s a bailer?”

And he gets to be the navigator?

“The orange container to get the water out.”

I poured cups of water back into the lake. Sensing my frustration, Diego began to assist by drinking the water in the canoe. Thanks.

“Us? Oh no, we’re fine!” I assured paddler after paddler as they eased on by us. “Nothing to see here.”

Just about finished, I noticed Diego take on his familiar push stance.

“Out of the canoe! Out of the canoe!” I called, pushing him over the side just in time for his processed breakfast to splatter all over the beach. If doing that is usually a number two, this was surely a Number Four. I no longer needed to ask if the water was safe for swimming.

The canoe and Diego’s bowel’s emptied, we could finally start paddling.

I admired the bushy trees looming over the water and the peaceful ripples drifting alongside us.

Enjoying the peacefulness, I turned to my husband.

“My arms are tired.”

“It’s been two minutes! Keep paddling.”

“How much further?” I asked.

“10 km!”

Yikes. Was it at least time to crack open the Pringles?

Steve and Diego in canoe. Diego checking out the dead duck he is about to roll in after this picture.

Finally reaching our first portage, I made a show of pushing the canoe really hard while exerting little force. Making our way to the shore, we stumbled into four heavily layered Amish men.

“Amish!” barked Diego, jumping side to side, “Amish! Amish!”

We let them pass, settling into a wave behind them.

“So, what, they don’t use the internet at all?” asked my husband, “Like not even google?”

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the one in the back is checking out my rack.” I zipped up my life jacket, uncomfortable. Amish Man No. 2 promptly turned around. Confirmed.

Three hours later, the Pringles finished, I started to get restless. Despite my layers of sunscreen, the sun was baking my face. I could feel my unwanted freckles sprinkling across my nose and my skin aging prematurely by the minute. My husband assured me we were almost at the end.

10 minutes later.

“Did he say the pick-up point was after three bridges or after four bridges?” asked my husband.

25 minutes later.

“Were you counting the bridges? Have we been under three?”

15 minutes later.

“Did he say bridges at all?”

20 minutes later.

“I have no idea where we are.”

My husband and I surveyed the wide, open, water without a person or landing point in site.

Floating along, I began to panic. I was so hungry and a wave of motion sickness washed over me. No doubt I was minutes away from heat stroke. Then what would my face look like! What was that movie where the scuba couple is left behind by the dive-boat in the Great Barrier Reef and gets eaten by sharks? Oh my goodness. Was that going to be us!? Was this how it was all going to end? In the Grand River? Tipped from our canoe and eaten? Most importantly, who was going to play me in the movie? What if it’s someone awful, like Miley Cyrus?

“We have to get out of here!” I cried, “we have to get out of here.”

As I finished my last pathetic wail, heads turned to look at me as we floated past a flat clearing in the woods, obviously the landing site.

“Oh. Hey there.” I smiled, casually. Nothing to see here.

“How was it?” asked the tripper, as he pulled our canoe out of the water.

Jumping out of the canoe, Diego gave a shake splattering muddy water all over my face.


Wiping the dirt off my face, for a moment, I felt like a kid again. Laughing, I wanted to run off the hill and jump into the water head first. I wanted to kick my feet and splash around, see how long I could hold a handstand. I wanted to stay in the water until my fingers wrinkled and as the air cooled, I wanted to run into a fresh towel my mother held in her outstretched arms.

I wanted to, but I didn’t. Who knows what kind of bacteria is in that water, and I couldn’t afford to get sick now. I have so much work to do.