Norma, a friend who lives down the street, won a kayak in a raffle. She’d canoed as a kid, but had never been in a kayak, so she asked me to take her out and give her a few tips. Her request coincided with me trying to get Manyu and Clare out on the water more often, so we made it a group outing.  With Clare and Norma in individual kayaks and Manyu and me together in a canoe, we paddled from the canoe access at Goose Island’s Shelter No. 5 to the boat landing at Hunter’s Point.

The trip turned out to be too long for a first timer. Norma tired about three quarters into it. Exhausted, she climbed into our canoe and became a duffer. Clare towed Norma’s empty kayak. I hadn’t brought a towrope, but we jerry-rigged one by stringing together cords unlaced from my  lifejacket. Norma repeatedly apologized for ruining the trip, and she wouldn’t believe me when I told her I welcomed the extra weight in the canoe. Norma and Manyu weigh about ninety pounds each. With both of them toward the bow and me in the stern, it was the first time all day the canoe was trim.

This is the fourth or fifth outing where I have overestimated the proper length of a day trip with beginners. In each instance, there were extenuating circumstances. On this particular trip, a south wind picked up so much that our boats drifted backwards whenever we stopped paddling. The direction of travel was downstream in a steady current, but forward progress was as hard as if we were heading upstream. When we reached the take out, Manyu complained, “You went too far again. You always do this.” Manyu exaggerated. She should have said “very often” instead of “always.” 

In my opinion, choosing a route with novices is difficult. If I plan a short route and nothing slows us down, people are surprised and disappointed when we finish early. If I extend the route, high winds or lack of current or clunky rental equipment adds a tiring hour and a half to the trip. Even though I know the rule of thumb with beginners should be “leave them wanting more,” my tendency has been to push a little too hard. 

My fondest memory of a trip-too-far was with my sister-in-law, CJ.  When I noticed she was tiring, I took a secret shortcut, only to discover the shortcut completely weeded in. Rather than backtrack, which would have totally demoralized my sister-in-law, I climbed into the water and started dragging canoes and kayaks through thick marsh vegetation. Standing waist deep in marsh muck and using all of my strength to muscle boats through sedges and rushes, CJ looked me in the eyes and exclaimed, “My God, you’re enjoying this!” 

Part of the problem might be that I do enjoy getting myself into minor calamities when I’m outside. I should probably avoid them when I am with other people. 

Steven Simpson