A few weeks ago I mentioned that I tend to make hikes and paddles with novices too difficult. I did it again, but this time someone got hurt – not seriously, but bad enough to make me question my judgment even more than I had before. On Friday, Clare and I took Clare’s former violin teacher kayaking. Busya isn’t really a novice, but she is about my age and hasn’t done much paddling since she was a young woman in her native Russia. 

In my defense, I tried to tone down the challenges on our outing. It just didn’t work out. Rather than kayaking the entire length of Goose Island, which I have concluded is too long for beginners, I put in on the north end of the island with plans to meander upstream until we were half done, then reverse direction and end up where we started. I hadn’t done this route for years, but remembered it as a bit of a struggle upstream with the reward of a pleasant float back to the cars. 

All was going well. I was playing it safe and avoiding unnecessary difficulties. Three times I asked Busya if we should head back, and each time she suggested we go a little bit farther. When we had gone as far north as I’d ever paddled before, it was I who made the decision to turn around. I knew from previous outings that if we could find an opening through the long skinny island on our starboard side, we’d run into a second large channel flowing south. Then we’d be able to loop around rather than just go up and back. I found a narrow passage I’d used before and assumed we were home free. 

I was wrong. We paddled a hundred yards into the passage only to discover a large tree had fallen across it. The tree was massive and not something we could paddle around or drag our boats over. We had two choices. One was to get out of our boats and portage. The other was to back out the way we had come. I went ashore to scout out the portage option. To me, it looked fine. Although there was no path or evidence anyone else had gone around the tree, the ground was firm and the total distance was less than a hundred feet. There were a few nettles, but no poison ivy. The only potential problem I saw was a somewhat steep bank where we had to climb out of our boats. I was already out, and if I offered Clare and Busya a helping hand, the portage seemed a harmless glitch to our day’s paddle.

All was going well. Clare and Busya got to shore easily.  Clare and I in tandem carried each kayak around the tree to open water. Busya, however, slipped on the mud reentering her kayak and hurt her wrist when she tried to catch herself. She claimed she was fine, but I was not convinced. She kept paddling, although it seemed to me her stroke lost some power. Also her smile wasn’t quite as intense. Clare commented that it was a good thing Manyu was not paddling with us that day, because she’d be mad at me for again not considering the skill level of others. 

At the takeout Busya tried to assure me she was fine and that the day had been exceptional. “If I have nature and music,” she said, “then I have everything.”


Steven Simpson