A Weekend With My New Best Friend: an Essay by cam

Updated on August 1, 2017

Meet My New Best Friend

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I just finished a weekend getaway with my new best friend named Pack, my solo canoe. I know, it says a lot about my social life, doesn’t it? I spent two days paddling and fishing. The final tally shows thousands of paddle strokes and no fish.

The Eleven Point River in Ozark country of Missouri is an awesome place to relax, soak up some sun and get some exercise. Every day, twelve million gallons of clear, cool spring water, feed the river, compliments of the karst topography of the area. The river features numerous rapids. A couple may be a little unnerving for the novice paddler.

An Example of Karst Topography

Karst topography is a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. (Wiki)
Karst topography is a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. (Wiki) | Source

I approached one of these rapids and scanned the situation. I was looking for the best route. The best route has different meanings for different people. I was pleasantly surprised that on this trip, best for me meant the route that would give me the optimal chance of staying alive, dry and in possession of all my camping gear. In the past, I looked for the riskiest route, the one no one else would attempt. Then I either paid the price, or I was the hot shot paddler for the day. It was a Charlie Brown kind of thing. I was either the hero or the goat.

I floated toward the deep, fast moving water and grew increasingly uncomfortable. It was a ninety degree turn, but that’s not unusual. This time it included an eight foot long boulder precisely in the middle of the best water. On the right end of the stone-slab-of-death was the trunk end of a tree, pointing at an angle from beneath the raging water, directly into the face of anyone so unfortunate as to have chosen that route. The same sad paddler would also be skirting the entire length of another fallen tree on his way to being smashed against either the boulder or the tree trunk.

The View From My Campsite

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Why would anyone choose this route, you ask? There was a four foot opening between the boulder and tree trunk on the left and the top branches of the other tree on the right. On the other side of this gauntlet, an immediate left turn was required, emphasis on immediate and required. If the paddler failed to make the turn, he would be successful in having an up close and personal encounter with a five-foot wall of dirt and tree roots compliments of the force of the river at his back.

I share this little vignette because I want you to know I did not go that way. Instead, I pulled my canoe up on the gravel and waded out into the water to survey the situation. To the novice, there may have appeared to be only two options; the route I’ve described and portaging. The two paddlers before me opted for the latter. But on the left was a swift, three-foot wide channel that hugged the shoreline. It looked shallow, but my canoe has a very shallow draft. I climbed back into my boat and shoved off into the current. It was difficult to paddle, as the ground, only inches to my left, raced past. But the route turned out to be an easy path through treacherous rapids. The paddlers behind me followed suit.

Baby Rapids

On the really exciting rapids, I wasn't willing to mess around with the camera while paddling.
On the really exciting rapids, I wasn't willing to mess around with the camera while paddling. | Source

Not all my choices were so maturely made. Later in the day, I passed a group of young people and immediately came upon a wide set of rapids with no clear sign of deep water except to the left. That route had a problem. It was blocked by a fallen tree with barely enough clearance between it and the surface of the water for a boat. But that was the best water. The only other option was to drag my boat across the rocks through the shallow water, and I wasn’t about to do that with twenty somethings on my tail.

I paddled into the swift, deep current that flowed beneath the fallen tree. It swept me away to the point of no return. The downed tree was belly high on this sixty year old fool, and I’m sure to the observers behind me there was no stopping the inevitable. At the last second, I flopped backward into the extra long space behind the seat of my solo canoe. An instant later, I popped upright and started navigating the rapids. I could hear the screams from behind me. Were they cheers or expletives? I probably scared them half to death.

So I’m a work in progress, even after six decades. Yet there is a glimmer of hope that wisdom and maturity may yet catch up.


Questions & Answers

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      • Randy Godwin profile image

        Randy Godwin 

        11 months ago from Southern Georgia

        I'll look forward to your photos, Chris!

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Randy, thanks for the tip. It's only 16 miles from where I am staying. I'll get over there and post some photos when I get back.

      • Randy Godwin profile image

        Randy Godwin 

        11 months ago from Southern Georgia

        Chris, I hope you visit the Monks Mound complex while you're there. I've always wanted to see the ancient settlement. They say the base is bigger than the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Larry, thank you, kindly, sir.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Eric, Get the boat out and go for a float. You will be glad you did. Nice to see you today.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Hi Becky. Nice to see you. I am going paint a sign on the side of my canoe. "No Snakes Allowed." I'm not particularly afraid of snakes, but I wouldn't want one in the boat with me. Good story, thanks.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Sally, you hit on one of my favorite parts about being in a kayak or a canoe. You can slip silently through the water and see things you would miss if you were tromping around on foot. It's a great experience.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Randy, When I came to St. Louis, I didn't have even one of my three kayaks with me. So I decided I'd buy something since I'm in a location with lots of rivers. I opted for a solo canoe rather than adding another kayak to the growing fleet. I'm really impressed with the Old Town Pack. It's very maneuverable, especially with a kayak paddle. Thanks for the visit.

      • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

        Chris Mills 

        11 months ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        RTalloni, Thanks for visiting and for the kind compliments. I love my canoe and now even more so after it carried me through the weekend so well.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        11 months ago from Oklahoma

        Great read!

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        11 months ago from SW England

        I so enjoyed reading this, Chris! What a fantastic place; your photos are breath-taking. I was in that canoe, feeling the fear and the anticipation. I hasten to add, that's the only way I'd be in a canoe!

        There is no way I would attempt such a thing. One, I can't swim well. Two, I'd rather someone else was piloting any floating vessel I choose to be in. Three, I'm a wuss!

        Bravo to you for being brave (or mad?) enough to do this. It must be a great feeling to succeed and beat the elements.

        You've given us a vicarious thrill, so thanks for that. I'll remain on the bank and watch though.

        Ann

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        11 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Thanks for bringing back memories of my youth on the Colorado. Flipping is such a bitch. That area sure looks beautiful. I need to get it together and get back on the water.

        Your writings are such a pleasure to read, they flow just like your river.

      • Becky Katz profile image

        Becky Katz 

        11 months ago from Hereford, AZ

        Sounds like fun. I haven't been canoeing in so long that I wouldn't try those. I would end up portaging. Last time I took a trip down the river, it was the Truckee going from Fort Churchill, NV, to Lahontan Reservoir, in NV. It was a Mother's Day trip that the park service did every year. I was with my large extended family, and we had 20 canoes, just the family. There were others included also. One pair had a black snake come at them and it climbed up the paddle into their canoe. They freaked out and bailed out of the canoe. We laughed hysterically, while we went after their canoe and paddles. The park rangers kept the canoers afloat until we caught it and then brought them back to their canoe. We had to dump the snake out, before they would get into it.

      • sallybea profile image

        Sally Gulbrandsen 

        11 months ago from Norfolk

        I love being in a canoe. It gives one a different perspective on life and nature plus there is something magical about the way one can approach a bird or animal who never saw you coming. I very much enjoyed reading this one.

      • Randy Godwin profile image

        Randy Godwin 

        11 months ago from Southern Georgia

        I haven't had my canoe in the water for years, Chris. I could tell you some harrowing tales about my former canoeing experiences. This article reminded me of some of them. I enjoyed reading about your canoe trip and bet you enjoyed the experience.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        11 months ago from the short journey

        Such a neat read–well done on all counts! Congrats on your new pal and many happy trails, um, paths...well, ripples to you.

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