The first part of the video I’m uploading today gives you a taste of my view for hours on end these past three days. I’ll point out that Andrew isn’t paddling at all (though I’m sure he feels cool holding the paddle), and Will’s contributions are intermittent. Luckily, as the sun climbs higher and the day gets hotter, I can wrangle more work out of them in the interest of overtaking unsuspecting boats to blast them with our water cannon (and then speeding on ahead before anyone can retaliate).
Nonetheless, midway through our first leg, I was more than a little worried that I might have a mutiny on my hands before the week was out, five hours (or more) a day being a long time to sit in a canoe and get blasted by the sun and withered by the heat. I hope I don’t sour the boys on canoeing forever, I was thinking. When we reached the takeout that afternoon, I was shattered. I could be sitting on the couch watching television, I was thinking.
But the boys didn’t seem fazed at all (no surprise), and in fact they complained mightily when I had us set up camp that afternoon in the air-conditioned gym at Clarke Central, insisting we lay out our sleeping bags on the floor like natural-disaster refugees rather than pitch a tent out on the baseball field. I just had to. (They came to appreciate my wisdom when a huge thunderstorm that evening started blowing tents around like tumbleweeds, however.)
Then on day two, someone gently pointed out that I was using my fancy new bent-shaft canoe paddle backwards (which is what the salesman showed me, dammit). This advice probably saved my trip (and my back). But how embarrassing.
By any description, today’s paddle was brutal, all traces of river current vanishing almost from the start as we approached Lake Oconee, the second half of our twelve-mile route taking us across open waters. And yet we’ve all settled into a pretty good rhythm. I’m having more fun, and the boys are showing no signs of boredom as the novelty wears off. It helps a lot that the swimming has been great and the sense of community is building (shared suffering will do that, I suppose).
But it also helps that it’s starting to feel like we’re really getting somewhere as the landscape changes, our intimate Piedmont river valley suddenly opening up today into wide wetlands at the head of the lake. By tomorrow we’ll enter the Coastal Plain (our boats were portaged by tractor trailer around the rest of Lakes Oconee and Sinclair this afternoon), and before too long we’ll pass into the land of oxbow bends and cypress knees. Even after tomorrow, we’ll still have more than half of our miles yet to travel (the last two days each cover twenty-plus miles), but we can feel the lure of distant landscapes pulling us as surely as gravity is pulling the water. Tomorrow, according to the maps, we’ll have several sets of shoals to run, and the boys are beside themselves with anticipation.