I learned something about myself on the Green River…(800 words).
I’m a slacker when I canoe. Sure, sitting in the stern requires you to use your brain, making little adjustments to keep your course in the river. It requires you to plan a bit, to direct a bit. Steering, however, also provides constant temptation to take lots of little breaks. You tell yourself “oh, the current is strong anyways,” or maybe even, “they won’t notice if it’s a short one.” Maybe this is because I haven’t had the responsibilities of steering a canoe laid out for me. Am I expected to paddle as much as my partner in the bow? More? Less? Do I get rights to little breaks for every rock or rapid I steer clear of? Eventually the guilt kicks in and I paddle enthusiastically to catch up, to feel like a team again.
In Utah this September, I captained our solo kayak on day three of a five-day trip. I needed to somewhat keep pace with the two-person canoes. This was difficult. Sure, it was my first time kayaking; the fact that it was an inflatable also didn’t help my speed. Nevertheless, I quickly realized the main issue was that I’d conditioned myself as a canoe “stern slacker.” I relied on these little breaks much more than I thought.
One might ask: “Why not just slack off, what’s the hurry?” Great question. There’s several reasons, and all are debatable. The first is ego. It’s ego that makes you pretend to enjoy taking in the view from the rear, but secretly wish you were leading the pack, at least for a bit. You also don’t want to slow the group down too much, but I was lucky to have very patient partners. The second reason is that there is already plenty of slacking to be done on the Green River. This takes place in the heat of the day, in the form of the “FLOATILLA.” Mandatory FLOATILLA requirements are: As little physical exertion as possible, snacks, dipping your feet in the water, and adventure hats.
Here’s a few more reasons to keep paddling and stop slacking. This kayak was shorter than our canoes, and consequently will start to drift off course faster. Take a break to rest your burning arms, and pretty soon you’re turning in circles. Although this is generally not dangerous on the Green River, you look kind of silly (there’s that ego, again!). Lastly, surprisingly, you actually do have places to get to and people to (not) see. I got the impression early on in the trip that many people come to this river to find that perfect sandbar that they can camp on all by themselves. Here’s the trick—you’re not really sure where they’ll turn up. Maps give general tips, but we found that many bends on the river that had previously boasted primo sandbars, were at present blanketed by knee-deep mud. And so ensues a bit of an unspoken, friendly race between paddling groups, to find the good spots first.
But when you do find that perfect location, that only has enough room for the tents in your group, it’s pretty magnificent.
Yes, hopes and dreams of desert oases, and roasted hot dogs, helped me combat my stern-slacking tendencies. Much more effective: Fear. I can say with complete confidence that as the skies opened up on us during a short and dramatic desert storm, slacking was far from my mind. It was a beautiful and scary experience to paddle frantically, soaking wet, to the sound of nearby thunder. Waterfalls suddenly crashed over the canyon walls, red from the clay.
For a stern slacker like me, the solo kayak was a valuable learning experience. It provided contrast. It required more effort to keep up, but I did get to lean back and lounge in the cozy nest the inflatable kayak provided. I got the chance to be alone with my thoughts on a silent river, even if I was sometimes turning slowly around in circles. I guess you take in more views that way.