Friday, November 23, 2012

No Returns, Part III

So, after being trained in the fine arts of gunnel jumping, you can see how I got onto the happy trail when it came to canoeing.  Time on the water with Mike over our first summer cinched it.  Traveling over water was our thing.  It was what Mike and I shared.  It was our heaven. 

I don't know if I can tell you a decent story today.  I blame the tryptophan, well, and the sugar too.  There aren't many holidays that are worth risking a diabetic coma two days in a row, but Thanksgiving is one of of them. 

You have to know that I was really in love with Mike and always had a penchant for exaggeration, so even after almost a year of camping, canoeing, and hiking, I still worked to impress him. Then came Christmas.  I can tell you that it was the one and only time I was absolutely certain about what to get for Mike for Christmas.

Okay, I wasn't absolutely certain.  I thought about getting him a kayak too, but in any debate with myself, the canoe was at least a length in front of the kayak in the race between the two. I took my friend Beth to go see some canoes and kayaks.  She was a city girl, but it was fun bringing her anyway.  We stood staring at a rack with at least a dozen canoes and kayaks on it. The sales guy barely gave us the time of day. 

"What's the difference between a canoe and a kayak?" she asked me.

"The canoe is open and the kayak is closed on top," I said and I pointed to one of each. 

"So if you get him this kind, with just one seat, are you going to stay home when he uses it?" she asked. 


From then on, I knew I was getting Mike a canoe and not a kayak.  I wanted to be on the rivers and lakes with him. I didn't want to imagine all the Saturday afternoons I'd get left behind if I bought him a kayak. 

You might have thought a canoe would have been too expensive, that it was too soon to get him a present like this.  Really, after the man sat me on the kitchen counter where he was house sitting and told me he'd make a good husband, I knew that a canoe was not going to be too much.  Besides, I was sunk, besotted, lock-stock-and-barrel in love with the man.  I had never been so happy and I couldn't imagine anything being wrong about any present I bought for him.  A couple of days later, I went back to look at the racks and racks of canoes and kayaks and bought Mike the perfect canoe. 

To his credit, Mike has never complained that I bought him the wrong canoe.  Did you know that there is no such thing as the perfect canoe?

To start with, the guy who sold it to me said that it was normal for the thing to have big gouges in the ABS along the length of it and I believed him.  Plus, he told me to buy a canoe for all occasions instead of one of the cool Dagger canoes with a lot of rocker for running rapids.  He told me to buy a solid canoe that would last a lifetime.  He picked out a canoe that he insisted would be steady, but said that it was too cold to throw it into the canal by the shop and show me himself. 


On Christmas eve, I tied that green canoe onto my little red car, tied a big red bow to it and showed up at Mike's apartment.  I went up the inside stairs and knocked on his door.  When he answered, I brought him outside and kissed him a merry Christmas.  Mike loved his new canoe, a green seventeen foot, eighty-five pound Old Town Discovery canoe.  That canoe wasn't quite right for Indiana, our dog, who sat like a lab, on one side of her butt.  We paddled tilted to the left most of the time, making us call it the tippy canoe, though we didn't actually tip over all that often.  That canoe is too long to be really good for whitewater, though we've run it on dozens of rivers from Montana to Washington to Oregon and even in upstate New York before we moved out west.  We found that it had a natural limit of class II rapids or easier, though we managed a scant few class IIIs.  There is no rocker on it.  None.  It tracks pretty well for lake canoeing, but the damn thing weighs 85 pounds.  A good seventeen foot Kevlar canoe would only have weighed forty-four pounds!  If I'd bought Mike a Kevlar canoe, I'd be able to toss that sucker onto the truck and get it on the lake myself.  At this point, I'm stuck waiting until Mike can heft it for me. 

Yet we've been paddling that thing for the past twenty-five years.  Looking at it, I can't distinguish the old battle scars from the times I misjudged the depth of a rock from those original scores along its length when I brought it home to Mike.  It now sports skid plates on each end and the original cane seats sag a bit, yet are comfortable when we sit on our folded squares of closed cell foam.  Mike has rigged a spare seat which I usually get to sit in now that Nick is commanding the bow of the boat.  And when we plan a trip, Mike still insists that his Duluth packs are the best fit.  Oh, I hate those Duluth packs with a purple passion.  I told you about them, didn't I?  Right now, Mike's canoe hangs from a getup that he put together inside our crowded garage.  And in my imagination, we're always in that canoe, whether it was the trip to Alaska or our honeymoon in Maine.  It is the perfect canoe, if you don't think about it too much.

Oh, someday maybe we'll get a Kevlar canoe if we ever have a better place to store more than one boat.  Maybe we'll even get a solo canoe with lots of rocker to spin around those rocks on the river, but until then, we have our trusty old tippy canoe, the best present I ever bought Mike for Christmas. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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