I canoe this! (Or how I ditched my desk job to lead back-country trips)

I canoe(kəˈno͞o) this! (Or how I ditched(diCH) my desk job to lead back-country trips(trip))

By Mitchell Consky

Little tornadoes(tôrˈnādō) whip((h)wip) by with every paddle(ˈpadl) stroke(strōk). Wind howls(houl) as I pull water; the metal(ˈmedl) Grumman canoe wobbles(ˈwäbəl) slightly. Dark clouds sweep(swēp) overhead, and a metallic(məˈtalik) zing(ziNG) pierces(pirs) the air: rain is coming. Hopefully, only rain.

I drag the blade(blād) into a J-stroke, adjusting my group’s direction toward the Western shore(SHôr), where a small orange sign indicating the next portage(ˈpôrdij) is supposed to appear. The kids are lily(ˈlilē)-dipping(dip) again – slumping(sləmp) their paddles into the water ineffectively(ˌinəˈfektivlē). The adult boat – their parents – is far ahead, hugging(həɡ) the shoreline as I instructed earlier. As we battle headwind, the approaching waves are poking a little high. We need to face them, bow(bou,bō) first. Otherwise, the kids’ first canoe trip will be remembered as a cold nightmare of soaked(sōkt) clothes(klō(T͟H)z), chattering(ˈCHadər) teeth and that time they lost the food supply. I pretend(prəˈtend) everything is completely normal. Nervousness(ˈnərvəsnəs) only increases(inˈkrēs) chances of tipping.

“Hey Lindsay(ˈlinzē), what’s the next thing?” I call to the 10-year-old sitting on a mud(məd)-caked pack in the middle of my canoe. It’s a game I resurfaced(rēˈsərfəs) from my days as a camp counsellor(ˈkouns(ə)lər)-in-training, a riddle(ˈridl)-of-sorts where you merely ask “what the next thing is” and anything said after works – as long as you include the required words.

“The next thing is … that wave,” she giggles(ˈɡiɡəl). Her 13-year-old brother, Cole(kōl), is sitting at the front, uninterested in the riddle he probably figured out hours ago.

“Ah, right!” I say, noticing the rising goliath(ɡəˈlīəTH) before us. Rain stamps the water. My goose(ɡo͞os)-bumped(bəmp) arms struggle to pull back my paddle.

“What’s after that?” I call, as we ride over with a thump(THəmp) and splash(splaSH).


“No …”

A flash of white light ignites(iɡˈnīt) the sky; a thunderous(ˈTHənd(ə)rəs) rumble(ˈrəmbəl) rolls(rōl). Wind screams and the waves rise higher. “No more lily dipping, guys,” I say, about to lose my cool. Another dagger(ˈdaɡər) of electricity streaks through clouds. “Paddle HARD!”

A month prior(ˈprī(ə)r), I was sitting in a cubicle(ˈkyo͞obək(ə)l) desk toward the end of an internship.