I am aqua phobic. I have been for as long as I can remember. While I have overcome this fear enough to paddle around in a pool or take a cool, refreshing dunk in Lake Michigan on a searing hot summer day, I still will not, willingly, put my head underwater, other than a shower. And, while I have been rolled by an occasional large wave playing in the ocean along Mexico's Pacific Coast, therefore finding my head underwater, the act was not purposeful and is a tale for another day.
With this in mind, when my partner suggested we spend an afternoon canoeing down a river on a camping trip in Michigan, I remember replying something like "ARE YOU MAD!!!" I'm paraphrasing here. I believe I said much the same thing when he first suggested the camping trip. I only relented to remind myself the extent to which I loathed sleeping in a tent when perfectly serviceable motels are nearby. Aside from the hard ground and lack of personal hygiene facilities, bugs love me. Regardless of how much insect repellent I slather on, as evening falls insects flock to the point where I begin to look like I am traveling about in the center of a buzzing fog. Let it be said, here and now, nature and I have our differences.
I do not remember how in convinced me to partake in this aquatic adventure or why I finally agreed to it, but I soon found myself inside a metal boat resembling an oversized gray banana with a red plastic oar in my hand.
It was determined that he would sit in back and use his oar as a rudder to steer the damn thing, while I would sit in front and use my oar to propel us forward when the current was not strong enough to do so. I was also to help keep us on course through the level 1 and 2 rapids we would encounter on our trip down the river.
It was mid August and the river was shallow. Time and the heat of the summer had tamed the rumbling torrent it became in spring when the snow melted filling it's now dry and rocky bed with cool, clear, icy water. A faint line along each of it's banks bore witness to the depth and volume of it at it's peak, but now, at this time of year, it carried us gently and languidly down it's course.
The river's world was quiet and tranquil. A hawk flew overhead and landed among the gray weathered branches of a dead tree which stood along the river's bank. Occasionally tiny fish could be seen swimming past or underneath us.
The first rapids we came across were small and easy to navigate. My partner had instructed me to guide the canoe through the center of the "V" formed by the water as it tumbled over and around the slick, moss covered river rocks. The river's banks would transition between barren rocks and small sand beaches to thick stands of tress which provided welcome cool shade under their overhanging branches.
We stopped and pulled the canoe up onto one of these beaches near our campsite to rest and eat the lunch we had brought with us. My partner had doubted my claim of being an insect magnet. A bee came along giving me an opportunity to prove my point. It immediately flew towards me and began to buzz around my head. "Watch this", I said. Slowly, quietly, I moved several feet away. The bee flew in circles for a moment, then came towards me and resumed it's orbit around me. Slowly, quietly, I moved again, further away this time. The bee followed. I have discovered over the years that covering my head will make an insect lose interest in me. I wrapped a towel around my head and the bee moved on about it's business. From that day on, my partner has understood a portion of my aversion to the great outdoors, at least during fly, bee or mosquito season. We pushed the canoe back in the river and continued on.
The water became deeper and the rapids increased in their ferocity. The metal sides of the canoe clanked as they struck the rocks the water swirled and raged around., Ahead of us a tree branch reached out low across a particularly deep and fierce section of the rapids. I bent over double and went under the branch with only an inch to spare. Then the canoe stopped. The first thought that I had was that my partner in the back had not bent over in time and I would turn around to find him wrapped around the limb miles from any medical help. Cells phones were not ubiquious then as they are now. As I turned I saw him grasping the branch with both hands. He had put his oar up between him and it at the last second. As I struggled to keep the front of the boat steady he "walked" along the branch with his hands until he had maneuvered himself to a point where he could safely pass under it.
After that close call the waters began to calm and the river returned to it's former, more shallow state. A tiny mammal climbed out of the river unto the bank as we passed. We reached a dam where we would have to portage the canoe which signaled that we were neat the end of our journey.
The canoe rental agent met us on the bank and hoisted the canoe into his van as we returned to our rental car. We had traveled only 7 miles as the crow flies but had covered 21 river miles that afternoon. As we drove off a family of deer appeared at the edge of the forest almost as if bidding us farewell.