Getting ready for a canoe trip at camp can present some challenges. I think of that every time I get ready for one of my mini-trips now on weekends. These mini trips really require very little planning. It’s important to put the canoe on top of the car before departing. It’s important to tie it down to the car. It helps to remember your paddle and life jacket. I try to remember my wallet and phone, not that they’ll be important in the canoe, but they could be useful when driving to the location where I’ll be canoeing. I’ve also found that for some of the places I like to canoe, it’s helpful to check the tide charts. It’s not much fun to be beached on a squishy mud flat a mile from your car.
This all reminds me of the time that I led a group of campers on a trip to Valcour Island in the middle of Lake Champlain. The camp where I worked was on a small lake. One summer, we actually discovered that it is a pond, by definition, but that doesn’t sound anywhere near as good on a camp brochure. Besides, it’s on the map as a lake. Anyhow, the camp was only a few miles from Lake Champlain, and that is most definitely a lake. Some have even tried to refer to it as New York’s “Great Lake.” I checked that out too, and though it’s quite grand, it’s no Great Lake. Still, it’s big and wide and can be a formidable adversary when it gets its wind up.
When you go on a trip with campers, it’s important to plan ahead and try to think of everything you might need. For example, you’ll have to eat, so there’s food, cooking supplies, plates, utensils, cleaning supplies, and fireplace or stove considerations. Then, there’s sleeping to consider, so you want tents, tarps, stakes, and sleeping bags. You can’t forget that eating leads to other bodily considerations, so you want a shovel and toilet paper, which for some reason we always referred to as mileage. I cannot explain, and neither can Google. Finally, of course, since we’re referring to it as a canoe trip, we cannot forget transportation. So, we need a van with a trailer, a fleet of canoes, and each person needs a paddle, a life vest, and water shoes. Speaking of water equipment, each camper needs to have his own wet bag to hold all of his supplies.
I’m going to make a gender generalization now, and I apologize if this offends anyone. I worked at a camp for boys. I am a boy. May I just say that in spite of other great qualities, one area where we males can be found slightly lacking is in the area of planning. To compensate for my own challenges in this area, I relied on lists. I made supply checklists for myself, and I checked them compulsively. However, the boys that I worked with had not always adopted my compulsive habits. This meant that they required quite a bit of supervision and reminding. They liked to refer to this as “annoying” or as “nagging.” Most of the kids going on this trip were about 12 or 13 years old. This meant that they knew a few things. One thing they knew was that the nagging adults would make sure that they had what they needed. Another thing that they knew was that they knew more than most adults. Yet another thing they knew was that adults were kind of uptight and annoying. Every male kid knows that all packing should be done in the last five minutes before departure. All packing should also be done in such a way as to make it nearly impossible for group equipment to be placed in your drybag. Group equipment weighs a lot.
On this particular day, we were not leaving camp until after lunch and rest hour. This meant that when the bell rang for afternoon activities, the kids on the trip should come up to the lodge to load the trailer and van. We would then tromp down to our docks to fetch the canoes and paddles.
Five minutes before the bell, most of the boys began to pack. I had all of the group supplies ready at the trailer. Some were already packed in dry bags, but other items needed to be divided up. The bell rang. I waited. I waited some more. I waited a little more. Finally, I headed down to the cabins to issue “reminders.” Eyes rolled. Sighs heaved. The uptight one had arrived.
“You’re just starting to pack now? I gave you the list last night.”
“We couldn’t find the list.”
“We were looking for the list for a while. Then we were playing Magic. Zack farted. It was hilarious.”
“Okay, well, hurry up.” I read off the supply list, they shoved clothes into their bags, and I hustled them up the hill. We divided up the group equipment. I had to jettison some of their supplies. “You don’t need three towels. You don’t need a bathrobe. It’s a one-night trip, I don’t think you need more than one fleece.”
The supplies issues settled, we loaded the trailer and the back of the van. We had eight kids and two counselors, so we could get away with four canoes. This meant that two canoes would have a middleman, a passenger on the way over who would paddle on the way back.
Down at the docks, I made sure every kid had a life vest. “Don’t carry it, just put it on. That way you won’t forget it.” I also made sure that each one had a paddle. “Yes, even if you’re middling on the way over. You don’t want to be paddling with your hands, right?”
“Right, that would suck.”
For a trip on Champlain, we broke out the good canoes. Our camp had a good supply of aluminum canoes that dated back to when I was a camper back in the 70s. We referred to them as the tin cans. They were fine on our lake, and they were durable and light-ish, so we took them on most of our extended trips, which often involved carries. Champlain, though, could get pretty choppy at times. For occasions like this, the camp directors allowed us to use the chestnut canoes. We referred to them as the chestnut canoes. They were very nice. They were less durable, less lightweight, and quite a bit more valuable. We needed to handle them with care.
“So, we need to get these babies up the hill pretty quickly, guys. We lost a lot of time with the packing hold-up,” I reminded them. They loved my reminders.
“Can we just drag them up the hill?”
“NO!!! You cannot drag them up the hill, these are The Chestnuts!”
Eye roll. “I know. I was just kidding. Geez.” Second eye roll.
“Okay, you’re very funny. So, when you take them off the rack, you can hold them from each end. Then, set ‘em down gently. Then we’ll roll them slightly and I’ll help you each get underneath.”
This took much “reminding” and then much coaxing as the pairs headed up the hill. Did I mention that The Chestnuts were heavy?
We loaded the canoes onto the trailer and remembered to secure them snugly. This matters with any canoe, but these were The Chestnuts. Having one fly off the trailer would be problematic on many levels.
Before we left, I read off the supply list one more time, making sure every camper had everything he needed. “Cuz, we’re not turning around and coming back for your sleeping bag or paddle, you know.”
Each one assured me that he was fully prepared. Several did the eye thing.
Finally, we were off. The drive was short, but I was nervous. What if someone had forgotten something critical? What if a Chestnut blew off of the trailer? What if we scraped a chestnut over some rocks? I was relieved that at least I didn’t have to drive the van, since backing up a van with a canoe trailer was significantly harder than steering a canoe. Our driver, however, was one of our directors, and he was perhaps even more uptight than I when it came to the safety of… The Chestnuts. We’d have to be very careful when we unloaded.
Within 15 minutes we had arrived at the Peru docks and were ready to unload and embark on our journey. We removed the canoes from the trailer and toted them to the water’s edge. I assigned campers to their canoes, and we began to load them up. “Okay, make sure you have your dry bag, your life vest and your paddle, and don’t set out until we have all of the equipment in the canoes. My canoe would be the last to load. I had the lightest camper in the bow, and I fully expected that we would carry the heaviest load.
“All right, it looks like that’s everything. Is everybody ready? There’s no turning back now.”
Heavy sighs…and the eyes.
I snapped the clasps on my life vest, stepped toward the stern of my canoe, gave everyone else the okay to shove off, and reached for my paddle. “Now, where is that paddle? Hey, has anyone seen my paddle?”
“Hey…uh… can one of you guys head back here to shore and lend me a paddle? I…uh…can’t seem to find mine.”
This is a true story, and I will never forget it…partly because there were nine witnesses, some of them with very rolly eyes, who will make darn sure to “remind” me.