My coleader and I took canoe training at Camp Fiddlecreek this past Saturday. We had a vague idea of what we were getting into, just word-of-mouth. It was run by the Red Cross but taught by Laurie, a Red Cross employee who is also a girl scout. The first half of the day was Basic Water Rescue, which about 90% of which I'd either taken as a teenager or had some sense of already. We took a classroom course, which in the past has been a dreary part of training, but it was actually entertaining and informative this time. I was pleased as we walked down the hill to the pool to do the hands-on portion. Like I said, I'd had this all before and it went well. The pool wasn't too cold and I'm a strong swimmer so it was really just a demonstration that I knew what I was doing. I do. The only thing I hadn't done was flip over a drowning person who had a suspected spinal injury. But I learned it and did it.
After that, we had lunch and the classroom portion of the canoe training. We watched a video. We took a test. Easy. But as we walked down to the lake, this sense of dread filled my chest. I can't explain it any better way. What have I gotten myself into? I kept asking myself. How is this going to work? My coleader has a lot of canoe experience, but mine is limited. I have probably clocked fewer than 5 hours in a canoe. I've been in rowboats, sailboats, motor boats, but canoes have always made me nervous. So easy to tip as you're getting in. Well. They taught us how to get in. We each had to solo paddle out to the middle, make a 360 turn in place, and then paddle backward. I had done these things before and it was ok. Then came the part I was dreading. My coleader and I got in the canoe and rowed it out to a good deep part of the lake. We then, according to instructions, had to swamp our canoe, fall out of it, and then get back into the swamped canoe and paddle with our hands back to shore.
Let me tell you, the first time you fall out of a canoe is not fun. I got a big old mouthful of brown lake water and more up my nose. Sputtering and gagging, I helped her flip the canoe over, found it easy to get inside a canoe full of water, and then really hard to STAY in a canoe full of water. But we managed and hand-paddled best we could without hitting other swamped boats. Getting onto shore, we felt like we'd accomplished something. So back in the water we went. We were supposed to partner up with another canoe and learn out to tow them by the painter (the string attached to the bow). We were canoe #9, though, so we were odd girls out. We finally got someone to pair up with us to let us tow them a few feet, when the instructors called for us to watch two boats demonstrate the next skill. It was raining. We were worried about storms. So Laurie on the shore talked the two boats through the next thing: Canoe #1 tips over. Canoe #2 helps them out by sliding Canoe #1 perpendicular across Canoe #2, upside-down. Then the people in Canoe #2 flip over Canoe #1, still resting across their canoe. They slide it back into the water and help the folks from Canoe #1 get back into their now-dry canoe. Let me tell you, watching them? I knew why I had that sense of dread. The rain was coming down and a false hope entered my heart: maybe they were having those two canoes demonstrate and that was it.
Maybe we didn't have to do it. But no. She told the canoes to switch places to have Canoe #1 be the rescuers. And then she told the rest of us to pair up and go for it. Again, we were the odd boat out, and so we waited in the rain. Finally, the first group finished and one of their boats came over to help us, essentially doing it all over again. I looked at my coleader. "Let's tip first," I suggested. I was really worried about my ability to get back into the boat and I wanted to be done with it. We tipped. Easier this time. No mouthful of water. We came up and helped our partners take the boat across theirs. My coleader got in quickly. She and the other canoe folks steadied it while I put my hands on the gunwale (I've learned all this new vocabulary!) and then tried kicking at the water while grabbing the thwarts and pulling myself in. I got a foot up, and then realized I was going to tip the whole thing back over. So I went back into the water, caught my breath, visualized what the demonstration folks did to make it work. I had to get my whole ribcage past the gunwale in one try, and then use that higher center of gravity to pull myself in. And I did it.
The next portion was easy, taking their boat across ours, flipping it, and helping them back in. Adrenaline still coursing through my veins, that 150 pound canoe just didn't seem like that big a deal. After they were safely inside, we paddled with all our might back to shore, put our canoe up, paddles, life jackets, and I looked back at the lake. Even though we had a late start, being the 9th boat, there were still 3 groups out on the lake working to get back into boats or pull boats across, and so forth. We weren't last. It doesn't matter on my little Red Cross certification card, but it meant something to me. I managed to do that task, that impossible dreadful task, in that dirty water, with no experience, and I fell in the middle of the pack. I felt like I had accomplished something real that day. The bruises on my hip and my upper arm tell me that, too. We drove back to the city knowing that our girls WOULD canoe. Soon. No question.
Take the class in September when it is offered again, or next spring. Take it with your coleader. If one of you also has first aid/CPR, then you're set. You two and then two adults (no training needed) to watch on the shore and your troop is free and independent. It was the best Girl Scout training I've taken and even though I dread the idea that I'll have to pass the test, including tipping over the canoe, again in 3 years (the certification lasts 3 years), I know I can do it. It was totally worth it.