Kayak

Several weeks ago, my column was titled “What’s New?” It made the point that not a lot has been going on to talk about during these lengthy pandemic days. However, in the meanwhile, I have come up with something new worth telling about. You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “up the creek without a paddle.” In contrast, two landlubbing Lebanon County farmers named Dennis and Sue recently went down the creek with paddles, and lived to tell about it.

After summer days without much variation in routine, friends of ours came up with a socially-distanced suggestion to try something new — an afternoon kayaking trip booked through a local outfitter operating out of the Hershey area. Knowing Dennis is not a big fan of water activities, I ran the idea past him with some trepidation. However, he ultimately decided to give it a try, subject to several conditions.

The first one was that our little expedition down the Swatara Creek needed to include life jackets. A check with the outfitter’s website showed that they were not only provided, but were also required to be worn. Since I had gone kayaking numerous times previously, albeit years ago and in a somewhat different style kayak, he also stipulated that he wanted us to use one of the outfitter’s double kayaks, with room for both of us. Our friends, who had more kayaking experience, each wanted their own kayak.

We were fortunate enough to have a lovely afternoon with sunshine and blue skies for our little trek. We parked our cars at our final destination, then boarded the outfitter’s van, which took us upstream 5.5 miles to our starting point for the 2.5-hour adventure. On the way there, our driver provided background about the area we’d be passing through and told us to be on the lookout for water birds like herons and egrets, as well as for the eagles that frequent the area. It sounded idyllic.

After we reached our starting point, the outfitter distributed life vests and gave us a short course in kayaking, including pointers about how to tell where the water was too shallow and also how to navigate around any obstructions we might find in the water along the way. Staff members then assisted the two of us into our kayak and gave us a shove into the creek to start our voyage.

It was just our luck that Dennis and I were chosen to be the first kayak to set off down the creek. Our friends’ kayaks were launched right after ours and soon the four of us in three kayaks were on our way, with our crafts cutting through the waterway that ran between wooded stream banks.

It had all looked so effortless, but it wasn’t. The outfitter had seated me in the front of the kayak and Dennis at the rear. We encountered difficulty synchronizing our paddle strokes and, as a result, we tended to go too far toward the one shore and then overcorrect and go too close to the opposite side. It appeared we could never hit a happy medium, so instead of carving a path down the middle of the stream, we had more of a zigzag path. Occasionally, we couldn’t correct our course quickly enough and would actually run into the stream bank, requiring the use of a paddle to push off and continue downstream.

If there was any consolation, it was that there was no one close enough to see our labored progress, as our friends had scooted past us and were downstream, while others who had launched after them must’ve been having some troubles, too, because we never saw any of them again until the very end of the run.

Just about the time that Dennis and I were both growing frustrated with our paddling problems — and I was starting to think we might need counseling by the end of our joint maiden voyage — a miracle happened. At about the halfway point, something seemed to click in and suddenly we became a well-functioning kayak team without having to think about each stroke of the paddle.

We were able to start looking around at the passing scenery more and observe some of the flora and fauna the outfitter had told us about. In fact, we began having so much fun, we almost paddled right past the ending point of our kayak caper.

Back in the car on the way home to do evening chores, Dennis admitted that things had turned out better than expected and he wouldn’t mind maybe doing it again next year.

In an interesting sequel, our friends Barb and Steve enjoyed their experience so much that Barb decided a kayak trip along the same route we’d followed would make the perfect 90th birthday gift for her adventurous father. She mentioned that for one birthday in his 80s they’d taken him ziplining and he’d loved it. As it turned out, he loved kayaking, too — with each of them in their own kayak.

If I gained one insight from this experience, it was that now I know how the expression, “paddle your own canoe” originated.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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