Up the river without paddle skills | AspenTimes.com
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Up the river without paddle skills

Janet Urquhart

When some friends of mine mentioned a weekend canoe trip down the Yampa, fully catered by seasoned outfitters, I somehow pictured a leisurely float down a scenic waterway.Bambi and his forest friends would wave at us from the shore and butterflies would alight on our immobile paddle blades as a gentle, crystal current carried us past the splendor of the American West under azure skies.It would be Lewis and Clarkish, sans the threat of hostile natives, carnivorous wildlife and uncharted waters.The brochure smacked of adventure-lite. The fine print absolved the outfitter of responsibility in the event of my accidental drowning. None of the informational material mentioned the repeated hoisting of canoes in and out of the river or the heft of the ample provisions required to get 17 women from Point A to Point B. Columbus set out for the New World with less food in his hold.My idyllic expectations were swept away by the gush of chocolate water that greeted us at the put-in (that’s canoeing terminology for where you put the canoe in the water, as opposed to the take-out, which does not involve Chinese food).The swollen Yampa appeared to be moving at a tad faster clip than I had anticipated – a veritable torrent in my novice eyes. Then, the chief guide gathered us around for paddling instruction. No one told me I would actually be expected to paddle. I thought the paddle was just for show, sort of like the life jacket.Needless to say, other members of the group – most of whom I’d never met before – weren’t exactly clamoring to get paired with me, the inexperienced canoeist (canoe-er? canoecian?), in a wobbly watercraft.I was directed to the bow, which is the front, where you do all the work while your partner dips the occasional blade in the water to correct your course and admires the scenery. It’s like being in the front seat of a tandem bike – you peddle furiously, all the while suspecting the rider in back is coasting comfortably. I didn’t dare twist around to check on what was going on in back for fear of upsetting the canoe. In fact, after sticking a toe in the snowmelt they call the Yampa, I made remaining upright on the river my sole goal for the weekend. Mission accomplished. In fact, by Day 2, I was brimming with confidence and secretly wishing for an adreneline-pumping stretch of rapids to break the tranquility.Be careful what you wish for.No rapids materialized, but the morning breeze stiffened into a gale-force headwind that threatened to push us backward upriver despite the current. Whitecapped waves lapped over the bow. Each bicep-popping stroke felt like I was dragging the paddle through a trough of wet cement. We inched forward.I risked a backward glance at my partner, who was alternately paddling madly and trying to maintain our course and avoid a disastrous broadside blow by the surf. We shared a wild grin.Now this was canoeing.Janet Urquhart was sore on Monday morning. Her e-mail is janet@aspentimes.com.


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