Paddling away her fears

Published 12:19 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

I chickened out last time I covered the Symmes Creek Canoe Caper. The whole point of being a journalist is to get the opportunity to experience. Yet as an avowed non-swimmer, who literally got in over her head when she tried to make the transition from baby to adult pool, sitting in a long pointy thing as it floats farther and farther away from the shoreline was unnerving.

Yet there was part of me that still wanted to try. Fortunately, standing at the boat ramp with me was Joe Benning, retired master chief from the Coast Guard, who volunteered to introduce me to canoeing. OK. If you can’t be safe with the Coast Guard, who can you be safe with?

Besides, what was the worst that could happen? The canoe would turn over and I was already having a bad hair day.

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So I let them strap on a life jacket that looked far too small to do the job and taking as my credo those hallowed words “Onward and Upward,” we shoved off.

I wasn’t expected to paddle or steer or do anything but survive the journey, which I was counting on being short. Yet I didn’t realize I needed a tutorial on how to get into a canoe.

“Grab hold of the gunnels and step over the thwarts,” Benning told me.

Again, please in a language I understand.

In other words, you hold onto the sides and step over these metal gadgets, whose purpose still eludes me, as does why you can walk up to the front of the boat and pop in in one felled swoop.

I stepped as softly as I could from back to front, not wanting to shake this metal contraption whose seemed less secure with each footfall. Suddenly a great shove pushed me with my death grip on those gunnels into Symmes Creek. I wanted to look back to make sure Benning was in the back, but couldn’t quite make my head turn around, lest I see he wasn’t.

But just as suddenly, I heard the reassuring splash of his paddle as he steered up upstream. And that’s when I understood what the passion for canoeing is all about. Drifting into a silence that surpasses golden. Not even the cry of a bird. Just floating in a time warp of serenity. Everywhere green.

Yet not wanting to press my luck, I asked to turn around, but not without a regret that the experience I was terrified of at first was something that could have gone on forever.

I could try this again. Maybe. Next year. I faced down a fear. Plus, I got a T-shirt.