Column: Canoeing the Brule: Rowing rapids is no reposeWhen he said, “Canoe the Brule River” I went to my storehouse of romantic movies. Me lazily sliding my fingers through the water, him in the stern ... rowing. Me in white lace, him in suspenders. Me with the parasol, him in the straw hat ... canoeing the Brule sounded idyllic!
When he said, “Canoe the Brule River” I went to my storehouse of romantic movies. Me lazily sliding my fingers through the water, him in the stern ... rowing. Me in white lace, him in suspenders. Me with the parasol, him in the straw hat ... canoeing the Brule sounded idyllic!
When he said, “Canoe the Brule River” he went to his storehouse of the movie “The River Wild.” Me in the bow of a canoe, paddling for all I’m worth yelling “Waterfall ahead!” Him masterfully guiding our boat through torrents of water. Me looking fit in spandex sport gear, him looking macho in plaid ... canoeing the Brule sounded awesome!
But what fun are family adventures without conflicting expectations? Canoeing the Brule River is a rip-roaring escapade where it all gets worked out.
The tiny Wisconsin hamlet of Brule lies over the river and through the woods from Duluth. Brule River Canoe Rentals, on the main thoroughfare, outfitted us with paddles, life vests and canoes for our family of seven. I was in one canoe with our sons. My husband piloted the canoe with our two daughters and youngest son.
I was promoted to captain of my canoe, based not on merit, I must admit, but on tenure. This was the first mistake. My husband and sons, seasoned paddlers, make regular Quetico Provincial Park and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness canoe trips. I enjoy writing about canoeing, not the actual arm-movement part.
Floating down the rivulet in the warm sun with the cool water droplets hitting my arms made me gush, “I LOVE canoeing!” The rhythm of our paddles dipping in the water was taking me to my dreamy place. That’s when I was rudely interrupted by male quips of “class 3 and 4 rapids.” This was an adventure trip? I thought leisure was the goal.
My husband explained how to shoot rapids. I couldn’t hear him for the sound of “I don’t want to do THIS!” pounding in my head. The water ahead was bouncing and jumbling — reflecting light. Next thing I knew I was guiding the canoe through a rapids. We streaked through, and I was exhilarated! I actually had watercraft skills.
“That was a Class 1 rapid,” the adventure addict called, “Get ready for some big bumps!”
I stiffened in fear and focused on the challenge. One boy called out “Rock — 11 o’clock!” In canoespeak, this is a flagging that were the canoe a clock and pointing to the 12, there is a rock at 11 o’clock and you, pilot, need to steer clear. My husband had explained to look for the “V” in the water and how to steer through or around it.
At first this seemed simple. But after the second set of rapids I couldn’t keep up with the Vs. I’d go through one, only to find another at the bottom of that one, then another, then another.
At the third set of rapids my romantic lady in lace demeanor collapsed. There wasn’t a V to glide through, there was a whole minefield of Vs. How would I navigate? I essentially didn’t. We rushed through one, only to wobble on the second, turning on the third and by the fourth
V our boat was sideways ... the death knell. Once the canoe is sideways in the current and the water is flowing fast, it either dumps the boat over, fills it up with water, or, if the current is fast enough, bends the canoe.
My 10-year-old son was screaming in abject terror. My 12-year-old son was hollering steering advice at me. I was paddling with everything I had. Somehow, the people in the other canoe were just floating along the side of the river, dispassionately watching us as if they were watching a video of how not to paddle down the Brule. Was there no rescue fleet approaching?
All sorts of fear come from lack of control. I didn’t have the power, skills or moxie to manage my boat.
What I lost in my fear was perspective. I suddenly understood that if I just would step out of the canoe I’d be in water only to my knees. The terror, hysteria and vulnerability existed in my head alone.
This adventure took place a couple of years ago, and we repeated it again last week. This time we used kayaks instead of canoes, the water was higher, and my expectations were more realistic. This time the trip was certainly a pleasure trip which everybody should try at least once a summer.
Check out http://www.brulerivercanoerental.com/ to jump in. The water is fine.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota
(and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at email@example.com.