By Jeff Moag
I've been canoeing and kayaking so long that I sometimes forget how it felt to be a beginner. This trip was different though. Twenty-two of us, including seven kids under the age of 6, were about to embark on an overnight canoe trip on the Colorado River, and my wife and I were the only real paddlers in the bunch.
Over the years, our canoeing partnership has come to resemble our marriage. I sit in the stern and act as if I'm in control, while my wife sits in front and makes it go. We're paddling people, but our 3-year-old daughter Amelia had fallen pretty far from the tree. Our previous canoe outings--all three of them--had ended in tears.
I looked at the smiling faces, listened to the young and old voices filling the canyon with laughter, and felt a tightness I hadn't even known was there leave my chest.
A canoe or kayak can be a scary thing for a kid, or for anyone. You're on this tiny plastic island, surrounded by water, and the slightest wiggle rocks the boat. A 3-year-old has no filter; if the boat rocks and she doesn't like it, she's going to scream, and keep screaming, until you make it stop. The adults put on a braver front, but as we loaded the boats that Sunday morning in Black Canyon, surrounded on three sides by looming cliffs and the massive concrete face of Hoover Dam, a few of them looked as if they wanted to scream too.
It was an anxious moment for me as well. I understood just how Amelia felt as she huddled nervously into my wife's lap and we launched onto the smoothly flowing river. The water was cold and clear, and as the current carried us effortlessly downstream we could see the river-bottom scrolling beneath us like a tapestry of sand and stone. The river seemed to sweep Amelia's nervousness away. I looked at the smiling faces, listened to the young and old voices filling the canyon with laughter, and felt a tightness I hadn't even known was there leave my chest.
All that day and the next, we floated, hiked, and explored, cliff-jumped and hot-springed. We paddled into a cave just half a mile from the takeout, then lingered for hours on a nearby beach. There were no more tears until we reached the takeout. There, a boy named Thomas began to cry uncontrollably. His dad had just told him that the trip was over.’
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