I am 23 years old, and I haven?t been on a serious canoe trip since I was in sixth grade.
This being the case, common sense should have told me that a 25-mile canoe trip down the Current River in the Ozarks last weekend would be more of a suicide mission than a fun vacation idea. However, I am either an idiot, a glutton for punishment, or (more than likely) a healthy mixture of both because when my family and friends brought up the idea about a month ago, I thought, ?Yeah! What a great idea! I?ll be like Bear Grylls in girl-form and master that river like a boss.?
Now, since we are on the subject of my stupidity, it also behooves me to tell you that I, in no way, shape or form, physically prepared for this trip. That?s right. I just decided to ?wing it? as they say and not lift weights, do core exercises, or stretch before my little excursion.
Now, back to the day of bad life choices.
To get the day started, we had to take a bus to get to our cast-off point, which, I believe, was one of the most terrifying bus rides I have ever taken. Our driver (who was ironically a public school principal) drove our bus like it was possessed. If you have never been to the Ozarks, let me tell you those back roads make even the roughest southeastern Iowa roads seem like the streets on a Candy Land board game and shouldn?t be traveled on at speeds exceeding 40 MPH ? especially with a bus full of people.
Once we planted our feet on solid ground (with breakfast still in our stomachs and one very close call with an oncoming truck to talk about for months) we procured our canoes and kayaks, and set out on our journey?and that?s when the river turned on me.
Within 10 minutes, my canoe partner had run me straight into a tree, almost knocking me completely out of my vessel. Like a champ, I took blunt force trauma straight to the head and right shoulder, and you can believe me when I say it cleaned my clock pretty good.
When I came back to reality a few seconds later and the ringing in my ears subsided, I had to restrain myself from calling off the whole day, getting back on the death mobile with the crazy school principal/bus driver, and demanding that he take me back to our car.
But alas, I was a Kelly girl. The Kellys are tough, take-no-prisoners Irish folk that live by a strict, no-wimps-allowed policy. So, like Taylor Swift, I had to shake it off, take a couple Tylenol, and press on.
And boy was I glad I did. Although Iowans like to pick on the state from time to time, Missouri does have some fantastic scenery in the Ozarks-area. The vast woodland landscapes, rolling hills and stunning cliff ranges make for some amazing photo ops.
However, my absolute favorite part of our journey was when we stumbled upon a massive cave by the riverside. This thing was big enough to fit six canoes and one kayak inside it, not to mention the coolness of it made for a nice little oasis from the exhaustive heat outside.
Of course, we had to take a few selfies inside and checkout the layout of the place before venturing on.
Now, by hour six, I was doing pretty well. I had survived one epic wreck with only a few scrapes and a sore shoulder. I hadn?t died from heat stroke or a heart attack, and I had seen some scenery that looked like it could be included in a Thomas Kinkade calendar. In my book, I was a semi-professional river master already.
Then came my second humility check of the day.
Oh yes. Another cursed tree.
Although we saw it coming this time, the tree was, unfortunately, set in the middle of the rapids. And no matter how hard I paddled; it was like my whole world went into slow motion for about 30 seconds.
My boat partner managed to dive out before we made impact, but my cat-like reflexes failed me because although my brain said, ?Bail! Bail, you moron!? My body said, ?Nope. You?re just going to sit here and hope for the best.?
Now, before you start thinking I need to be evaluated for my second failed attempt at self-preservation, in my defense, I did put my paddle out to try and shield my face from the blow.
If only that had been enough.
While my paddle saved my face, I didn?t account for the wooden plank that went across the middle of my canoe behind me. Upon hitting a low-hanging branch, I was immediately thrown backwards, and my neck met that plank at a force I can?t even begin to describe.
Needless to say, when my canoe came to a halt, I had a few not-so-pleasant things to say to that ill-placed tree and cursed my reflexes that had betrayed me big time.
As you can imagine, for the last two hours of the trip, I was on a red level alert for any possible obstruction as I was convinced the river hated my ill-prepared guts.
In the end, however, I learned five very important lessons from that trip that I would like to pass on as a gift from me to you:
1. If you get a chance to paddle a canoe or kayak through a large, open cave system, do it.
2. When going on a canoe trip, be honest with yourself. If you aren?t prepared to endure at least a minor concussion in the name of adventure, just do yourself a favor and stay home.
3. No matter how easy it may look, you are not as good in a canoe as you think if you have only ever watched a professional survivalist paddle up a remote Alaskan river on the Discovery Channel.
4. The oncoming tree in the middle of the rapids that has been rooted in that same spot for at least 30 years will defeat you. Every single time.
5. Finally, if you do decide to take a canoe trip, always remember to bring a video camera along because you never know when idiots like me will be on the river, and it?s always nice to laugh at someone else?s stupidity besides your own.