I have been on a number of canoe trips in my life (not a great number, but several). I have had to portage the boats down long stretches of dried up creeks (that one was with a large group and my dad took the wrong fork in the river). I have been sunburned and so sore my arms no longer worked. I have been dunked in the water and smashed my fingers against the hull and various obstacles. However, the most enjoyable time was when two of my friends, one of their dads, and I took an overnight trip down the Kansas River.
It was a warm summer day and we put into the water on a tributary river. It almost didn’t look like a legitimate place to put in; the bank was below an overpass and my friend’s dad had to drive down an unused, grass-covered road to reach a place were we could unload the pair of canoes.
It was already late in the day and I can’t say I remember many cars using the overpass, but even if there had been, we were quickly far enough down stream that all we could see were tree covered banks and brown water beneath us. The journey to the Kansas River did not take too long, but it was not immediate, so just as we became used to the water we were on, we slipped out into the larger river with a jolt.
The Kansas River was wider, but moved faster and as we casually paddled along, we had to dodged tree limbs and sandbars as bugs filled air searching for some people to eat (or at least annoy). The banks made of sticky mud that rose high over the river made low from minimal rain. We chatted and joked and watched as the shadows grew longer and the day later. We were a band of intrepid explorers invading a new land. Hostile enemies could be hiding anywhere. We were certain some water-breathers must be trailing in our wake, ready to leap out and catch us unprepared if we stopped or dangled a hand too deep into the muddy water.
As the day grew too late to continue, we angled toward a sandbar along the right hand side of the river and quickly pulled our canoe’s onto the fine sand and unloaded our supplies. The sandbar had plenty of debris ranging from logs and twisted branches to lost artifacts of the people who once lived in this new land.
Knowing we needed light and protection from the night, we gathered rocks and dug a pit in the sand. The logs and branches made for an excellent fire and a warm meal. My friend’s dad setup his tent and climbed inside to recharge for the next day. The rest of us knew it was far too dangerous to go to sleep without a watch. Anything might take advantage of our weakness and overrun the camp. Therefore, we took it in turn to keep a watch through the dark hours of the night. We had our survival knives and were prepared.
While two of us should have gone immediately to sleep, the threat of the night and the captivating dancing of the fire, with its rich and powerful smell, kept us from turning in immediately. So, we shared the first part of the watch, each taking position in different parts of the campsite to look for trouble.
Unfortunately, we had not anticipated the extent of the effort to make it that far into enemy lands and we all grew sleepy. The two of us on the later watches settled down to sleep. The trouble was, our third could not hold off the enticing call of sleep and never woke the others of us for our turn. So the camp sat unguarded and unprotected as the fire slowly burned down to a pile of embers that finally died away.
Now you might wonder if those water dwellers crawled out from the depths of that muddy river and gorged themselves on our entrails. Or perhaps some flying beast carried one or more of us away. It was definitely a possibility, but our luck held through the night and we woke with the morning light. (Though I am sure there were wing marks and claw prints of some large flying lizard that had inspected the camp as we slumbered.)
That day was filled with paddling, races, swimming, and before we reach the end of the journey, sunburns and limbs that ached from the abuse of paddling those heavy metal crafts down the river. At the journey’s end, my friends mother, perhaps psychic, since this was before cell phones were prevalent, was waiting with the car. Half starved, we loaded our faithful transports that had carried us through unknown lands, and then headed home into the fading sun.