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Down in front, and other tips from the canoe

If I were writing a how-to book on canoe trips, the first chapter would be titled, “Make sure you get the back seat.”

There are standard reasons for this: you always have something to break your fall when you go over waterfalls, and you have a person between you and a surprised cow moose and her calf.

But the most important reason is that, from your position in the back seat, you get to watch the person in front paddle. Equally important: that person does not get to see what you are up to – which, if you are doing things right, is not paddling.

I know this seems wrong, but someone has to enjoy the trip.

I learned this many years ago from my uncle, who always had me sit in the front seat. One day, after a particularly tiring paddle against a hard wind, we hit shore – and that’s when I noticed his paddle was completely dry.

“You never paddled once, did you?” I asked.

He replied, “Not once.”

Between ducking my canoe paddle swings, he explained that he had just taught me everything I ever needed to know about canoe trips. And he was right.

Since then, I have put this vital outdoors skill to good use. In fact, I have refined it.

My first innovation was in ensuring you get the back seat. In the old days, this meant always canoeing with a lighter person.  For the lightest person always sits up front.

Unfortunately, there are times when you cannot find a person lighter than you.

A lot of amateurs would give up at that point and resign themselves to sitting up front and paddling.

Not me. I have discovered, if you quietly slip a big stone in the front of the canoe, you can create the illusion of being surprisingly heavier. Then, when you hit the water and the bow is ploughing, you suggest that, as the heavy one, you ought to sit in the back.

After that, when you beach to switch seats, you need to quietly remove that rock by creating a distraction with a sentence like, “Is that a beaver?”

This also provides cover for the splash when you remove the rock.

Of course, you can’t rest immediately after acquiring the back seat.

Instead, you have to create the illusion of effort so the other person thinks they are not doing this alone.

The best way is to use your paddle to throw water on your paddling partner’s back. I know this takes a bit of effort but believe me, it is worth it. For it is usually enough to convince the other person that you are trying, perhaps even a bit too hard.

Also, every 10 to 15 minutes it helps to say, “Would you mind paddling for a second while I take a quick break to rest my shoulders?” But instead of doing that, use your paddle to create drag, so the person feels like they are pulling a heavier load paddling solo.

That way, they’ll appreciate your lack of effort even more.

Take a minute to enjoy this before saying, “All right, I’m ready to paddle again.”

And then splash their back before resting your paddle across the gunnels.

It also helps to complain about and critique your partner’s paddling efforts.  That way they really dig in and don’t dare look back. And they never hear your snoring when they are swearing.

The point is, if you do it right, you’ll have an enjoyable canoeing experience.

My next chapter, by the way, would be called, “Portaging injuries anyone can fake.”

I’m working on that now, but writing is not easy when you have a sprained ankle.

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