By Katie Helmreich
My daughter, Elise, just turned 13. It’s a big deal. So we decided to celebrate with a big adventure! Elise and I headed North for a two-day canoe camping trip. We’ve done a fair amount of kayaking and a bit of rustic camping, but this was definitely a new experience for both of us. The weather looked great and the calendar was open, so we went for it!
We loaded our supplies into the canoe, let go of the dock, and were swept into our adventure! As the current rushed us along toward the first fallen tree, I suddenly realized that, in our family, I’m not the one who usually steers…
It was exciting though! Like a game really, zipping around each zig and zag and racing to figure out how to navigate the next obstacles as they popped up.
We’d done our research, but somehow I didn’t expect the river to be quite so narrow or to have so many blind curves. We’d been told of places we could pull off and get out every half hour or so, but we only saw maybe a quarter of them? Still, we were having a great time, the sun was shining, and we were in it together!
Once I had to hop out of the canoe to push us off a bunch of logs and managed to jump back in again without tipping us over! Another time and we skewered ourselves on an innocent looking stick in the middle of the river. We weren’t getting anywhere… until a kayaker accidentally ran into us and knocked us clear! She seemed terrified, but we appreciated it. (And no one fell in.)
Just as we were really starting to feel like we were getting the hang of things the wind picked up. It’d been breezy all along, but all of the sudden the wind cranked up to 18-20 mph with 30-40 mph gusts. In a tall ship, on the open main, that probably would have been amazing! In a canoe, on a narrow, winding river with a strong current and lots of fallen trees and debris? Not amazing.
The trees thrashed and creaked on the shore around us. Limbs splintered and cracked, and we could hear several actually falling to the forest floor as we paddled on. What else could we do? There was nowhere to stop, and even when we spotted a place, the current rushed us past it before we could get to the side. If I set down my paddle for even a second, we headed right for the next disaster! It was a white knuckle ride without a moment to grab a drink of water, or even rub the grit out of our eyes.
We struggled on, the current carrying us one way, the wind shoving us another, until we shot around a hairpin bend. A large pile up blocked us on the right, and we managed to veer left in time to miss it. But we couldn’t turn back fast enough to avoid the fallen pine that nearly crossed the entire width of the river.
We managed to get Elise past of the worst of the branches, but my end of the canoe got sucked right under middle of the tree. I leaned way over backwards, trying to climb my way out from under it, gripping with my knees, while the current fought to tug the canoe out from under me. It was terrifying.
Elise snatched my paddle as it sped past her, and somehow we got free with only scratches and a boat full of twigs and spiders. The realization that our adventure could have taken a very different turn didn’t escape me. But Elise had been badly scared, and it wouldn’t help anything for her to know I was freaked out, too.
We had a good long post-trauma laugh together. And we kept going.
I never expected to spend so much of our adventure fervently praying in the back of the canoe. Please, Lord, this was supposed to be fun! Happy Birthday, Elise! Welcome to life’s adventures! Eesh… Please, pleeeeease, just let the wind die down a bit. Please keep us safe! Please help us get off this river! I just wanted Elise to get a taste for conquering challenges, not get walloped by them. Please… Just. Calm. The. Wind. Could you help us figure out where we are? Could you let us find a place to rest for a minute?
The wind kept howling; getting worse, if anything. The current was relentless. And there were no signs, no fellow boaters, no landings in sight. But we did get to rest whenever we crashed. So… there’s that.
We got pretty good at choosing the right logs to crash into! We learned how to turn parallel to them so we could take turns hanging on while the other grabbed a drink or a quick handful of Peanut M&Ms. A few times we crashed into debris on purpose to slow ourselves down, inching our way past, hand over hand, to avoid a worse obstacle.
Please, Lord. We’ve had enough… I’m not sure why we thought we could do this, but we can’t. We’re done. Please, just let us spot a landing soon so we can call and have someone pick us up.
After what felt like ages, we passed under the bridge that marked the landing we hoped to use to quit early. We kept our eyes peeled, ready to steer for the bank as soon as we spotted it! But another boat was already there, and before we knew it, we were too far past to have a hope of getting out.
Lord… we just want to quit. Why didn’t you let us QUIT?!? What if we can’t stop at our campsite either? What if we don’t even see it until it’s too late? There’s no way we’ll make it an extra hour and a half to the next campground…
We didn’t say much after that. I think we were both just too discouraged… But then we came around yet another bend, and we spotted a canoe up ahead. Somehow knowing we weren’t alone helped. We both started paddling harder, finding fresh energy as we worked to keep them in sight!
We managed to maintain the gap for a while, but eventually fell behind. So we crash-rested a minute and noticed that, for the first time in hours, we didn’t have to holler at each other to be heard! At some point the wind had begun to die down a bit!
The river gradually got wider and deeper. The current eased a bit. Bliss.
As I was beginning to wonder if maybe we’d already missed our campground, we came up behind three kayakers leisurely floating along. They were discussing camping plans amongst themselves, so we decided to just relax and follow. It was an amazing feeling to let go of that tension after 6 long hours of paddling!
Minutes later, we landed at camp. Thank you, Lord, for miracles!!
We set up the tent and enjoyed a hot supper together. I got to know the other couple camping at our campground when our tent door zipper broke beyond repair. They lent me some duct tape. (It didn’t actually solve the problem. Oh well.)
I think I was more blessed by the fact that they seemed like normal, nice people to be sharing a piece of wilderness with. It was good for our weary hearts to hear that they’d struggled through similar challenges that afternoon. At one point, they had been frustrated by getting stuck on a pile of logs on a hairpin bend, only to see a large pine tree fall across the river right in front of them!
I didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a tent with no door. Who knew what critters would come in and get stuck? But God had already planned for our misadventures! Five or six big, strong trees were places in the perfect places to allow us to feel totally safe. They were the perfect distance apart for our two hammocks. Another allowed us to put up a rainfly in a way that meant we could share, using every inch of our 20’ ridgeline cord, like it had been made to order!
Elise snuggled into her sleeping bag, zipped into her bug net cocoon, and was asleep soon. I didn’t have a bug net, so I spritzed on a bit more bug spray and wearily climbed into my own hammock.
As I lay there, rocking gently in the light breeze, I watched the lightning bugs dance and the stars glimmer. I picked up my Kindle to read, but discovered the battery had died. Instead my thoughts drifted back over the day we’d had.
If we hadn’t had the delays in leaving the house that morning, we might have seen that tree fall and spent the whole day even more shaken by the experience. If we hadn’t learned to embrace crashing, we wouldn’t have rested at all! If we’d been allowed to quit, we wouldn’t have found this grove of beauty and safety God had prepared for us. If we hadn’t come upon the canoe after we missed the landing, we wouldn’t have found the strength to take our eyes off the wind and focus on forward.
If we hadn’t gotten stuck behind the kayaks, we would have missed the chance to slow down and let go of our frantic energy before arriving at camp. If our tent hadn’t broken, we probably wouldn’t have talked to the neighbors, and we wouldn’t have slept out under the stars.
We set out on an adventure with a plan. Instead we got an ADVENTURE and had to roll with what God had planned.
I’ve been worried about facing these teen parenting years. The tween ones weren’t exactly all sunshine and daises, and my own teen experience left some scars…
How are we going to manage to get through this next phase together? There are so many ways the experience could be fun and exciting! But what if instead we face 30-40 mph wind gusts and obstacle after obstacle?
Well… we’re not heading into them empty handed. We have a canoe full of past experiences and resources. We’ve done a little research. We’ve watched and learned from the ways others navigate the current.
The wind may come; the obstacles will be there. But God will give us chances to crash. We’ll probably even get better at recovering from disasters as we go. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll see them as opportunities to rest, to reconnect, share a snack, and then get right back out into the river.
The Father won’t let us quit. But God will keep on sending our brothers and sisters in Christ to paddle the river with us and to keep us motivated to quit looking at the wind and instead look to Jesus.
Our Shepherd will guide us to the places of rest He has prepared for us. He’ll bless us with even little miracles (like waking up without a single bug bite after a night out in the open).
The Holy Spirit will continue to work in Elise and help her mature and grow into a beautiful woman of God!
We set out for the final leg of our trip the next morning. The river was still moving swiftly, and the wind was picking up, but overall it was a much calmer canoeing experience. We had the chance to chat as we paddled to our destination.
After a quiet pause, Elise piped up, “Isn’t it amazing how many ‘coincidences’ God blesses us with? I can’t even really count them all, and it’s only been 24 hours since we left home!”
Yes! God is good!
“Mom? We should do this again sometime.”
This is awesome! I’ve always wanted to do something like this. Nature gives us all kinds of ADVENTURES.