We put in at Route 422 near the old Riverside Restaurant. Squints, my husband and I were in one canoe. V and Filibuster rode in another. My sister, my niece and nephew were in a third. Another nephew rode solo in a kayak.
Our journey was a seven mile ride down the Cuyahoga River—the Crooked River—south towards Akron. But our boat was put into the water backwards and as we shoved off, we accidentally headed north.
We couldn’t turn the boat around. We paddled on one side. We paddled on the other side. We paddled on both sides, one left, one right, Squints eagerly and haphazardly slapping the water with his paddle from the center of the boat. “Hey, I’m good, Mom. Haven’t I gotten better?”
My father took pictures from the shore, laughing behind his lens, while the owners of the livery tried not to smile as they watched us spinning circles with the canoe. Eventually, we got in sync and we—and the canoe—faced south and the rest of our party which must have been a half mile downstream already.
It was early. The river was deserted. It was a gorgeous day. Blue sky with a few fat clouds puffing up here and there. Giant trees were reflected in the water. A gentle breeze tore ripples across the water.
Squints said we were pirates: Long Gene Silver and Captain Metal Mouth and Metallic Man.
But I didn’t want to be a pirate: It was too quiet for pirates that day. Too peaceful. There were pockets of shade into which we could canoe for a break from the sun. There were crows and hawks and kingfishers. There were turtles and beavers and “hey, watch out for those lily pads!”
Swampy marshland filled with lily pads and water lilies and fragrant flowers purple and orange and yellow grew along the banks of the river. And we were headed directly for it; scattering birds and turtles; dislodging flowers, scraping the canoe against the river bottom.
“What the hell?” We backed out of the field of lily pads and again we headed south.
From both banks, fallen trees stretched across the river, causing severe navigational distress to novice boaters. My daughters went under the trees, ducking beneath branches outstretched like giant fingers. My sister wisely went around. But just to be different, my husband and I crashed into a stump and got hung up on a large flat rock. We sat there, aground and embarrassed while two boys in kayaks drifted past and smiled at each other.
“We’re just taking a break,” I told them, trying to grin heartily. “We meant to do this.”
Another kayaker. And another. A canoe. A parade of boaters passed on that deserted river, each of them watching us sitting there upon the wide, flat rock, rolling their eyes and biting their lips. Once the river cleared, we used our paddles to shove off. My husband chiseled away at the rock on one side of the boat. I worked at the other. The boat refused to move.
“What are we supposed to be DOING?” I said to my husband.
“I don’t KNOW.”
Well why not? Aren’t husbands supposed to know these things?
“Why are you getting all angry with me anyway?”
“I am NOT angry.” I frowned and chiseled at the rock again. “I’m FRUSTRATED! There’s a DIFFERENCE!” Duh.
Only sheer anger can get two people shoving in opposite directions off a rock. Eventually, we managed to get off the rock and back into the Cuyahoga.
The river widened and meandered and narrowed and we entered a dark narrow passage. It was deserted. No boaters. No houses. No people. My husband said we were like Lewis and Clark. Squints again insisted we were pirates. The current quickened. The water rippled a bit more. It was an enchanted land. It was a magical land. It was… “Wait a minute.” My husband pointed. “Are those rapids?”
We passed beneath a bridge. Two little boys waded in the river. “Go left,” the one with the glasses shouted, gesturing. “All the rocks are to the right.”
“Isn’t that nice?” I turned and smiled at my husband. “You don’t get that kind of help in the city.”
Then the little boy’s friend aimed a squirt gun at my chest and fired.
Per the boys’ instructions, we headed left. And I’m sure the boys were giggling as the boat turned sideways and wedged itself between two rocks and stuck itself perpendicularly over the rapids. I glanced back towards the bridge, certain I’d see the boys giddy with the success of their trick. But we had more pressing issues: Downstream, my sister, my nephew and my niece sat in their canoe on still, calm water, watching us and giggling.
Again, my husband and I chiseled and the rock with our paddles. Slowly, slowly the boat turned. Slowly, the boat released from the rock. And then, the current carried us downstream towards the rapids.
“We’re going down them backwards!” My husband shouted. I was certain he no longer felt like Lewis or Clark.
We grabbed the sides of the canoe and bobbed like corks, floating in the wrong direction down the river until we somehow spun around and faced my sister.
“Bet you’ve never seen that before,” I told my nephew.
“You just have to let the river take you,” my sister said, taking off again.
Yeah, I hear you.
One mile and a horribly embarrassing landing later, we shakily stepped out of the boat. And in the end, we knew we weren’t Lewis and Clark. We weren’t pirates. We were landlubbers.
Like the Crooked River, life is full of twists and turns, some gradual and some unexpected. Sometimes you get stuck and have no idea about how to move forward. Sometimes loved ones stand back to watch and wait and hope that you make it. And sometimes all you can do is ride down the rapids backwards, looking at where you’ve been with no idea of where you’re going and all you can do is hang on tight and hope for the best. You may arrive late, but you get there.
You get there.
And you’ve had quite a journey along the way.
** My family and I recently traveled to Ohio for a relaxing vacation.
Labels: Boating, Community, Country life, Family, Ohio