In early June of 2020, following a week of heavy rains, my family of 5 went on a paddling adventure on a swollen creek in Wisconsin. Notice I said creek, not river. A creek is a narrower body of water. Rain and high water create dramatic changes on a creek. If this were a podcast the ominous music would begin right about now…
This particular creek was littered with fallen trees. The tangled trees were like traps set to snare kayaks and canoes. Paired with swift water, the trees created very dangerous conditions for paddlers. (Cue the dueling banjoes…)
After several close calls, my family flotilla of 4 boats (3 kayaks and a canoe) came upon the most dangerous section of the river. The bend in the creek and the trees it collected forced us to navigate a narrow Z-shaped course in the river. (Which is Z most difficult to navigate.)
The last of the boats in our convoy got swept into the trees at the top of the Z. I quickly tried to turn my canoe around and paddle back upstream against the current to help.
In our attempt to help free the trapped boat, my 10-year-old son Magnus and I got swept into another tree. The rushing water soon broke over the top of the upstream edge of the sideways canoe. The force of the water tipped the canoe. (And Tyler too.) The boat instantly filled with water and sank below the surface of the rushing water.
Magnus and I were tossed into the current. Thankfully, we both held onto the canoe and quickly freed ourselves from the trees by swimming under the branches which dangled to the surface of the water.
We swiftly corralled all of our belongings and swam downstream with our submerged canoe until we found a creek bank where we could unload the soaked contents of our canoe, and flip the 17-foot vessel again to purge the water.
After a few minutes of rest, we reloaded the canoe and climbed back into our seats in the bow and stern of the canoe. We pushed off from the creek bank, caught the current, and resumed our travels downstream in the canoe.
The experience provided a few important lessons:
- It was a reminder that things can go wrong at any time.
- It is how you respond when things go sideways that matters most.
- Teamwork matters most when the stakes are highest.
- If you keep your head things will be okay.
- A little planning ahead, like packing your smartphone in your dry bag, makes you feel smart and well prepared when you open the dry bag to find your dry phone.
Now Magnus and I have a fun story to share and a stronger bond thanks to going through the experience together. We have seen how the other person stepped up in a crisis. Knowing that we can trust each other in difficult situations has brought us closer together. Which is the long-lasting reward for going through challenges with others.
Don’t be afraid to take risks. We learn more about ourselves and others in hard times than in good. Adversity is when character is revealed. And when relationships become strongest. The best memories and greatest stories are created when things don’t go according to plan. Embrace the challenges and mishaps that come your way. They will teach you how much you are capable of.
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