Noah and I really looked forward to participating in the Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race again this year, which would have been our fourth in a row. But a few days before the race on June 2 we realized it wouldn’t work.
“Ooh, Noah, you’ve got soccer tryouts that night. Shoot.”
We both knew what that meant. He’d have to pass on paddling this year,lest he be too wiped to do his best at tryouts. We were both bummed, but my disappointment didn’t last long.
“If you switch out of the competitive division, I’ll do it with you,” Holly volunteered.
I was thrilled! I didn’t even have to ask, let alone twist her arm. I’d harbored hopes that she’d paddle with us each year, but suspected the “racing” aspect (I use that term loosely, in my case) wasn’t her thing. But it was Noah’s.
This year, though, we’d planned to skip sharinga heavy canoe and use our own new – and much lighter – kayaks, instead. I figured he’d leave me in the dust as he took off down river, as I’m not exactlyin racing form, right now. I’d decided that was okay, because, though I’ve enjoyed “paddling my brains out” during previous races, I recall having flashes of awareness that whilst racing I’d been missing opportunities to enjoy a perspectiveof the river and local wildlife I might not otherwise get.
Paddling alongside someone not racing for the finish would ensure I’d get to enjoy the view, and it did. The only thing missing, this year, besides Noah, was the sun. It was another great day and another great race put on by the Fox Valley Park District and yes, there really was a lot to appreciate – including the opportunity to finally take it all in with my daughter.
Before we even got into our kayaks my animal lovers and I noticed a dog, an older shepherd, who cried each time the gun heralding the start of another heat was fired. I felt badly for “Utah,” as she is called, as she wasn’t a happy camper.
She wasn’t the only one.
My brave Holly, who’d gamely stepped up to take Noah’s place, had only ever been in a kayak twice before. Though we entered the “open” recreation division and planned to take it easy, she found it all a tad unnerving, at first.
“I feel like I’m in Kindergarten,” she commented wryly, as we both struggled to hang onto the guide ropes meant to keep us in our lanes beside each other as we waited for the gun to be fired. At one point I floated way off course, practically colliding with another boat, so I reached for her hand in hopes that she’d pull me back to where I belonged. She did, but I’m hopeless.
Once we set off I continued to collide – with her, this time – as we paddled down-stream. She had reason to be irritated. I tried to shift her focus off me.
“Look! A Heron!” I said, pointing to the shoreline at the beautiful white bird there. It may have been a crane. Or an egret. Whatever it’s called – and I suspect it hardly cares, it’s my favorite bird. We also spotted several pairs of nesting geese, a few ducks with their still-fuzzy ducklings and even roosters. Yes, roosters.
Well, we didn’t actually see them. We heard them as we paddled past a “house,” located several miles down-river just before the finish line at McCullough Park in Aurora. It seemed they were calling to us in greeting. Or perhaps they were annoyed that the flurry of activity on the Fox had disturbed their naps.
I suspect that’s it, as I don’t recall hearing them in years past, and this year, about 450 paddlers took to the Fox for the annual race, more than ever before. No wonder the geese craned their necks as we passed and the roosters crowed! But at least the river moved more swiftly than last year. (That’s the understatement of the year. They still haven’t found our beater canoe, which, you may recall, Noah and I were forced to abandon on the riverbed last year when the low water level made paddling impossible. Even the fish jumped over us. I imagine someone hauled it out and planted geraniums in it. I hope so.) “I feel like I’m paddling down a street,” Holly commented, as she scanned the tree-lined shoreline for more animals.
We discovered they weren’tconfined to the shoreline, however, when we caught up with “Fudgie,” an intrepid Chihuahua who reportedly has proudly manned a kayak for 10 years, who was also on the Fox that day enjoying his first race.
But he didn’t have to work as hard as the other race newbies.
“Toward the end my arms started to feel like theywere gonna fall off,” Holly said, but I could tell by her laughter and smilesthat she was proud she’d done it.
But that doesn’t mean she’ll be game again nextyear.
“Maybe,” she replied coyly.
I sure hope so, but it’s her call. But oh, how I would love to have both of my ducklings out there paddling with me.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.