by Sarah Rambo
We celebrated the beginning of the Marias River with a rejuvenating dip in the confluence. Though there were still spots necessitating quick thinking and bailing of the canoe, we began to observe an increase in water and a gradually less frantic paddling experience. It is due to this that we were able to begin rotating paddling roles. From the relatively carefree, though labor intensive packraft paddling to the ever-mindful canoe captain. With varying levels of ability and skill, we were able to learn from one another as we took on these duties.
In the interest of practicing what we intend to teach, we learned these skills the best way we know how. Through experience. It may have taken hours of attempting to captain a canoe that avoids a straight line in the interest of something more artistic, (such as a dramatic lightning bolt)… but simply reading a book on paddling strokes and techniques cannot replace the learning we have achieved from trial, failure, and laughter with one another. This method of skill and knowledge acquisition may be much to the dismay of the stoker who is providing most of the energy for this unnecessary sightseeing as the boat travels from bank to bank, but with fairly timed rotations, each of us gets a chance to practice, power, and rest. You may read and hear much from us on the importance of experiential learning, but it is because we all believe very strongly that it is not only the most effective way to learn, but definitely the most enjoyable.
We followed the Marias to Lake Elwell where we were met with high winds and waves. Our spirits, however, were much higher. We continued to practice our paddling skills across a lake that had been described to us mostly in the form of warnings of its ability to frequently dispose of both boats and passengers. Despite ending early one day due to high winds, we made it through relatively unscathed. That is not to say that this infamous lake did not provide us with excitement. The Great Lunch Incident of 2015 will be forever ingrained in our memories as the moment we almost became another paddling statistic...
It began as a typical day. We were enjoying a shady lunch under an expertly built shade structure when we suddenly heard muffled yells from Tommy who had gone for a post-lunch stroll. This quickly turned into a frantic sprint as he pointed to the water shouting what was both interpreted as, “Black bear!” and “Campground!” The group first looked at Tommy, then at the water and realized that what he was saying must have been, “Packraft!!” as we then noticed the red packraft drifting much farther away from the canoe than the rope should have allowed.
Sara quickly ran into the water in an attempt to swim after it. The wind picked up at just the right time to keep the raft out of her reach by several yards despite her adrenaline-rushed, lighting speed. Nia then jumped in the blue packraft and took off after it using paddle power. This was also no match for the empty vessel , heavy winds combo. The only option left was for Matt and Tommy to hop in the canoe and chase it down. After several minutes of full speed paddling, the packraft was successfully retrieved. The entire event was perfectly timed for a full viewing by a kind fisherman in a motor boat who seemed oddly concerned about our future safety.
We all learned some valuable lessons that day: Always check your knots twice and…. Not ten minutes later, we were energetically relaying our stream of consciousness surrounding the past excitement as we repacked the canoes, all standing within four feet of the gunwales, when Tommy turns toward the water and yells, “Oh no!” We all look over to see the white canoe slowly attempting its own Irish goodbye. Matt quickly runs and dives in to the water and we are saved again from having to explain to anyone why we were suddenly short one boat. Though we almost had the learn the hard way, we now take extra time to ensure our boats are secure before our lunch and snack breaks and frequently perform visual checks that one isn’t planning to duck out early with less cargo than intended. If that isn’t experiential education, I don’t know what is.
After the adventures provided by Lake Elwell, great hospitality at the marina and nine bike/walking trips with our gear, canoes, and bikes we were ready to begin again on the Marias. We were treated along the way with beautiful scenery, breathtaking sunsets, and plenty of active wildlife. As I am typing now, we are on the Missouri and have been for several days. We rejoiced at yet another confluence and have been enjoying some of the most indescribable views of pristine white cliffs, gorgeous rock formations, and scenery said to be the most unchanged since it was once passed in the opposite direction by Lewis and Clark and their fearless crew. I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of this adventure as long as I have and hope to forever keep these memories with me as Tommy and I head back to the city of trees to finish out our teacher credentialing program at Sac State. The memories tied to everything learned this summer will stick with me for a lifetime. I hope to provide at least as much to my future students and am grateful to the rest of the On the River team for this amazing experience.