As we approached a rushing rapid (class III for those in the know), our whitewater rafting guide, Jeb, asked, “Should we hit it or skirt it?” Six-year-old Finley shouted, “HIT IT!”
Then, as our raft pounded into each choppy wave and water splashed in our faces, Finley, who had wrapped her arms around Tim’s and my legs to stay secure in the raft, cheered with exhilaration, “Ohhh yeaaaaahhh!”
In classic Daley-fashion, he spent much of the time asking Jeb questions such as, “Have you ever fallen out of the raft?” and “Has the boat ever flipped over?”
We were participating in the Northland Paddlers Alliance’s Paddle Duluth Community Event. Peppered throughout the summer, NPA offers canoeing, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, and whitewater rafting opportunities FREE to community members. We took advantage of two events this past summer, whitewater rafting and canoeing.
An Unforgettable Adventure on the St. Louis River
What made our 2-hour run on the tannin-infused water of the St. Louis River so memorable? First, the pure excitement of doing something we’ve never done before as a family, like whitewater rafting. It was a thrill to challenge ourselves, especially when we heard the ominous roaring of the Electric Ledge rapids ahead and had no idea what to expect (yes, I had visions of my children being thrown from the boat).
Second, and perhaps most noteworthy, the people. In collaboration with NPA, Swiftwater Adventures offered the trip. Cliff, the owner, greeted us with a warm welcome. On the water, Brian, the trip leader in a safety kayak, worked closely with our guide on how to navigate the river so it was both exciting for our small children and safe. They read the rapids and picked routes that were appropriate, providing lots of water spray in the face, but not ejecting their small bodies from the raft (thank you!).
Brian also had the keen ability to talk with kids in a way that was engaging and effective. In preparation to go through the largest rapids, he approached our boat and asked Finley, “Did you know there is a special fort in the boat just for 6 year olds?” It was her cue to sit on the floor of the raft, rather on the seat, and wrap her arms around our legs. His savvy approach kept Finley safe without making her scared.
One other person who made the trip memorable was Gus, another safety kayaker. He also connected with the kids easily, making them feel comfortable and adding to their fun. For example, he paddled over to our boat and said, “Hey Daley, I’ve got something to show you” and then used his paddle to splash water at Daley. In response, Daley would splash him back. At one moment Daley tried to entice Gus closer with “Gus, come here. I’ve got a question to ask you,” but the wide smile on his face gave away his intentions.
At another point, we turned to see Gus rocking his kayak side to side, which eventually led him to roll the kayak and return upright with water running down his face. This delighted the kids so they started chanting, “Do it again!” He kindly obliged multiple times.
An all-around positive experience!
A big thank you to Swiftwater Adventures, which is located in Cloquet; right in Duluth’s backyard!
Learning Canoeing Skills: The Impact of One-on-One Time Outdoors
Earlier in the summer, Finley and I took advantage of the canoeing community day at Boy Scout Landing along the St. Louis Estuary. This event was in collaboration with UMD’s ROSP program, which supplied the canoes, paddles, and life vests.
My personal goal for this event was to strengthen my mostly-lacking steering skills so I took the stern position at the back of the boat. Because dispersing weight is often tricky in a canoe, the few times our family has gone canoeing, Finely is often relegated to the middle, which means she sits on the floor, not a seat. It’s a great position for a relaxing ride, but it doesn’t offer much opportunity for learning. Thus, at this event, she took the bow position at the front and our friendly UMD guide, Priya, willingly took the not-so-comfortable “duffer” position on the floor.
At one point, Finley was exploring on her own different ways to use her paddle. When she placed it well out and pulled it directly towards the canoe, Priya quickly gave her positive feedback saying, “You are doing a draw stroke! It moves the canoe sideways. See, you can even steer the canoe from the front!” I could see this exchange built Finley’s 6-year-old confidence, as she held her back a bit straighter.
Then, the day after, with wonderment in her voice, she said, “Mom, can you believe we went canoeing yesterday? Just the two of us.”
Her reflection reminded me again that spending one-on-one time together in the outdoors is important.
Thank you to the Northland Paddlers Alliance for offering both of these opportunities to be active outdoors, learn new skills, and connect as a family.
Have you participated in a Northland Paddlers Alliance event? Share your experiences in the comment box below!