I’m a slacker

my legs resting over the side of the canoe on the Green River, Utah
Relaxing on the Green River with legs covered in mud, sunscreen, river water

I learned something about myself on the Green River…(800 words).

I’m a slacker when I canoe. Sure, sitting in the stern requires you to use your brain, making little adjustments to keep your course in the river. It requires you to plan a bit, to direct a bit. Steering, however, also provides constant temptation to take lots of little breaks. You tell yourself “oh, the current is strong anyways,” or maybe even, “they won’t notice if it’s a short one.” Maybe this is because I haven’t had the responsibilities of steering a canoe laid out for me. Am I expected to paddle as much as my partner in the bow? More? Less? Do I get rights to little breaks for every rock or rapid I steer clear of? Eventually the guilt kicks in and I paddle enthusiastically to catch up, to feel like a team again.

me pouring bag white wine into plastic cups in a canoe pulled ashore on the North Saskatchewan River, Alberta
My redeeming paddle-partner qualities include pouring bag wine

In Utah this September, I captained our solo kayak on day three of a five-day trip. I needed to somewhat keep pace with the two-person canoes. This was difficult. Sure, it was my first time kayaking; the fact that it was an inflatable also didn’t help my speed. Nevertheless, I quickly realized the main issue was that I’d conditioned myself as a canoe “stern slacker.” I relied on these little breaks much more than I thought.

My Aunt Dianne paddling on still brown water beside a tall brown cliff on the Green River, Utah
Our inflatable kayak. If you think the paddler’s form looks good, that’s probably because it isn’t me.

One might ask: “Why not just slack off, what’s the hurry?” Great question. There’s several reasons, and all are debatable. The first is ego. It’s ego that makes you pretend to enjoy taking in the view from the rear, but secretly wish you were leading the pack, at least for a bit. You also don’t want to slow the group down too much, but I was lucky to have very patient partners. The second reason is that there is already plenty of slacking to be done on the Green River. This takes place in the heat of the day, in the form of the “FLOATILLA.” Mandatory FLOATILLA requirements are: As little physical exertion as possible, snacks, dipping your feet in the water, and adventure hats.

Two women with wide brimmed hats relax in canoes on the calm brown waters of the Green River, Utah
Cousin Kelly and Auntie Dianne working hard at FLOATILLA-ing

Here’s a few more reasons to keep paddling and stop slacking. This kayak was shorter than our canoes, and consequently will start to drift off course faster. Take a break to rest your burning arms, and pretty soon you’re turning in circles. Although this is generally not dangerous on the Green River, you look kind of silly (there’s that ego, again!). Lastly, surprisingly, you actually do have places to get to and people to (not) see. I got the impression early on in the trip that many people come to this river to find that perfect sandbar that they can camp on all by themselves. Here’s the trick—you’re not really sure where they’ll turn up. Maps give general tips, but we found that many bends on the river that had previously boasted primo sandbars, were at present blanketed by knee-deep mud. And so ensues a bit of an unspoken, friendly race between paddling groups, to find the good spots first.

My cousin Kelly holding up a graphic map of the Green River while sitting in her canoe
Finding a place to camp on the Green River can be like a treasure hunt. Awesome maps like these help you plan your trip and figure out where you are.

But when you do find that perfect location, that only has enough room for the tents in your group, it’s pretty magnificent.

tents set up on the small beach on the inside bend of the green river, utah with sandstone cliffs on the other side reflected in the water
Your reward for not slacking. Or more accurately, only moderate amounts of slacking.

Yes, hopes and dreams of desert oases, and roasted hot dogs, helped me combat my stern-slacking tendencies. Much more effective: Fear. I can say with complete confidence that as the skies opened up on us during a short and dramatic desert storm, slacking was far from my mind. It was a beautiful and scary experience to paddle frantically, soaking wet, to the sound of nearby thunder. Waterfalls suddenly crashed over the canyon walls, red from the clay.

layered red sandstone with a small brown waterfall coming out of it from a short rainstorm on the green river
Dramatic rocks and weather. Sudden rains create a sudden red waterfall which tapers out within half an hour

For a stern slacker like me, the solo kayak was a valuable learning experience. It provided contrast. It required more effort to keep up, but I did get to lean back and lounge in the cozy nest the inflatable kayak provided. I got the chance to be alone with my thoughts on a silent river, even if I was sometimes turning slowly around in circles. I guess you take in more views that way.

an orange inflatable kayak on the completely still waters of green river, Utah that look like chocolate milk
The Green River, perfect for learning to kayak or canoe. It caters to all levels of laziness.

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