Reckless Adventure


Reckless is acting without care of the Consequence.

This is opposed to Foolish, which acts without thought of the Consequence.

You can probably think of a time when you were Reckless, when you pressed into something even though you knew that it might be hard, or painful, or difficult. You can probably also think of a time when you were Foolish, when you realized too late what the consequences of your actions were going to be but by then it was too late and you were committed.

Last Friday I was glad that I was more Reckless than Foolish.

A friend and I set out on a grand adventure 6 years ago. OK, we are no Lewis and Clark, but we decided that we wanted to canoe the length of the Grand River. For those of you unfamiliar with West Michigan geography, the Grand River begins South of Jackson (where we live), meanders north through Lansing, and then heads northwest, running through small towns such as Portland and Ionia, and bigger cities such as Grand Rapids. Eventually it spills into Lake Michigan at the town of Grand Haven.

The river is 250 miles long, and we have been taking it section by section. We are both busy and coordinating schedules has been tough. Some summers we make a lot of progress, others not so much. Last year we didn’t make any.

That’s why we were excited last Friday when all of the stars aligned and we found ourselves on the highway before the sun was up with a canoe strapped to the roof of my minivan.

We had a choice to make before we dipped a paddle in the water. We had to determine where we were going to get out of the river. Canoeing a river is a one way trip, so you leave a car at the point you plan on getting out. But once that choice is made you are committed. There is no going back, and the only way to the car is through the river. On this particular trip there we places where we could exit the river after 16 miles of paddling, or 23 miles of paddling.

The last time we were in the river we did 25 miles. There was a strong current and we made great time. We decided that 23 miles was the way to go. We left the car and returned to downtown Portland where we set out on our adventure.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were in trouble.

Like most of the country, we had very little rain this year. That coupled with the fact that the river is usually low this late in the season meant that there were times our canoe was scrapping the bottom. We had to steer around rocks that would have usually been submerged several feet under water, and the swift current that had carried us before was non-existent.

After a few hours we realized we were only making 3 miles an hour. That meant rather than four-and-a-half hours of paddling, we were facing seven-and-a-half hours. That’s a big difference. But there was nothing we could do about it, we had nothing but ten miles of river behind us, and thirteen miles of river in front of us.

To make maters worse, we cracked our canoe. We came to a dam that had no means of portage. Usually there are ways to walk your canoe around obstacles like this, but an old railroad crossing had been there and there were concrete walls prohibiting passage on either side. Our only choice was to try to walk the canoe through the rough water.  Carefully we make our way through. When we thought we were safe we hopped in. Yeah, we were wrong.

We were immediately swept away. The water grabbed our canoe and spun us 180 degrees so we were facing the wrong way, and then swept us sideways into a large rock. Water poured over the edge of the boat swamping us in a matter of seconds and we found ourselves swimming.

It took a few minutes to take stock of everything. There we stood with water spilling around us, dripping wet, and a canoe that was so full of water it was resting on the bottom. But we were OK. After some effort we were able to re-float the canoe and continue on our way.

Unfortunately, the collision with the rock had put a large crack in our fiberglass craft. For the rest of the trip we were constantly taking on water. Every couple of miles we had to get out and tip the canoe to empty it of the extra liquid weight that was sloshing around at our feet.

Needless to say, there are lots of words I could use to describe our trip. Not all of them are appropriate, so we’ll just say it was less that the best trip ever.

But we made it. We had planned to be getting out of the river around 3pm, but it was a little after 6 when our sore shoulders made their last push to the dock.

So how were we Reckless and not Foolish?

Yes, we had over estimated how fast we could go. But we knew that was a possibility. We had brought along enough food and water that we were still OK.

In addition, every trip we had been careful to place all of our supplies into dry bags and to then secure the bags to the canoe in the off chance we would tip over. We also strapped a spare paddle to the cross bars, in case we should loose one. We had done this for many trips before, never needing it.

Until this trip.

When we spilled, all of our supplies stayed in place and stayed dry. I lost my paddle in the confusion (some fishermen picked it up for us and we got it back), but the spare stayed in place. We were able to continue on our way unhindered.

A little preparation can keep a bad situation from becoming a really bad situation. The line between Reckless and Foolish is often thin. As we pursue Reckless Living it is important that we do not ignore potential consequences, but that we accept them and are prepared for them.

You never know when your canoe is going to tip. And we still have 70 miles to go.