The “happy frog” shower curtains in Alex’s bathroom were replaced long ago by sleeker more sophisticated motifs, which now provide the backdrop for perfecting hair and applying prudent amounts of Axe products. Alex celebrated his 15th birthday at the beginning of this month and Nate and I have noticed that he’s developing into a compassionate, funny, thoughtful, intelligent—and handsome young man. We’ve noticed that girls his age notice, too. As he enters high school, he is on the cusp of asking special friends out on dates. Alex has a wide variety of interests, which include swimming, hiking, running, music, and art, so we don’t want him to fall into the movie and dinner date rut. It gets boring after a while. Too boring—leaving budding teens open to exploring more exciting things that could easily be curbed with massive amounts of chores and, of course: kayaking! So, while on vacation at the beautiful Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop, WA, we decide to rent kayaks to take out on Patterson Lake. Our purpose is twofold:
1) To experience a relaxing family outing in a peaceful setting and
2) To teach Alex (and me) a few basics about navigating a kayak in supremely calm waters.
This means that once again, Nate is our teacher and guide because he has canoed more lively currents in Hocking Hills, Ohio. The rushing waters of Hocking Hills of course are nothing like Patterson Lake with its lazily quacking ducks and birds that soar overhead. In fact, when Nate and I were first dating, he took me canoeing in the “rougher” waters of Hocking Hills, but I didn’t have to worry about steering. Nate happily took over and, though my arms were tired from rowing, we had a fun adventure as well as a quiet picnic lunch. Today, I have no choice but to help steer and row because Alex and I will be in the same kayak together while Nate confidently paddles alongside us.
From Sun Mountain Lodge, we drive a couple of miles down to the Sun Mountain Lodge Patterson Lake Cabins where we rent kayaks for $15 an hour. Since we only need two kayaks, we spend a total of $30. (Not bad!) Patterson Lake is just west of Winthrop and, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, diverse species of fish live in the lake, which make if perfect for fishing—another wholesome date idea for Alex someday, too. The lake is about 2 miles long with wooded areas and gorgeous views of the mountains on all sides. There’s an access point for the kayaks on the bank near the boat launch and the Patterson Lake Office staff members provide the paddles, insert the seats, and give plenty of last-minute tips and encouragement. We also get our life vests. I’ve never had to use one, but I’m always glad I have it.
“So our goal is to just learn a few things and relax,” I remind everyone, knowing that our family adventures often lead to racing and competitions. I’m in no mood to burn through my breakfast before 10 a.m. and struggle to make it to lunch.
“Please—let’s just all relax.”
“Okay—relax—got it,” Nate says.
I soon realize I’m anything but relaxed.
“How come the boat seems lower and much less steady than the canoe we took out when we were dating, Nate?”
“Because a canoe is different from a kayak,” he replies.
Indeed, it is. The International Canoe Federation’s website states that in competitive racing—which we are NOT doing today—the difference comes down to the position of the athlete in the boat and the type of paddle used. In Olympic competitions, the kayaker is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle. Canoeing athletes kneel and use a single-bladed paddle. Based on my own observations, it also seems that the canoe Nate and I used in the past had higher sides, whereas the kayak I now share with Alex is flatter, wider, and puts us closer to the water.
As Alex settles into the boat, it rocks more than I remember the canoe did. I now realize the reason why is because I’m in a boat with a teenage boy who is eager to get his paddles in the water and go fast. However, I really DO NOT want the kayak to fall over. Nate convinced us that we could just wear shorts and T-shirts. He also suggested sandals or water shoes, since our feet would get wet as we pushed the boat off from shore. I forgot to pack sandals, so I wore my running shoes, which could get wet, but I didn’t want them to. My shorts and T-shirt could get wet, too, but that water looked cold.
“Alex, quit rocking the boat!”
“He’s not rocking the boat,” Nate says.
“I’m not rocking the boat, Mom.”
“I think you are. It’s going to tip over.”
“It won’t tip over,” Nate tells me.
“Just DO NOT stand up,” I tell Alex.
“Why would he stand up?”
“Yeah, why would I stand up, Mom?”
“Let’s just get to the middle of the lake and relax.”
Nate gives me a look that says, “That’s what we’re trying to do.” I smile. I realize I’m worried about nothing. There is absolutely no danger on this lake. If we get a little wet, so what? We all can swim and we have life vests.
We begin to paddle and Nate shows us a few strokes. If we want to turn to the right, Alex and I can both paddle on the left side. If we want to go left, we paddle on the right. Nate also teaches Alex to paddle backwards in order to back the boat up on the lake.
“So how do I go fast?” Alex asks.
“We’re not going fast,” I reply. “Remember? We’re relaxing.”
However, Alex gets his directions for going fast. Nate provides them:
1) Reach a paddle way out.
2) Put the paddle completely into the water.
3) Pull hard and fast, moving forward.
(For more tips and instructions, here’s a good beginner’s video from Canoe & Kayak Magazine. )
Just for fun, I follow Nate’s instructions as well. It’s hard work and Alex is putting his whole body into the effort, which means the kayak starts rocking back and forth even more. (It’s a great workout for the core, shoulders, and back though.)
“Okay—enough!” I say, exhausted.
But Alex keeps rowing. Water drips onto my head as he pulls the paddles in and out of the water.
“You’re dripping water on me. Would you drip water on your date?”
I get no answer—just more rowing. Before we know it, we’re in the middle of the lake and we can just sit and watch the mountains around us.
“I’m so glad we did this,” I tell Nate.
“Me too,” he replies.
And there we sit in silence. Happy, happy silence, while I begin to notice all the trees and shaded areas along the edges of the lake.
“Alex, there are so many places for picnic spots here. You could kayak and have a picnic with a date. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Doesn’t it look romantic?” I ask Nate.
“Maybe it’s a little too romantic.”
“Alex, no picnics—just rowing—lots and lots of rowing—and then come directly home.”
Your Turn: Do you have any canoeing, kayaking, or fun date ideas? Discuss in the comments section below.