The Cityslickers vs. The Canoe

thecampI'll never forget my first trip to Maine. My husband (then boyfriend) spent his boyhood summer's at his family's camp on a lake. Driving from Chicago to Bangor every August with his dad, they'd meet up with his older brothers along the way to this sweet spot right at the water's edge. It's nothing fancy. Hasn't been updated or changed in any major way since they bought it over 35 years ago, but it satisfies my basic requirements for "camping." It has real beds (no sleeping bag on an air mattress or cot for me) and indoor plumbing (you can't drink the water but that's a small price to pay for being able to pee inside). Electricity is also key, but up until a few years ago and the invention of wireless HD receivers there was no phone service or television. This was and is a place to get away from it all and reconnect with nature 24/7…whether you want to or not. We spent our first few days hanging about on the dock, reading and listening to the baseball game, occasionally taking a dip in the clear, shallow water. Nothing too strenuous. We were here to relax.

That he was bringing me to this place 6 months into our relationship was important. He had family who lived up there I was meeting for the first time. His Aunt Dot and Uncle George also had a house on the lake, about a 1/2 mile down the dirt road. Their place is much larger than ours and is more house than camp. It's two stories with several bathrooms, laundry facilities and cable TV. So when they asked us to dinner, after a few days of "roughing it", we were thrilled, though I was a bit nervous. He'd never brought a girl to the lake before. I wanted to seem cool and interesting and fun. So I suggested we take the canoe over to their place instead of walking. I thought it would be nice to get a little exercise and a funny story to tell our friends back home that we canoed to dinner. Fueled by a few beers, the lovely view and gross naivety, we got a better story than we bargained for.

1941oldtowncatOur jaunt was doomed from the beginning for many reasons. To start, I had never paddled a canoe, am not really a fan of being wet and, while relatively young and healthy, rarely exercised. From our little cove the lake looked calm, the sun was setting, the breeze was warm. It appeared to by a perfect night to be on the water. How hard could it be? Their house was technically closer by boat and right around the point. So we slipped off our shoes and put them, a 6-pack of beer and our jackets into the bottom of the canoe and carried it to the water. Our first clue that this may be out of our league was the weight of the boat. It was very, very heavy. It was a traditional Old Town version - the lake is close to the town - that had to weigh over 70 lbs. I just figured it would be lighter in the water. I know, no clue. Whatsoever.

We shoved off, sat down and started paddling, our oars breaking the water one on one side, one on the other. It WAS fun and EASY…until we hit the open water of the lake. It was glass-like in our little cove, but not out there. The wind was whipping the water into white caps. It was so choppy we could barely control our direction. We dug in, but it didn't make much of a difference. The only good news is that we were being pushed in the proper direction. This is where a bit of reconnaissance would have come in handy. You see, there's a small beach by our dock. One where you can easily enter the water and park, say, a canoe. Dot and George had a party, pontoon boat attached to their dock and no beach. Even if the the wind and waves weren't successfully dragging us quickly past their home (it WAS faster than walking), we had no place to land.

oldtownpacklgGeorge had seen us go by and as we attempted to turn the canoe around he had a rope waiting to throw to us. Of course, even if we got close enough one of us would have had to stop paddling, which was not an option. Now this escapade happened in August, so the water was warm and wasn't more than a few feet deep by the shore, but it was rocky (we were barefoot) and, as I stated earlier, I hate being wet. It's also not polite to drip on your hosts carpet during dinner. So we paddled on in vain and were quickly drifting away from the shore. Our lake isn't very wide but it is long and deep in the middle. We had one shot to hit a little jetty of rocks. If we missed God only knows how far we would have gone. Terrified and exhausted, we paddled our hearts out and successfully moored ourselves on the last bit of land before a watery doom. As I jumped out of the boat - desperate times - a hand came from nowhere to grab the front end of the canoe and help us get it out of the water. It seems all the neighbors were watching our foibles and thankfully one of them came to our rescue.

Wet, embarrassed and still a little shaken up, we walked shamefully up the road to meet our hosts. They were, at this time, in their late 70s and we gave them quite a scare as well. Our 15 minutes on the water was the longest trip of my life. We were very, very lucky. It was just so thoughtless. I mean, it was going to be dark by the time we finished dinner. How were we going to get the canoe back? Thankfully, it was eerily calm the next morning when we paddled it back. We had no other choice. Carrying it was not an option and we couldn't leave it on their neighbors lawn. We laugh about this now, but it was one of the dumbest things I've ever done. The only smart thing we did that night was put on life jackets. We were naive, but we aren't stupid.

When we got inside, we needed something a bit stronger than beer to soothe our frayed nerves. George offered to make us a drink and we quickly accepted. Little did we know that he came from the Mad Men-era of mixology. Needless to say, I just about forgot my name, never mind the recent trauma with the canoe. He was so happy that we like vodka and soda with a twist of lime. That was his favorite, too. My liver was not prepared for the punch it was about to receive. We were, and still are to some extent, beer and wine people. We might as well have just been doing shots for all the soda that he used. That bottle probably lasted all summer. George's recipe consisted of filling a tall glass with ice, pouring the vodka a half an inch to the top, waving the open bottle of soda over, letting nary a thimbleful fall into the glass and then squeezing in a quarter lime. Not quite the cocktail I was expecting. The ice could not melt fast enough. Let's just say, we would not have survived the usual Happy Hour in the 60s.

What did I learn from this adventure?

- Canoes are heavy and hard to maneuver. They are a form of transportation, not instruments of fun.
- Upper body strength is more important than you think.
- Be Prepared is a motto to live by.
- Spontaneity, like change, is over-rated.  
- Somewhere between George and your local bartender lies the perfect cocktail.

And no, we've never been out in the canoe again. The lake is much nicer from the dock.


Lisa Dinsmore is a writer, web programmer, movie and wine lover. She currently runs two review websites to share her passions: and She is also the Managing Editor of One for the Table.