Paddling into the heart of darkness
Kirstie stood among the nettles, pulling the hair of a young willow for support. The canoe was two maybe three watery feet away, bobbing in the current. Phil was already in the boat, working the paddle hard to keep it as close to the bank as possible.
Do not try
Do. Do not. Do; do not. Do, do not. You could see the indecision in her body. Twelve feet down a muddy bank with the canoe on the water and the sun already in bed we were past the point of no return.
We waited in the fading light, senses heightened by the semi gloom. Do not was not an option. An owl hooted a welcome to the first stars.
Suddenly, swinging more forcefully on the willow, Kirstie cried out, ‘Hold it steady, I’m going to try.’ I silently wished she wouldn’t try. Didn’t she watch Star Wars? A shriek, a leap, a slip, a grab and a wobble. Then, she was in; the force was with her after all.
Into the blackening night
We paddled downstream with the last shards of light, the river blackening as we drifted with the flow. The Wye’s an easy paddle here, wide and gentle, carving a giant S on its’ way to Symonds Yat. Bankside, groups of canoeists were camping, warming themselves around open fires, sharing stories of the days journey.
We pass by, invisible to them, invisible to each other in the encircling black of night. We’re an SAS mission, slicing paddles silently through the water so as not to draw attention to our midnight mission.
Canoeing at night is sensory overload
The temperature drops and the air feels cold, a contrast to the river still warm from the day’s sun. The darkness amplifies the slightest sounds; bats overhead, swans checking their nests, the ripple of water on shingle. Then, white noise, getting closer.
The guide book says no rapids above the Yat, only little ones beneath. But we’re not supposed to pass Symonds Yat and thes rapids don’t sound little. The noise intensifies as we drift towards it. Tension rises in the boat. The blackness amplifies everything. We’re heading for Niagra, Victoria Falls, the rapids of Futaleufu. Brace. Brace. Brace. Three stiffs in a canoe. Do or do not. There is no try.
We float past a little waterfall, the spreading riffles gently rocking the boat. We laugh, a nervous laugh. How much fun can you have in a canoe in the black of the night?
Have you ever tried canoeing at night? Or some other night activity? How did you get on?