Everyday Adventures Paddling

Paddling into the heart of darkness

Canoeing on a river rapid
Written by Stuart Wickes

Paddling into the heart of darkness

Stuart Profile Small“Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda was right. This move required commitment.

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.

Paddling into Sunset on a Canoe

Paddling into the light is one thing, but into the heart of darkness?

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 on a river rapid

It’s easy to stay calm on the flats, but what when you hear the rapids?

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?

Talking Point

Have you ever tried canoeing at night? Or some other night activity? How did you get on?

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


  • AH – you had me holding my breath. So true you add darkness to any activity and it becomes a mysteries adventure. Canoeing in the dark definitely heightens the senses. Excellent story!!!! These are the adventures that make me giddy inside.

  • If you get giddy reading this you can’t imagine what Kirstie was like doing it! These kind of activities are great because they heighten the senses and make us more alert. The objective risks are relatively low, but the feeling of risk is much greater. A recipe for excitement.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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