Life’s a Dam Adventure

Adventure title


When one is the mother of boys and only boys, one expects that there will be very little pink and fluff in one’s life. On the other hand, one does not anticipate one’s vacation including trying to pitch a boat over a twenty foot drop onto a stony beach.

Last weekend we took a trip to the Texas Hill Country. I gave the boys (ok, young men as they are 17 and 21) the option of a day at the best waterpark in the country. Seriously Schiltterbahn in New Braunfels is the best park ever or we could rent canoes for a day and do a river trip.

They picked the canoes.

Seriously, what kids don’t want to go to the water park? Ah, well…

We’d done such trips before, when they were much younger, on a river in East Texas. So, we thought—and that is the operative word here, thought—we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

Since the area is known for its water ways, I pictured a nice, relaxing paddle down a shady river, energetic enough for the boys, but not too much for mom and dad. We booked a seven mile trip was supposed to take four hours. With a break for a picnic, that would be a nice day’s outing, right? Great plan, mom.

There’s a saying about battle plans not surviving the first encounter with the enemy.

Apparently that applies to canoeing, too.

We got to the rental place, collected our equipment (including life preserves which yes, we wore every moment on the water despite the fact we’re all good swimmers) and sat down for the requisite orientation. The local River Rat began explaining our route.

What, no printed map?

My poor little mind snapped at the thought. Being a woman of a hundred lists –cue music and another blog post here–not having a paper map kind of terrified me.

But my guys didn’t blink, so I focused on memorizing the route directions the River Rat ticked off at blinding speed. He went through it all so fast I had flashbacks to High School and College—that teacher who talked faster than you could take notes all the while reminding you EVERYTHING would be on the test. Except the test here was not drowning, so just a touch more anxiety.

If that wasn’t enough, every brain cell came to a screaming halt when he said portage.

(That’s canoe speak for take the freaking boat out of the water and carry it over land to find more water.)

Ok, I knew nothing about these portages when we signed up for the trip … and he said it four times.


Mind you, I’m not a fragile flower, this gal can actually crank out a dozen REAL push ups—not the girly ones on your knees, but real ones. But those boats are not exactly light and after paddling miles…

Yeah, no.adventure collage1

Then River Rat said something about a dam and making sure we stayed to the right, well away from the hydroelectric part. Probably for the best I didn’t catch everything he said then.

But my guys remained unphased so I tucked my anxieties away and went along.

We put-in and quickly discovered problem #1. The two boys didn’t know what they were doing well enough to canoe together. So in the middle of the freaking river, we had to swap canoes so there was one parent doing the steering in each boat.

This should have been my first clue about how the trip would go.

Picture getting two canoes side by side in the middle of the river. One guy from each boat holds on to the other boat, while you try to maintain three points of contact with said boat, keeping your center of gravity as low as possible and scoot from one boat to another—while not tipping either into the water.

Once we were settled in, we got underway and things went pretty much as expected. Typical snags on trees and debris, dodging the traffic jams on the river…

Traffic jams? Ok, so I wasn’t expecting the four huge day camp boats with like 15 kids on each of them not really knowing what they were doing and taking up the ENTIRE bank where we were supposed to take-out for our first portage.

Still, we managed to find a tiny spot, got out and handled the portage. Not fun, but we managed well enough. By the third portage, it felt like we were finally, more or less getting the hang of it all.

And then the dam.

I heard it before I saw it. Loud, rushing water.

We pulled out early and walked up to see what we were dealing with. On the approach, it didn’t look like much. Kinda small, run down looking. But when walked over to take a look at what we needed to do, it was a whole ‘nother story.

adventure collage2We had to get the canoes over the top of the dam and down a twenty food drop to the stone beach on the other side.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Did I mention, I don’t like heights too much?


This was not at all what I signed on for. This wasn’t canoeing; it was a joke, right? I kinda wanted to scream.

How many times does that happen in life, though? Someone warns us that its going to be hard, but we plunge on ahead anyway, only to have that heart stopping moment when we see the size of the IRL dam in our way.

Turning back was an option, but not an attractive one. Paddling upstream six miles, didn’t sound like a good idea at this point. So we hunkered down and followed River Rat’s dam portage directions.

It was hard. A little scary. Dirty, rough and ugly. And a few new swear words may or may not have been invented in the making of this portage. But we made it to the other side, boats intact.

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Made it through and still speaking to each other.

I’m not sure we’d have taken this trip if we’d known about the dam crossing before we’d arrived. But looking at it from the back end, it was a cool adventure, and I’m glad we did it.

What was the last dam you ran into? How did you get around it?




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    • Meg on June 28, 2016 at 12:54 pm
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    What a great real life story. It helped me to know you as a mom and adventurer not just the wonderful writer you are! Thanks!

  1. I think I might have quit at the first portage. 🙂 Well done sticking with it until after the dam. I guess you really didn’t have a choice, though.

    • Lynn char on June 30, 2016 at 3:26 pm
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    We frequently canoe a river in Michigan that is rather challenging in spots, but nothing like what you ran into! My worst experience was on a girl scout trip…we divided everyone up by ability which meant my daughter was steering with an adult in the front. No problem right? At the first opportunity to stop she told me she refused to get back in with said adult as the adult wouldn’t paddle. So, off I went with the mom. She said she didn’t have much experience so I was teaching her the basics. It was a tough river full of fallen trees and (No portages, thank goodness) I told her the only thing she really had to do was when I asked her to paddle hard, she had to paddle hard. Simple enough, right? Then we got to the downed log at the curve. There were girls maneuvering through it so our approach wasn’t prefect so I told Nancy it was time to paddle as hard as she could. And she sat there with her paddle on her lap. I’m shouting at her to paddle…nothing. .so we hit the log sideways and as I’m attempting to singlehandedly get us out, I fall out of the canoe. I’m now trapped between the canoe and the log with the water rushing under the log pulling my legs under with significant force. And there Nancy sits, paddle on her lap, calmly waiting for me to drown. Fortunately another adult group came by and managed to help me extricate myself and back into the canoe with Nancy I went….for the next 3 hours! No swearing, it was a girl scout trip. But to this day I’m still terrified when we come anywhere near downed trees when canoeing. I definitely think I’ll stay out of the water in Texas!

    1. The River Rat who did our orientation warned us about downed trees, saying that they were a HUGE drowning hazard and to do everything we could to stay away from them. I’m sorry you had that happen.

    • Lynn char on July 22, 2016 at 2:11 pm
    • Reply

    I had enough experience to be wary, I just didn’t expect the pull to be so strong!!

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