Growing up, my old man always challenged my sister and I with the phrase, “where’s your sense of adventure?” Whether he wanted to hike, bike, windsurf, whatever, we’d groan in protest, thinking we were happy playing Summer Games on our Commodore 64. But we weren’t really. And following his trail-blazing was always more fun than sitting on our asses all day.
These days, my old man is literally getting to be an old man, and reversing the challenge doesn’t always seem fair. I don’t want him to break a hip. More truthfully, I don’t want to suffer my mother’s wrath if he breaks that hip while doing something stupid with me. He wants to come downhill mountain biking, but I’m not sure it’s a great idea. But what could possibly go wrong in a canoe in early April on the Beaver River?
Barely getting permission from my mother to take my pops on a whitewater trip from Heathcote to Clendenan Dam, we left Heathcote in rushing water the day after his 66th birthday. I took the stern, my overconfidence contrasting starkly with my father’s pessimism. I also wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but I’d done it the spring before, and it was really fun.
As we bounced downriver, we laughed with sheer excitement. A few stretches of the Beaver River are an absolute blast in April. Bumping over waves and surrounded by the sound of rushing rapids, my dad’s lap got soaked in icy water as we rushed from the peak of one wave into the trough of the next. We’d have to be inhuman not to laugh at how fun it was.
Successfully paddling our way through one rapid after another, my confidence grew. And my father’s belief that this was fun did too.
And then it all fell apart. Rounding the final bend before the river splits at Clendenan Dam, a head-high sweeper had our names all over it and before I knew it we were swimming. The canoe was upside-down beneath us and going downriver fast. My eyes never left my father’s head as it bobbed above his red and yellow life jacket in the icy cold water.
“Mom’s gonna be pissed,” was all I could think to myself. Thankfully, he read the water perfectly, following the current around the bend, into an eddy and scrambling for the shoreline. I was right there behind him.
We crawled up the mud bank and collapsed in the dirt and snow, shivering with adrenaline and cold. But he wasn’t pissed off.
Sure he could have said some version of, “I told you so.” But he didn’t. The sparkle in my old man’s eyes said it all; if his sense of adventure had ever waned it was now fully restored. And being adventurous is knowing that sometimes, absolute disaster is way more fun than success.