IMG_8738_JPG_t285I just got back from a fundraising paddle down the Zumbro River in Minnesota. The Zumbro was definitely a scenic paddle, a waterway twisting its way through a wooded valley and cutting through Minnesota's farm country; lots of swifts but no real rapids, gravel bars at almost every bend and a total of eleven bald eagle sightings. I went there originally to help out with the event and to write about how a group of paddlers gathered to collect money to put towards a program to help disadvantaged youth and paddling programs. By the end of the weekend, however, it was the rich canoe culture I witnessed during my time away that got the headline and it was the people I paddled with that got my attention

Yes, canoe culture is alive and well. Some claim it's as Canadian as you can get. I've even heard many canoeists make the statement that it should be the red canoe on our flag, not the maple leaf, and that only us Canadians get what canoeing is all about. But I was reminded this past weekend that it's just not Canadians who are passionate towards canoeing.

Our group was mixed, and the most diverse I've ever traveled with. There were four solo boats, all professional paddlers who paddled separate but didn't leave each others side most of the way. My partner, Brian, was a treat to be with. He wasn't an avid paddler and was nervous in the boat most of the day. But I truly enjoyed his company because we didn't spend the day talking about canoeing — we talked about the eagles flying above us, the fish swimming below, the politics of the U.S. and Canada, job loss; we both were upset to finally see people along the banks of the river but rejoiced eddying in the last rapid of the day so we could drink a cold beer. There was the trip organizer, Anne, and her fun-filled canoe partner, who wore a hat crested with an American Pride logo and entertained us with his trips to India and all the amazing people he met there. And there was Tom, a member of the Minnesota canoe club (and my tent mate for the weekend) who guided the youngest in the group, who managed to upset the canoe five minutes into the trip.

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It was during the near disaster when the canoe culture really came alive. We all separated a few meters apart on the river a minute into the trip, enjoying the wild setting in our own separate ways. But when their canoe upset, the one canoe we all thought would not upset (Tom's a good paddler), all of us came together to help out, like a true family in times of need. Old Scout (a.k.a. inventor of the infamous Bungee Dealee Bob) blew the emergency whistle and went for the canoe, Sue from the Wooden Heritage Canoe Association went for the swimming paddlers, Momma Pam handed out dry cloths to the victims, and I put Momma Pam's bra on for laughs and to make everyone relax about the incident.

The trip down the Zumbro River was, to me, a reminder that even though the culture of canoeing is made up of various individuals, in various countries, all with different understandings of how to paddle out there, we are all out there for the same reason — to fulfill our passion towards wilderness travel and experiences and to be amoungst others who feel the same. That's what canoe culture is all about.

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