Since competitions in these Olympic events were introduced in 1924, canoe and kayak masteries have grown into a colossal sporting cooperation; both as a team competitive racing rivalry event and the weekend pleasure occasion of a family style recreation. Huge revolutions in boat designs over the decades with style and innovative material persuasions, has transformed canoeing at the Olympics into what has developed from a demo event into a 16 discipline sport which is still growing today.
The art of this pleasurable exercise is not to confuse recreation with competition and certainly not to turn a planned three day weekend canoe float into a race; a race induced by machismo and bragging rights. But, that would make for a very boring tale if two brothers: one brother with a 14 year old son and a matching set of 10 year old twin boys along with his more ancient older brother with his 16 year old son; just floated down Spoon River in the shade of those cool low hanging willows; enjoying some, undisturbed, quiet camping and fishing along the way.
The river was running fast that Fourth of July holiday weekend in 1996; the temperatures were to stay above 90 with lots of sunshine in the forecast. We put our three canoes into the mighty Spoon early on Friday morning after breaking camp just west of the small villa of Fiat, geared up and heading down stream; our planned 80 mile nautical vacation trip was underway.
Those canoes were knifing through the brown water of the Spoon like driven torpedoes and the flashing paddles were an extension of the manly power that hurtled those enchanted vessels along that murky tributary.
The race was on! Our destination, the low head dam at Bernadotte and it was a mere 78 miles downriver. These boat crews would stop only long enough to strategically off-load some supplies to lighten their crafts. A scheme to put us higher in the water and take advantage of a shallow draft that would most assuredly give us more speed.
The sun had begun to takes its toll on the stamina and perseverance of these gallant mariners by mid-afternoon, and a prevailing judgement of taking port and get our bearings was in the wind. When coming into view and approaching up river in their motorized vessels came a pair of likeminded adventurers out on the deep. They came along side and after we had shared the tale of our venture with themówe discovered we were only 22 miles out from our destination. A quick hydration and paddles were back in the murk; our port of call was within a shout and a few heaves on the sweeps.
After 16 hours and some odd minutes the weary seafarers beached their vessels on the land they had planned to come upon, after a pleasurable three-day trip.
This same clutch of family members have enjoyed some real three day adventures over the years, but the one trip that monopolizes most of the conversation of past trips is still the one that only took 16 hours.
Oddly, no one else has ever wanted to go on a canoeing trip with us.