Ice Water School

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We've been looking forward to Whitewater School since we started paddling with the Arkansas Canoe Club. As the class got closer and closer, we got more and more excited. Camping! In May! On the Mulberry River! With friends! It sounded like a great weekend. We like to paddle, and we like to learn stuff, and that was just going to make it better.

But then it was the week before class, and we couldn't help but notice that the forecast predicted lows in the thirties for the weekend. And rain. Camping and paddling started sounding somewhat less appealing.

We were undaunted. Well, we were slightly daunted. We were actually very daunted, but 'daunted' sometimes just means 'pack the warm sleeping bags and all your extra socks." So we did that.

Friday after work, Bryan and Mandy stared at the seven large plastic bins and associated odds and ends of camping gear in the driveway. They couldn't imagine fitting everything into the Subaru. But I was undaunted. Ok, I was a little daunted. But 'daunted' sometimes means 'willing to shove really hard to get stuff into the car.' So I did that.

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Lots of people still call this "Canoe School" because that's what its name used to be. In the same way the "Arkansas Canoe Club" includes mostly kayakers now, their "Canoe School" has only two or three actual canoe classes and eleven or twelve kayak classes. The individual chapters of the canoe club stake out the small pavilions with their big banners, so that their members can have a sort of central place to meet up with paddling friends. But the tents spill across the campground in between, in some places with just barely enough room to walk between them.

We got to Turner Bend on Saturday night to find that Monkey and her dad, Mitch, had staked out a lovely campsite with some extra elbow room on the 'quiet side' of the road. We set up camp just before dark and then went off to find each of our instructors around their campfires before turning in for the night. It was cold, and we heard later that there were snow flurries at some cabins just down the road, but we were toasty and slept well.

Bryan enrolled in a solo canoe class, co-taught by our friend Chris. Since Bryan is just starting out as an open boater, he enjoyed having a chance to learn from more experienced paddlers.

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Our family's usually set up pretty well to stay warm. We keep a stock of good synthetic base layers and smartwool socks, and the three drysuits Bryan bought last fall have been wonderful. I'd been more worried about how to keep our young friend Monkey warm. But because of our family's extra gear stash, and with the help of our paddling friends (thanks, Cowper and Debo!) and the guys at OOO (thanks, Jeremy and Jake!) we were able to put together some warm dry stuff so that she'd be comfortable.

When Monkey registered for school, we asked that she be assigned to the all-girl class. I knew she was learning quickly, but I also know that she's sometimes shy around adults and around new people. I wanted her to be comfortable in her group so that she'd make friends and have fun. I think that's exactly what happened. Monkey got to work with some great women - both experienced kayakers and people newer to the sport - and I think she had a really good weekend.

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In very typical Crash-and-Monkey fashion, the girls spent some time on Saturday night tearing around the campground on unicycles, carrying boats with unicycles, and attempting to teach other people to ride unicycles. These lessons usually have results generally ranging from 'failure' to 'failure' but everybody seems to have a good time.

On Saturday night we also got to hear a presentation of results from the last ACC board meeting. The treasury report was read, and there were conservation reports and election results, along with brief updates from each of the club's chapters. There was a raffle drawing for a boat and a bunch of other goodies.

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The campsite Mitch had chosen was lovely and quiet, across the road from the louder groups, and I thought that made it completely worth the lack of a fire ring. Mitch was less than content with the compromise, though. He went to town on Saturday and came back to camp with a cheapo charcoal grill and a starter log. He fed it sticks all weekend. He made us our own little quiet campfire.

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Crash spent the weekend as part of one of the more advanced kayak classes. She's somehow hurt her back and was in some pain during the weekend, but she swears that when she's in a boat she feels fine. She learned new skills like back-ferrying and even learned to catch eddies backward, and had a chance to practice. She really enjoyed working with some of the more experienced teachers in the club.

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Another neat thing about one of these big educational events is that we have a chance to learn not only from our own groups, but from other groups we see on the water. There are great opportunities to ask other people about their boats, and sometimes even to test-drive them on the river.

Sunday's weather was much, much warmer than Saturday. I could tell that people were more relaxed and grateful for the sunshine. My class ate lunch on Sunday near the tandem canoe class. At the end of our meal, we sat on a gravel bar and talked, but the canoe class had a little workshop on unpinning boats by using mechanical advantage systems. I wandered over to listen, and learned quite a bit just from eavesdropping. Later in the day, we got to watch the same tandem group practice some rescue techniques.

I think all the classes left the river with new friends and big smiles. I know that's what happened in my group, anyway.

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