BLOG 79. Canoe Trip Ethics
by Cliff Jacobson
A bright summer morning on any river. A crowd of canoers prepare for a downstream float. It's 9:30 a.m. and confusion abounds. "Weren't we supposed to shuttle at 9?" someone asks. What! You say the shuttle's gone? I didn't hear any announcement. How'm I gonna get my car to Reedsville landing?"
Between the mix of uncertainty and lack of communication, there is misunderstanding of the day's events.
"They say we'll be done by four."
"Better be! Gotta be home by five. We shoulda left an hour ago. Where is Robertson (the leader) anyway?"
Finally, the shuttle is done and the pack moves to the water’s edge. Left behind are soft drink cans, candy wrappers and styrofoam cups.
Once on the river, the fun begins. The kids have their ghetto blasters, and some of the adults have beer. Lots of beer! Invariably, you can get one for the asking.
Round the bend is an easy rapid, but for the drinkers it's already a four beer day. Suddenly, there's a capsize. Everyone is quickly rescued—but wait. "Where's the beer? You mean we lost the whole case?
A noon lunch is planned, but the undulating mass doesn't reach the appointed spot till two. When the drag canoe finally arrives, the lead boat has already left. The paddlers build a hasty fire, wolf down some charred weiners then beat a hasty retreat back to the canoe. On the run, they kick sand over the determined flames. Is the fire out? Who knows? They never looked back!
Around three o'clock, a persistent head wind develops and the canoes spread out further. The gap widens as those in pusher aluminum and Royalex canoes fall behind. With knowing smiles, Robertson takes the lead in his quick Kevlar cruiser. "We'll teach you slugs what "efficient" canoeing is all about!
The lead canoes reach the take out at 4:06, as planned. Two hours later the last boats arrive. Sorry guys, the last car's been shuttled.
You’re probably thinking: "good story, Cliff, considering you made it up." But I didn't. Not one word. I have, however, changed the names to protect the guilty.
Environmental neglect is more often a matter of insensitivity than illegality. Since the group "leader" is the one who sets the tone, let's discuss him or her first.
The leader: The problem is, most groups don't have one. Too often, the one who plays the part is inexperienced and disorganized. Show me a group with a good leader and I'll show you ethical behavior on the river.
Here are the tenets of good leaderhsip:
1. The leader leads. No one passes the leader. Ever!
2. The most experienced canoeist (next to the leader) paddles "drag". The drag canoe never passes anyone. Rest stops are timed from the arrival of the drag--not the lead--canoe.
3. The end-of-trip shuttle does not begin until the last canoe touches shore!
4. Each canoe keeps visual contact with the canoe BEHIND it. Rationale: It's easy to drop back but hard to push ahead and catch a fast team.
5. Emergency equipment (first-aid kit, fire-starters, etc.), folding saw, hand-axe, are carried in both lead and drag canoes.
6. In a capsize, nearby canoes rescue the swimmers first, canoe and gear second.
7. The group leader should make the nature of the trip (slow float, fast cruise, whitewater, etc.) clear before the trip.
8. Everyone gets a list of essential equipment and "do's and don'ts", in advance of the trip.
Here are some other expectations:
1. No radios or cell phone calls.
2. Those who don't have essential items (a PFD, plus appropriate clothing and rain gear) don’t go.
3. Wear your life jacket! This does not mean "have it available”. Remove your PFD on a well run club outing and you'll hear about it!
4. Shuttle: Everyone wants his car at the take-out so he can get home quickly. Those who volunteer to taxi their friends back to the put-in are greatly appreciated!
5. Beer: It's okay to have a beer with lunch, providing you carry out the can. However, continuous sipping on the river is frowned upon.
6. Garbage: You brought it in, you pack it out! A plastic trash bag tied to to a canoe thwart is a non-intimidating way to educate others.
7. Human waste: Bury waste away from water, and burn the toilet paper. Douse the flames with water. Cover the hole with dirt. Or, use a sanitary “toilet bag” system (Biffy Bag, Clearwaste, etc.).
8. Cruising speed. There is always a fast team who wants to show off and an inexperienced one who lags behind--a scenario that can produce a chain of canoes miles long. It is impossible to maintain control over a fleet that's spread out. So, spell out the requirements of the cruise before you set out.
9. Smoking: smokers please field-strip your cigarettes and carry out the butts.
10. Rowdy behavior: DO tactfully call inconsiderate practices to the attention of the group. The clown you're addressing might just be educable!
11. Don't play dodge-'em with your canoe. If you want to see fur fly, crash into (indeed, just nick!) someone's $2,600 Kevlar canoe with a rental tank. Boy, are you in for a surprise!
12. Packing your gear: Everything should be packed in waterproof containers that float.
I could continue, but these are the basic concerns--all of which may be summarized by two simple cliches: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints." And respect the rights of others.