The Joy of Practice and Play

mho adventures joy canoeing canada paddling
Being on the river is easily my favourite place to be! If you have been on an MHO Adventure with me, you know how much joy the water brings, just writing this makes me feel warm and giddy inside. I love the motion of the canoe and the strokes through a rapid and how it all feels. I love catching a tight eddie with a canoe partner and the excitement that is shared. I love swimming in the wash out and even just watching the water move, it’s powerful, relentless and predictable. I get to share this love with the MHO Community as a guide all spring and summer. When fall arrives and as many people start to retreat indoors, I take the time to be outside! This is my time to be on the river paddling for myself, practicing and playing! This means full days kayaking on the Ottawa and Madawaska rivers and often a fall canoe expedition with friends.

This year our multi-day personal trip was on the Broadback River, in Quebec with 5 others, who are dear friends and guides. The Broadback river is high volume with big long rapids created by constrictions and elevation drops. When you pull over to scout and as you look over the horizon line from shore to see the rapid for the first time, there is a bit of “pucker factor” (when your bum cheeks squeeze together as your stomach turns upside down).
After the initial reaction the 6 of us get into problem solving and finding a line that we can all paddle safely as well as maximize the joy. It’s seriously like riding a roller coaster that you have control of! We all decide together what our line will be, run back to the canoes upstream with some hooting and hollering, jump in our boats and peel out of the eddie. We run big wave trains, while avoiding ledges with ferries and lots of tilt peeling into the eddies, usually with lots of giggling and over all excitement at the bottom.
mho adventures joy canoeing canada paddling adventure seekers great north
Travelling the river with friends in this way brings me so much joy, but also offers so much more. When guiding, we are working, we are constantly ‘on’ with hundreds of things to think about in a day, always keeping the client experience in mind. A personal trip gives us time to reflect on our busy summers together and alone, it gives time to take in the natural world around us and have a little sleep followed by time in a camp chair drinking coffee, we are on ‘holiday’ living what our clients experience on a trip, while we make coffee and bake egg frittata.

I also think it’s so important for me to paddling in my personal time to keep my skills sharp. These personal trips challenge my skills on the water, by making technical manoeuvres with consequences below and bouncing ideas off other experienced paddlers. We still travel the river in the same way, having a safety boat / person and scouting every rapid and we still use WORMS (water, obstacles, route, manoeuvre and markers, safety and swimming) when scouting. However it’s the entire group working together to share ideas and make decisions. Similarly on a day out on the Ottawa or Madawaska kayaking, I get to paddle and play with friends. I try challenging manoeuvres over and over again until I finesse them, knowing the entire time my friends are providing safety for me as I am for them.
exploring canada mho adventures joy canoeing canada paddling adventure seekers great north
Paddling for myself is for play and practice. It makes my skills better in all aspects; reading the water, making manoeuvres, providing safety, making decisions and problem solving. This then allows me to go back to MHO Adventures and maximize student and clients’ experiences by coaching canoe skills, helping folks use WORMS to find the line down the rapid that is fun and safe and being able instill confidence in everyone’s abilities because I have the confidence in my own.

As one friend said on this trip “Paddling whitewater is like play time for adults!” When I am guiding I get to facilitate this play and make sure everyone is playing nicely. When I do it for myself it’s like there are no adults around, but I know the rules I have to follow and how to play nice with friends.
canada rainbow exploring canoeing paddling madawaska
I was not born in a canoe, I didn’t even start canoeing until my adult life, nor did paddling whitewater come easy for me. I just fell in love with it which makes it easy to go out and practice and play whenever I can, with a community that thinks and feels the same. This is what I want to share with others when I am on the river no matter the group. I just want to play!!

Rianna Sterk
Lead Guide, River Roots Program Coordinator