At the halfway point, I received a call from an unfamiliar number. It was unlikely to be spam given the starting digits, so I picked up. It was our SUP instructor, who had called to provide a status update of the weather up north. "It's storming up here, but fingers crossed it'll clear by the time you guys get here." he repeated, "Fingers crossed."
After all, the decision to allow us onto the waters would ultimately reside with the greater force of Mother Nature.
And sure enough, the truck was there with its kayak trailer attachment.
SUP, the abbreviation for Stand Up Paddle Board, is an activity closely related to kayaking and canoeing. Those engaged in the sport would stand on top of the board and navigate using slightly angled strokes of the plastic paddle. A rectangular slot offered an opening for carrying while denoting the centre of the board, otherwise known as the most stable point for standing.
Upon our arrival, we were provided life jackets and instructed to leave majority of our belongings in the vehicle. The instructor himself wore none, but justified safety measures with reference to a Transport Canada-approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device).
Paddles were adjusted according to our height: adequacy was determined by the presence of a slight bend in the elbow when the hand rested on top an upright-positioned paddle.
Maneuvering to the paddle boards proved treacherous, for the rocks beneath our feet pierced like no other. Had these been City grounds, I'd have not removed my shoes for any reason - glass shards and broken needles are enough to persuade me to err on the side of caution. However, for the purposes of the lesson, I had to place faith where deserved.
One end of the ankle strap was affixed to our dominant leg, and the other Velcro-ed to the paddleboard. We were warned that if the fin on the underside were to catch onto anything, we'd be "thrown over the handlebars" and to take care in that regard.
The steps were as follows:
- Hold paddle and place knuckles down on paddle board, gorilla-style
- Place one foot on the board
- Look straight, then stand up and balance - "If you look down, you're going down"
We were taught several strokes to assist us along the journey. The basics involved steady, uninterrupted strokes along the edge of the paddle board - an outstretched leading arm, slightly bent supporting arm, and fully submerged paddle ensured maximum energy conversion. Swapping the paddle between hands allowed one to change direction without reducing speed, while a "C-stroke" could be used for a sharp turn. Back-paddling was used to reverse out from areas, or change direction when maintaining speed is not necessary. The stroke resembled reversing in a car, where the front would swing in the direction of the steering wheel.
Mercury levels were more moderate than expected, decidedly uncharacteristic of the predicted climate conditions. We passed several short decks, which belonged to property owners along the waters, before arriving at a small channel. One would rarely consider paddling or kayaking at the mention rainfall, especially in the busier districts of southern Ontario. That said, we found an enchanting appeal in the rain; from the misty air to the silent ripples, from the "mellow" Canada geese to delicately drooping trees, there was beauty to be witnessed at each stretch of the way.
As the "pins and needles" creeped into my toes, we were given a brief lesson to transition from the standing position back to sitting. The format was similar, yet involved the dominant swinging to the left side of the board to prevent tangling of the ankle attachment. A peaceful period was spent dipping our feet into the warm waters of Jack's Lake as precipitation persevered. Then, we continued onwards.
Along our route were even more instances of nature: birds skipping across the water, an eagle nest (followed by a giant eagle and eagle junior), a red-winged blackbird couple that did not attack, and a deer derrière that rapidly vanished into the bushes. We were told tales of the bird with un-oiled feathers - an exemplary swimmer despite its body's hereditary aquaphilic qualities - and even encountered a family of black-beaked swans. Trumpeter swans are native to North America and are supposedly the largest swans in Canada.
Past a marsh lay a particularly serene section. The waters were unthinkably shiny - glistening and gorgeous after the rain - and the trees luscious and welcoming as they leaned towards the riverbank. The only utterances of noise were the sporadic splashes of ducks at the water's edge, the flapping of an eagle's wings overhead, and our paddles propelling us deeper into the jungle. "Jungle", we declared it as such, for we were mere visitors of the space, sightseeing and gawking at the beauty of our surroundings. The moment of tranquility was interrupted by a hoard of feisty deer flies. I managed to escape with only four bites, which was a miracle considering my forgetfulness towards the bug spray zipped in my bag. Unlike the aftereffects of mosquito pecks, any irritation quickly subsided without swelling.
Retracing our route back, we caught sight of the sun peaking through the clouds. Our faces encountered a gentle gust every now and then, with the surrounding waters remaining warm. A dull greyness hovered about, yet grounds were now completely dry. Our paddleboards were parked by the murky waters and shoes were retrieved.
We returned to the vehicle at 3:59 PM, with the promise photos to be sent afterwards. And true to his words, the link arrived in my inbox later that evening.
Ultimate Canadian, on the other hand, was a phenomenal pick that neither of us could resist. The first bite transported back to elementary school pizza days, yet the flavours had matured: double-smoked bacon instead of pepperoni, fior di latte and mozzarella instead of synthetic shredded strands of cheese, and a maple chili glaze for sophistication. Initially regarded with reluctance, the glaze was requested on the side. Upon familiarization, however, it was instantly deemed a non-negotiable ingredient. It added pizzazz, utterly elevating the dish beyond an already exquisite thin-crust, wood-fired pizza.
Everything had played out Just Right.