"The Hardy Heart" monthly blog - May 2017
Today I head off for Southern Utah to lead a yoga retreat on the San Juan river with the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education. Whether it has been by canoe, sea kayak or river raft, paddling trips have been a theme of my life. There is something magical about having everything you need packed up into a boat that you are powering with your own force, completely immersed in the awe inspiring force of nature.
My first canoe experiences happened early on in my childhood. My father was from back east just outside of Washington D.C. and when he was little, my Mommie Hardy would send him up to Canada during the summers to "Camp Mini-Yo-We" in the Muskoka lakes area a few hours north of Toronto. We grew up on mesmerizing tales of my father's adventures at Camp Mini-Yo-We; with canoe trips to "Dead Man's Island", counselors reenacting ghost stories to scare campers and on and on.
When I was maybe eight years old, my dad got a hair brained idea on a trip back east to drive us up to Muskoka to see if Camp Mini-Yo-We was still around. Sure enough, after a couple of days driving through the incredible beauty of the Canadian landscape, we pulled into a picturesque, quintessential summer camp on Mary Lake. I didn't know it at that moment, but I would spend a glorious month of every summer of my life through high school at Camp Mini-Yo-We.
There is a strong tradition of canoe tripping in the Muskoka/Algonquin region that dates back to the Native Americans and the early French trappers. Mini-Yo-We had many different activities a camper could choose to participate in, but the stories of my dad's canoe trips had filled me with a desire to learn how to canoe. My first step was learning how to swim confidently in the open lake. Once I had my bearings in the water, I began learning how to sit in a canoe, handle a paddle and help propel the boat forward. My first couple of trips were just over-night experiences but over the years I was able to start doing multi-day trips where we would get dropped off into more secluded areas and canoe across one lake, then portage the boats and gear to another lake until we found camp. It was on these longer trips that I was able to expand my paddling skills from simply propelling the canoe forward, to sitting in the back and steering it through the water. I fell in love with being in the wilderness on the water.
After graduating high school, I completed my lifeguard certification and set out to spend the summer as a counselor at one of the oldest canoe tripping summer camps "Camp Ahmek" on Canoe Lake in the heart of Algonquin Park. Ahmek focused exclusively on canoe trips and had an extensive collection of very traditional canoe tripping equipment and methods. It was at Ahmek that canoeing turned into an art. The Ahmek canoes were old school, solid wood, hand made crafts that handled gracefully in the water, but were a feat to portage long distances. I soon found myself able to make the canoe move however I wanted, positioned in the center with my knees on a foam cushion making the most precise paddling patterns.
As a new counselor I was given a cabin of the youngest group of boys called "Bantams". Bantams would spend a week hanging out at camp working on tripping skills, having fun and then would get a chance to go out on a four day trip. In comparison, the oldest campers in their last years of high school would spend six weeks out on canoe trips. The picture at the top of this blog was taken on the dock at Ahmek with my first cabin before a trip.
The summer after my sophomore year at UCLA I found myself working as a boatman for Holiday River Expeditions in Green River, Utah. My mom's brothers had spent time guiding for Holiday and they got me excited about coming home to Utah and spending another summer on the water.
Holiday has a very seasoned culture of river running and it was the perfect place for me to learn how to sit in the center of an eighteen foot rubber boat, seated on a cooler with two huge oars in my hands and navigate up to class V rapids. I remember my stomach dropping on a West Water Canyon trip when the lead guide I was shadowing, to my surprise as well as the guests', announced that I would be rowing us through the next series of rapids. I sat down, gripped the oars and with over the shoulder pointers rowed my way through some of the largest rapids I had ever seen.
In the middle of my summer, my uncles organized a river trip with Holiday where I was able to help guide my family on the San Juan river. Our trip took us through one of the most beautiful sections of river called the Goosenecks, where the river winds and curves, meandering through towering canyon walls. I enjoyed the trip at the time, but the further I get away from it the more I can appreciate what a precious experience that was.
I have had the opportunity over the past few summers to join a group of fellow river rats and run more of Utah's rivers and create more amazing memories. There was a thought somewhere in those trips that it would be awesome to figure out how to do a yoga retreat on the river; an idea I never acted on. However as fate would have it, last year I was contacted by Four Corners and asked if I wanted to lead yoga on the Goosenecks section of the San Juan river. Not only was it yoga on the river, but it would also take me back to the same river I had ran with my family!
I am so grateful for yet another opportunity to spend a number of days immersed in nature on the water, with good company and everything we need on board. If there is an opportunity somewhere in your schedule this summer to press pause on city life and get out deep into nature (with no cell reception!), pack your gear, grab your friends and family, and go.
- James Hardy