Last Thursday was one of those days that I hope will linger long in my memory.

It started with a healthy dose of uncertainty, but quickly developed into a day of confirmation, affirmation and some welcome aches and pains.

I was introduced to a new friend, a relationship I hope will strengthen in time given plenty of encouragement and practice.

Last Thursday was the day of my canoe course.

It exceeded expectations – a relief for me, but also for Rachel who had booked the course for me as my 40th birthday present.

I think I’m smitten with the canoe.

I’m probably still a fair few J-strokes away from fulfilling my plan to canoe the Usk Valley of my childhood, but I’ve certainly paddled a lot closer than I was last week.

I’ll admit to a bout of nerves ahead of Thursday’s course, there were plenty of “what if’s”.

The first few minutes on the water didn’t do much to ease my furrowed brow either. If there is a right way to do things and a cack-handed way to do things then I’ve always been the type of person that chooses the latter.

So my first experience of being sat in a canoe was a rather dizzying one. I seemed to spend most of the time going around in circles, or facing the wrong way and getting further away from my supremely patient instructor.

As the only one on that particular course, I had one-on-one tuition and that undoubtedly helped me – although I’m sure Will (my instructor) must have been wondering what the rest of the day had in store.

But once I actually stopped thrashing about, listened to what I was being told and followed Will’s effortless lead, it all started slotting into place.

I still had various moments throughout the day when even Will, one of life’s thoroughly laid-back individuals, must have been thinking I was winding him up.

I was struggling with very basic concepts – such as “left” and “right”, but particularly “upstream” and “downstream”.

What is it that allows our brains to master fairly complex situations one moment, then in the next fail to grasp the most simple instructions? And ask a ridiculous question like: “Why do you go faster when you’re heading downstream?”

I won’t dwell too much on the answer – to either question.

Despite such brain-mushiness, I did actually start to master some of the basics of the canoe. And once you do begin to head in a straight(ish) line down a gently meandering, tranquil and stunning stretch of water like the Wye Valley, then there is no finer place to be.

On a 10-mile trip (about 5 hours spent on the water) there’s plenty of opportunity to take on board instructions on different strokes and techniques, but also enough time to think, to chat, to enjoy the experience.

My knees and ankles (thanks to the way I hooked them under my perching seat) have borne the brunt of the aches and pains. But they are minor in comparison to the desire to get back in a canoe at the earliest opportunity.

The plan to tackle the Usk Valley is progressing nicely.

But a bigger, better plan is already taking shape.

Take one canoe, sit my wife in the front where she can nominally paddle but spend most of her time taking photographs and sketching, load it with provisions and steer us off down a river for a few days.

Heading downstream, obviously.


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