Conquering fear for regular 13-year old might be talking to the new girl, watching a scary movie, or eating “strange” vegetables but for my brother it was something he never thought he would ever have to do. We canoed down rapids in Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier outside of Quebec City. He has a strong fear of oceans and rivers.
Originally I thought the water was going to be calm and we were going to raft. I assured him of this and it was all going to be okay. He trusted me. On our ride to the beginning to where we were to start our river journey, the lady started warning us of the low tides, how to maneuver, and sections to avoid like level 11 rapids. All that came unexpected but there was no turning back now.
We were directed to our boats and shown to our canoe. This confused me. I’ve rafted and kayaked before and had experience with those boats but never a canoe. Getting in was a mission in itself. We went in backwards and nearly fell in before we even took off. We were the first ones out in the water though.
What was about to come for the next two hours felt like an eternity.
This was my brothers first time ever having to paddle a boat so I had to guide him while he sat in the front on the boat. During the entire time we were on the water, I had to remind him to paddle when rapids came. We had calm waters for awhile and during those times I had him rest while I paddled. I pointed out scenic spots, said how beautiful the area was, and told him to just take in the nature. This seemed to have calmed him down quite a bit after the rushes of rapids.
We came around our first corner a few minutes on the boat and was immediately introduced to rapids and rocks. We had to make a 90-degree turn to the left then a 90-degree turn to the right while dodging several rocks on low-tide water. We came around the first bend okay but the rapids were still too much. We paddled as hard as we could but we hit the side wall of rocks. We crashed hard and flipped the entire boat. That whole moment felt like slow motion as I tried my best to keep us from falling on the rocks under a heavy boat or breaking a leg. My brother and I managed to jump off the boat onto the rocks and somehow grabbed the boat before it drifted off. I thought the paddles were definitely going to drift but they stayed with us. It took us several minutes to just get the boat onto the side and somewhat out of the water.
My brother said at that moment “we can’t do this. It’s impossible.”
But he knew we had to make it possible. We were in the river and there was no way we could backtrack. There was no one else around and the only way out of the water was getting in the boat and finishing it. Using both of our strengths, we had to pull boat more onto shore and empty the water out before we could go back in. This took us awhile but we eventually got all the water out and back into the boat. That was not a good start to our journey.
I realized after that first fall that I had to encourage him more and keep myself together. Teamwork and encouragement was what we needed.
After about 30 minutes in the water, we started to have a rhythm. I took most of the lead into steering and giving the boat power while he paddled and told me of any rocks that were up ahead. This gave him confidence that we’ll actually make it all the way through. We fell about 3 more times and got stuck countless times because of the low-tides. We had a good number of scares but we managed.
The worst part was when we had to take a detour by landing on land and carry our boat around the level 11 rapids that we were not allowed to go to. Canoes happen to be insanely heavy. It was too much for him and even for me. We lifted it and only walked a few feet every so often. I lost track of time but I think it took us around 30 minutes of picking it up, dropping it, resting our arms, then picking it back up again just to move a few feet. One two three, lift, walk, drop.
My brother is brave and I told him this the entire way. I’m not sure I could have kept it so together at 13 years old. He was scared and I could tell but he did his best. It helped that I was calm and told him it was going to be okay. We did a few high-fives with our paddles to keep the spirits high.
When the end was in sight, we paddled even harder. We saw other boats come in and made it a game to race to the finish before the others.
Landing on land felt like one of the greatest achievements I’ve ever done. It was a rush that my brother felt too. He admitted it felt amazing to have finished. Might have been something he never felt before. All that adrenaline. He said looking back at it, it was worth it.
They took the canoe from us and did a check-up of the boat. The girl looked surprised how good the boat looked. My brother and I look at each other like she’s crazy. If only she knew how many times we crashed it and had to drag the boat out of the rocks because of the low-tide.
Thank you Tourism Quebec and Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier for the comped trip.