The Call 

After enjoying some balmy February weather in eastern Canada this past week winter decided to make an encore. I woke up to March the other morning and was greeted by freezing rain, snow and low temperatures. As a paddler I find this time of year frustrating. Waiting for ice to come off the rivers and get back to paddling is excruciating. It used to be worse, hell-on-earth worse. 

Early season recon.

Back in the day when I was guiding I usually started getting the “itch” around now. I was over working at (insert crappy winter job that allowed maximum snowboarding days here) and ready to quit. The ski tourism that Banff thrives upon in winter had gnawed away at me to the point that I’d had enough of the tourists with their on-piste and après-ski antics. I would begin eyeballing the rivers on my way back from the resorts, paying attention to their levels and hoping to see less ice every trip. Waiting for the ice to break-up. At work I would be impatient, reckless, and use profanity freely to voice my feelings of revulsion about (again- insert crappy winter job that allowed maximum snowboarding days here) to anyone living. Generally this did not impress my employers, most of whom were ready and willing to show me the door. Basically I had no fucks to give unless I was back on the river. I was waiting for “the call.” 

Answering “the call” looked like this.

“The call” usually came in around late April in the Rockies of western Canada. Usually I was very unemployed by then (probably burned some bridges too) and becoming feral. The river was up.  Time to pull gear out of storage. Time to sort life jackets. Time to pump up rafts. Time to take exploratory trips down the river, get callouses built up for busy season, get shoulders warmed up and ready for action. I loved being a dirtbag raft guide. I lived for it. Every spring heralded a new season of adventure. Crusty guides that hadn’t seen each other all winter were in town and catching up on their tales over beers. It was a good time. 

Raft guides. All dirtbags

I still feel the same every spring. I have that cabin fever, bored to death with Netflix, pacing around syndrome. I can see the water, it’s only 150 feet from my backyard. Sadly, it is mostly ice covered. Large chunks of ice are floating around. Perfect little river bergs that will grind me into fish bait if I went out paddling now. I can’t wait to have the dog out on adventures this summer; she is finally getting comfortable on water. I need to get on the water and start training for local SUP races. I plan to hopefully improve upon my 2nd place finish from last season.

Early season sweeper removal. Sandals and chainsaws

The only thing that has changed is me. I have a different career now, working in environmental remediation. I specialize in water treatment. My way of giving back to the rivers and lakes which have given me so much. I enjoy my career. My current employer doesn’t know about my checkered employment history during springs of years gone by. He doesn’t know it, but I’m still waiting for “the call.” And I’ll answer when it comes. The answer will be more subtle and won’t involve becoming unemployed. No. I’m already prepared. Gear is stashed strategically, the boats and boards are accessible, everything is prepped to go. Just need the ice to vanish, or at least thin considerably, and “the call” will be answered. Let’s hope that it’s soon. 

The Ottawa River, at present 2017, with big river bergs

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