The Canoe Relay

14 Jul 2010 by Jim Gibbons, No Comments »

Getting ready for the Canoe Relay.

One of the things I always enjoyed about camp and, to a degree, Northern Wisconsin was how timeless those places always felt to me. Or maybe “stuck in time” is a better way to put it. While the modern era came to camp in the form of CDs, Discmans and sleek Maglite flashlights, you could look around and see bits of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s intermingled with the new faces and newfangled technology.

This photo, which features a fairly common and genuinely timeless tableau of Shewahmegon life, has representation from each decade of camp’s operation. The brown boathouse in the background received numerous touch-ups over the years, but I believe (If memory serves…) it was one of camp’s oldest buildings. I’ll give that one to the ’50s, and parts of it to the ’60s as well. The red and white speedboat next to the boathouse, cleverly named The 70 (Right, Shewahmegonites?) due to the horsepower of its engine, is coincidentally pure ’70s. For the ’80s, I’ll allow Tim Will’s pink shorts to wave proudly (though Tim’s steadfast beard might date back to the ’70s), as well as the other speedboat. Known as The Lund, camp’s faster speedboat was an ’80s model that I believe came to camp in the ’90s. Then you’ve got the fiberglass canoes (’80s?), aluminum paddles (’90s), white and black camo t-shirt (Sported by, I believe, Danny Trevor… so, ’90s.) and any one of the docks pictured here was probably made up of bits from the ’50s through to the year this photo was taken. It’s like traveling through time while standing still.

All these camp contants make this photo a bit hard to date, but I’m fairly certain it’s from 2001. The fiberglass canoes were only pulled out for rare occasions, one of them being a game day called The Olympiad (Or did the Olympiad feature the Swim Relay while Shewahmegon Games Day had the Canoe Relay?), which means this photo was taken on a Saturday in the afternoon.

The event everyone’s preparing for in this picture was the aforementioned Canoe Relay, the first of the day’s team events. Each of the four teams, whose names were self-chosen at the beginning of the day, had to take every single member of their team around a buoy about a quarter of a mile away on the lake. The fastest team to have each member complete this task won the race.

Complicating matters was the fact that the fiberglass canoes were notoriously wobbly and the vigorous paddling this competitive event encouraged didn’t help matters. Most strategies for this relay put three people in each heat of canoe. (As opposed to loading more in each to lesson the number of trips. That almost never panned out.) An older camper would take the stern to provide power and experienced navigation, one of the younger and tiniest campers would ride deadweight after being given plenty of encouragement to sit still and not rock the boat, and a camper somewhere in between would take the bow to add paddling power.

Essentially, the Canoe Relay was a lesson in patience. Focus on long, powerful paddle strokes and careful maneuvering and your canoe would make good time without capsizing. Let the screaming, cheering masses on the shore speed up your paddling to frantic levels and you’d flip your ship, likely after losing your cool. In the end, like so many things at camp, the experience had value outside the Northwoods—it was a practical team building exercise with a camp twist.

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