Endurance Canoeing | Canoe Vibes | 8 Stages of Paddling Trips

8 Stages of an Endurance Canoe Trip

Are we there yet?

It’s a childish question that I seem to grapple with multiple times on each and every one of our endurance canoe trips. Regardless of the length of the trip, difficulty of the paddle, or the varying weather conditions, the rotating emotions behind these four words seems to change the meaning of the question.

The more I paddle, the more my eyes have opened to these different emotional stages of my endurance canoe trips and the many different meanings of my favorite childish question.


From the moment the date on the calendar is circled, an overwhelming sensation of eagerness rides shotgun in my convertible of day to day interactions. I talk about it. I read about it. I stare at maps, weather forecasts, and different gear layout options until it I can finally hit the road. The enthusiasm to make grocery lists, start planning preparations, and clean all of my already clean gear is uncharacteristic to the keenness I show these chores in my everyday life.

While I would probably rank reverting back in time to play the winning lottery numbers or asking that one girl to dance ahead on my “If I Had a Time Machine List,” fast forwarding through a work week to get to Launch’s Eve would be eerily high up there.

It’s always amazing. The eagerness leading up to a trip is a fleeting moment of enchanting illusion filled with perfect conditions, flawless maneuvers, and nothing but smiles. This brief moment is only made acceptable because it was deemed as temporary and unrealistic. Simply put, I let myself have the wanderlust because I know it won’t last forever.

No trip is perfect once it gets started but they are all perfect beforehand. Are we there yet?

Over Preparedness

Starting with the evening before the launch and relentlessly flowing through your blood until the first paddle stroke hits the water, a comfortable feeling of over-preparedness will give you the self-confidence to head out after Moby Dick in your canoe while bringing the tartar sauce with you.

This is when you underestimate your take out time, pull some snacks out of the cooler, and decide to have that one extra beer before bedtime.

The math always adds up. 40 miles at 4 miles per hour is 10 hours on the water. Six granola bars and four bottles of water is three granola bars and two bottles of water each. A 5:00 AM alarm and a 10:00 PM bedtime is a comfortable 7 hours of sleep. All of that is way more than enough to comfortably make it!

Beyond the realm of a conceivable doubt, we’ve got this! Are we there yet? Watch out Moby. We’re coming, and we’re hungry.


It’s always a blur. It goes by way too fast. From the second our wake-up call sounds, it’s all excitement, adrenaline, and passion. Every mishap is comical. Every rough stretch is temporary. Every conversation is entertaining, and every randomly selected song inspires you to appreciate just where you are and what you’re doing.

It’s a real life break from the used car lot of a life that you left behind at the office on Friday.

If you can’t relate because you haven’t found something that gives you that intangible high, my descriptions won’t do it justice.

Under Preparedness

You know you have to be gaining ground on your destination with every drop of sweat that smears on your forehead, slides down your paddle, and sways back and forth in the muddy river water smoothie blending around your toes and between the gunwales.

You’re still letting your excitement filled passion carry you through every paddle stroke, but you do begin to doubt your preparation.

You’ve inhaled both of your granola bars with half of the trip still ahead of you. You’re scared to look at the clock because deep down you know that you haven’t hit your halfway checkpoint yet, and it has to be getting close to 1 pm. Are we there yet?

“Is that my lower back starting to get sore already?” you think to yourself.

It doesn’t take much to plant the seedlings of under-preparedness. Try not to water them for as long as possible. There’s a lot of river left between you and home.


Remember that math that added up so easily last night and you so naively accepted it as truth?

There’s a short stage of every endurance canoe trip where reality sets in. We’re behind schedule, hungry, tired, and ready for a tow home. Are we there yet?

We’ve bought all the vowels, and Pat Sajak is standing right in front of me waiting for an answer that we don’t have.


Luckily, there’s no option for a tow home. There’s no option for teleporting to the takeout.

This is the stage where everybody is forced to make a split-second decision. The little jury in their head goes into their little room, eats a donut or two, and comes back with a verdict. With a unanimous vote, the jury tells the judge – panic, freak out, we’re not going to make it!

Luckily, human nature – namely competitive nature – kicks in when you realize you’ve exhausted all of your options except powering through the agitation.

It almost becomes a game. How hard can I paddle for the next 20 minutes? Can I be emotionally intelligent enough to realize that my mind is playing tricks on me? We’ve got this!

The conversation stops. Technique falls overboard. The jury in our heads is forced into further deliberation until they come back out with either a positive attitude or a trolling motor.


Regardless of the distance paddled, I collapse faster than Phil Mickelson on Winged Foot West in the 2006 US Open at every takeout. There usually aren’t a whole lot of celebratory high fives, and there is certainly not champagne being popped to christen dry land.

In fact, it is usually quite anticlimactic.

Unload the gear. Throw away all the trash. Carry everything up the Rocky Mountain-esque boat ramp while considering just sleeping on the sandbar for the evening. Load the car. Change clothes. Find the nearest Whataburger.


Exhaustion will haunt you until you get home. After a shower, good night’s rest, and a review of the pictures and split times, you find it again. The eagerness to get back out there is right where you left it.

As constant as gravity, the justifications and excuses will come flying in!

“Well, if only those couple breaks weren’t so long…”

“If only the river was a little higher…”

“Dude, we could do it again faster….”

“My back wasn’t really THAT sore…”

Time to circle another date on the calendar and let that overwhelming sensation of eagerness drive us through the week until next time. Are we there yet?


canoeing, editorial, trip reports

Mark Vlaskamp

After four years as Marketing Director for Yak Gear, Mark now partners with creative outdoor brands and pursues the gray area between freelancing and (f)unemployment. Currently, he is floating between Austin and Houston, TX - still searching for new water, cool people, and cheap beer.

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