The Annapolis Young Outdoors Women put their canoes in at Liverpool Head Lake in South Milford June 24 and paddled to the edge of Keji. The 10 Grade 6 to 8 girls spent a leisurely four days wending their way to Maitland Bridge on their year-end canoe trip.
“We had an amazing trip, paddling about 30 kilometres total over four days,” said leader Katie McLean. “We planned the route to provide an opportunity to learn how to paddle on moving water, and spent quite a bit of our time learning how to work as a team to navigate rocky moving water sections of the river.”
These girls are no strangers to the outdoors. They’ve done things like trips to the gun range to shoot rifles and hand guns, they’ve snared snowshoe hare, have foraged for wild food, gone fishing, and as McLean notes, some days they just go outside and play.
The Town of Annapolis Royal program secures funding through Thrive! Nova Scotia and is run through a partnership with Annapolis West Education Centre. The June 24 adventure was their year-end trip.
“We were really lucky that the recent rain gave us ideal water levels for a group of novice river paddlers,” said McLean. “I was really impressed how the girls challenged themselves to try something that was out of their comfort zone and physically demanding. When we arrived at our portage around the falls at Mersey Chalets the girls decided that they wanted to get the boats across the portage first, so they jumped out, paired up, and carried them across, no questions asked.”
McLean said the trip was both a way to get out and having fun, but it was also meant to give the participants a chance to develop their paddling skills.
“In the Fall we completed a three-day trip from Eleven Mile Lake to Lake Allison, and we were looking to add elements like a longer route, longer portages, moving water, and a greater length of time,” she said. “The group demanded that we plan a minimum four-day route, because three days felt too short.”
And they loved it.
"I liked trying the rapids, they were really fun and something new to me,” said 13-year-old Madison Edwards. “I also really liked the experiences we had when we learned what to do in case of a canoe flipping."
She’d like to do a bigger thrill-seeking trip to try some new things.
Harmony Edwards, 14, agreed.
"I liked running the rapids and strengthening our outdoors skills like building fires and adjusting to the difficulties we experienced,"she said. "I would like to do another trip and make it the same length of time but maybe a little longer route.”
“We did have two canoe flips, but these were perfect times to practice what we had learned about safety and canoe rescues,” said McLean. “After we got the boats back on the water and re-packed the girls jumped back in with no issue.”
Fortunately when McLean was teaching them how to pack, ‘waterproof’ was a key adjective and all girls had 40-litre dry bags for their clothing and sleeping bags.
The girls weren’t coddled. There was no room in those dry bags for extra items like towels and pillows. “There were no electronics allowed on the trip, except for our water proof camera and the leader’s cell phone for emergencies,” said McLean. “The girls remarked about how nice it felt not to worry about their phones for four days -- they feel like they have to check them when they’re at home.”
Although when they set out Saturday it was overcast and drizzly, they lucked out with the weather.
“On nights two and three we set up a big tarp for everyone to sleep under, instead of bothering with tents,” McLean said. “There were a lot of amazing night sounds like bullfrogs, mink frogs, barred owls, and loons. The water was so warm you could spend the whole day in the river with no problem, and there was plenty of time spent swimming and playing in the water.”
McLean said as a leader, she could not feel more proud of the group.
“They are totally goofy when it’s time to play, but rallied together when it was time to get work done,” she said. “They came back bitten, scratched and bruised, and excited for the next trip.”
McLean said the six Grade 8s who are graduating from the program this year were fretting over the fact that they won’t have a similar group to participate in when they reached high school.
“I am trying to push them towards completing the Duke of Ed award, which includes an ‘adventurous journey component," she said. “We even spent some time scheming about planning a trip to complete their moving water paddling certifications, which would prepare them for white water trips in the future. River paddling has been one of my favourite things to do since I got to run my first set of rapids as a kid, so I am pretty stoked to see some of them have the exact same reaction.”
A number of them wanted to know if they were old enough to participate in the Annapolis River Festival canoe obstacle course, because they feel like they are now set to win.
"I can't believe how good we are at this,” said 13-year-old Eve Smith. “Like, we still have our problems, but we just learned four days ago."
Grade 8s: Rachel Cress, Harmony Edwards, Madison Edwards, Jessica Musgreave, Jenna Hall, Emma Longmire
Grade 7s: Eve Smith, Shaunessy Barteaux, Liza Gray
Grade 6: Ava Dormer
Katie McLean, leader
Tarissa Holmes, assistant leader (“and volunteer who helped make things possible”)